Embarking on an NCL Mediterranean Cruise is one of the most efficient and exciting ways to discover the best of Europe. From the ancient wonders of Rome to the pristine beaches of the Côte d’Azur and the vibrant streets of Barcelona, there are so many alluring ports of call in the Mediterranean that will leave you in awe. Not only will you get the opportunity to explore these European gems – the best part of a Mediterranean cruise holiday is that you only have to unpack your suitcase once!
When it comes to European cruise vacations, Norwegian Cruise Line is the best choice for an unforgettable experience. With a fleet of modern and well-equipped ships, guests can enjoy luxurious accommodations and a wide range of onboard amenities, all-inclusive dining and entertainment. NCL’s carefully curated cruise itineraries feature a diverse selection of Mediterranean ports, ensuring travellers can explore ancient landmarks, idyllic beaches, and vibrant cultural hubs while cruising in comfort and experiencing their famous world-class service.
In this post, I’ll be guiding you through the most captivating Mediterranean cruise destinations you can discover with Norwegian Cruise Line along with recommendations on the best things to do in each port and suggestions on which shore excursions you should consider for your next epic European vacation.
9 places in Europe you can discover during an NCL Mediterranean Cruise
1. Lisbon, Portugal
Lisbon, the sun-kissed jewel of Portugal, beckons travellers with its irresistible blend of old-world charm, modern vibrancy and undeniable good vibes. Depending on which NCL cruise you select for your Mediterranean vacation, Lisbon will either be a stop along your journey or will most likely be your departure port. If it’s the latter, then I highly recommend arriving in Lisbon at least one day before your cruise embarkment date so you have enough time to explore one of the best cities in Europe.
The best way to get around Lisbon is via tram or walking — although it’s very hilly in some areas, so make sure to wear comfortable walking shoes! Otherwise, ordering an Uber is easy and affordable, usually no more than 5€ for each trip. Start your day by taking in the panoramic views from São Jorge Castle, immersing yourself in centuries of history. Wander through the cobbled streets of Alfama, Lisbon’s oldest neighbourhood, and soak in its charming and bohemian atmosphere. Make sure to stop by Miradouro de Santa Luzia for one of the best views across the city!
Next, hop on the iconic Tram 28 for a scenic ride through the city’s iconic sights, passing by beautiful landmarks like Sé de Lisboa Cathedral and the picturesque Bairro Alto district. Treat yourself to some delicious pastéis de nata, Portugal’s famous custard tarts, you’ll find them just about anywhere across the city, however my favourite pastry shop is Manteigaria. In the afternoon, head to Belém to marvel at the majestic Jerónimos Monastery and the iconic Belém Tower, both UNESCO World Heritage sites. And as golden hour hits, it’s time to end the day with a visit to the iconic Pink Street, which comes alive at night with a plethora of bars and clubs. For a more laid-back vibe, head to one of Lisbon’s rooftop bars, I recommend Mama Shelter, Sky Bar or Java Rooftop. Or do what the locals do and head to any Miradouro (viewpoint) in the city, grab a beer and watch the sunset.
2. Granada (Malaga), Spain
While there is plenty to do and see in both Granada and Malaga, if there’s one stop you make during your time in Andalusia, then you absolutely need to visit the Alhambra! Easily one of the most beautiful UNESCO World Heritage sites in Europe, the Alhambra is a stunning palace and fortress complex filled with Islamic architecture, intricate Moorish detailing, tranquil courtyards, stunning gardens and enchanting views of the Sierra Nevada mountains.
The best way to get here is to book the ‘Granada On Your Own’ shore excursion with Norwegian Cruise Line. Included in this tour is a bus transfer from the ship to the centre of Granada. When you arrive, immediately walk to the nearest taxi rank and ask your driver to take you straight to the Alhambra entrance. Make sure to book your entrance tickets in advance (at least a day before) and allocate three hours to explore the Alhambra and its scenic gardens before heading to meet your transfer back to the ship.
There’s an epic array of activities and shore excursions available in Granada and Malaga with Norwegian Cruise Line depending on your travel style. If you’re more of an adventure junkie, try kayaking along the Cliffs of Maro-Cerro Gordo, hike the King’s Path 325 feet above the Guadalhorce River or race through the Montes de Malaga Natural Park in a 4×4 vehicle made for exhilarating off-road adventure. For something more slow-paced, you’ll enjoy a gastronomy tour of Malaga or a leisurely drive across Spain’s gorgeous Costa del Sol to Gibraltar.
