From the fascinating architecture of Rome to the mouthwatering tapas of Barcelona, there are so many exciting destinations all waiting to be discovered on a cruise. Here are the best places to see during your European voyage handpicked by ROL Cruise:
The oldest city in Europe, Athens combines the fascinations of the ancient world with unique modern architecture. Greece’s capital was named after Athena, the goddess of wisdom and war. The daughter of Zeus, Athena was thought to be the city protectress, both urban and civilised in her ways. The globally-renowned Acropolis of Athens was built in tribute to Athena and still holds strong links to her today.
Overlooking the city, the Acropolis of Athens is one of the most complete ancient Greek monuments in existence. Built into the steep, rocky hill, the fortification walls have surrounded this UNESCO World Heritage site for more than 3,000 years. After entering the site through the Propylaia, visitors are free to wander to the hilltop to admire features including the Parthenon, Erechtheion and the temple of Athena Nike.
But for all its history, Athens is full to the brim with captivating contemporary attractions. Perhaps surprisingly, the city has a thriving music scene with jazz, rock and rembetika (bluesy songs from the early 20th century) proving most popular. Live music can mainly be found at festivals and outdoor concerts but there are a number of cool bars dotted around.
The medieval city of Avignon is famous for its historic centre. A UNESCO World Heritage site, it is surrounded by medieval ramparts and contains many remarkable museums, palaces and churches. One of the city’s most prominent features is the Pont d’Avignon, the broken bridge that juts out halfway across the Rhone River. Also known as the Saint-Bénézet, the bridge was originally part of one of the most important pilgrimage routes between Italy and Spain. It later became essential to the pontifical court, which settled in Avignon in the 14th century.
A visit to the main square, Place de l’Horloge, will enable you to immerse yourself in the beating heart of Avignon. The esplanade is lined with cafés and restaurants where locals chatter and enjoy fresh coffee. Opposite stand facades that delve a little deeper into history and a wander here will be akin to a step back in time. “One of my favourite things about visiting Avignon is just how easy it is to explore by foot,” says Emma from Emma Cruises.
“You can get lost for hours wandering around the streets even if you aren’t particularly looking for anything. Around every corner, there is a little piece of history and culture with something to learn or something to do.
“Avignon is a vibrant and alive city full of cafés, restaurants and bars. Alongside high street names, you’ll find small independent shops which sell all manner of things, a personal favourite of mine being the candy and chocolate shops. It’s well worth a visit to Avignon to grab a local snack, sit in one of the many city squares and learn about the incredible history of the place that you are visiting.”
Barcelona is a very popular cruise port that features on many Mediterranean cruises. The capital of Catalonia captivates its many visitor's thanks to its stunning blend of intriguing architecture, irrepressible culture, exquisite food and inviting beaches. Matthew, from popular cruise-focused YouTube channel, Cruising with Matthew, has been lucky enough to visit Barcelona twice whilst on cruises with P&O (Britannia in 2018 and Azura in 2019). He said, “I loved both trips! In my opinion, Barcelona is a special type of city where everything is within easy reach of the port. That being said, as there is so much to see, it pays to plan out your day(s) in advance.
“I’d thoroughly recommend a walk through La Rambla as it’s close to most shuttle bus drop-offs, which tend to be around the Columbus Monument. The boulevard really gives an exciting introduction to Barcelona with its bustling markets and stalls wherever you look. For instance, as you go along La Rambla, you’ll find the La Boqueria Food Market. I love visiting markets in different countries as you get to see so many food options which you never get to see in the UK and you’re bombarded with sights and smells in every direction.
“If you continue along La Rambla, you’ll eventually encounter the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona. This was such an interesting area to visit as the architecture shifts into a completely different tone. You’ll encounter the El Pont Del Bisbe (Bishop’s Bridge) which has to be one of my favourite spots in Barcelona. Within the Gothic Quarter, you can also find the Cathedral of Barcelona. Another impressive structure which dominates the surrounding buildings - if you’re a fan of architecture you’ll be spoilt for choice.”
See more of Matthew’s images on Instagram: @cruisingwithmatthew
When Matthew returned to Barcelona on board Azura, he booked a P&O shore excursion to explore Gaudí’s masterpieces. “Our first destination was Park Güell,” Matthew explained. “This was originally Gaudí’s idea of a housing development, however, it eventually became transformed into a vast park and gardens. This has to be one of the most surreal places to visit, with leaning arches, gingerbread-style houses, mosaics and even a salamander. It was truly a sight to behold and although we couldn’t spend too long walking out of the shade (Matthew and heatwaves really don’t mix), the vast open areas made this seem like an oasis of calm around the bustling streets of Barcelona. It’s a shame the housing idea never came to fruition, I’d have loved to live here!
