The Worst Mediterranean Cruise Ports Are Also The Best

worst mediterranean cruise ports

The Worst Mediterranean Cruise Ports Are Also The Best 

I was helping my friend Winnie plan her first Mediterranean cruise recently. She said she wanted a cruise that went to the best ports and avoided the worst.

I told her she’d set me an impossible task, as the best ports in the Mediterranean are also the worst.

Here’s why they are the worst Mediterranean cruise ports.

So Many To Choose

As I explained to Winnie, the number of ports she can visit is vast. Though the ones worth visiting is not.

I count 45 Mediterranean ports where cruise ships can dock. But there are many more places where ships can anchor and tender guests. Especially around the Greek islands.

Most Mediterranean cruises are 7-nights and call at no more than 6 ports. I told Winnie she must make sure the cruise she chooses calls on as many must-visit ports as possible.

Surprisingly, only a few of the most beautiful ports in the Mediterranean make my must-visit list. There are more important things to consider. Starting with this …

Gateways

If you’re cruising the Mediterranean and it’s a first Western, Eastern or Southern Greek Islands cruise, you should focus on ports that are gateways to famous cities or historic sites in the region.

Many of these ports themselves are not that appealing. They are working container and freight ports, far from the iconic cities and sites. Have limited things to see and do close by and they are not where you will want to spend time.

Unlike the Caribbean, where the ports themselves are beautiful with things to do right in the port, the best Mediterranean ports are not.

It’s what they grant access to that makes them essential to have on any list.

Here are the 7 key ones I recommended to Winnie

Italy 

Civitavecchia is one of the most common ports. It is an uninspiring, slightly run-down town with little to see and do.

Rome, one of the most historically rich cities in the world with incredible sights like the Colosseum, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and the Vatican City is an hour to hour and half away.

Livorno is also an unattractive, busy industrial cruise port. But the grand city of Florence, with Michelangelo’s David, Ponte Vecchio bridge, Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and Basilica of Santa Croce is only 90-minutes away. Pisa and the Leaning Tower is 45 minutes away.

If you want to see Venice, with its grand canals, St Mark’s Square and Basilica and the fascinating Doge’s Palace, you now must dock in the functional ports of Ravenna or Trieste, both of which are around 2 hours from Venice,

Even if your ship is small enough to be allowed to dock in Venice, as Viking Sky was on my cruise in March, it was inside a freight port on the mainland. We could not walk around the area and it took 45 minutes to get to Venice.

La Spezia in Northern Italy is an industrial port with little around it to explore. But in an hour or less you can be exploring the gorgeous Cinque Terre region, a collection of 5 amazing villages clinging to the hillside with quaint shops and popular beaches.

Greece

Katakolon in Greece is a small town with one road of tourist trap shops that takes about half an hour to explore, but an hour away is the vast Olympia, home of the Olympics with extensive ruins, and remarkable museum.

Piraeus is a busy industrial and cruise port, with a city to match where you could catch a Hop-on Hop-Off bus to a beach. But again, an hour away is the rich history of Athens with the beautiful Acropolis with Parthenon and museum and Panathenaic Stadium.

The port of Naples is the one to see the incredible ruins of Pompeii or the gorgeous island of Capri. But, it’s about an hour away from the ruins and an often-bumpy boat ride to the island.

As I said to Winnie, these are unattractive and unappealing these ports in themselves, making them some of the worst ports to call in the Mediterranean, but they also are the best because they are gateways to iconic cities and must-see sites.

Do your port research

One warning and watch-out I gave her was that cruise lines often try and disguise these ports, or certainly do not make it clear about the nature of these ports.

Look at this itinerary from a cruise line website and brochure. It shows the ship calls on Florence / Pisa and Rome. However, it is not. The ports are Livorno and Civitavecchia as you now know.

As I told Winnie, there is a simple way to know if the city or major site is at the port by looking at the detailed itinerary listing.

