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Top Historical Destinations to See on a Cruise

29 May 2024

If you’re a history buff looking for the best way to explore all the rich history around the world, then you’ll be pleased to know that cruising is one of the best ways to do just that – all while exploring new cultures and enjoying some fantastic food, exceptional entertainment, and sensational sunshine! We know, sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

Well, that’s because it is! Cruises are an excellent way for anyone interested in history – to any degree – to see some truly sensational bucket-list destinations and the world’s best historical landmarks. From the ever-enigmatic Sphinx in Egypt to the ancient arena that is the Colosseum in Rome, the latest cruise deals offer itineraries packed with ports the world-over and offer you an abundance of opportunities to explore remarkable historical sites first-hand. But, with so much history out there to explore, it might feel like you’re facing an overwhelming amount of options. Don’t worry, though, if you don’t know where to start; we have listed some of the top historical destinations to see on a cruise down below!

The Colosseum in Rome, Italy
The Colosseum in Rome, Italy

That’s not all, though! We’re also going to run through some of the top landmarks in each location and highlight a handful of the most interesting historical sites you can explore when you’re ashore. And, we’re even going to list which cruise lines sail to each of these sensational destinations – so you know who-exactly to look out for, whether you’re considering an all-inclusive cruise, one of the latest luxury cruises, or even one of the many excellent short breaks.

So, keep reading to find out how a cruise getaway can be a game-changer for cultural tourism and one of the best ways for you to see some of the most incredible historical sites and landmarks the world-over.

Contents:

  1. Athens, Greece
  2. Rome, Italy
  3. Cairo, Egypt
  4. Istanbul, Turkey
  5. Lisbon, Portugal
  6. Cozumel, Mexico

Athens, Greece

Widely regarded as the birthplace of democracy and as the cradle of Western civilization as we know it today, Athens – the current capital and largest city in Greece – is one of the most exciting cruise destinations you can visit and somewhere where you’ll find ancient history in abundance. It’s one of the oldest cities in the world, with a recorded history spanning almost 3,500 years, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in the world with such a unique blend of ancient architecture and modern culture.

Accessible via Piraeus port, which is just a stone’s throw away from the city centre, Athens is home to iconic historic structures like the Parthenon – an ancient temple dedicated to the goddess Athena in the Acropolis of Athens estimated to be almost 2,500 years old – and the Panathenaic Stadium – the first modern Olympic stadium in the world and the only stadium in the world to be built entirely of marble, thanks to the work of Herodes Atticus in 144 AD. And, with historic sites like the Ancient Agora of Athens sitting right in the centre of the city, you’ll find yourself face to face with ancient history everywhere you look in this modern metropolis.

The Acropolis of Athens in Athens, Greece
The Acropolis of Athens in Athens, Greece

While Athens alone is a truly fantastic place to visit if you’re into history, you’ll find that a lot of Mediterranean cruises that sail to Athens also stop off at several other Greek Islands – each one home to its own selection of impressive ancient ruins and historical sites. When in Rhodes, for example, you can marvel at the impressive Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights – one of the few examples of Gothic architecture in Greece.

Or, if you have the chance to visit Crete, you can explore the Palace of Minos in Knossos; this ruin is known (in Greek Mythology, anyway) for being where the divine hero Theseus slew the mighty Minotaur. It was partially destroyed around 1350 BC, but careful excavations in the late 19th century mean you can explore this place of myth and legend today.

Cruise lines that visit Athens, Greece via Piraeus include:

Check out all the latest Athens cruise deals right here!

Rome, Italy

Another European capital city steeped in ancient history, and somewhere which is known as the cradle of Western Christian civilization, Rome is yet-another excellent historical destination you can visit when you’re cruising. And, as you might imagine, it’s home to its own selection of impressive ancient wonders worth exploring when ashore.

The Colosseum, easily the most famous of these ancient landmarks, is the largest ancient amphitheatre ever built and the largest standing amphitheatre in the world today – an impressive feat when you consider the fact that construction was completed almost 2,000 years ago in 80 AD! And, with an estimated capacity upwards of 80,000 spectators, it almost rivals Wembley Stadium (the largest stadium in the UK, with a capacity of 90,000) in size.

