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Eastern vs. Western: Which Mediterranean Cruise Should You Take This Summer?

Once you’ve decided to take a Holland America Line cruise to the Mediterranean, you quickly are faced with a second decision to make: should you cruise to the eastern Med or western Med? The truth is, you can’t go wrong with either choice, and if you have more time you should consider doing a longer cruise that combines both regions or take a back-to-back Collectors’ Voyage!

Holland America Line has an almost endless list of options for cruising the Med. Among the dozens of options, guests can choose from 12-day Mediterranean Rivieras itineraries that explore the western Med. or 12-day Mediterranean Empires cruises to the east, or take it all in with a 36-day Best of the Mediterranean.

Here’s what makes the two regions different.

THE WESTERN MEDITERRANEAN
First-time-cruisers typically choose the western Mediterranean. It is a classic choice that combines incredible history and stunning architecture. Attractions here include plenty of museums and religious sites where you’ll enjoy work by some of the most influential artists and architects in history. Western Mediterranean cruises usually call at a combination of cities in Spain, France and Italy. Popular ports on these cruises include St. Tropez, France; Monte Carlo, Monaco; Barcelona and Malaga, Spain; and Civitavecchia (Rome) and Naples, Italy.

Marseille, France, is a popular western Mediterranean port, from which guests can visit the Longchamps Palace.

Marseille, France, is a popular western Mediterranean port from which guests can visit the Longchamps Palace.

Museums
World-class museums are a staple of the western Mediterranean. Malaga’s Picasso Museum opened a little over a decade ago in the Andalusian city where the famous artist was born. The museum features nearly 300 pieces donated by the Picasso family.

Another iconic museum in Spain is Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum. In one look you’ll quickly know it was designed by famed architect Frank Ghery. This building is incredibly beautiful from the outside but also holds vast amounts of interesting modern and contemporary art inside. The Bilbao Highlights & the Guggenheim Museum is the perfect tour to explore this architectural masterpiece.

Bilbao's Guggenheim Museum features modern and contemporary art.

Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum features modern and contemporary art.

Religious Sights
Many of the western Med’s most important sites are centered around religious buildings. Gaudi’s incredible Sagrada Familia in Barcelona is a fantastic Gothic-style cathedral that impresses from the inside and out. Visit it, and many other iconic sites in the city, on the Barcelona Highlights tour.

Of course, if your itinerary includes a call at Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy, a visit to St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums are a must. Four-million people visit Vatican City, the museum’s 54 galleries and of course the incredible Sistine Chapel every year.

Barcelona's Sagrada Familia and Rome's Vatican Museums are two important western Mediterranean religious sites.

Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia and Rome’s Vatican Museums are two important western Mediterranean religious sites.

Cuisine
If you choose the west Med, be prepared to delight in its gourmet cuisine. From tapas paired with delicious sangrias in Spain to tasty croissants and baguettes in France, you’ll be surrounded by delicious local hotspots wherever you go. At Palma de Mallorca, Spain, the Paella & Pig: A Taste of Palma tour lets you accompany a chef to the market to pick out ingredients to make paella and then see how it is made.

THE EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN
A cruise to the eastern Mediterranean is likely to feature a mix of historic ruins and beautiful sandy beaches. Typically, these vacations are chosen by the seasoned cruiser, but it’s an area of the world that is welcoming to all, and its people love first-time visitors. Eastern Med cruises focus on Italy, Greece and Turkey. Popular calls on the eastern Med cruises include Athens, Mykonos and Santorini, Greece; Kusadasi and Istanbul, Turkey; Dubrovnik, Croatia; and Venice, Italy.

Dubrovnik, Croatia, and Istanbul, Turkey, are two eastern Mediterranean gems.

Dubrovnik, Croatia, and Istanbul, Turkey, are two eastern Mediterranean gems.

Sun & Sand in the Greek Islands
If you are looking for some fun in the sun and picturesque beaches, the Greek Isles are perfect for you. The beautiful white and blue towns of Santorini and Mykonos make for postcard-worthy photographs. Santorini features an incredible world underwater as well, making it a favorite among divers. And it certainly is a city with a view, nestled atop a volcanic caldera. Transfer to Perissa Beach, which is famous for its crystal-clear waters.

Santorini is surrounded by inviting blue waters.

Santorini is surrounded by inviting blue waters.

Ancient Ruins
The eastern Mediterranean boasts some of the most impressive ancient ruins in the world. Pompeii at Naples preserved in the ashes of an eruption of nearby Mt. Vesuvius, offers an incredible glimpse into the lives of the Romans. In the eastern Med guests also can have the chance to explore Ephesus in Kusadasi with its iconic Library of Celsus; and Olympia (Katakolon), Greece, the birthplace of the Olympics. Visit the Acropolis in Athens and see the majestic the Parthenon up close.

Ephesus, the Parthenon and Olympia all feature interesting and impressive ruins.

Turkey and Greece feature interesting and impressive ruins.

Cuisine
The cuisine is probably exactly what you picture when you think of Mediterranean food: gyros and salads with fresh tomatoes and cheeses, pitas and delicious dips, kebabs and fish. It’s light and fresh, leaving you wanting to come back for more. And don’t forget the incredible sweets like Greek baklava and Turkish Delight. At Katakolon, Greece, the Magna Grecia Farm Visit explores the olive groves and vineyards of the region.

Visitors and locals enjoy an authentic Greek meal by the water at Mykonos.

Visitors and locals enjoy an authentic Greek meal by the water at Mykonos.

If you’re taking a cruise that visits these ports, the shore excursions can be pre-booked so you get the tour of your choice.

So, will it be east or west on your next Mediterranean cruise? Take a look at our Pinterest board to help you make the selection!

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