Here, the lines usually have the name of the major city or attraction they know passengers will like/want to see first, and then in brackets after it, the actual port the ship will be calling into.

For example, for many cruises you’ll see they then have written Florence/ Pisa (Livorno), but they won’t dock there.

I am considering this Mediterranean cruise to see the incredible Ephesus ruins, but I can see from the listing that the port closest  is the tourist resort of Kusadasi. Checking all info, Ephesus is about an hour from the port.

After this, I wanted Winnie to know that I also recommended ports that would sound like some of the worst to go, but she would thank me after visiting, as they will be some of the most memorable.

Overly Popular

The Mediterranean is a popular vacation region, and the best cities draw land-based holiday makers, weekend, and city breakers and, of course, cruise passengers.

All the cities I mentioned already suffer from being packed, so make them worse ports in that way too.

There are three ports I have not mentioned yet that suffer from big crowds that make them among the worst ports for that reason, but I insisted Winnie have on her must-see list.

The first is Barcelona. This city of gets an estimated 12 million visitors a year. That’s because the attractions and sights are worth it. There’s the Ramblas to stroll, quirky Gaudi architecture, and the unfinished Sagrada Familia, which alone gets almost 5 million visitors a year.

The other is Dubrovnik. This stunning city in Croatia suffered with so many visitors, especially cruise ship passengers, crowding into the walled city centre, that the authorities are working on staggering calls though the day and into the evening.

Santorini is another. The capital Fira high up on the caldera has tight winding streets, incredible views of white houses and gets rammed full in the summer.

The city of Oia close by gets crammed as people go to watch the sunset. Its streets throng with people and it will be hard for Winnie to get the shots of houses that everyone going there wants to take. But again, this is port she will cherish.

These 3 additional ports are among the worst in the Mediterranean for crowds, but they are highly memorable, making them a must-visit despite that.

Close And Beautiful

There are 4 ports that stand out for me, that I suggested to Winnie.

Monte Carlo

Monte Carlo is one. To get to see this slightly surreal, and rich city is worth it. It’s a great day walking round the harbour filled with mega-yachts, strolling round the famous casino, and posing with the flash cars outside Hotel de Paris (which I stayed in once by the way, over-priced and tiny room).

The next four ports are much more substantive, and favourites of mine.

Split

Split in Croatia is an ancient town of great beauty. Walkable from the cruise port, it is rich in history and has a wide boulevard on the ocean front with lots of cafes to site and people watch after a city tour.

Kotor

Kotor in Montenegro is another. Ships sail through a fjords-like entrance to reach the ancient city within large formidable ancient walls. They either dock minutes from entrance, or if busy, some will anchor and tender guests in to there.

If you are fit enough, it costs around 8 Euros to climb up the mountain behind the city for some of the best views in the Mediterranean.

Valletta

Valletta in Malta is another incredible port with a stunning sail in. The harbour has large ancient ramparts and is possibly the most dramatic looking of any Mediterranean port. A tour of the city and amazing architecture is fascinating.

Palma de Mallorca

Palma de Mallorca, while not as beautiful a port, is a remarkable city that the Spanish Royal Family base themselves there often, as do many wealthy Spaniards. There is a massive cathedral to explore, one of the largest and grandest in the Mediterranean.

While many of the best ports are also the worst ports in the Mediterranean, getting to the right and must-see places in the region is hopefully what I helped Winnie to do.

If you found this interesting and want to know more about cruising in the region, watch this video of other traps people fall into when cruising here. Starting with the mistake almost everyone makes and regrets it. See you over there.

View more of my cruising tips.

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Gary Bembridge

I grew up in Zimbabwe, but I have been based in London since 1987. My travel life spans more than three decades and that includes more than 95 cruises. In 2005, I launched Tips for Travellers to make it easy and fun for people to discover, plan and enjoy incredible cruise vacations. And the rest, as they say, is history. I have the largest cruise vlogger channel currently on YouTube, with more than 2 million video views per month.

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