Marseille in France

The Med’s iconic ports: Unique & wonderful things to see and do

Marseille in France
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When it comes to unforgettable cruise holidays, the world is truly your oyster, with so much choice available. But for those who are seeking fascinating attractions and memorable shore excursions, it’s hard to beat the majesty of a Mediterranean cruise holiday. Some of the world’s most beloved ports are right here, acting as gateways to many of the best sightseeing opportunities anywhere on the planet. From Barcelona and Nice to Rome and Saint Tropez, it’s all here. In this guide, we are going to do our best to bring it all to life. Highlighting some of the Med’s most iconic ports (many of which are available on this spectacular 8-day cruise), you will get to discover a collection of unique and wonderful things to see and do during your holiday.

Barcelona

barcelona in Spain

Barcelona is a wonderful way to start any cruise holiday, but it is far more than just a starting point or simply the home of a famous football club. Barcelona is replete with fascinating history, magnificent architecture across a sphere of influences, and a whole host of things to see and do.

Unique things to see and do in Barcelona

La Sagrada Familia

One of the city’s most famous sites is certainly the magnificent La Sagrada Familia. Construction on this Catholic basilica started back in 1882 and it still isn’t finished. Gaudi’s masterpiece is a sight to behold with its jaw-dropping detail, especially its three facades. Its architectural brilliance can be experienced via the following shore excursion.

The Gothic Quarter

The Gothic Quarter is a must-visit when in Barcelona, providing a glimpse into the past with exquisite ancient buildings and narrow, winding streets. Dating back 2,000 years, you can explore Gaudi’s first project, eat at the city’s oldest restaurant, discover Roman ruins, and marvel at Barcelona’s 13th-century Cathedral. The Gothic Quarter can be experienced with this shore excursion.

The stylish adventure blog The Travel Hack shares the following about what the Gothic Quarter has to offer: “A patchwork of architecture from the 19th and 20th centuries, complete with Roman and medieval sights to see, you can almost feel the history as you stroll through its labyrinthine cobbled streets on a hot, sunny day.”

Montjuïc Hill

Overlooking the harbour, the famous Montjuïc Hill is a delight to explore and replete with historical importance. Home to ancient castles, an Olympic stadium, art galleries, as well as lush parks and gardens, there’s so much to enjoy. This panoramic shore excursion is a great way to experience Montjuïc Hill.

Heather from the travel blog Heather on Her Travels has described the pleasures of visiting this location: “What many don’t realise is the hill is full of great things to do and see for visitors. With an incredible range of activities to please romantics, sports fans, art fanatics and culture seekers, you’ll be sure to enjoy a memorable day out on the hill of Montjuïc, Barcelona.”

Marseille

marseille palais longchamp

Marseille in France is not just a magnificent port to explore in its own right but is also a brilliant launching pad for discovering some other nearby treasures. For those seeking a bit of culture, style, and some unforgettable historic sites, there is no question that Marseille should be near the top of your to-do list.

Unique things to see and do in Marseille

Notre Dame de la Garde Basilica

One of the Marseille must-sees and its best-known symbol is certainly Notre Dame de la Garde Basilica. At the summit of La Garde, you will find the beautiful Romanesque-Byzantine basilica with breath-taking golden mosaics and impressive domes. Truly dominating the city’s skyline, this place of pilgrimage can be visited with the Marseille City Tour shore excursion.

Palais Longchamp

Next up is the elegant complex known as Palais Longchamp, a beautiful park with vibrant gardens, monumental fountains, and fascinating museums. Everywhere you look in Palais Longchamp you will find something unique and interesting; therefore, it is the perfect place to relax during your visit. Experience it with this shore excursion.

Avignon

Docking at Marseilles allows one to explore the majesty of nearby Avignon. With a fascinating history, the city was the seat of Catholic Popes in the 14th century. Stepping into the Middle Ages, you can visit the Palace of the Popes (a Gothic marvel) and the 12th century Avignon Cathedral, along with all its relics and treasures. This shore excursion can make it happen.

Saint Tropez

saint tropez dock

The coastal town of Saint Tropez is our next destination and this French Rivera port is one of the Med’s most glamorous locations. Christina, from the travel blog Jet Set Christina, has fond memories of visiting Saint Tropez and spoke to us about what she believes makes it such a special destination: “Saint Tropez is one of the chicest destinations in the Mediterranean. Famed for being a celebrity hideaway since the days of Brigitte Bardot, Saint Tropez epitomizes luxury and indulgence for the European jet-set. With a charming coastal town, world-class beach clubs, and even wine tasting, Saint Tropez is a highlight of any trip to the French Riviera.”

Kerry Spencer, the editor of Cruise Critic, spoke to us about joys of a cruise to Saint Tropez: “Smaller than Nice or Cannes, Saint-Tropez certainly is a glorious place and the perfect embodiment of the French Riviera. It’s a lovely, small French town with history and a sense of place, a maritime sensibility, world-renowned sandals and the famous Tarte Tropezienne - a cream sponge cake developed by a relocated Pole from a recipe he got from his grandmother.”

