Best Mediterranean cruises in 2023 and 2024 for every type of traveler

29 March 2023

The Mediterranean region has it all — amazing food and wine, famous historical and cultural landmarks, scenic seaside towns and gorgeous island beaches. You’d be hard-pressed to sample Spain, France, Italy and Greece on one land tour without transportation nightmares. A Mediterranean cruise, however, is the perfect way to get a taste of many coastal countries with ease, as you transit between destinations while you sleep aboard your ship.

Whether they operate tiny ships with fewer than 100 passengers or giant megaships with several thousand people, most cruise lines have ships summering in the Mediterranean. Some even sail the region year-round.

Most Mediterranean cruises focus on one region (usually the eastern or western halves of the coastline), though longer itineraries may encompass more. While choosing a ship is important, so is picking which route to take and which countries you want to see.

Consider what’s on your bucket list. Cruise lines offer a variety of options, making it possible for culture vultures, beach lovers, history buffs and family travelers to prioritize different ports of call and onboard amenities.

Here are some of the best Mediterranean cruises departing in 2023 and 2024 to whet your appetite for a European adventure by sea.

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Best cruise for romantics: Windstar Cruises in the rivieras

The coast, villages and cities of the French Riviera have inspired artists for centuries. FRASER HALL/GETTY IMAGES

For romance seekers, nothing beats a cruise that lingers along the French and Italian rivieras. France’s Côte d’Azur, with its coastal mountains and azure sea, has inspired artists and romantics for centuries. The equally breathtaking Italian coast is perfect for romantic strolls around secluded harbors or an indulgent, delectable lunch at a table for two overlooking the sea.

Another popular port of call on Riviera itineraries is Monaco, where you might visit the royal palace of the Grimaldi family and stop by the glamorous Monte Carlo Casino to pretend you are James Bond enjoying a night on the town.

Related: Western Mediterranean vs. Eastern Mediterranean cruises: Which itinerary will I like more? 

You’ll find these cruises on small and luxury ships, but our pick for romance is Windstar Cruises‘ seven-night “Yachtsman’s Harbors of the Rivieras” sailing between Rome and Barcelona (or vice versa) on multiple spring, summer and fall dates in 2023 and 2024. The five-masted Wind Surf is as picture-perfect as the ports you’ll visit, and the 312-passenger ship can follow all the luxury yachts into smaller harbors and off-the-beaten-track destinations. Your onboard meals, with many dishes created by James Beard-affiliated chefs, may even rival the fresh Mediterranean cuisine you’ll find in port.

Ports of call may vary by sail date but can include Port-Vendres, Sanary-sur-Mer and Cannes, France; Monte Carlo, Monaco; and Portofino and Portoferraio, Italy. For the ultimate Riviera experience, book one of Windstar’s Prix du Monde sailings with exclusive access to the Formula One racing events.

Best cruise for budget-conscious travelers: Celestyal Cruises in the Greek isles

The island of Antipaxos in the Ionian Sea. DAVID C TOMLINSON/GETTY IMAGES

Visiting the Greek islands is a magical experience. Lessons in ancient history and the development of Western civilization come to life surrounded by astounding natural beauty.

Your jaw may drop as your ship navigates the sunken caldera that leads to Santorini, where whitewashed villages dot the tops of steep cliffs. In Mykonos, you can head to one of the island’s famous beaches or catch a ferry to see the ancient ruins on Delos, known as the birthplace of Apollo. In Rhodes, the budget-conscious can skip the tours and explore the narrow streets and city walls of the Old Town of Rhodes.

Related: Best Mediterranean cruise tips to enhance your European vacation

For less pricey ways to see the Greek isles, consider Celestyal Cruises, which sails three- and four-night minicruises in addition to affordable one-week sailings. A four-night cruise packs a lot into a short sailing with visits to Mykonos, Patmos, Rhodes, Heraklion and Santorini, as well as Kusadasi, Turkey. Don’t forget to spend time in Athens, Greece, before or after your cruise.

Celestyal’s two ships carry between 1,200 and 1,700 passengers, so you’ll enjoy all the amenities of a large cruise ship, such as multiple pools, restaurants and bars, and spa and fitness facilities, but you won’t be inundated with many thousands of fellow cruisers.

Best cruise for history lovers: Viking in the Eastern Mediterranean

Sailboats in the marina of Kusadasi, Turkey. BOB KRIST/GETTY IMAGES

Eastern Mediterranean cruises of a week or more immerse you in multiple ancient civilizations and take you to the historical places you have traveled to see, including several UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Extraordinary itineraries visit Athens to climb the Acropolis; Istanbul to explore the Blue Mosque and the Topkapi Palace; and the impressive ancient city of Ephesus (accessible from the port of Kusadasi, Turkey) and sites associated with the Virgin Mary. In Dubrovnik, Croatia’s medieval Old Town (most recently known as a filming location for HBO’s “Game of Thrones”) will wow you; from Naples, Italy, you can explore the ancient city of Pompeii.

Cruises that start or end in Rome will treat you to such sights as the Roman Colosseum and the Vatican museums.

Related: Best Mediterranean cruise shore excursions

True history lovers will not be satisfied with only a week in this rich landscape. Choose Viking for your Eastern Mediterranean cruise, and look for longer itineraries, such as the 15-day “Ancient Mediterranean Antiquities” sailings in fall and winter 2023 and 2024. The one-way sail between Rome and Istanbul hits most of the ancient civilization highlights: Naples and Messina, Italy; Rhodes, Crete and Athens, Greece; and Ephesus and Troy, Turkey.

