Home to a myriad of incredible historic sites and beautiful port cities, the western Mediterranean Sea is easily one of the most popular cruising destinations in the world. From cities like Rome and Barcelona to Marseille and Savona, it’s possible to see popular attractions as well as lesser-known ones, but it’s absolutely worth visiting as many sites as possible all in one trip.
Traveling with Costa Cruises, specifically on the Costa Toscana (the new flagship), will take you to many of these featured ports, if not all of them. So, here’s a quick guide to what you can see and do at some of the best Mediterranean cruise ports. Whether you want to take a shore excursion or you want to get lost in the narrow streets, this guide has a little something for everyone.
This post focuses on western Mediterranean cruise ports of call but there are also Eastern Mediterranean cruises which often leave from Italy and cruise to countries like Croatia, Turkey, Greece, and even Egypt.
Thank you to Costa Cruises for hosting me for this trip. All opinions are my own based on my experience.
The cruise port for Rome is actually located in the coastal resort town of Civitavecchia, about an hour and a half from Rome’s historic city center. It’s one of the busiest cruise hubs on the Mediterranean and still boasts some of the ancient Roman fortifications.
Known for its absolutely stunning architecture, art, history, and delicious food, the Eternal City of Rome remains one of the leading tourist destinations in Europe. I highly recommend choosing Rome as your starting or end cruise port since the port is so far from the city.
Visiting the highlights of Rome on a limited cruise port day is much more difficult than if you arrive early or stay late from your Mediterranean cruise so that you can enjoy the sights. On my Costa Cruise, I arrived early and we took in all the tourist sights with my one day in Rome itinerary! We also did a food tour at night and I highly recommend it for experiencing some Rome cuisine!
If you plan to visit Rome, here are some of the well-known spots to see:
Arguably the most famous landmark and one of the main attractions in all of Rome, this amphitheater was built in 70 AD. The Colosseum remains to this day the largest amphitheater in the world, boasting 50,000 seats, 8 entrances, and 4 stories.
It wasn’t only used for gladiator games (probably the most well-known events that took place there), but spectators could also enjoy theater, dramas, reenactments, and other sorts of entertainment. Sadly, two-thirds of the structure is missing due to a series of earthquakes that shook the area in the 5th century.
This is a tourist area worth checking out. It’s also surrounded by many other ruins, including the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, which have separate entrances but are included as part of your Colosseum entrance tickets (if you buy entry).
St. Peter’s Basilica
Built in the Renaissance style, this papal church took 109 years to complete. Construction started in 1506 by Pope Julius II. Located in Vatican City, an enclave in Rome, St. Peter’s Basilica is where all main masses and celebrations are held.
The interior is worth seeing as famous Renaissance masterpieces surround you by Bernini, Michelangelo, and other Italian artists. The cupola itself was also designed by Michelangelo. Entrance is free, but can have long lines, but a guided tour can allow you to bypass the wait.
If you’re an art enthusiast or even just appreciate art, you have to visit the Vatican on your Mediterranean cruise. Its most notable attraction is the Sistine Chapel, but beyond that signature room, the Vatican is home to one of the largest art collections in the world.
The amount of beauty and creation that is housed in the rooms of the Vatican will help you appreciate the Renaissance period as well as understand how rich and powerful the Catholic church was during that time period.
Long lines for entry can be another factor when visiting The Vatican. If possible, book a tour that includes early entry, like this Semi-Private Early Entry Tour with LivTours. You’ll have a much nicer experience versus some of the large group tours.
But if you’re visiting as part of a cruise shore excursion instead of before or after your cruise, make sure you book a tour that includes Civitavecchia transfers with the skip-the-line ticket.
Initially constructed in 27 BC, it was completely rebuilt by the emperor Hadrian in 118 AD but was an absolute architectural achievement until modern times. Boasting an incredible facade that includes famous Roman columns, the inside is actually circular with a fantastic dome above.