Jet Set Christina also offered a few tips for those planning to visit: “Head to a beach club, like Nikki Beach St. Tropez or Le Club 55 for the day. Between the beach and the pool, you'll relax and people-watch while soaking up the sun and sipping rose wine. If a beach club isn't your scene, go French wine tasting at Domaine de la Rouillere for the day!”

Unique things to see and do in Saint Tropez

Discover the jewel of the Riviera

One of the best ways to enjoy Saint Tropez is by wending your way through its picturesque streets, following in the footsteps of Hollywood stars, artists, and royalty. Known as the Jewel of the Riviera, the mega-yachts are endlessly impressive and stopping by one of the delicious pastry shops for a bite to eat will not disappoint.  

Kerry from Cruise Critic describes the scene: “The first things that you see when you arrive in the harbour are the glamorous yachts at anchor or manoeuvring into the port. The yachts that do find berths in the old port harbour are smaller than the floating palaces at anchor, but they are also the ones that line the quay, so the occupants can lunch in full view of people walking by.

VIP shopping

Saint Tropez is also a shopping experience like no other. If you want to pick up a memento of your stay, this is the time to do it. With a plethora of eclectic shops, charming boutiques, and fashion outlets boasting the most desired labels, you will surely leave with more bags than you arrived with. This VIP shopping excursion should certainly be considered.

Castle of Grimaud

Grimaud is definitely a must-see when visiting Saint Tropez, especially for the castle that bears its name. Beyond the canals of this rustic old fishing village is the imposing 17th century Castle of Grimaud. From here you can enjoy incredible panoramic views of the Gulf of Saint Tropez. Try this shore excursion for the best of Grimaud.

Nice

nice in france

Located on the pebbly shores of the Baie des Anges, the French Riviera city of Nice was founded by the Greeks and over the centuries has become a fond retreat for Europe’s elite – as well as inspiration for numerous artists of acclaim. Punctuated with colourful buildings, palm trees, and a stunning harbour, Nice has much to offer. Cory from the travel blog You Could Travel has shared her experiences of visiting this wonderful location:

“Nice is a great destination for all travellers who enjoy a lovely climate and delicious food. Nice is a city located by the beach but lined by the Alpes Maritimes, which means you can get a little of all three worlds. Start by spending a couple of days relaxing by the sea, then continue by exploring the city itself with its maze of narrow streets in the old town, then take a couple of day trips to the mountains to breathe in some fresh air and go hiking. Nice is probably one of the most versatile destinations we've ever visited."

Unique things to see and do in Nice

Promenade des Anglais/Market at Cours Saleya

A great double feature to start your time in Nice is the bustling market at the city’s famous square, Cours Saleya, and then the Promenade des Anglais – an iconic boulevard lined with exclusive hotels and picturesque palm trees. Cours Saleya, found in the centre of the Old Town, features various stalls selling an assortment of wares, fresh vegetables, and seafood.

Wine tasting at Cave Bianchi

Sipping exquisite wines under the French Riviera sun is something many of us dream of and, as such, wine tasting in Nice is an opportunity not to be missed. For an exclusive taste of the best flavours in the region, a scheduled wine tasting is the way to go, and with this shore excursion, you can sip the finest wines at the historic Cave Bianchi wine cellars.

Explore St. Paul de Vence

Not far from Nice is the ancient medieval town of St. Paul de Vence – perfect for getting your dose of historic intrigue. Founded in the 9th century, St. Paul de Vence and its cobbled streets is still fortified by its ancient ramparts and is also home to top museums and cosy cafes to soak in the old-world atmosphere.

Livorno

livorno

Livorno is a wonderful port city in its own right, with its charming old canals and picturesque environs but it is also the gateway to two of Italy’s most popular destinations, Florence and Pisa – home to iconic attractions and cultural sites. All of which makes Livorno a treasured Med port.

Unique things to see and do in Livorno

Enjoy Livorno’s famous seafood

Apart from the Medici era canals and character-rich promenade, Livorno is most famous for its incredible seafood. Livorno offers a true gastronomic adventure, with a wonderful indoor market to discover, breweries, and an array of truly special seafood restaurants. Get your fill and more with this shore excursion.

Enjoy the historic delights of Florence

With its menagerie of incredible architecture, palaces, churches, and museums, there is so much to see and do in Florence. The medieval Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is a must with its iconic red dome and the masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture that is Michelangelo’s David is just one of many marvels. A leisurely Florence shore excursion from Livorno is the way to go.

Florence is one the most visited cities of Claire from the travel blog Tin Box Traveller and she spoke to us about what she loves so much about it: “We have visited Florence more than any other Italian city and are always wowed. It's somewhere that's easy to wander without spending a fortune, even though there are plenty of shops to entice you in. We love looking at the Renaissance art and architecture on every street, from the cool colours of the iconic Duomo to the statues of the great masters lining the courtyard of the Uffizi. Our top things to do with the kids are to let them ride the 100-year-old carousel in Piazza della Repubblica and visit the city's oldest gelato shop Perché No!