Even better, Viking offers complimentary shore excursions in every port, so you have access to knowledgeable guides who can explain the historical sites you’re touring. On board, you’ll find a comfortable home base on Viking’s 930-passenger identical ships, with multiple included dining venues, inviting lounges done in Scandinavian-inspired decor and comfortable cabins with thoughtful details, such as quiet-closing drawers and heated bathroom floors.

Best cruise for explorers: Celebrity Cruises in the Holy Land

Jordan’s ancient city of Petra. NICK BRUNDLE PHOTOGRAPHY/GETTY IMAGES

Travelers who really want to double down on the ancient civilizations should look for longer Eastern Mediterranean cruises that combine Greece, Turkey and Italy with port calls in Egypt, Jordan and Israel. Depending on the specific Holy Land itinerary, you may see Cairo and the pyramids of Giza, Jordan’s ancient rose-hewed rock city of Petra and biblical locations in and around Jerusalem.

Celebrity Cruises is a terrific choice for your Holy Land cruise, as the company offers 10- and 11-night Egypt and Israel sailings in fall and winter 2023, 2024 and 2025. A 10-night, round-trip Athens cruise visits Haifa and Ashdod, Israel (for Jerusalem) and Alexandria, Egypt, with overnights in each port except Haifa. The extra time in port allows for overnight tours, so you can venture farther into each country to see all the key sites. The 11-night version adds a stop in Kusadasi, Turkey, for a visit to Ephesus.

Celebrity’s ships are known for their foodie culture, with multiple specialty restaurants, as well as a happening bar scene (do not miss the martini flights). With a range of rooms, from windowless inside cabins to comfortable suites, you can tour the Holy Land at any price point. The 2025 sailings are affordable right now, with fares starting at less than $100 per person, per night.

Best cruise for culture vultures: Norwegian Cruise Line in the Western Mediterranean

Lisbon, Portugal. MATTEO COLOMBO/GETTY IMAGES

For foodies, fashionistas and art lovers, it’s hard to top a Western Mediterranean cruise to the renowned resort towns and famed coastal cities of Italy, France, Monaco and Spain.

This is your opportunity to see Antoni Gaudí’s fantastical church and other creations in Barcelona, visit Michelangelo’s David sculpture and other Renaissance treasures in Florence, Italy, hang out at the casino in Monte Carlo and stop in dreamy Nice, France, for its Matisse and Chagall museums. You can shop for Italian, French and Spanish designer fashion when you’re not dining on the best Italian pasta and gelato you’ve ever tasted — or bouillabaisse and escargot in France, or paella and tapas in Spain. All are accompanied by local wines, of course.

Related: How I skipped the cruise ship tour in Italy and had a better, cheaper adventure on my own

Norwegian Cruise Line offers a variety of Western Mediterranean cruises to key ports in Spain, Italy and France. Starting in August 2023, the line’s newest ship, Norwegian Viva, will sail the Med in spring, summer and fall 2023 and 2024. Its eight- to 11-night cruises call on a variety of major ports. For example, a 10-night cruise on select dates in 2024 sails Rome to Lisbon, Portugal, and visits Livorno, Italy (for Florence and Pisa); Villefranche-sur-Mer (for Nice and Monaco) and Marseille, France; Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca, Ibiza, Motril and Cádiz, Spain (for Seville); and Gibraltar in the United Kingdom.

It’s a shame that the itinerary has no sea days because the ship, which debuts in summer 2023, has much to keep cruisers busy on board. You’ll have a wealth of dining options, from the Italian cuisine-serving Onda by Scarpetta to a trendy food hall, plus a go-kart track, multistory twisty slides and a bar serving sustainable craft cocktails.

Best cruise for families: Royal Caribbean in the Mediterranean

The seaside villages of Cinque Terre in Italy. MATTEO COLOMBO/GETTY IMAGES

When looking at a cruise with children, you want to mix time exploring on land with playtime on the ship, whether in the kids club or with such attractions as video arcades and waterslides. Look for an itinerary that includes one or more fun-filled days at sea.

Kids will enjoy such sights as the Roman Colosseum, where they might pretend that they are gladiators; the flower market in Nice, France; and the Leaning Tower of Pisa (on a shore excursion from Livorno, Italy). Take them to the beach in the Greek isles and eat pizza in Naples, Italy. If you can find a cruise that includes the Italian seaside villages of Cinque Terre (accessible from Genoa, Livorno and Portofino), fans of Disney’s animated feature “Luca” will be ecstatic.

Family favorite Royal Caribbean has a variety of ships and itineraries sailing around Europe, but a top option is Symphony of the Seas‘ seven-night Western Mediterranean cruises, which you can sail round trip from either Rome or Barcelona. Additional ports of call include Naples and La Spezia, Italy (for Florence); Palma de Mallorca, Spain; and Marseille, France. Sailings depart between May and October 2023.

The ship is one of the line’s largest, so you can watch ice skating, comedy, musical and water-based acrobatic shows at night after a meal in one of the ship’s 17 restaurants. Your family might want to rest up on the itinerary’s one sea day, but multiple pools, waterslides, a zip line, a sports court, an escape room, laser tag, mini-golf and a surf simulator will be beckoning.

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Additional reporting by Erica Silverstein.

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