Europe is so full of incredible cities, islands, villages, and historic landmarks that it’s hard to choose between them to craft a vacation itinerary. Luckily, on a cruise, you can multiple port cities in Europe while sailing on a luxury cruise ship.
When planning to cruise to Europe, keep your eye out for itineraries that include one or more of these 15 timelessly beautiful European cruise ports. Each is steeped in rich history, culinary traditions, and unique cultures you have to experience for yourself.
Santorini is one of the best cruise ports in Europe partly due to its unique landscape created by a volcanic explosion centuries ago. The eruption caused part of the island to sink into the sea, creating Santorini’s crescent-shaped caldera and its cliff-hugging villages.
Santorini’s whitewashed architecture was carved out from the mountainside, and Oia Village sits on a northern cliff overlooking the Aegean Sea. Oia is instantly recognizable from the many postcards and photos you’ve likely seen of Santorini and an emblem of coastal life in the Greek Islands.
To experience a different side of Santorini, head inland to its beautiful wineries dotting the countryside. Savor local meats and cheeses as you sip different blends.
Santorini is also known for its kid-friendly volcanic beaches, making it one of the best Greek Islands for families. The other side of the island has a number of stunning beaches in hues of red and black sand carved away from volcanic rock, like Perivolos Beach. Just south of Fira, you can swim in Perivolos’ azure waters, lounge beneath a thatched beach umbrella, or hit one of the beachfront eateries for the day’s fresh catch and a cold drink.
Barcelona is a beloved European city and also a major cruise hub where ships regularly embark or make calls. The stunning Spanish city is known for its gothic architecture, which is best experienced on foot as you walk around the Gothic Quarter or tour one of Antoni Gaudí’s architectural masterpieces like Casa Mila or La Sagrada Familia. Though unfinished, La Sagrada Familia has come to represent the beating heart of Barcelona, attracting international visitors to its towering spires and Neo-Gothic facades every year.
Go shopping along the well-loved Las Ramblas, a wide tree-lined street with restaurants and cafes ideal for sharing Spanish tapas. Or, make a quick jaunt outside of the city to the peaceful Montserrat Mountains. It’s only an hour’s train ride to this jagged Catalonian mountain range, which has gained popularity for its coral reefs and cave diving.
For history buffs, don’t miss a tour of the Santa Maria de Montserrat, a Benedictine monastery and retreat for 11th-century monks. Feel swept away by the clouds as you look out over the Catalonian countryside.
Cruise ships dock in Piraeus, and from there it’s a short metro or bus ride to the city center of Athens. See Greece’s most enduring sights, like the Parthenon, the Acropolis, and Hadrian’s Arch, where famous philosophers like Socrates and Plato once stood. Admire the huge remnants of the Temple of Zeus, or marvel at Bronze Age artifacts and ancient archaeological finds at the Acropolis Museum.
Embark on a scenic drive along the Attica Peninsula to the sacred Temple of Poseidon. Sitting atop the menacing cliff at Cape Sounion, its sweeping views of the Greek Islands and age-old marble columns will render you speechless.
Glide across the scenic Corinth Canal on an afternoon cruise. Only four miles long, the Corinth Canal is flanked on both sides by towering limestone cliffs, making it one of the most unique places to visit in Europe. Once built, ships could pass freely to and from the Aegean Sea into Corinth, opening up Grecian trade like never before.
Stick to the classics on a day in Naples, whether you savor a slice of the city’s namesake pizza or learn the tragic history of Mount Vesuvius’ eruption.
Every step you take in Naples will remind you of its storied, ancient history. Head to Pompeii on a history tour, where you’ll be fascinated by the ways volcanic ash preserved the city and froze it in time. Visit the ancient Roman ruins of Herculaneum, where archaeologists unearthed nearly 250 sets of remains at the “House of Skeletons.”
Or, opt for the scenic route on a southern tour of the Amalfi Coast, stopping in picturesque Positano for shopping and a strong Italian espresso at a seaside cafe. Take a ferry across the Gulf of Naples to the ritzy island of Capri, where you’ll find high-end shops and gorgeous coastline, including the mesmerizing Blue Grotto.
Everyone knows the iconic imagery associated with Venice—a city built over water with an elaborate design of twisting canals and cobblestoned alleys, its signature gondola rides, and its famous piazza, St. Mark’s Square.