“My best advice for visiting Florence is to allow plenty of time for lunch, especially if you are on a tight schedule and have to re-join a tour. The Italians enjoy a leisurely lunch and, with no offseason in Florence, you'll find the restaurants busy all year round. But the delicious Tuscany cuisine is worth the wait!”

Leaning Tower of Pisa

The Leaning Tower of Pisa is one of the world’s most famous landmarks. This incredible historical site has fascinated travellers for centuries, and if you want to witness it yourself, visiting Pisa from Livorno should certainly be considered. The tower’s four-degree lean will make for the perfect holiday snap and a highlight of any shore excursion.

Elba

the island of Elba

The port of Portoferraio is one of the Med’s true hidden gems. Located on the island of Elba, docking here allows you to experience not only a fascinating piece of history but also a beautiful island locale worthy of any postcard. From the residence of a legendary Emperor to picturesque beaches, Elba is worth your attention.

Unique things to see and do in Elba

Napoleon’s Summer Residence

Elba was once the place of exile for legendary French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. The island became his domain from 1814 until he returned to reclaim France in 1815. Today, visitors can see his beautiful summer residence, Villa San Martino. Aside from the brilliant Neoclassical architecture, there is plenty to enjoy inside. Discover historic Elba with this shore excursion.

Explore Porto Azzurro

Porto Azzuro means ‘azure blue sea’ in Italian, and this lovely resort is well worth exploring during your time in Elba. Continue to follow in Napoleon’s footsteps along its charming streets and the 17th-century fortress that resides atop a cliff overlooking the bay. Porto Azzuro is a key component of this shore excursion.

Procchio Beach

Elba certainly has the feel of paradise about it. There is no better way of soaking it all in then a few hours lounging on the sandy shores of Procchio Beach and dipping into its turquoise waters. Napoleon might not have done too much sunbathing during his stay on Elba, but that doesn’t mean you can’t. For a relaxing stop, this shore excursion is ideal.

Rome (Civitavecchia)

Vatican City in Rome

Finally, we come to one of the world’s most iconic cities and bucket-list destination of so many. Rome, accessible via the port of Civitavecchia, needs no hype, we have all seen pictures of its ancient statues, arenas, and churches, but to enjoy its extraordinary attractions in person is another thing entirely. Cory from You Could Travel knows Rome well and spoke to us about her tips for visiting:

“Rome is the city of history, with its many landmarks and points of interest. With so much to see, it's easy to forget that Rome can also be a romantic city with small lanes, cute restaurants and stunning vista points. In seeking its lesser-known neighbourhoods, you may discover the real gems within Rome and learn a little more about the Roman way of living. And if you visit during the off-season, you may enjoy better prices and a lot more space to explore at your own pace.”

Unique things to see and do in Rome

Vatican City

Any trip to Rome should include a visit to Vatican City, the home of the Pope and centre of the Catholic world. You can marvel at the architecture of St Peter’s Square, stare up in wonder at Michelangelo’s masterpiece ceiling at the Sistine Chapel or explore treasures in the Vatican Museum. All this and more permeates this essential shore excursion.

The Colosseum

One of the most famous historic sites anywhere in the world, you can’t picture Rome without thinking of the legendary Colosseum. Drawing its name from its close proximity to the former ‘Colossus’ statue of Nero, venture inside to see the ruins of this old arena that staged gruesome gladiator spectacles. Explore at your leisure with this shore excursion.

Spanish Steps

The Spanish Steps are yet another beloved jewel of the Eternal City. One of Rome’s most photographed locations and utilised in endless films, the Spanish Steps were built in the 1720s and are the very picture of elegance. With a nearby baroque fountain adding to the vibe, make sure to head to their location at the eastern end of the old city centre.

Top tips for cruising the Mediterranean

elba

Kerry from Cruise Critic shared with us some top tips for getting the best of a Mediterranean cruise in the summer. She advises:

  • Don’t overdo it – If it’s over 32 degrees, make sure you slow your pace down. Instead of jamming everything a port stop has to offer, be realistic. Also, factor in breaks to sit on park benches or inside cafes between sightseeing stops.
  • “Get tickets in advance - If you are interested in key attractions, make sure you pre-book tickets so you don’t have to wait in very long queues – especially outdoors, in direct sunlight.
  • “Take a cab or bus - When the sun is at its summer zenith, you do not want to walk three miles to any attractions that might be on the outskirts of town. Look for cabs or hop-on, hop-off buses and tourist trams.
  • “Bring water – The sun can be unrelenting in the Med during the summer, so make sure you bring plenty of water and hydrate frequently.
  • “Bring comfortable shoes with traction – Port days can be long and arduous on your feet – so make sure you have comfortable and sturdy shoes to see you through the day.”

As you can see, a cruise of the Med holds so much in store for travellers, providing endless sightseeing opportunities, cultural experiences, and relaxing excursions. If a Mediterranean cruise sounds like a dream come true, make sure to take a look at our last-minute cruise deals to see what’s available.

Discover more cruises to the Med here and start planning your adventure.

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