Cruising the Mediterranean Sea – How To Decide Whether to Explore East or West
Cruises on the Mediterranean Sea are very popular. This inland sea is bordered on the north by Europe, on the east by Asia, and south by Africa. It is approximately 2,300 miles in length. When you are choosing a Mediterranean cruise, it’s important to understand how many countries it touches and what different ports you can explore. When choosing a Mediterranean cruise, you will have the option to choose one that focuses on either the Eastern Mediterranean Sea or one that explores the Western Mediterranean. Some longer cruises offer a combination of both!
Cruising to Explore the Magic of the East or Allure of the West
When you’re doing your research, you’ll quickly begin to see that the two sides of the Mediterranean Sea are very different. Italy is a good place to think of as a “dividing” point between these two very different areas. You might find that there are more countries and ports that are of interest to you in the Western Mediterranean. Or the Eastern section might be more appealing to you.
Countries and Cities Included in Classic Western Mediterranean Itineraries
The Western Mediterranean Sea is made up of countries like Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, and Malta. If you choose this side of the Mediterranean Sea, here are some places that you can look forward to on a typical Western Mediterranean Sea cruise itinerary.
Barcelona is often a good place to start a Western Med cruise. It has a long history as evidenced by its old buildings and public spaces. Barcelona is also a vibrant city with many restaurants, bars, shops, and sports venues.
If the French Riviera ports sounds interesting, choosing west might be best for you. Well-known cities like Cannes, Nice, and Monte Carlo are just a few places to explore. At Monte Carlo you can visit the breathtaking palace and cathedral. Just down the hill is the world-famous Casino. Here I am at the Nice Flower Market!
Rome, “The Eternal City,” is full of history and monuments. It is the home of the Coliseum and St. Peter’s Basilica. You will have to make some choices when you visit this city, but most cruise lines offer wonderful shore excursions.
Valletta is the capital of Malta, an island that is very close to the Italian island of Sicily. It has two huge harbors. The whole old city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Old houses, cobblestone streets and incredible views are just a few of the things to enjoy on Malta.
Very close to Malta is Tunisia, a country in Northern Africa. The capital is Tunis and this city is fascinating. It’s a mixture of Africa, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean. For history buffs there’s a local train that takes you to see what’s left of the ancient city of Carthage.
Cities and Countries Included in Classic Eastern Mediterranean Itineraries
Many Eastern Mediterranean cruises begin in Athens. Like Rome, Athens is an important city which was built thousands of years ago. It’s a bit of a hike, but most cruise shore excursions include the Parthenon. You can see the ancient ruins and at the same time enjoy views of the 7 hills of the city. The seaside Greek town of Katakolon, is often a cruise port. You can stroll the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ancient Olympia.
Istanbul is truly where East meets West. In fact, part of the city lies in Europe while the other part is in Asia. The two continents are divided by the narrow Bosporus strait. Cruise ships dock here, and you can walk to three of the most well-known sights in Istanbul. They are Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and Topkapi Palace.
Antalya is one of many cities that lie on the “Turkish Riviera.” Here you’ll find some of the best beaches in Turkey. When you are tired of soaking up the sun, there are historic ruins, shopping, golf courses, and if your ship stays long enough in port, exciting nightlife. Many cruise ships stop at Port Akdeniz which is very close to Antalya.
Just south of Turkey is the island of Cyprus. Here you can enjoy more spectacular beaches, restaurants, and shopping. Cyprus has a long and interesting history. There are spectacular beaches like Ayia Napa and an ancient theater that still hosts events today. There is also Kolossi, a crusader’s castle that you can explore.
Beirut is yet another coastal city with important historical sights. Cities like Byblos, Beirut, Tyre, and Sidon have been inhabited by Egyptians, Greeks, Persians, Romans, Arabs, Crusaders, and the Ottoman empire. Shore excursions often include a tour up into the mountains to see the famous “Cedars of Lebanon.”
East or West? Which side of the Mediterranean appeals to you? Are there sights in any of the cities that you’ve always wanted to see? What are some factors that will help you make up your mind?