The city is dotted with picture-perfect spots to include in your Europe bucket list like St. Mark’s Square and Doge’s Palace. Walk in the footsteps of generations of Italians as you cross the romantic Bridge of Sighs, which is over 400 years old.
Tour a glass-blowing factory in nearby Murano, or stop on the island of Burano to watch as creative locals share their art of making lace.
Dubrovnik is the ideal introduction to Croatia on a Europe cruise. It’s surrounded by the well-preserved city walls of its Old Town, which you could spend an entire day exploring.
Walk Dubrovnik’s Old Town for yourself in a two-hour loop around the walls, enjoying views of the Adriatic Sea on one side and a skyline of terracotta-colored roofs on the other.
If you prefer not to walk the walls, ride a cable car to the summit of Mount Srđ in under five minutes for similarly breathtaking views of Dubrovnik.
Visit Lokrum Island via a short ferry ride. Swim in some of Dubrovnik’s best beaches or enjoy a trip to the botanical gardens on the island. Families of peacocks were brought over from the Canary Islands, so keep your eyes peeled for their colorful plumes.
Provence, France (Marseille)
The chic French Riviera, located on the southern coast of France, is one of the world’s most coveted vacation destinations. The ports of Marseille and Toulon both provide easy access to this stunning region.
Aix-en-Provence is a quintessential French town famous for its beautiful vineyards, sprawling lavender fields, and quaint tree-lined streets that look straight out of a storybook.
A visit to Marseille wouldn’t be complete without tours of its two most significant sites: the Notre Dame de la Garde Basilica and the Marseille Cathedral. Take a day to soak up the rich history of the Mediterannean at MuCEM, the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations. Built in 2013, MuCEM contrasts the grandeur of 17th-century France with bold, modern architecture.
Discover why Valletta was named the “2018 European City of Culture” as you admire its art and history museums, impressive medieval architecture, and the stately Grandmaster’s Palace in the heart of the city.
Enjoy views of the Grand Harbor—the only natural harbor in all of the Mediterranean— from the Upper Barrakka Gardens, an attraction with rich traditions like daily gun salutes. Stroll the immaculately kept grounds, and don’t forget to snap a panoramic photo overlooking the sea.
Beyond Valletta, the island of Malta is home to beautiful natural scenery and more historic sites, like Hagar Qim Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the world’s oldest freestanding structures.
The port cities in Europe for Florence and Pisa (Livorno and La Spezia) provide the gateway to the art, wine, and food of Tuscany. See the Statue of David in Florence, the gravity-defying architecture of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, or opt for a wine tasting tour around the Tuscan countryside.
Art and history buffs will fall in love with Florence, whether they’re admiring Michelangelo’s statue of David at the Accademia Gallery or catching views of the Arno River from the terrace at Piazzale Michelangelo. Lose yourself in the splendor of the Piazza del Duomo, Brunelleschi’s magnum opus and a UNESCO World Heritage Site that has come to embody the Italian Renaissance.
Livorno and La Spezia are considered some of the best ports cities in Europe because they’re also close to Cinque Terre, making it possible to explore the stunningly scenic five towns during your day in port.
You can’t miss seeing Dublin, one of the best places to visit in Ireland, particularly if it’s your first trip to the country. This enigmatic capital has its share of opulent castles and beautiful gardens, like Dublin Castle and Malahide Castle, but it’s also the place to be for lively pub life along Temple Bar.
In Dublin, you’ll be transported back in time. See the Book of Kells at Trinity College, which is believed to be the oldest book in the world, or visit the underground crypt at Christ Church Cathedral. Escape to the countryside on a day trip to County Wicklow, called the Garden of Ireland, for a horseback ride down trails passed down through generations of Irish locals.
If you’re spending just one day in Dublin, a trip to a local pub is an unmissable experience. Beer lovers can’t miss a tour of the Guinness Storehouse, where they’ll enjoy a perfect pint. If you prefer a harder drink, Dublin is also home to the Jameson Distillery and its world-famous whiskey.
Vibrant Edinburgh is a perennial favorite city for travelers visiting southeast Scotland. Take a hilly walk up the Royal Mile in Old Town or learn the history of the country at the National Museum of Scotland. See the Scottish Crown jewels on a tour of Edinburgh Castle, which sits on the aptly named Castle Rock.
Edinburgh has its share of stately attractions, like the expansive grounds of the Holyrood Palace next to the Scottish Parliament. Holyrood is where the Queen stays during her trips to Scotland, and was even the home of Mary, Queen of Scots in the 16th century.
