Europe is one of the world’s most stable cruise markets – with sea-faring holidaymakers enjoying the opportunity to cruise around the Med and through the beautiful countries of Scandinavia. With plenty of ports to choose from throughout the continent’s 50 countries (and a few dependencies), we thought we’d have a look at the busiest port destinations in Europe. So here are the top ten busiest ports of Europe, compiled with a little help from the Cruise Lines International Association.
1. Barcelona – 2,712,247 Passengers in 2016-17
Atop the list of European ports is beautiful Barcelona. This gorgeous city has it all; a charming beach, bustling cityscape and bags of character. A huge selection of major cruise ships call here, whether it’s part of a 120-day round-the-world cruise or a 5-day Mediterranean highlights trip. The port itself has an impressive heritage which stretches back more than 2,000 years and was fundamental in establishing Barcelona as a thriving city. A whopping 2.7 million cruise visitors stop by every year.
There is so much to do here, from strolling down Las Ramblas (and paying the colourful La Boqueria market a visit) to visiting a world-famous Gaudi masterpiece or simply filling up on tasty tapas in one of the many restaurants that line the city’s street.
There is plenty for visitors to Barcelona to see and do, from visiting the (still unfinished) Sagrada Familia to just spending a day filling up on delicious tapas and wine served throughout the city.
2. Civitavecchia – 2,204,336 Passengers in 2016-17
In second place is Civitavecchia, the port that supports Rome and the Vatican City. This glorious, historical port regularly welcomes more than two million visitors to its waterways every year. Civitavecchia is a stunning city in its own right but most travellers choose to make the short journey to Rome and the Vatican City (which is, in fact, the world’s smallest country).
Unsurprisingly, one of the most visited places in the world, the Vatican offers a wealth of things to enjoy and experience. No visit would be complete without a trip to the Sistine Chapel, St Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Library. You’ll also be pleased to learn that you’ll never be short on tasty food and drink options, be sure to sample an Aperol spritz while you’re there.
3. Port of the Balearic Islands – 2,110,633 passengers in 2016-2017
Coming in at third is the Port of the Balearic Islands. This has snuck into the top three as it actually consists of four ports in very close proximity, the busiest of which is Palma Majorca (with a not inconsiderable number of 1,336,000 passengers in 2016-17). Majorca and her sister islands (Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera) are a British holidaymaker’s paradise, with huge stretches of sandy beach and beautifully quaint Spanish towns providing a picture-perfect insight into relaxed Spanish life.
Each year, cruise visitors flock to these islands for the perfect way to unwind and watch the sunset with a cocktail or two. Those in the mood for something a little more up-tempo can make their way to Majorca’s Magaluf or Ibiza’s San Antonio and get ready to party.
4. Southampton – 1,700,000 Passengers in 2016-17
Southampton may appear to lack the glamour of the previous three ports but with almost two million passengers a year, it’s certainly not short on hustle and bustle. The only entrant on the list that isn’t positioned in the Mediterranean Sea, this lively port benefits from the UK’s love of cruises and waves ‘bon voyage’ to a huge number of travellers every year.
Perhaps one of the most exciting itineraries which kick off from Southampton is Cunard’s legendary Transatlantic sailings over to New York – truly exceptional experiences on the must-do lists of many a cruise lover.
The port has a number of cafés, bars and restaurants so travellers can start their holiday early. Southampton’s Grand Café is a hip bistro bar and restaurant located in a light and airy listed building overlooking the port.
5. Marseille – 1,487,313 Passengers in 2016-17
Beautiful Marseille is a must-visit destination for those who enjoy the finer things in life. Cruising along the French Riviera is a wonderful experience in itself, sail past stunning fields of heather, glorious medieval villages and beautiful coastal towns.
A stop off in exuberant Marseilles will allow you to take in the emerging beauty of this port city that won capital of culture in 2013. Check out the Bohemian quarter of Cours Julien and enjoy sumptuous French cuisine from the beautiful tree-lined square – c’est magnifique!
6. Venice – 1,427,812 Passengers in 2016-17
Surely one of the world’s most instantly recognisable places, Venice is truly unique. This beautiful, historic city is built upon the waterways which stretch all the way to the port making the transition from cruising to exploring absolutely seamless.
There is so much to do in this fabulous place, choose to enjoy a gondola ride or sample a mouth-watering pasta dish from one of the many restaurants that line the Grand Canal. But, to truly experience Venice, allow yourself to get lost in the winding backstreets, it is said that it’s the only way to feel the beating heart of this magical city.
7. Piraeus – 1,055,559 Passengers in 2016-17
Less than 10 miles from the centre of Athens, Piraeus is the perfect disembarkation spot for history buffs and sun worshippers alike. This cruise destination is growing in popularity and currently stands 7th on the list of Europe’s busiest cruise ports.
Guests should pay a visit to the world-famous sites of the Parthenon and the Acropolis of Athens before stopping at one of the many tavernas which serve up fresh and wholesome local produce.
8. Santa Cruz – 964,337 passengers in 2016-17
A new arrival in the top 10 list is Santa Cruz in Tenerife. The city is a 15-minute walk from the port (although many cruise lines provide a shuttle service) and is certainly worth a visit. You’ll find a broad and beautiful tree-lined promenade which runs along the seafront and boasts numerous restaurants and bars. The roads running inland are bursting with charming shops selling intricate silver jewellery, local handicrafts and great quality clothing at very reasonable prices. And, if shopping isn’t your thing then sitting on the golden sandy beaches and soaking in the sun might just appeal.
9. Naples – 927,458 Passengers in 2016-17
Italy’s third largest city and one of its oldest, exuberant Naples is known for its food and culture. These days, it is home to a burgeoning contemporary art scene and travellers can take in the stylish Thomas Dane Gallery which boats a host of modern-day masterpieces. And, after a day spent absorbing all that culture, visitors would be remiss not to sample the city’s finest offering – pizza! Naples is thought to be the birthplace of the famous foodstuff and travellers can enjoy authentic Italian cuisine served in simple yet chic surroundings from one of the many restaurants lining the pretty streets.
10. Genoa – 925,118 Passengers in 2016-17
Last but by no means least on our list is the charming city of Genoa. Italy’s fourth busiest port, the city offers a stunning selection of sights and experiences for travellers. Expect a scenic maze of winding streets and narrow alleyways complete with ancient cathedrals and hidden piazzas. A wander around these picturesque streets will offer history at every turn. Like any Italian city, there are a wealth of eateries around but be sure to sample the pesto, as this is where the tasty sauce was born!
Whether you’re looking to visit one of Europe’s most popular ports or fancy something a little more niche, Cruise1st can help you find your perfect itinerary. For a full range of deals, visit the Cruise1st hompeage, or call our team on 0808 274 6777.
Images sourced via Royal Caribbean Press Center and Flickr Creative Commons. Credit: Joe Tolley, Jesus Solana, Victoria Reay, Tambako The Jaguar, Andrés Nieto Porras, Artur Staszewski, Robert Pittman, Pedro-Szekely, Luca Serazzi, Tom Lee