Take a cruise through Europe and the Mediterranean and experience European history up close, whether it’s ambling along crumbling Roman and Greek ruins or sipping the secrets of ancient Tuscan vineyards. You might stand where heads of state ate, drank and were merry or see the towers where heads rolled.
Some Eastern Mediterranean cruises go as far as Turkey and Egypt, adding pyramids and bustling Istanbul to your potential must-do list of on-shore adventures. History is alive and well — and yours to see, feel, taste and discover.
1. Naples, Italy
Underneath a thick blanket of volcanic ash, archaeologists uncovered a treasure trove of artifacts depicting everyday ancient Roman life in the city of Pompeii. See intricate mosaics in opulent villas, bawdy paintings in brothels and Latin graffiti carved on walls. Stand in the middle of the forum, Pompeii’s open-air marketplace and social hub or take a seat in the oldest surviving Roman amphitheater, where chariots raced and gladiators battled.
2. Athens, Greece
The Panathenaic Stadium, reconstructed from the remains of an ancient Greek stadium, was the venue of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. More than 2,400 years ago, the original Panathenaic Games were held in honor of the Goddess Athena (with all athletes competing in the nude).
3. Istanbul, Turkey
At the Grand Bazaar you can haggle for jewelry, rugs, silk clothing, antiques and other merchandise in one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, dating back to the 15th century, when Istanbul was the epicenter of the Ottoman Empire. Back then, more than 100 soldiers guarded the Grand Bazaar throughout the night.
4. Venice, Italy
Just outside Venice are the tiny islands that make up Murano, famous for glassmaking since the 13th century. No machines here — watch artisans in action as they blow, bend and shape magnificent works of glass, many of which are available for you to purchase and take home.
5. Alexandria, Egypt
The Great Prymaid of Giza. You’ve seen it in history books and documentaries. Now’s your chance to get up close and personal to one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, erected with extraordinary mathematical precision more than 4,500 years ago. It’s about a three-hour ride each way, but so worth it once you’re in the presence of the Great Pyramid and the one-and-only Sphinx.
6. St. Petersburg, Russia
Prepare your jaw — it will drop once you enter the famous Originally constructed in the early 18th century, this exquisite chamber within Catherine Palace (where the Russian czars spent their summers) is decorated completely with amber panels, gold leaf and mirrors.
7. Oslo, Norway
Check out the Viking Ship Museum for many fully or nearly fully intact Viking longships, which menaced the North Atlantic more than a thousand years ago.
8. London, England
Tour the Tower of London and you'll see the Crown Jewels, including the crown, scepter and orb used at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Walk along the front of the White Tower where many traitors including some of Henry VIII’s wives met their fate. And be sure to get a good look at the remains of London’s original Roman wall nearby.
9. Rome, Italy
The Colosseum is considered one of the greatest architectural and engineering feats of the Roman Empire. This is where gladiators fought to the death, great sea battles were re-enacted and popular comedies and tragedies were staged. And you’ll want to see the recently restored hypogeum, a multilevel, subterranean network of tunnels and cages, where gladiators and animals were held before show time. The Colosseum is still used today for events, although the interior can seat just a few hundred. Performers such as Ray Charles, Elton John and Paul McCartney played at the Colosseum, but they performed just outside, with the Colosseum as a backdrop.
10. Paris, France
The vast maze-like Louvre was originally a royal palace until Louis XIV packed up and moved to Versailles. Although you may not get to see all of the 400,000-plus objects and works of art, don’t miss the Venus de Milo and da Vinci’s iconic Mona Lisa.