Last Updated on September 15, 2023

Embarking on a European cruise is a dream come true for many travelers, with this continent offering an enchanting blend of history, culture, and stunning landscapes.

Best European cruise ports

From iconic cities to charming coastal towns, this is a wonderful region for a cruise holiday, particularly if you are looking to explore a lot in a short time. So let’s take a look at 10 must-visit cruise locations in Europe.

1. Barcelona, Spain: Gaudi, Beaches, and Tapas

As the capital of Spain’s Catalonia region, Barcelona offers a sensory feast with its architectural marvels, lively markets, and Mediterranean beaches.

Marvel at the ingenious designs of Antoni Gaudí at the Sagrada Família and Park Güell, and savor the culinary delights of La Boqueria market.

Barcelona in my view is the ideal cruise port in that you have something for everyone, i.e. you have:

  • a long sandy beach near the port if you want to sunbathe and relax
  • dozens of world-class museums (especially to see Gaudi’s work)
  • numerous places to eat outdoors and enjoy tapas
  • ideal for souvenir hunting and shopping in boutique shops, malls, and artisan stores
  • plenty of areas to walk and amble around whilst sightseeing
  • the hop-on hop-off stop close to the cruise port if you want a whistle-stop tour of the city.

Some highlights I recommended include:

  • taking a stroll along Las Ramblas
  • exploring Park Güell (designed by Antoni Gaudí)
  • Picasso Museum

In terms of food, you can enjoy a variety of dishes like seafood paella, succulent tapas, and sweet churros.

Valeria in Park Guell
Valeria in Park Güell as I take the photo, in Barcelona stop-over

2. Venice, Italy: Navigating the Canals of Romance

Venice’s timeless allure is undeniable, as it beckons you to explore its intricate network of canals, historic palaces, and hidden squares.

In 3- 5 hours you can see and do a lot in Venice including to:

  • Take a gondola ride along canals
  • Walk across the Rialto Bridge
  • Find an out-of-the-way bar/cafe and sample the local delicacies

Exploring Venice on foot is a great way to get acquainted with its fascinating culture, architecture, and history.

Valeria in St Marks Square
I always seem to be the one taking the photos! Valeria in St.Mark’s Square, Venice

Take some time to visit the famous St Mark’s Square in San Marco, an essential part of life in Venice (for the Doge’s Palace and St Mark’s Basilica).

Also, allow some time to see the impressive artwork and architecture in Venice.

Visit museums such as the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and Gallerie dell’Accademia, where you can discover masterpieces from some of the greatest artists throughout history.

3. Santorini, Greece: Stunning Sunsets & the Minoans

Santorini is a picturesque island that is a volcanic archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea and one of Greece’s premier tourist destinations.

With its whitewashed buildings cascading down cliffs, stunning sunsets, delicious cuisine, and unique black-sand beaches, this is a cruise port I never ever get tired of visiting.

Consider heading to one of Santorini’s famous black sand beaches for an unforgettable swimming experience or take a romantic stroll along its rugged coastline.

If history intrigues you, pay a visit to Akrotíri, the ancient Minoan settlement. Once there, enjoy its well-preserved ruins and frescoes that have been remarkably preserved since the 16th century BC.

One of the most beautiful places scenically we have visited is Santorini

Furthermore, get your camera ready for a breathtaking view of Oia, a charming village perched atop the cliffs.

You can also explore the cobblestone streets of Fira, Santorini’s main town. Tucked away in its narrow alleyways, you’ll find plenty of boutiques and galleries selling traditional Greek souvenirs as well as a range of delicious treats from local bakeries and cafes.

Despite all the food you can eat on the cruise, I would still recommend trying the delicious cuisine that you can experience in Santorini.

From traditional Greek fare such as Gyros and Moussaka to contemporary dishes like grilled octopus and stuffed tomatoes, you’ll find plenty to tantalize your taste buds.

4. Dubrovnik, Croatia: The Adriatic Pearl

This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the most popular ports of call for any Mediterranean cruise and offers plenty to do in just 5 – 6 hours.

Take a guided tour around the walled Old City and then, afterward, take a break from sightseeing with a stroll along the waterfront promenade, Banje Beach.

Here you can soak up the sun, breathe in the salty sea air, and take in the stunning views of the bay.

If time permits, for a more active excursion, head to Lokrum Island for some fun in the sun. Hike through its lush forest with native deer and peacocks, visit Fort Royal Castle, or even go swimming in one of its secluded coves.

Make sure also to sample locally-caught seafood at one of the waterfront eateries or browse the souvenir stands that are lined up along the streets for unique trinkets and gifts.

5. Copenhagen: The Happy City

In a country with the concept of Danish hygge, Copenhagen, the capital, boasts a harmonious blend of cozy traditions and modern innovation (and a lot of happy people)!

As a cruise visitor, it’s a great port with plenty of great attractions that you can see in a short time.

You can start with a visit to the Tivoli Gardens which boasts over four acres of gardens and rides. Also, marvel at the futuristic architecture of the Royal Library, and witness the Changing of the Guard at Amalienborg Palace.

At the center of Copenhagen lies the city’s famed Nyhavn canal, with colorful 17th-century buildings lined up along its banks.

If you love architecture and art, visit Christiansborg Palace or Rosenborg Castle for a glimpse into the country’s rich history.

Don’t forget also to take a few photos in front of the Little Mermaid statue!

6. Istanbul, Turkey: Bridging Continents and Cultures

Do visit Istanbul if you ever get the chance, when taking a cruise. It’s an incredible city.

Istanbul is an unforgettable port and one of my favorites!