The Pantheon is also very close to Piazza Navona, which is one of the largest squares in Rome and features three different fountains as well as some restaurants that are priced a little better than many tourist areas.
Located in Rome’s city center, Trevi Fountain is one of the world’s most beautiful fountains. A fantastic tribute to both Greek and Roman mythology, this fountain has been featured in many movies over the years.
This is one of the busiest tourist spots as everyone crowds around the fountain for photos and wishes. It’s still worth seeing in person as photos just can’t do it justice. And hey, if you’re staying in Rome, you can even book to stay in an apartment that overlooks the fountain!
Porto Napoli, the port of Naples, is just a 10-minute walk to the city center. The port is on the south side of the city and the cruise terminal is called Stazione Maritima. From the port, you can access the city by a convenient covered walkway. One of the oldest cities in all of Italy, the historic center of Naples is actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
While in the Naples area, you have a couple of incredible options for places to visit. Whether you enjoy historical sites with tons to learn and explore or a more trendy and exciting atmosphere, with Pompeii and Capri nearby, you have the best of both worlds.
During my Costa Cruise, I booked a Capri shore excursion with Costa. We left the boat and met up with our tour guide who took us to the ferry port and purchased our tickets for a ferry ride to Capri. Our ferry to the island was enclosed and was not ideal for travelers who suffer from motion sickness.
We were dropped off at the port of Capri and got our first glimpse of the absolute beauty of the Italian Amalfi Coast. We had a boat tour around the island, followed by a funicular ride to Monte Solaro where we ate some Caprese sandwiches and did some shopping.
Don’t miss a visit to the Blue Grotto (Grotta Azzurra), which is a sea cave that gets its name from the sunlight that passes through an underwater cavity to illuminate the cave with a beautiful blue reflected light. While you’ll pass this on an island boat tour, you have to book a special small boat tour to go inside the grotto.
Other places to visit on a boat tour include the Faraglioni rock formations, including the Natural Arch or the Arch of Love, or the lighthouse at Punta Carena. On land, take a stroll through the marina and enjoy the picturesque views then head to the Garden of Augustus to view the botanical gardens and sculptures. You can also visit a number of beautiful beaches.
A visit to Capri will not disappoint as the sites are one-of-a-kind. An island paradise, it is a popular playground for the rich and famous but works well as a day trip cruise excursion. I booked a group tour with Costa and there were probably 20 of us or so on the shore excursions. If you’re able, consider booking a private tour in advance!
The history buff will enjoy a visit to Pompeii where they can explore one of the world’s best-preserved archaeological sites. When Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, the entire city of Pompeii was consumed with volcanic matter, catching the population unaware. While this was a tragedy of epic proportions, it also preserved the city so that we can now see how the ancient ruins and learn how that society lived their day-to-day lives.
You can book a private tour of Pompeii from the Naples cruise port with LivTours.
Out of the nine terminals at the port of Barcelona, seven of them are for cruise ships. Needless to say, this is a rather large port on the Mediterranean. Larger ships (and therefore most major cruise lines) will dock at four terminals at the major port of Moll Adossat wharf. You won’t see many small ships coming through here.
The cruise port is fairly close to the city center, so it isn’t difficult and shouldn’t take long to get into Barcelona. Once you’ve arrived in the city, there’s a lot to do:
The Gothic Quarter
An incredible place to see some phenomenal architecture such as the Barcelona Cathedral is in the Gothic Quarter. With street food and flower stalls along with people watching, the Gothic Quarter can be rather touristy, but worth a visit.
In this park, you’ll find one of the most famous lookouts and photo spots in Barcelona. It’s a private garden area located at the top of Carmel Hill, giving visitors a view over the city of Barcelona and out to the sea. It is located farther away from the coast than most of the attractions, so keep that in mind when planning your cruise excursion.
Rent a Vespa
Touring Barcelona’s historic streets via a rented scooter is a great way to feel a little more like a local and see a lot of different sites in a day. You’ll find some incredible views of the local beaches and get to places like Park Güell easier via scooter. Another option is to book an e-bike tour around the city, which is what I did.