“Our next destination was the iconic Sagrada Família. Still under construction since 1882, one can never fail to be amazed by its truly unique design. Even as I strained my neck to see the top of the towers, I couldn’t process the sheer size of it. The true highlight of this tour, however, was the fact that you could go inside. Now the phrase “takes your breath away” is said a lot, but I believe the interior of the Sagrada Família did just that. It seems to break every convention in how you expect a building to be. Soaring columns hold up a captivating roof and the whole area is flooded with light which is transformed into a kaleidoscope of colours by the stained glass windows. It feels like a very special place indeed and I couldn’t help but be moved and humbled by its vast interior. I’d implore anyone visiting Barcelona to go inside Sagrada Família - it’s an experience you will never forget.”
Essex blogger Hannatalks is fond of Barcelona and said it is without a doubt one of her favourite city breaks. “Not only is it home to amazing food, but there are so many things to see and do there as well! There is something for everyone here - whether you’re a history fanatic, football enthusiast or prefer the slower pace of exploring by foot. When I go on a city break, I love to book a hop-on hop-off bus tour. I booked to go on one whilst I was in the city - it takes you around the city to different stops; my favourite ones were La Sagrada Família, Park Güell and Plaça de Catalunya.
“I’m not a big football fan but Camp Nou is a cool stadium to explore - it’s home to FC Barcelona and has a seating capacity of 99,354 - making it the fourth largest football stadium in the world in capacity. The self-guided tour takes around an hour and a half, taking you around the stadium and museum, including the changing rooms, pitch and press room.”
Kariss, blogger at Shy Strange Manic, recommends Barcelona because of its unique culture, “from the colourful Park Güell to the historic Basílica de la Sagrada Família and the Picasso Museum, there’s something for everyone throughout the city.”
Once upon a time, there was a Scandinavian city called Copenhagen. With its ancient castles, brightly coloured houses and famous sculptures, it was like something out of a storybook. But this fairytale is reality and it’s all waiting to be discovered on a European cruise.
“Well known for being uber cool, this fascinating city is the perfect European break,” says Jenifer from Jenifer Rosena. “Brimming with popular tourist attractions such as the Little Mermaid statue, Nyhavn Harbour and the second oldest amusement park, Tivoli. All within walking distance or explored via the super clean and efficient Metro; be sure to enjoy the Freetown of Christiania, the photographer's delight of bouncing light at the Rundetaarn and the tranquillity of the botanical garden.
“The vibe in Copenhagen is something special; the people are joyful and relaxed and the way of life is slow. You feel at home and comfortable as soon as you arrive and will soon be wanting to hop on one of their 560,000 bikes and meander around with a cinnamon bun in hand - I know I did!” For a walkthrough of the best places to visit, take a look at Jenifer’s guide to Copenhagen.
Karalee, who moved to Roskilde, Denmark in August 2016 highly recommends a visit to Copenhagen. “There is truly something for everyone,” says Karalee who blogs at Tales of Belle. “If shopping is more your speed, you can visit Strøget where there is an abundance of budget-friendly and high-end shops as well as plenty of cafés and restaurants. Or, you could visit the unique areas of Copenhagen such as Freetown Christiania that is independent of the Danish government to the colourful houses along the port of Nyhavn. You can also swim or relax at Amager Strandpark, which is a 2-kilometre man-made beach, or swim at one of the many spots in the harbour including the Islands Brygge, Fisketorvet and Sluseholmen Harbour Baths.
“No matter what you would like to do in Copenhagen, it is easy to get around by either walking, taking the bus, metro, train or even renting a bike. Many Danes also speak English and museums and exhibits have English translations and tours are offered in English, too. You will be sure to enjoy whatever you decide to do in Copenhagen.”
“If you find yourself in Denmark,” says Sage, blogger at A Virtual Postcard, a trip to Copenhagen is an absolute must. This super chic city has a lot to offer. Copenhagen is not just it’s colourful waterfront of Nyhavn, Tivoli Gardens or Hans Christian Anderson’s Little Mermaid. Which, by the way, are all worth a visit. But it's about so much more. Street food, microbreweries, sprawling views of the city.
“Experience the street food court phenomenon of Copenhagen Street Food Reffen, with 50 plus stallholders, as well as bars and special events too. If you’re looking for traditional Danish food grab a smørrebrød (open sandwich). Looking for something a little more upmarket? It’s not a city which is short of options, that’s for sure. Head to one of Copenhagen’s many, many Michelin star restaurants. Or feast yourself on New Nordic Cuisine; dishes created with hyperlocal and seasonal produce.”