3. Ibiza, Spain
Don’t make the mistake of assuming Ibiza is just a party island, this Mediterranean gem has so much natural beauty and relaxing island spots to discover during your NCL cruise vacation. Start your day by immersing yourself in Ibiza’s rich history at Dalt Vila, the UNESCO-listed old town which is only a 20-minute walk from the port of Ibiza. Afterwards, catch a 10-15 minute taxi to either Playa d’en Bossa or Playa de Talamanca, two nearby beach paradises where you can bask in the sun and dip your toes in the crystal-clear waters. Find your way back to the old town and have dinner at La Oliva – a chic Mediterranean restaurant, arrive when they open at 6.30 pm to experience the atmospheric al fresco dining Spain is famous for. End your evening with cocktails at S’Escalinata and watch the sunset before returning to the port.
Another option is to rent a car for the day, giving you the freedom to discover the island’s hidden treasures. The best way to do this is to get a taxi directly to Ibiza Airport from the port, pick up your rental vehicle and hit the road. Head to the stunning beaches of Cala Conta or Cala Salada, renowned for their turquoise waters and postcard-worthy surroundings. For an unforgettable lunch experience in Ibiza, I highly recommend indulging in the laid-back luxury of Amante Ibiza and the chic ambience of Cotton Beach Club Ibiza. Drive to the local’s favourite sunset spot, Mirador des Vedrà for mesmerising views of the mystical rocky island Es Vedrà, off Ibiza’s western coast. Then drop your car back to the airport, taxi back to the port and you’re ready to continue sailing on your epic European cruise.
4. Palma (Majorca), Spain
There’s a plethora of activities to do in Palma, the capital city of the Balearic Islands. Begin your adventure by exploring the imposing Basílica de Santa María de Mallorca, a masterpiece of Gothic architecture that dominates the city’s skyline. For beach lovers, the sandy shores of Playa de Palma or Cala Major beckon with crystal-clear waters and relaxation, or immerse yourself in the lively atmosphere of the promenade along Palma’s harbour. Embrace the island’s culture by visiting local markets, trying authentic Mallorcan cuisine and the famous ensaïmada pastries.
The easiest and most convenient way to explore Palma is getting a ‘Palma De Mallorca Attractions Pass‘ (available via Norwegian Cruise Line) which includes transfers to/from the ship, City Sightseeing Hop On Hop Off Bus, complimentary sangria tasting and free entry to Palma’s best attractions including Palma Cathedral, Es Baluard Museum and Bellver Castle. The hop-on-hop-off bus stops at all the main attractions so you can explore at ease and at your own pace.
If you want a simple drop-and-flop activity, I recommend the ‘Palma Views & Beach break‘ shore excursion which takes you to the pristine beach, Playa de Palmanova, located in the south-west of Majorca. This beach is considered to be one of the most attractive ones on the island with clean, white sandy beaches and glistening turquoise-blue water.
5. Barcelona, Spain
Barcelona, the vibrant capital of Catalonia, is a must-visit destination for anyone embarking on a Mediterranean cruise holiday. Marvel at Antoni Gaudí‘s architectural masterpieces, explore the winding streets of the Gothic Quarter, immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere of La Rambla and eat your way through delectable tapas and sample Spain’s famous sparkling Cava.
The best way to see Barcelona’s highlights on an NCL Mediterranean Cruise is with a hop-on-hop-off bus tour starting at the iconic Sagrada Familia, giving you at least 7 hours to explore Barcelona at your own pace. Make sure to book timed entry tickets to Gaudi’s famous church in advance to avoid missing out. I recommend buying tickets via the official Sagrada Familia mobile app a few days before your visit. Other breathtaking Gaudi landmarks not to miss out: Park Güell, Casa Batlló and Casa Milà.
If you’ve previously visited Barcelona, on your second visit, try exploring the city’s lesser-known hidden gems like Casa Vicens (the first house Gaudi designed), Palau de la Música Catalana and Bunkers del Carmel for the best views across Barcelona. From the port, a taxi will cost around 10-20€ to the centre of Barcelona. From a metro station, you can buy a 48-hour travel card for £14.76 which will let you go on any metro, bus or tram in Barcelona. For some reason a 24-hour pass isn’t available; however this 48-hour pass is a fair price and makes it easy to get around quickly. Alternatively, consider one of NCL’s popular shore excursions to the nearby famous Montserrat Monastery or unwind with a gourmet tour, wine tasting and lunch at Caves Llopart Vineyards.
