For remarkable art, ancient history, contemporary culture, and gorgeous beaches, it’s hard to beat these Mediterranean cities.
For millennia, the Mediterranean Sea was one of the most important hubs of trade and cross-cultural pollination in all of civilization. From Athens to Venice, the cities that grew up around this region became concentrated centers of power and learning.
Today, the Mediterranean remains one of the most compelling areas for travelers to explore. Whether you’re looking to bask on a beach in Barcelona or visit the stunning mosques of Istanbul, there’s a seemingly infinite amount to see and do. Here are just some of the most spectacular Mediterranean cities.
Spilling over seven hills on the edge of the sparkling Saronic Gulf, the Greek capital is packed with extraordinary archaeological sites and museums, not to mention atmospheric neighborhoods and markets.
Wandering around the sprawling site of Acropolis Hill is a truly awe-inspiring experience. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the most complete, expansive sets of archeological ruins in the world.
When standing in its former streets in the shadow of the Parthenon, it’s easy to imagine what it must have once been like in its heyday as one of the most important sites of science and philosophy in the ancient world.
After exploring ancient Greek ruins outside, head to the impressive Acropolis Museum to see carefully preserved artifacts that were found on the archaeological site here.
After exploring the Acropolis, wander down the hill to the Plaka neighborhood to catch a glimpse of the living, breathing side of Athens; this is a great place for a mezze lunch on a vine-shaded terrace.
Byzantine churches, neoclassical architecture, and other glimpses of the thousands of years of Greek civilization can all be seen here among the sidewalk cafes and restaurants. You’ll also find some of the best shopping in Athens here.
When it comes to crowd-pleasing Mediterranean cities, it’s hard to top Barcelona. This endlessly charismatic, Catalan-speaking city boasts an unbeatable combination of fabulous food, incredible art and architecture, and the laid-back atmosphere of a beach town.
Legendary architect Antoni Gaudí left an indelible mark on the city with some of the most significant landmarks in Spain.
Check out Casa Batlló, the “house of masks” that resembles a giant dragon and which now houses a museum, or go to Park Güell, which is covered in mosaics and features a sweeping view of the city.
The Sagrada Familia cathedral, Gaudí’s most ambitious piece and what he considered to be his life’s work, may still be unfinished, but it’s truly a wonder to behold.
After visiting the famous landmark, head to Barceloneta Beach to soak up some sunshine on the sand or sip vermouth at one of the many chiringuitos, or beach restaurants, clustered around the area.
The dining options in Barcelona are endless, with a full spectrum of restaurants ranging from cheap-and-cheerful tapas bars to Michelin-starred temples of gastronomy. Be sure to check out the Mercat de la Boqueria, a market hall full of excellent small eateries, in the Gothic Quarter.
Palma de Mallorca, Spain
There’s a good reason that the Balearic Islands remain one of the most popular destinations for international travelers in Spain.
Mallorca, Ibiza, and Formentera are all dazzling places, with pebble and sand beaches lapped by clear waters and fringed by scruffy pines. Though it’s true that Mallorca and Ibiza in particular have a rather hedonistic reputation, there’s much more to this region than DJs and beachside parties.
Palma, the capital city of Mallorca, sports a wealth of exceptional restaurants and historic architecture, some of which dates back to the 13th century.
When in Palma, some of the must-see attractions are the Santa María Cathedral, a magnificent Gothic church, the Bellver Castle, and the La Seu Cathedral, which is often simply referred to as the Catedral de Mallorca, because it is so important to the island.
The stained glass here is nothing short of exquisite. After admiring these, stop for a glass of wine in one of the many sun-soaked tapas bars lining the marina.
As one of the most beautiful coastal towns in Italy, walking along the Grand Canal in Venice can feel at times like stumbling onto a movie set. After all, the murky waters of this lagoon have served as the backdrop for so many famous films and photographs.
Seeing its famed palazzi and gondoliers in real life is a surreal experience. And while many Italians may complain that this sinking city lacks the youth and vibrancy of Rome, Milan, or Bologna, its beauty is undeniable.
After strolling along the Rialto Bridge, head to St. Mark’s Basilica, a stunning Byzantine cathedral with glittering, gold mosaics on the ceiling.
Over the centuries, later architects added Gothic and Romanesque elements, creating an even grander visual tapestry. The piazza outside is the de facto heart of the city.
During a day in Venice, be sure to visit Doge’s Palace, which harbors a stunning collection of Renaissance and Baroque art from generations of mighty Venetian rulers.
Once the seat of power of the Medici, the wealthy and occasionally ruthless family that prided itself as being a patron of the arts, Florence is now home to one of the greatest collections of Baroque and Renaissance paintings and sculptures in the world.
After admiring Michaelangelo’s magnificent sculpture of David, explore more art in Florence and see the world-class paintings in the Uffizi Gallery. Even the building that houses the museum, which was designed by Giorgio Vasari himself, is a masterpiece.
The city is so crammed with art that it often feels like a living museum in and of itself. Walk across Florence’s famous bridge, the Ponte Vecchio, then check out the public sculptures in the Piazza della Signoria and the Piazzale Michelangelo.
Among the many beautifully decorated churches, the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore—often referred to simply as “The Duomo”—is the one most synonymous with Florence.