Delightful Dubrovnik is the crown of Croatia. Recognisable around the world as the backdrop of Game of Thrones, Dubrovnik boasts much more than its links to the silver screen. The splendour of the pedestrian-only Old Town is a treasure trove of beautiful and historic architecture and there truly is no better way to soak up the sun than by lying on one of the city’s sunkissed, sparkling beaches.
Compact enough to walk from one side to the other in only a few hours, Dubrovnik’s Old Town is characterised by red-roofed buildings, narrow alleys and cobblestone streets lined with shops, museums and historic sights. See Old Town from new angles with a walk along the city’s famous city walls. Climb the myriad steps to the top Minceta Fortress, where you’ll be richly rewarded with breathtaking views of Dubrovnik and the surrounding islands.
Dubrovnik offers a variety of beaches to suit all tastes. The family-friendly Banje Beach is the most popular with visitors where you’ll find jet skis, showers and inflatables. Copacabana Beach offers an even greater range of activities, including parachute boat rides, water chutes and pedalos. For a more peaceful seaside retreat, head to Sveti Jakov - in spite of being a favourite with locals, it’s rarely crowded. If none of those tickle your pickle, read our guide to Dubrovnik for inspiration.
“Rome, the Eternal City and heart of Italian charm is a must-see place at least once in your lifetime,” says Della from beauty, travel and lifestyle blog, Della Loves Nutella. “It’s full of rich history, the best pasta you could eat and charming hidden nooks of beauty.
“From the Colosseum to the Spanish Steps, Rome has plenty in store. The majority of sights are located within walking distance of each other which means you can easily get around on foot, saving your Euros for gelato and vino. I always suggest starting at the Colosseum/Roman Forum as it’s a sight that needs to be booked in advance and a place I’d revisit again and again. From there, stroll on the Altar of the Fatherland monument, which stands in the centre of Piazza Venezia. Here, you’re able to get a glimpse of the entire city and watch the bustle that is Rome.“
It’s the hustle and bustle that attracts Stuart from Just Travelling Through time and time again. “Everyday occurrences such as the sight of traffic queuing endlessly past the Colosseum during morning rush hour and realising that it’s something they do every day is just incredible. Whilst exploring the city you’ll join the hustle and bustle of tourists and locals mixing through a labyrinth of historic streets. Many of Rome’s best sights are world-renowned (for very good reason) and have been shared across social media countless times.
See more of Stuart’s images on Instagram: @just.travelling.through
“But that doesn’t mean you should avoid the likes of Trevi Fountain, the Colosseum, St. Peter’s Basilica or the Pantheon. These are places of great historical significance and to see them for yourself gives an overwhelming sense that you’re witnessing something special.
“Rome manages to perfectly blend its rich history with the present. A shiny new Lamborghini parked in front of some unknown crumbling ruins doesn't look out of place. Throughout the city, you’ll stumble across small cafés and gelato shops, the perfect place to stop and relax as the world rushes past. Squares, both large and small, are filled with restaurants offering incredible Italian dishes. In such a busy city it can be difficult to find a quiet spot, yet hidden away from the crowded streets are parks where the sound of passing cars drifts away to be replaced by the excitable chatter of locals. Despite being such a popular city with millions of visitors every year, you can always find something a little off the beaten path. Whether it’s a secluded restaurant occupied only by locals or a set of ruins taken over by a cat sanctuary. There is so much to see in Rome that it doesn’t matter how many times you visit. Even those famous sites will bring a new sense of delight, keeping you coming back again and again.”
Rome’s historical architecture captured the heart of Kirsty, blogger at Kirsty Marie, “Rome had always been on my list of destinations to visit. I still remember being in the taxi en route from the airport and hearing James Blunt's Beautiful playing on the radio and just as the chorus started the Piazza Venezia came into view. At the time, I wasn’t aware of the central hub of Rome, and yet in the very moment, I was mesmerised by its beauty.
“The Piazza Venezia marked the first piece of beautiful architecture to capture my heart within the city of Roma, but it certainly wasn’t the last. One of the best things I purchased on my trip was a ticket for the city tour bus, which allowed me to visit the colosseum, Trevi Fountain and Vatican City. I can’t recommend this experience enough for anyone who is heading to Rome, as it is a great hop on and off service that allows you to see the sights in your own time and without breaking the budget.”
Home to the best pizza in Italy, Rome’s mouthwatering food was also a big draw for Kirsty. “Okay, so we all know that Italy is also famous for its food, and let me tell you, Rome certainly delivered on that front. From fresh gelato to Spaghetti alla Carbonara.
“For anyone on a budget, my advice is to look to see where the locals eat. One of the best places we found was located on a side street that didn’t seem to have any other tourists inside, however, the food was incredible and the cost was so much more reasonable than on the main strip. “Rome truly is a beautiful city and after throwing my coin in the Trevi Fountain, and one I have no doubt that I am destined to return to!”