Of course, no stop in Edinburgh is complete without a hike to the top of Arthur’s Seat from Holyrood Palace. The 360-degree views of the city from the top is well worth the trek, which only takes about an hour there and back.
Bergen, a city on the Southwest coast of Norway, is the perfect gateway to Norway’s incredible fjords. Nestled between two of Norway’s most alluring fjords—Sognefjord and Hardangerfjord—Bergen boasts both incredible nature and small-town charm. You’ll quickly get a sense of Bergen’s lovable personality as you stroll through its artisanal markets or along its picturesque harbor.
Explore historic Bryggen, one of the best places to visit in Norway. The preserved wharf and wooden trading houses look like something out of a postcard. The structures of this UNESCO World Heritage Site date all the way back to the Middle Ages.
For more history, check out the open-air Old Bergen Museum, where reconstructed alleyways, cobbled streets, and live demonstrations mimic what life might have been like during the Hanseatic period.
Plus, Bergen is a mere hour away from one of Norway’s top attractions: Steinsdalsfossen Waterfall. A single path runs through Steinsdalsfossen and uniquely, you can stand beneath the falls and not get wet.
Read: Best Beaches in Norway
Experience modern, minimalist Scandinavian city life in the ever-popular Europe cruise port of Copenhagen. Walk along its bustling harbor, the Langelinie pier, where you can snag a photo with the famous Little Mermaid statue, inspired by Copenhagen native Hans Christian Andersen’s story.
Play like a kid at the amusement park and manicured Tivoli Gardens, where you can ride the peaceful Ferris wheel for views of Copenhagen from above and enjoy carousel rides in ornate 19th-century carousels. For adrenaline chasers, buckle into the Golden Tower for a thrill.
Copenhagen’s rich history is another reason it’s such a beloved port city in Europe. The sheer number of fairy-tale castles, like Kronborg and Frederiksborg Castle, will impress even the most seasoned traveler. Tour the glamorous grounds of the Christiansborg Palace, which is now where the Danish Parliament sits. Wave to the Danish royal family as you pass Amalienborg Palace, which is the summer home of today’s royalty.
Read: Things to Do in Aarhus
Lisbon has the excitement of a world-class cosmopolitan city with an unspoiled small-town charm. Setting Lisbon apart is its incredible ocean views, best viewed from the walkable ruins of Saint George’s Castle.
As your ship sails into port, you’ll likely see the bright limestone of the Belém Tower off in the distance, a 500-year-old fortress that once protected the city. Head inside the tower to explore its halls and chapel, and stop by the terrace for panoramic views.
Lisbon’s can’t-miss neighborhood is the Alfama District, characterized by whitewashed buildings and colorful streamers hung over its alleys. Stick around Alfama in the evening if you’re spending a few days in Lisbon to experience the city’s haunting Fado music.
Animal lovers shouldn’t miss the chance to see the largest indoor aquarium in Europe at the Oceanário, which is home to nearly 8,000 marine creatures. Here, you’ll find everything from jellyfish to schools of bright tropical fish.
Lisbon, like many of the best cruise ports in Europe to visit, is close to a UNESCO Heritage World Site. At Sintra, roam the royal grounds of Monserrate Gardens, sip tea, and sample traditional Portuguese pastries.
The secret about Iceland is out, and the past few decades have seen more visitors to this rugged island than ever before. The island is surrounded by beautiful coastal views and filled with pristine fjords and once-in-a-lifetime glacier adventures.
Popular port of call Reykjavik is the perfect jumping-off point to explore Iceland’s natural wonders. Head inland and you’ll encounter towering waterfalls, thermal lagoons, and snow-capped mountain peaks at nearly every turn.
For those who’d like to practice the art of doing nothing, soak in the restorative waters of the Blue Lagoon. Iceland’s most visited geothermal getaway is just 45 minutes outside of Reykjavik.
Many travel to Iceland specifically to experience the Golden Circle, a sightseeing route of Iceland’s most sought-after natural wonders. Watch geysers burst dramatically into the air at Geysir Hot Springs; view stunning Iceland waterfalls like Godafoss as its cascading waters plunge into the gorge below; or, explore Þingvellir National Park, the country’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site.
These are just a sampling of the best port cities in Europe to visit on your next vacation. You won’t even have to pick and choose between them, since many itineraries stop at multiple European destinations in the same sailing.
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