There will be times when you wish the clock would slow down. Sometimes you have no sooner arrived than it feels like you are setting sail again. Most cruises take you to places but you never seem to get enough time to do anything justice.
Most cruises will include optional excursions ashore with a guide and itinerary that takes you around the main sights. These offer a good way to see a lot in the smallest amount of time. However you might want to get away to do your own thing (maybe as a change from your shipmates) or your interests might be different.
Do a bit of homework on the places you’ll be stopping off at. Focus on what you want to see and don’t feel that you have to rush around, trying to see everything. In a day, at most places, this will be impossible.
Ports like Cartagena and La Coruña are first (or last) ports of call from Southampton if you’re cruising to the Mediterranean. As much for a place to stretch your legs, you will still find interesting history: in Cartagena, archaeological sites, monuments, historical buildings and Modernist houses and public buildings that students of Gaudi , the famous architect who made his mark particularly in Barcelona, cut their teeth building; and in La Coruña, there’s a Roman lighthouse or the Tower of Hercules that has been in continuous use since around the second century AD that’s well worth a visit.
Barcelona is a popular stop-off point. There’s a lot to see and do in this vibrant Catalan city. Gaudi’s fascinating sculpture park is a ‘must see’ with examples of his Modernist architecture in neighbouring streets.
Stroll along Las Ramblas (best in the evening) where all the locals come to socialize and maybe eat in one of the tapas bars or restaurants that spill out onto the adjoining streets.
If you have time (a day), the mountain monastery at Montserrat is just 90 minutes by train and is another ‘not to be missed’ place. The monastery is surrounded by mountains and the views are amazing. Attend mass or go for a hike along scenic paths that go around the monastery.
French Riviera: Nice, Toulon, St Raphael
Cruise ships invariably stop somewhere along the French Riviera. St Raphael offers attractive coast path walks, sailing and diving, and nice beaches. More chic and famous for its film festival, Cannes has nice beaches and a quaint old town, but if you have time, go inland to visit the perfumeries of Grasse or one of the many villages sitting on the top of hills that form the foothills of the Alpes Maritimes.
Ships moor up by the old port near the Old Town of Nice. Narrow lanes, wonderful ice cream (the area is strongly influenced by Italy), fresh food markets and good seafood restaurants greet you here. The beach is nothing to get excited about, but strolling along the Promenade des Anglais is the done thing, especially on Sunday afternoons when the locals come out in force.
Pisa – Even if you don’t have time to see more than the famous Leaning Tower, this is of course, Pisa’s main claim to fame. The Tower is a World Heritage Site. It was originally supposed to be a bell tower and started to list from right from the start (1173), leaning more and more over the centuries.
Florence – Birthplace of the Italian Renaissance, some of the world’s most important artists spent time here: Botticelli, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci to name just three. The cathedral, topped by Brunelleschi’s dome is the third biggest Christian church in the world. Don’t miss the Uffizi and the Pitti Palace, two of the most important art galleries in the world. If there’s just one sculpture to see, go to the Accademia to see Michelangelo’s David.
Strategically located at the entrance to the Mediterranean, Gibraltar was ceded to Britain by Spain in 1713. Explore the Siege Tunnels, an underground maze of tunnels; walk to Europa Point to see where the Atlantic meets the Mediterranean and look across to the coast of Africa; and if you have a head for heights, walk or take a cable car to the top of The Rock. Everywhere you go, you will see the famous Barbary Macaque apes.
You could look at your cruise as a reconnaissance trip, whetting your appetite to return and spend longer at the places that really catch your fancy. Then again, you might prefer just to get a taste of several places when cruising around the Med. Either way, be careful not to get too carried away when you go ashore and don’t forget the time!
This guest post comes from freelance writer Victoria Heckstall. She has lived in New York City in the past and she occasionally travels back to visit friends and family still there.