Located on the Bosphorus Strait, this city straddles two continents and offers an incredible blend of East and West. Whether you’re looking to explore rich cultural sites or enjoy delicious cuisine, Istanbul has it all.

In just 5 hours, you can experience the beauty and culture that this ancient city has to offer.

Start at the iconic Hagia Sophia, a Byzantine-era masterpiece that is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Turkey. Admire its impressive interior with towering domes and intricate mosaics.

Then head to the Blue Mosque. This stunning Ottoman-era mosque is known for its six minarets and Iznik tilework, which give it its signature color.

I highly recommend also visiting the incredible (and very busy) Grand Bazaar!

Stroll through this maze of shops selling everything from jewelry to spices, and stop for a chilled glass of freshly squeezed pomegranate juice.

If you have time, consider also taking the tram to Taksim Square and exploring the lively streets nearby.

If you are into wellness and do not fancy the options above, you might want to consider visiting one of Istanbul’s famous hammams (Turkish baths).

Relax in the warm steam and enjoy the traditional treatments available.

7. Monte Carlo, Monaco: Glamour on the Mediterranean

Monte Carlo, a playground for the rich and famous, exudes opulence and luxury against the backdrop of the Mediterranean Sea.

Monte Carlo is one of the world’s most popular destinations for cruise ships, and it’s easy to understand why. Here’s what to do on a half or full-day cruise stop in Monte Carlo:

Explore the City – Take a leisurely stroll through the Old Town’s cobblestoned streets and narrow alleyways, where you’ll find charming cafes, artisanal shops, and boutiques.

Make sure to stop by the iconic Prince’s Palace of Monaco, home to the Grimaldi dynasty since 1297 for its incredible views of the city and the Mediterranean Sea.

Hit the Beach – Monte Carlo has a couple of lovely beaches, ideal for spending some time soaking up the sun and swimming. Or, take a boat trip around the harbor to get a closer look at Monte Carlo’s stunning coastline.

Go Shopping – If you love shopping when visiting a cruise port, make sure you have your credit card with you as Monaco has a number of very luxurious shops and boutiques. For shopping head to Monaco’s Golden Square.

Whether you’re into fashion or art, you’ll find something to suit your tastes.

8. Lisbon, Portugal: City of Explorers

Fred Olsen cruise to Lisbon
Here I am, Paul, enjoying a day in Lisbon on a Fred Olsen cruise

Lisbon has long been a favorite port of call for cruise ships visiting Europe.

The Portuguese capital is full of culture, history, and vibrant nightlife. With just five or six hours to explore this beautiful city, start by taking a stroll through the cobblestone streets of the Baixa neighborhood.

The Baixa area is home to many historic landmarks, including Praça do Comércio and Rossio Square.

After you’ve explored this part of Lisbon, make your way to Belém Tower. This 16th-century fortress is a symbol of Portuguese exploration and an impressive sight. Make sure you also visit the nearby Jerónimos Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Continue your day with a ride on the iconic Elevador de Santa Justa – Lisbon’s oldest lift – for panoramic views over the city. From here, make your way to the Lisbon Cathedral and enjoy its Gothic architecture.

9. Amsterdam, Netherlands: A Tapestry of Canals and Culture

Whether you are searching for culture, art, or history, Amsterdam is a cruise port that is always worth having on your itinerary.

As a cruise passenger with one day in Amsterdam, I’d recommend the following:

  • Take a canal cruise – Amsterdam is known for its intricate network of canals, and what better way to explore them than by taking a canal cruise? You’ll take in the sights of centuries-old buildings and famous bridges and will gain insight into Amsterdam’s fascinating history.
  • Visit the Van Gogh Museum – Amsterdam is home to this renowned museum, which houses a large collection of artwork by Vincent Van Gogh and other Dutch masters. This museum provides visitors with an opportunity to explore the works of one of the world’s most famous painters.
  • Take a tour of the Anne Frank House – Located in Amsterdam, this house was once home to Anne Frank and her family during World War II. It is now a museum a memorial and an educational institution. A visit here will provide you with an inside look into the life of a young girl who changed history.
  • Shop at Albert Cuyp Market – This outdoor market is located in Amsterdam’s Pijp district and offers visitors an array of stalls selling everything from Dutch cheeses to handmade jewelry.
  • Visit NEMO Science Museum – This interactive science museum is situated in Amsterdam and offers activities for all ages. From hands-on experiments to 3D movies, you’ll be sure to leave this museum feeling a bit smarter!

10. Bergen, Norway: Gateway to the Fjords

Cruising Norway
Norway is a beautiful country to visit scenically. Worth visiting on a cruise.

Bergen, the second largest city in Norway, is situated along a dramatic and picturesque coastline.

With its cobblestone streets, picturesque port, and colorful buildings, Bergen is a quaint small town.

To get the most out of your visit to Bergen, start your adventure at Bryggen Harbour. Here you will find colorful houses perched along the harbor, as well as traditional wooden boats of Norway. The stunning views of the nearby mountains make it a great place for photos!

Continue on to the Fish Market, where locals have been selling fresh fish for centuries. Here you can sample some of the freshest seafood in Bergen and even purchase souvenirs made from dried fish.

Next, explore the old city center of Bergen and stroll down the narrow streets lined with colorful buildings. During this time, you can also stop by St. Mary’s Church and admire its beautiful architecture and stained glass windows.

On your journey around Bergen, you can also visit some of the city’s top museums. The Hanseatic Museum allows visitors to get a glimpse into Bergen’s past as one of the most important trading cities in Scandinavia. You can also explore the Leprosy Museum, which tells the story of how leprosy was treated in Norway for centuries.

Paul Symonds