Our guide to Mediterranean cruises

Cunard's guide to cruising the historic and sun-drenched Mediterranean.

With its agreeable climate, glittering waters and irresistible culinary delights, the Mediterranean is a colourful treasure steeped in culture and natural beauty.

Here we delve into the unique sites and experiences you can expect to savour on a Cunard cruise to the Mediterranean, and how to get the most from your voyage to this sun-drenched region. 

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Why choose the Mediterranean for a cruise?

The Mediterranean is a vibrant kaleidoscope of countries and cultures to explore. Renowned for its rich cultural heritage, beautiful coastlines and ancient settlements, it’s long been a popular holiday choice for discerning travellers.

If you’re hoping to feast your eyes on spectacular scenery, savour world-celebrated cuisine and enjoy a coastline of stunning beaches, a cruise to the Mediterranean is sure to deliver. Revel in architecture dating back centuries and lose track of time wandering cobblestone streets, as you explore every nook of this charming destination.

What’s more, a cruise through the Mediterranean unlocks a spectrum of colour and culture. Soak up scenes of historic harbours dotted with fishing boats, walk in the footsteps of philosophers and emperors, and dip your toe into sparkling blue sea.

Then there’s the marine life. The Mediterranean is home to a diverse mix of mammals, crustaceans and fish of all colours, giving visitors the opportunity for some once-in-a-lifetime encounters. You may spot loggerhead turtles, rays or monk seals on a guided boat tour, or snorkel among friendly shoals of fish.

The Mediterranean is also home to around 20 species of whales and dolphins, including Sperm Whales, Common Dolphins and Bottlenose Dolphins. While on land offers Iberian lynx in Spain and Portugal, and a host of reptiles such as lizards, chameleons and tortoises.

History of Mediterranean cruises

The Mediterranean Sea and its clear waters are renowned throughout the world. Connected to the Atlantic Ocean and surrounded by the Mediterranean Basin, tourists have holidayed in the Mediterranean since ancient times.

Royals, nobles and high-powered authorities were among the first to cruise here, with early voyages calling at Malta, Corfu, Athens and Constantinople. Others soon followed, and in 1844 the first commercial passenger cruises began sailing from Southampton to exotic locations such as Gibraltar, Malta and Athens.

Today, the Mediterranean continues to attract travellers from all over the world and it remains one of the most popular holiday destinations for summer escapes in Europe. It’s a region we’ve grown to know well at Cunard and one that we love sharing with our guests, with our fleet of Queens sailing regularly to unforgettable destinations such as Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece and Croatia.

Mediterranean cruise routes

Cruising the Mediterranean unlocks unspoilt coastlines and vibrant cities bursting with culture. Popular ports on a Mediterranean cruise include Barcelona, a jewel in Spain’s cultural crown brimming with lively cafes, sandy beaches and Gaudi architecture; Villefranche, an authentic French fishing village that will transport you back in time; and Rome (via the port of Civitavecchia), with its famous landmarks, exquisite gelato shops and centuries-old ruins.

Mediterranean cruise highlights

The Mediterranean is an enchanting treasure, filled with unforgettable sights and memories. However, there are several must-sees you simply won’t want to miss. Make sure your Mediterranean cruise itinerary includes these essential highlights, available every year on Cunard’s Mediterranean cruises.

Mediterranean cruise sights

A cruise to the Mediterranean will transport you on a voyage through time. Take in ancient wonders, explore classical ruins and enjoy bustling cities embedded with imprints of the past.

Rome: Italy’s capital boasts many cultural highlights but no cruise to Rome would be complete without a visit to the Eternal City for a glimpse of the Colosseum and St Peter’s Basilica. Take in the heady mix of art, history and animated streets, and watch the world go by from one of the city’s many piazzas as you dine on pasta and velvety soft gelato.

Cannes: Home to the international film festival, glamourous Cannes is no stranger to a celebrity. Explore designer bars, boutiques and sleek scenery, and feel like an A-Lister as you soak up the sun on glistening beaches or marinas decorated with superyachts.

Gibraltar: Located on Spain’s southern coast, Gibraltar is steeped in military history, natural attractions and culture. Enjoy one of many sun-kissed beaches and get up close to the city’s famous Upper Rock.

Cultural highlights

The Mediterranean region is brimming with attractions celebrating the region's eclectic cultural heritage.