La Boqueria Market
The “Best Market in the World” is around 180 years old and located in the ancient city center of Barcelona. La Boqueria Market is a wonderful way to feel like a local while perusing various local specialties and goods. Even if you don’t purchase anything, it’s a fun local experience.
La Sagrada Familia
A UNESCO world heritage site, it may be a common place to visit in Barcelona, but La Sagrada Familia is definitely a must-see. Probably Barcelona’s most popular monument, this extremely famous unfinished work of Gaudi is an architectural masterpiece. It’s also essential to book a “skip the line” ticket so you don’t have to wait forever to tour it.
If you’re looking for more Gaudi architecture, be sure to check out the Casa Milà, aka “The Stone Quarry”, and Casa Batlló, aka “House of Bones”.
Temple Expiatori del Sagrat Cor
Located on hills behind the city, the Temple Expiatori del Sagrat Cor stands watch over Barcelona, similar to Cristo Redentor in Rio de Janeiro. The view is breathtaking and the best from any vantage point in the city, so it’s worth a visit.
If you are looking for a more personalized small group or private tour, I highly recommend booking a Barcelona tour with LivTours. They will never have more than 6 people on their non-private tours and their guides are all fabulous!
If you’re looking for some additional options, check out these Barcelona tours:
The third largest city in Spain, Valencia is a beautiful and often overlooked city. Valencia also happens to be one of the homeports of the Costa Toscana. The port itself is about a 15-minute drive from the city center, so be prepared to either take a bus or hire a taxi (which is very affordable).
Home to the Holy Grail as well as paella, Valencia also plays host to the spring festival of Las Fallas, known to be quite a wild party. Blessed with beautiful weather ranging from the low 40s (F) up to the upper 80s (F) for the year, Valencia can be perfect to visit any time.
A hidden gem in Spain, it’s worth a trip to see a unique blend of old and new architecture, walk along the old river, experience the open-air cafes, and enjoy the market. Here are a few specific ideas for a visit:
Cathedral de Valencia
Upon arriving at Puerto De Valencia and securing transport to the old city center, your first stop should be to see the Holy Grail at the Cathedral de Valencia. A treasure of the Christian world, the Holy Grail is said to have been used by Jesus as he at the Last Supper, and Joseph of Arimathea also used it to collect some of Jesus’s blood at this crucifixion.
Outside of history, it is said to grant healing powers, everlasting happiness, and eternal youth. Although it may have started out as a simple cup made of agate, it has been adorned with precious stones and is now quite an elaborate object. Apart from the Holy Grail, the Cathedral de Valencia offers even more. Here you’ll also find masterpieces by the artists Maella and Goya and climb the Miguelete tower.
Located inside The City of Arts and Sciences Cultural Complex, the Oceanogràfic is home to more than 500 different species such as various sharks, belugas, walruses, dolphins, sea lions, penguins, seals, rays, jellyfish, turtles, sawfish, and the rare oceanic sunfish, just to name a few.
Composed of nine separate underwater towers and as well as multiple underwater tunnels in which to explore the different ecosystems, the architecture is almost just as worth the visit as the creatures themselves.
City of Arts and Sciences
Enjoy the unique experience of interactive exhibitions, the only IMAX dome in Spain, as well as amazing science workshops in this fun and educational museum.
The view upon pulling into Marseille Fos Port on the Costa Toscana may not be very inspiring, but once you grab a bus, taxi, or train to the old city center, you’ll be much more impressed. Marseille may be France’s oldest city and an arch-rival to Paris, but you won’t be able to draw many comparisons between the two.
Instead of classic monuments or impressive architecture, Marseille is situated between a sweeping bay and rugged limestone hills. Its rich history spans back to 600 BC and still includes a wide range of street markets that are fun to explore. If it’s exploring you love, Marseille has some features you’ll enjoy:
Built in 1524-31, the Château began its life as a fortress, built to withstand attacks from the sea. It was controversial and later proved to not be as effective as hoped, so it became a prison in the mid-16th century.