See more: Top things to do in Barcelona
6. Provence (Marseille), France
Provence, a sun-kissed region in the south of France, offers a delightful mix of relaxation and cultural exploration and is famous for its lavender fields, fairy-tale villages, and delicious cuisine. Wander through the enchanting streets of villages like Gordes and Roussillon, where pastel-coloured houses dot the landscapes. Indulge in the region’s world-renowned wines and taste traditional Provençal dishes at charming cafes and bistros. From exploring ancient Roman ruins in Arles to strolling along the vibrant markets of Aix-en-Provence, every corner of this idyllic region will leave you enchanted.
Norwegian Cruise Line offers an array of tours in Provence, including an 8-hour tour of Gordes & Roussillon or an alternate tour through Avignon & Aix-en-Provence. If your cruise is visiting during the lavender season (mid-June to mid-August), you’ll definitely want to visit the Lavender Museum in Coustellet, along with three medieval villages in the Luberon area of Provence.
7. Nice/Monaco (Villefranche), France
The French Riviera, also known as the Côte d’Azur, is a glamorous and picturesque destination that should be on every traveller’s bucket list during a Mediterranean cruise. Stretching along the stunning Mediterranean coastline, this region boasts some of the world’s most iconic destinations, including Cannes, Nice, and Saint-Tropez. With its sparkling azure waters, sandy beaches, and luxurious resorts, the French Riviera exudes an irresistible allure that has attracted celebrities and jet-setters for decades.
The port of Villefranche-sur-Mer, where your cruise ship arrives, should not be overlooked. I would recommend spending at least an hour exploring the colourful alleyways and charming harbour and waterfront promenade filled with charming bistros and bars. In fact, you could easily spend the day here and take a few hours to relax at the stunning beach, Plage des Marinieres.
From Villefranche-sur-Mer, you can head east and catch a 28-minute 5€ train directly to Menton or head west and get a quick 7-minute 2€ train to Nice. You could easily fit in a visit to both Menton and Nice during your cruise stop, however, if you have to pick just one, I would recommend Menton as it has a better beach and undeniably breathtaking scenery with its pastel-coloured buildings.
If you prefer to have someone else sort out the travel arrangements for your day in the Côte d’Azur, NCL offer a Monaco & Èze sightseeing tour, a Nice highlights & wine tasting experience, as well as a tour to the hilltop village of Saint Paul de Vence, all with transfers to/from the port included.
8. Florence/Pisa (Livorno), Italy
When you book an NCL Mediterranean cruise that stops in Livorno, you are literally spoilt for choice when it comes to options for exploring some of the most iconic and scenic destinations in Italy. It’s almost impossible to decide between Florence, Tuscany, Cinque Terre or Pisa, however fortunately for you, I’m here to help you make that decision.
If you love history & art, you’ll fall in love with Florence and its Renaissance charm and timeless beauty. Visit the iconic Florence Cathedral and marvel at its majestic dome and stunning frescoes. Walk through the historic streets to the Uffizi Gallery, home to works by Leonardo da Vinci and Botticelli. Marvel at Michelangelo’s statue of David at the Accademia Gallery. Stroll across Ponte Vecchio, a medieval bridge adorned with artisan shops that spans the Arno River. For a taste of authentic Florentine cuisine, savour some delicious pasta at 4 Leoni and local gelato (my favourite is Sbrino!). And don’t forget to visit one of Florence’s many Buchetta del vino (wine windows) dotted throughout the city where you can order a glass of wine through these small 17th-century wooden windows.
If you love wine, the rolling hills in the Tuscan countryside are calling your name with its vineyards, idyllic landscapes and charming medieval towns. Norwegian Cruise Line offers an array of gourmet tours in Tuscany where you’ll visit the vineyards where Sangiovese grapes are grown before tasting your way through the region’s best Chianti wines, accompanied by a typical Italian lunch consisting of eggplant parmigiana, bruschetta, finocchiona salami, pecorino cheeses and olive oil.