This isn’t the only ancient landmark you can visit in Rome, though. You’ll also be able to check out the Pantheon – an ancient temple-turned-church that has been in near-constant use by the citizens of Rome since its construction around 126 AD. This makes it one of the best-preserved ancient Roman structures in the world and somewhere that offers a unique insight into what the world was like thousands of years ago. You’ll also find both the ancient Roman Forum and Baths of Caracalla in the city centre, albeit in a slightly more ruinous state than the Pantheon.

The Colosseum in Rome, Italy
The Colosseum in Rome, Italy

When in Rome, as the famous phrase goes, you can also visit Vatican City – a unique independent city-state within Rome proper and the headquarters for the Roman Catholic Church. Here, you’ll find some sensational sites of both historical and religious importance, including: the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, and the Vatican Apostilic Library – one of the oldest libraries in the world. This is just another reason why Rome is one of the top must-see European cruise destinations out there.

Accessible via Civitavecchia port, which is just northwest of Rome itself, this city is within touching distance of places like Pisa and Florence – both home to their own selection of impressive landmarks, like the Leaning Tower of Pisa and Brunelleschi’s Duomo. If your European cruise affords you time in this particular port, you definitely won’t regret venturing out and exploring these cities too.

Cruise lines that visit Rome, Italy via Civitavecchia include:

Check out all the latest Rome cruise deals right here!

Cairo, Egypt

If you’re someone who really can’t get enough of your ancient civilizations, then the Egyptian capital of Cairo is another fantastic holiday destination you can – and definitely should – visit while cruising. And, thanks to its proximity to the northern coast of Africa, you’ll find that more than just African cruises sail to ports serving this city. So, you’ll have plenty of itineraries to choose from when it comes to booking your cruise to Cairo!

Primarily accessible via Alexandria port, which sits on Egypt’s northern coast and roughly two and a half hours away from Cairo city centre, this focal point of Ancient Egypt is where you’ll find the famed Giza Necropolis. This historical site is home to the Great Pyramids of Giza and the Great Sphinx. The latter, which is the oldest known monumental structure in Egypt, is as mesmerising as it is mysterious. And the former is one of the few surviving Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and a true marvel of human engineering – even in its current state.

The Great Sphinx, with the Great Pyramids of Giza, in Cairo, Egypt
The Great Sphinx, with the Great Pyramids of Giza, in Cairo, Egypt

Beyond this, you’ll have the opportunity to visit the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities while in Cairo. This is the largest museum in Africa and home to a collection of over 120,000 items, from the solid Gold Mask of Tutankhamun to the Royal Mummies gallery – which is the only place in the world where you can see actual mummified pharaohs. The Mosque of Muhammad Ali, the Coptic Cairo, and the Mosque and Madrasa of Sultan Hassan all make for excellent stops on a tour of the city, too.

You’ll also be close enough to both the Saqqara Necropolis and the Dahshur Necropolis, both just outside of Cairo itself. These unique pyramid complexes are home to ancient stone structures even older than the Great Pyramid of Giza!

Cruise lines that visit Cairo, Egypt via Alexandria include:

Check out all the latest Cairo cruise deals right here!

Istanbul, Turkey

You may not find yourself face to face with ancient architecture in Istanbul, but Turkey’s largest city is still a fantastic place to visit if you’re looking for historical sites and some of the most stunning structures and buildings in Europe.

Serving as an imperial capital near-consistently from the start of the Byzantine Empire in 330 AD to the fall of the Ottoman Empire after World War One in 1922, this city (which was actually known as Constantinople until 1930) is a major cultural hub for the region; the Sultanahmet old city, in particular, reflects the truly unique blend of cultural influences this city has been subjected to over thousands of years – with Egyptian obelisks just a stone’s throw away from Roman aqueducts, Ottoman public baths, and more.

The Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey
The Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey

With its own port, you really won’t have to go far at all to see all the iconic landmarks and historical sites in Istanbul – the most famous of which being the Hagia Sophia, which is just 20 minutes away by car, or a 45-ish minute walk through the stunning city! Completed in 537 AD, this church-turned-mosque and museum is a stunning example of 6th century Byzantine architecture and is home to some of the most awe-inspiring mosaics in the world.

In the same part of the city, you’ll find the impressive Suleymaniye Mosque – a 16th century mosque considered one of famous imperial architect Mimar Sinan’s greatest works – and the Sultan Ahmet Camii – also known as The Blue Mosque, and another exceptional example of Ottoman-era architecture.

