If you have never been to Europe (or even if you have), a great way to get an overview of it is to take a cruise. It makes traveling around Europe seamless, especially for first-timers. However, to get the full experience, once flying into the port city that you’ll be departing from, we highly recommend staying a couple of days before embarking on your journey at sea. 

We flew to Barcelona, Spain, where we spent a fast 48 hours seeing as much as we could before getting on the ship. It was a whirlwind, but nothing like we were about to experience once we boarded the ship. After two days of eating and shopping our way down La Rambla and navigating the city on the Barcelona Bus Turistic, we were ready to call the Carnival Sunshine home for the next week. Our stateroom was to become our home for the duration of the cruise. 

Below we give you a sampling of the European cities we experienced on our Mediterranean cruise.

 

 

Marseille

Marseille, France is one of Europe’s oldest cities, located on France’s southeastern coast, and home to Palais du Pharo (Napoleon’s Palace). It’s paradise for history buffs, with 24 museums spread around Marseille. If you’re hungry (and we were), sidewalk cafés line the main drag along the harbor, making it the perfect place to enjoy bouillabaisse (fish stew) and pastis (an adult libation), both very popular in the region.

Livorno

Check out the infamous leaning tower of Pisa, or the picturesque villages of Cinque Terre here in Livorno (Pisa/Florence), Italy. We chose to see Florence and wandered in awe through the main Square of the Duomo, the Santa Croce Square, and the Piazza della Signoria. It is in Piazza della Signoria where you will find the statue of Michelangelo’s David. The lines are long, so we recommend that you get tickets and make arrangements in advance to see it.

 

 

Civitavecchia

Rome, Italy wasn’t built in a day, nor can you see it all in a day. Rome is about a 90-minute bus ride from the port, leaving you only hours to explore. We rode the on-off double-decker bus that takes you to every important landmark in Rome, such as the Trevi Fountain, Vatican, Spanish Steps, Pantheon, the Colosseum, and the Arch of Constantine.  We were on and off the bus often, shopping the farmers market at Piazza Campo di Fiori, tossing coins in the Trevi Fountain, and purchasing a ‘popener” (a bottle opener shaped like the pope’s head) at the Vatican.

Viewfinder Tip: Women are required to have their shoulders covered when visiting many of the churches. 

Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik, Croatia is truly a hidden paradise. You won’t find any chain stores or restaurants here. The locals are friendly and welcoming and the scenery and vistas leave you breathless, literally. We climbed hundreds of steps taking us to the top of the walled city with spectacular views of the red-tiled rooftops in Dubrovnik’s Old City, a UNESCO World Heritage site. We dined al fresco, eating fresh local oysters that had been caught just hours prior, while washing them down with local wine that was surprisingly good. We also saw where they filmed Game of Thrones, visited a local market, and listened to street performers.

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Salerno

This is the port that gives you access to Pompeii, the ancient city whose ruins were preserved by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius volcano in 79 A.D. It is jaw dropping. If it is something lighter you are after, the Isle of Capri is a great place to spend an afternoon, located just an hour by ferry from the port. The Amalfi Coast is gorgeous, with winding coastal roads and breathtaking scenery through the picturesque towns of Sorrento, Positano, Praiano, and Ravello. This is where you sip limoncello or a refreshing, fresh squeezed lemon ice. The lemons are almost as big as your head! 

Messina

 

It’s here that you can get to Mount Etna, one the few remaining active volcanoes in the world that you can see lava flows from its base. We took a taxi from the port to Taormina, with its cobblestone streets and beautiful views. We thought this a bargain at just 30 euro per person for four of us. Our driver waited for us and even gave us a tour of Messina when we returned.

Venice

Venice, Italy is incredibly unique, surrounded by water, and unparalleled in its uniqueness. The best way to experience Venice is to walk – and walk we did. You can walk miles in Venice and hardly realize it because you’re stopping into so many of the shops, cafes, and galleries. Not to mention, there are tons of great photo opportunities. But don’t forget to taken an iconic gondola ride in Venice.

What cruise route have you always wanted to take?