If you love the beach & coastal views, a visit to Cinque Terre is a must! Consisting of five charming villages perched on the cliffs of the Italian Riviera, Cinque Terre offers a postcard-perfect scene of colourful houses, terraced vineyards, and pristine beaches. Whether you hike the scenic trails that connect the villages, take a leisurely boat ride along the coast, relax at Monterosso al Mare’s famous beach or devour the famous fried seafood cones from Tutti Fritti in Riomaggiore, there is truly something for everyone in Cinque Terre. I recommend booking Norwegian’s ‘Cinque Terre On Your Own‘ shore excursion which includes a transfer from the ship to the picturesque village of Vernazza (which inspired Disney’s Luca) and will give you the best part of the day to explore the region. From Vernazza, it’s incredibly easy to get to the other 4 villages via train, with quick 5-10 minute journeys between, just buy a day pass from one of the stations.
And if you love medieval towers that lean approximately 15 feet (4.5 metres) from the perpendicular, then you’ll LOVE Pisa. All jokes aside, a visit to the town of Pisa should only be considered if you’ve already visited Florence, Tuscany and Cinque Terre otherwise I can’t promise you won’t be disappointed. Besides the tower, there honestly isn’t much to see in the city of Pisa. That being said, if you want to tick off the iconic Leaning Tower of Pisa from your bucket list (and hey I don’t blame you, I did too), then consider visiting Pisa in one of Norwegian Cruise Line’s combined tours with Florence and Lucca.
9. Rome (Civitavecchia), Italy
We all know Rome wasn’t built in a day and equally one day isn’t nearly enough time to visit all the iconic landmarks in one of the most visited cities in the world. If your Norwegian Mediterranean cruise journey ends in the port of Civitavecchia, then I highly recommend extending your stay in Europe for 1-3 days to properly experience the magic of Rome.
From the awe-inspiring Colosseum and the grandeur of the Vatican City to the charming piazzas and delectable Italian cuisine, Rome offers a mesmerizing blend of ancient wonders and modern delights. If you do find yourself with just one day to explore the wonders of Rome, I recommend kicking off your whistlestop tour at the Colosseum, immersing yourself in its rich history and imagining the grand gladiator battles of the past. Stroll through the nearby Roman Forum to witness the ruins of once-magnificent structures that shaped the ancient world.
Next, make your way to the awe-inspiring Vatican City, home to the majestic St. Peter’s Basilica and the renowned Sistine Chapel, where you can marvel at Michelangelo’s breathtaking masterpieces. Indulge in a leisurely Italian lunch in the charming neighbourhood of Trastevere where you’ll find the best carbonara at Trattoria Da Enzo al 29. End your day at the world-famous Trevi Fountain, making a wish as Lizzie Macguire did and tossing a coin into its waters. Grab a gelato from the nearby Gelateria Della Palma before heading back to the port.
NCL Mediterranean Cruises 2024
Currently, there are over 50 Norwegian Cruise Line Mediterranean Vacations setting sail in 2024, with various ports of departure in Europe including: Athens (Piraeus), Barcelona, Istanbul, Lisbon, London (Southampton), Paris (Le Havre), Rome (Civitavecchia) and Venice (Trieste).
There is a wide variety of cruise trip lengths so you can either get a quick taste of Europe or put your out-of-office on for 2 weeks and enjoy an epic adventure. Here are just a few examples cruises:
4-day Mediterranean Cruise: Florence & Cannes
7-day Mediterranean Cruise: Italy, Greece & Croatia
10-day Mediterranean Cruise: Italy, France, Spain & Portugal
15-day Mediterranean Cruise: Italy, France, Spain & Azores
Book now to get the best deal on these All-inclusive Mediterranean Cruises with NCL.
Embarking on an NCL Mediterranean cruise is truly the best way to discover the hidden gems and iconic cities of Europe. With nine incredible European destinations on the itinerary, you’ll be treated to a medley of history, culture, and stunning landscapes. From the ancient wonders of Rome to the glitz of the French Riviera and the charm of Palma in Majorca, each port of call offers something unique and unforgettable. With Norwegian Cruise Line, the experience becomes even more exceptional, as their modern ships and carefully curated itineraries ensure a comfortable and enriching journey. Whether you’re exploring historic landmarks, basking on pristine beaches, or sampling the best of Mediterranean cuisine, set sail with Norwegian, and let these captivating European destinations take you on an unforgettable voyage through history, culture, and beauty. Bon voyage!