Over the years, it played host to revolutionaries, victims of religious persecution, and most famously the Count of Monte Cristo, a fictional character of Alexandre Dumas. Just a quick boat trip across from Marseille, a visit to this historical site makes for a fun day trip.
Notre Dame de la Garden
The symbol of Marseille, La Bonne Mère (the Good Mother, as she is affectionately referred to) is part fortress, part lighthouse, and part pilgrimage destination. The Basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde can be viewed from almost anywhere in Marseille as it was built on the city’s highest point.
It was originally a Roman lookout point, then a church was built, then a fort to protect Marseille, and then the current basilica was built in 1853. It may be a basilica, but it retained its residual ramparts and drawbridge, which doesn’t hide its history. It’s truly a work of art, with its nod to the city’s multicultural heritage displayed in the inner decor.
Due to an overhaul of the local museums, Marseille now has some of the best in all of Europe. A few of the larger ones not to miss include the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Musée d’Histoire, the Musée Cantini, the Muséum d’Histoire naturelle, and other various museums in the Château Borély and the Vieille Charité.
Active since the middle ages, Palacroisière is the port in Savona, Italy. Costa Cruises is the main cruise line that operates here, at the 4th largest of cruise port in Italy (by number of passengers). Luckily, Palacroisière is within walking distance of the city center of Savona and the city itself is easily walkable in a single day.
The city center is full of wide streets and narrower medieval alleys along with colorful shops and buildings. But be sure to pass down the elegant Via Paleocapa and Via Pia made famous by their characteristic arcades, which allow outdoor walking even on the rainiest of days. If you tire of wandering the streets, there are quite a few specific sites not to miss:
Only restored in recent years, Priamar Fortress was originally built between 1542 and 1544 by Genoa in an effort to demonstrate supremacy over Savona. Despite being a very important military fortress, it was abandoned for a long time. It now houses a few museums as well as theaters, especially in the summer. It’s free to enter the fortress, but you’ll have to pay to tour the museums or attend theatrical performances.
Cathedral of Assumption
The mother church of Savona, the Renaissance-style Cathedral of Assumption was built at the end of the 16th century. It’s decorated with many pieces of important art, the most impressive being the triptych of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, dating from 1401.
All About Apple Museum
Take a step away from ancient history and make a stop for the technology lover. Featuring almost 9,000 pieces (most of which are Apple brand), this museum is a step back in time to the first prototypes in the mid-1970s to the latest developments of Macs and iPhones. You’ll also find some other classic electronic brands such as Commodore, Olivetti, and Atari among the Apple products. Most of the devices are still functional and you can even try them out yourself.
Located about 30 minutes away from the Savona cruise port is the medieval town of Finalborgo. This walled pastel city is one of the prettiest in the Liguria region. Wander around the winding streets and alleys to discover local artisans at work as well as cafes and shops. Stop at the Piazza Garibaldi to enjoy a drink and some people-watching.
A top destination for cruise travelers, the port of Livorno in Tuscany will bring you close to the city of Pisa. Nestled by the river Arno, Pisa is just six miles from the Mediterranean coast and a little more than 15 miles from Livorno (around 30 minutes by bus, taxi, or train). Be sure to stop by the Terrazza Mascagni in Livorno before heading into Pisa. Without a doubt, this is a popular stop!
Piazza Dei Miracoli
One of the world’s finest architectural structures, Piazza del Duomo (as it is officially known) is one of the most important centers of medieval art in Europe. Located at the city center of Pisa, it’s here that you’ll find the Leaning Tower of Pisa along with three other great religious buildings: the Pisa Baptistry, the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, and the Camposanto Monumentale.