Ponte Vecchio, Florence: With its graceful arches topped by a selection of shops, this is one of the city’s most celebrated scenes and one of Florence's many icons.
La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona: A true icon of Barcelona, La Sagrada Familia is the breath-taking unfinished masterpiece of Antoni Gaudi. This towering example of artistic beauty is a must-visit .
World Heritage of Croatia: Croatia is steeped in history and boasts countless UNESCO World Heritage sites. Be sure to visit the Plitvice Lakes National Park, Dubrovnik Old Town and the historical city of Split.

Food highlights

The Mediterranean diet is hailed as one of the healthiest in the world and guests will be more than satisfied with the culinary delights on offer throughout the region. Flavourful and sociable dining experiences form the epicentre of Mediterranean culture. A passion for food is evident, as eating here is as much for pleasure as it is for nourishment.

The Mediterranean Sea is home to more than 700 species of fish, so fresh seafood is abundant and of excellent quality. Traditional Mediterranean cuisine also makes use of olive oil, feta, fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as lentils, peas and other protein-rich legumes, in addition to wine and red meat.

In addition to grilled fish, calamari and fragrant seafood stews, lamb and mutton, as well as luxurious meaty casseroles also form a staple of the Mediterranean diet. Vegetable dishes, such as Provençal ratatouille and Spanish pisto, can similarly be found across the region.

Each day of your Mediterranean cruise with Cunard also offers you the opportunity to savour a spectrum of flavours on board your ship, in addition to those you’ll encounter on shore. Enjoy an a la carte dinner in your main restaurant, feast on gastropub favourites at The Golden Lion, or sample a kaleidoscope of world dishes at the buffet.

Mediterranean shore experiences

To help immerse you in the Mediterranean as much as possible, Cunard offer a hand-picked selection of signature experiences to be enjoyed on shore. Hosted by local guides, our tours and activities take you to main attractions and hidden gems, and can even be tailored to give you a fully unique perspective of the Mediterranean.

Be captivated by a guided exploration of Athens, revealing a legacy of architectural, artistic and political triumphs, including the city’s famous Parthenon and the site of the first modern Olympic Games. Or walk the old walls of Dubrovnik, taking in views of the sparkling waters of the Adriatic, and the forts and towers of Croatia's capital.

Mediterranean festivals and events

Nothing feels more immersive and authentic than visiting a local festival while away, and the Mediterranean offers plenty to choose from.

One such festival that takes place annually in Dubrovnik is the city’s Summer Festival; an energetic celebration of theatrical and musical talent that sees the city aglow with costumes, exhibits and performances. Another is Athens’ Apokries carnival, marking the three-week period before Lent, which delights visitors with colourful parades in the run-up to Easter. The celebrations involve a different feast each week, accompanied by music, spot parades and dancing.

Mediterranean cruises throughout the year

Mediterranean cruises typically sail from April to November each year, making the most of the region’s sunny days and pleasant climate. Temperatures at the height of summer can easily reach 40 degrees Celsius (100 Fahrenheit), while travelling earlier or later in the Mediterranean cruise season still offers plenty of warm days to explore in the sunshine.

Weather in the Mediterranean

The Mediterranean has a changeable climate, boasting hot and sunny days throughout the peak summer months, with warm, but somewhat cooler weather making an appearance during spring and autumn.

Mediterranean cruise weather in winter (December, January and February)

With much of the tourism taking place over spring and summer, winter is generally the Mediterranean’s offseason and it’s not unusual to see many restaurants and businesses along coastal resorts close. For this reason, cruise lines tend to avoid sailing to the region during wintertime, although larger Mediterranean cities such as Barcelona still have much to offer tourists year-round. Winter temperatures vary between 18 and −3 °C, depending on the region.

Mediterranean cruise weather in spring (March, April and May)

If you visit the Mediterranean during the springtime, you’re sure to be greeted by lush landscapes and an array of flowers in bloom. Spring in the Mediterranean is comfortably warm and the sun is highly likely to be shining. Spring temperatures are usually between 16 and 19 °C, however, this does vary depending on location.

Mediterranean cruise weather in summer (June, July and August)

During the summer months, visitors can expect hot days, warm evenings, and beaches bustling with locals and tourists alike. The summer climate in the Mediterranean is known for being sunny and dry, and it’s not out of the question for temperatures during the hottest months to exceed 40 °C. 