Hike the many stairs up to the top of the dome designed by Filippo Brunelleschi—it’s very much worth it for the views.
Cities don’t come much more picturesque than Nice, the jewel of the French Riviera. Long considered one of the favorite spots for Europe’s well-heeled jet-set, this highly walkable city brims with laid-back charm.
The Old Town of Nice, which is sometimes referred to simply as Old Nice, is a patchwork of ochre-hued walks and terracotta-tiled rooftops all set against the backdrop of azure waters.
Start your day here with an espresso at an outdoor café on the Place Massena, the main public square, then browse the bouquets of fresh-cut flowers and locally grown produce at the Marché Aux Fleurs Cours Saleya.
Finally, embark on a leisurely stroll along the Promenade des Anglais, a palm-lined walkway along the waterfront overlooking some of the best beaches in Nice.
Dubrovnik may have rocketed to fame thanks to its cameo as the filming location for a certain wildly popular fantasy television series, but that’s far from the only reason to visit this compelling city.
Croatia is known for its art, architecture, and fabulous food, and they all collide in this walled city by the sea. As you stroll down the Stradun, or main street, you’ll spy beautifully ornate Renaissance-era houses, which come with plenty of photo-ops.
Among the many historic sites in Dubrovnik’s Old Town is the Rector’s Palace. This imposing structure marries Gothic architectural elements with baroque touches from later reconstructions and additions.
Meanwhile, the Sponza, also known as the Customs Palace Divona, is a towering example of the Gothic-Renaissance style so closely associated with Dubrovnik.
Once an under-the-radar gem, Malta’s charismatic capital city has been garnering more international attention in recent years. Nevertheless, the volume of crowds in Valletta still pale in comparison to more popular destinations around the region.
Travelers who do come here will find an incredibly photogenic city, encircled by massive honey-colored ramparts, with plenty to see and do.
Admire the 19th-century architecture on the Grand Harbour or duck inside St. John’s Co-Cathedral, which is one of the most beautiful churches in the world. Take in the harbor views from the Upper Barrakka Gardens and visit The Malta Experience for perspective on this tiny island’s massive role in European history.
Whether it’s been known as Istanbul or Constantinople, this city on the Bosphorus, which connects the eastern Mediterranean to the Black Sea, has been one of the most important political and cultural centers in this region for thousands of years.
Istanbul famously straddles the divide between the European and Asian continents. It’s no wonder then that this place has such incredible cultural diversity, not to mention layers upon layers of history.
The most powerful symbol of this may well be Hagia Sophia, the lavishly mosaiced Byzantine place of worship that has served as both a cathedral and mosque over the generations. The Blue Mosque is an equally stunning repository of religious art, while the rambling Topkapi Palace is exquisitely beautiful.
To the uninitiated, Istanbul’s famed Grand Bazaar can prove overwhelming, with its seemingly endless labyrinth of stalls hawking ceramics, fabrics, and all sorts of goods.
Shopping for Turkish souvenirs here is very much an experience, one you’ll want to brace for by downing a very strong cup of local coffee.
Still, if you’re willing to go through some good-natured haggling, there are real gems to be found here. Another one of the best markets in Istanbul, the Spice Market is slightly more manageable and a fabulous place to pick up fragrant souvenirs to brighten up your kitchen back home.
If you find yourself feeling drained after all that shopping, relax in a traditional Turkish hammam for an hour or two. These steamy saunas can be found all over the city and are a great way to rejuvenate.
Each May, glamorous A-listers from around the globe descend on this former fishing village on the French Riviera in droves for one of the world’s most famous cinema festivals.
The Cannes Film Festival has been a cultural institution and source of industry gossip since 1946. While seeing and being seen at the festival itself is certainly an experience, the truth is that Cannes is lovely to visit the other 11 months out of the year too.
To take in the scene stroll along Le Suquet, a historical district that has retained its charm. Wander along the cobblestone alleyways until you come to the shops and food stalls of Meynadier Street and Forville Market.
Then make a beeline to Rue d’Antibes, a glitzy shopping street filled with the latest Parisian fashions. Finally, channel your inner celebrity as you strut down the Croisette, a coastal promenade that leads all the way to the Palais des Festivals, where most of the film festival events take place.
Chaotic, immense, and wildly beguiling, Rome is the kind of city many travelers find themselves wanting to return to again and again. Few other places on Earth flaunt thousands of years of history so flagrantly.
Here, you can admire the 2,000-year-old Colosseum, where gladiators fought real lions and miniature ships enacted naval battles, then join the throngs of stylish young Italians having a late afternoon Aperol Spritz near the Spanish Steps, another popular Roman landmark.
Gaze in awe at the dome of the Pantheon, a feat of structural engineering that has withstood the ages. Wonder at how sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini managed to make marble look so much like human skin at the Villa Borghese.
Eat fried carciofi alla giudia, Jewish-Roman-style fried artichokes with flaky salt, and people-watch on the Piazza Navona. Channel a Hollywood starlet by the Trevi Fountain, then explore Rome off the beaten path and head to Trastevere for a plate of carbonara that will make you swoon.
This region of the world has always belonged to sea voyagers, which is why a luxury cruise around the Mediterranean remains one of the best ways to experience all that it has to offer. Browse our Mediterranean cruises and book yours today.