Construction on the cathedral was started in the 11th century and completed in 1092. The front of the cathedral is a sight to behold with gorgeous marble and stone arches and bronze doors. You’ll be in awe of the interior as well as it is covered with gold decor and a fresco adorns the dome of the basilica, depicting the Assumption of Mary.
The Baptistry as well as the Monumental Cemetery are also architectural wonders and worth a walk-through. The statues, the arches, the frescos, and the courtyard are beautiful to see and peaceful in the midst of the city.
Leaning Tower of Pisa
Of course, you can’t miss the main attraction, the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The most famous of the structures in the Square of Miracles, the tower was constructed after the cathedral, in the 12th century. Soon after, the foundation was found to be unstable and the structure began to lean.
Don’t worry, measures have been taken to ensure the building doesn’t fall over! The Leaning Tower is still a beautiful piece of architecture, so don’t miss the six beautiful stone rows of arches. You can also climb to the top for a fascinating, albeit tilted, view of the city. Piazza Del Miracoli is the perfect way to visit ancient sites in an old town.
A tiny village and commune located in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region of the French Riviera, Villefranche-sur-Mer is the home of Villefranche, the main cruise port for Nice. The harbor itself is naturally deep and perfectly safe for large cruise ships. With such a deep harbor plus the location is close to not only Nice, but Monte Carlo and Monaco (among other locations), Villefranche is often a stop for many Mediterranean cruises.
To get to downtown Nice from the Villefranche cruise terminal will take about 15-20 minutes if you’re driving, depending on traffic. If you want to venture to Monte Carlo or Monaco, it’ll take about 25 minutes and Cannes will take about an hour.
Trains and buses are also available as are taxis, although the taxis will be pricey. Also be aware that the cruise ships don’t dock, but drop anchor in the deep waters and use tender boats to transport passengers to shore in a 10-minute ride.
If you choose not to venture away from the port area, there’s a public beach to enjoy, a few historic landmarks, as well as French pastries in this historic fishing village. But be prepared to walk on steep inclines and over uneven ground since the town is rather hilly. However, there are spectacular views to check out. Make sure you wear comfortable shoes for all the walking you’re about to do.
This capital of the French Riviera really needs a few days to explore, but if you’re on a time crunch, don’t miss the Promenade des Anglais, the fountains at Place Masséna (the main square in Nice), or the palaces, churches, and museums of Old Nice.
The second smallest sovereign state next to the Vatican, Monaco is also recognized as one of the wealthiest and most expensive places in the world, despite being less than one square mile in size. A few sites to visit include the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco, Saint Nicholas Cathedral, Jardins de Saint-Martin, and Prince’s Palace of Monaco.
The main resort and residential area of Monaco, Monte Carlo is best known for its casino. This upscale entertainment and gambling complex is housed in the Beaux-Arts building, which dominates Casino Square. The square is also surrounded by ornate buildings and exclusive restaurants.
Cruising with Costa Cruises
If you’re looking to cruise like an Italian, Costa Cruises gives you that chance. They’re based out of Italy and offer cruisers a chance for a budget cruise that can be upgraded as they want. The buffet dining options have an international flair and your fellow cruisers will be from all over Europe.
Costa Cruises has a unique booking method that allows guests to embark and disembark at numerous ports, so it’s like an eternal circle of people coming on board and going off. Very different from the traditional Saturday to Saturday from one port that most Americans are used to.
The newest ship to join the Costa fleet is their new flagship, the Costa Toscana. It’s built with some beautiful seating spaces and lots of open deck viewing at the back of the ship. I especially love the walking track that hovers over the top deck.
And their indoor beach club pool area can be a great spot to lounge, just try to avoid school breaks as kids and teens will take over that space.
One note for American travelers, smoking is still very common in Europe and especially Italy. Costa Cruises does allow smoking on board including on cruise balconies.
There you have it, some of the best Mediterranean cruise ports available! There is so much historic architecture to see in European countries. All of these are great places to visit on Western Mediterranean cruises. Which one of these Mediterranean ports is your favorite?