Europe - Eastern Mediterranean Cruise Guide

mosque in istanbul turkey
Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey - by SIME/eStockPhoto

Why go?

Once the cradle of ancient civilization, the Eastern Mediterranean still bustles: Centuries- and millennia-old monuments embed modern-day cities; mosques and markets stand on grounds that sultans once ruled; and further afield, crumbling ruins command cliffs, and whitewashed villas cascade down to sandy beaches.

The Eastern Mediterranean stretches from the Adriatic Sea — east of Italy to Croatia —southeastward to the Greek Isles and Turkey, and into the Holy Land and Egypt. Though the Western Mediterranean has traditionally been recommended for first-time cruisers, passenger numbers have been growing on this route.

Despite the fact that some of the region's sights attract throngs of camera-bearing tourists, the Eastern Med harbors off-the-grid hideaways if you delve further inland or anchor at whispered-about ports.

Touring the Eastern Mediterranean by ship is also convenient and efficient. You won’t have to deal with inter-island ferries in Greece or brave high-season traffic on Croatia’s coastal roads.

The ports serve a wide variety of interests: History buffs can explore the colonnaded library and well-preserved temples at Ephesus or revel in the ruins of stadiums at Olympia. The beautiful churches, palaces, and fountains of 13th-century sea-power Dubrovnik have justifiably been registered in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The more adventurous travelers have plenty of terrain to explore, too. Ride a four-by-four on Corfu’s stony roads through olive groves, or mount a quad vehicle and traverse the dusty hills of Cyprus.

Relaxation is an option here as well. Though itineraries can be jam-packed with sights, you can choose to take things at a slower pace: Lounge on gorgeous beaches, poke around sleepy village shops, or sip a glass of wine from a vineyard.

Foodies will also find something to write home about. The region has an abundance of fertile farmland and fruit groves. The results are delectable, and famous local specialties (think grilled octopus, spit-roasted lamb, spinach burek) taste better here than anywhere else.

When to go

Cruise season in the Eastern Mediterranean runs from April to October, with the majority of sailings scheduled from May through August — when resorts are in full swing, waters warm enough for swimming, and the forecast (more often than not) sunny.

In Greece, Easter is also peak season, and August is particularly crowded. Shore excursions book up fast in the summer, so reserve early if you’re sailing then.

By September, soaring temperatures have cooled down and tourist throngs thinned. This is the time — along with early spring — to save some money or score a good deal.

And remember: The strongest of the regional “Meltemi” winds coincide with the high-traffic months, and they can create rough sea waters and even change the course of sailings.


Adriatic Sea: Itineraries typically leave from Venice and sail to southern Italy, as well as along Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast. It’s a scenic voyage of fishing villages, islets, and coves. Smaller ships anchor at off-the-beaten-track destinations, such as Pula and Korcula, Croatia; or Kotor, Montenegro, while other sailings integrate ports in Turkey, Greece, or Italy.

Greek Isles: Popular with honeymooners and couples, these cruises embark from Venice, Athens (Piraeus), or Istanbul and frequently hit the islands of Santorini, Mykonos, or Corfu. Some routes focus on antiquity, with stops in Olympia (Katakolon) or Ephesus (Kusadasi). These itineraries are a good choice for those who want to mix relaxation and culture.

Holy Land: The ports of Nazareth (Haifa) or Jerusalem (Ashdod) often figure into longer itineraries that also include stops in the Greek Isles, Turkey, Malta, or southern Italy. These cruises often take on an ancient civilization theme. 

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