Mediterranean cruise weather in autumn (September, October and November)

Autumn in the Mediterranean offers mild temperatures and sun-filled days. The water is still swimmable, if a little cooler, so if you’re feeling brave, an autumn swim is a great way to feel refreshed. Temperatures during the autumn months average daily maximums of around 23 °C, however this does vary throughout the region.

Mediterranean cruise packing essentials

Despite the weather in the Mediterranean being comfortable during the warmer seasons, it is important to be prepared for any eventuality.

Pack plenty of light layers, such as sundresses, shorts and T-shirts, which are easy to throw on during a beach visit, on deck or as you head off on an excursion. Light shirts, t-shirts and thin trousers are also essential for hot weather. Opt for lightweight material which will feel breathable and comfortable throughout the warmer days and evenings. Ensure you pack light jackets for evenings on deck when the temperature is cooler.

For visits on shore, a sturdy pair of walking shoes is a must for exploring in comfort. Padded running trainers with good grip and support are also a wise choice.

When it comes to more formal evening wear, you can let your personality do the talking. Think cocktail dresses and dressy tops for women, and smart shirts and tailoring for men. Nights under the stars on deck can be cold, so don’t forget a wrap, pashmina or other cover-up for those moonlit strolls.

Finally, remember to bring a couple of swimsuits and flip flops for the pools and spa, as well as sunglasses, a camera and a pair of binoculars for those wildlife encounters and 'Kodak' moments.

For more tips on how to pack the perfect suitcase for your voyage, see our helpful 'What to pack' guide.

Mediterranean cruise reading list

Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of curling up on deck, feeling the warmth of the sunshine on your face while enthralled in a good book. Where better to enjoy a captivating Mediterranean novel than in the destination itself? 

From travel memoirs and historic novels to crime, there is a host of literature inspired by the region, ready for you to enjoy. The Girl Under the Olive Tree by Leah Fleming, The Island by Victoria Hislop and The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant are three books you may wish to enjoy during your Mediterranean cruise.

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Mediterranean cruise top tips from experts

Get the inside look with top recommendations and tips, courtesy of Alison Moore, Tim Mathieson and Abby Crossley from the Cunard Shore Experience team.

"It's always great to find Genoa, Italy, on an itinerary as it offers so many bucket list options. A must is the breathtaking Cinque Terre, the perfect backdrop for those all-important holiday photos, and a UNESCO world heritage site. The picturesque fishing village of Portofino is the perfect spot to indulge in a delicious fresh seafood lunch whilst soaking up the super-yachts culture. Or you can venture further afield into Milan for some designer shopping.

I enjoy following in the footsteps of Genoa-born Christopher Columbus and exploring the port city of Genoa itself with its charming narrow streets, Romanesque cathedral and Christopher Columbus House itself. Round it off with a rich Italian coffee in one of the local cafes - the perfect chance to do some people watching."- Alison

"The island of Corfu is probably the most well known and most beautiful of the Greek Islands and offers something for everyone. I love wandering through the charming streets of the old town, marvelling at the historical sites and searching for the perfect souvenir. For history buffs, the Achilleon Palace is certainly worth a visit; these magnificent buildings are famous across Europe and are perhaps the most important architectural landmarks in Corfu.

Paleokastrista is a highlight for me, as it boasts one of the best beaches in the Greek islands. The impressive Monastery of the Virgin dominates the village and there are plenty of tavernas where you can enjoy delicious Greek cuisine, whilst relaxing and overlooking the beautiful bay. Corfu really is the gem of the Ionian!" - Tim

"For a relatively small town, Cartagena is certainly crammed with culture and character, with 12 museums, ten buildings of interest and four churches! For me, a visit to this town would not be complete without exploring the historic harbour and Old Town, including a visit to the Roman Theatre: it's a must-see, but go early as it can get hot. This perfect example of Roman architecture lay hidden for centuries until excavation work started in 1988, and it certainly is a sight to behold.

A hallmark of the region is its traditional tapas cuisine, in which you really are spoilt for choice. I recommend joining an organised experience led by a local expert; this way you'll get to visit several bars and experience the true flavours of Spain." - Abby

Mediterranean cruise FAQs

Explore the Mediterranean

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Mediterranean destinations

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