Beyond this, Istanbul is home to Galata Tower – an old Genoese watchtower built at the highest point of the now-lost Walls of Galata – alongside the Obelisk of Theodosius – an obelisk first erected over 3,000 years ago in Egypt and re-erected in Constantinople in the 4th century – and more. Due to Istanbul’s unique location, you’ll find a variety of European, Mediterranean, and Middle East cruises offering itineraries including this port.

Cruise lines that visit Istanbul, Turkey include:

Check out all the latest Istanbul cruise deals right here!

Lisbon, Portugal

Europe’s second-oldest capital city, Lisbon is one of the most underrated cruise destinations in the world when it comes to hotspots of history and culture. In the city centre, the Castelo de Sao Jorge, which sits atop the highest hill in Lisbon’s city centre, is a castle with fortifications dating back to the 2nd century BC and an impressive insight into the medieval fortifications that dominated the region – and much of Europe – over the last millennium.

Although, if you want to see ancient history and some of the earliest Neolithic sites in this part of the world, you will have to venture beyond Portugal’s capital city – with the Necropolis of Carenque, which dates back to roughly 3,000 BC, roughly a 30-minute drive from the city centre and this city’s cruise port, which is actually one of MSC Cruises’ top 10 Mediterranean ports.

The Castelo de Sao Jorge in Lisbon, Portgual
The Castelo de Sao Jorge in Lisbon, Portgual

A short walk from here, you’ll be able to marvel at the impressive Panteao Nacional – which was once known as the Church of Santa Engracia. A building that began construction in 1681, and didn’t actually finish being built fully until almost 300 years later, this historic site is where some of the most important Portuguese personalities are buried – including numerous presidents, singer Amalia Rodrigues, and footballer Eusebio.

Beyond this, Lisbon is home to the impressive Jeronimos Monastery – a prominent example of late Portuguese Gothic Manueline architecture – and Belem Tower – a 16th century fortification seen as the ceremonial gateway to the city. The capital city is also just a short drive from Sintra, a resort town sitting comfortably in the foothills of the Sintra Mountains. Here, you’ll find even more spectacular castles and palaces to explore.

Cruise lines that visit Lisbon, Portugal include:

Check out all the latest Lisbon cruise deals right here!

Cozumel, Mexico

Sitting just off the coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, Cozumel is a unique island in the Caribbean Sea where you’ll find just as much Mayan history as you will sandy beaches and scuba diving spots. On this colourful island, there are two major historical sites open to tourists: the San Gervasio archaeological site and El Cederal. In the former, you’ll find a network of stone structures – primarily houses and archways – over a millenia old. With this being the closest historical site to the port, you should have no trouble checking this out if you’re pressed for time.

In the latter, however, you’ll be able to visit a small fertility temple, which is the oldest Mayan ruin on the entire island. It’s also just a stone’s throw away from a village of the same name, home to an archaeological museum and the Jade Cavern Cenote. There’s also El Caracol on the island’s southern tip, a Mayan ruin of a structure that was once used to warn the rest of the island of strong winds and incoming hurricanes, and Castillo Real – a Mayan ruin often featured in snorkelling trips along Cozumel’s east coast.

El Cederal ruins in Cozumel, Mexico
El Cederal ruins in Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel is also just an hour’s ferry away from Playa del Carmen, a vibrant Mexican resort town with its own Mayan ruins well worth checking out if you have the time. Although, if you’re on the clock, then you may want to stay on Cozumel and enjoy soaking the sun on one of the several stunning sandy beaches.

One thing worth keeping in mind if you’re planning a cruise to Cozumel is that this island port often features on Caribbean cruise itineraries, despite technically being a part of Mexico; this means you can visit this historical destination while taking advantage of cheap cruises to the Caribbean and Caribbean cruise and stay package holidays. When cruising in this sunny slice of the world, you may even find yourself visiting one of the best cruise line private islands out there – some of which are more history-rich than you might think!

Cruise lines that visit Cozumel, Mexico include:

Check out all the latest Cozumel cruise deals right here!

Book Your Next Historic Holiday with Iglu Cruise

If all of this has you feeling inspired and wanting to go out and explore the remnants of the ancient world in places like Athens and Rome, you can check out all the latest cruise deals right here; and, you can find out more about cruise and stay holidays, and mini cruises, here! With all these options available, you should have no trouble finding something that suits your tastes, destination of choice, and budget.

However, if you just want to learn more about the cruise industry and cruising in general, here's a few more blogs from Iglu Cruise well worth giving a read!

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