Cruise to a City Near You

Travel's list of city-focused cruise itineraries worth considering.
By: Donna Marino Wilkins
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Destination city cruises, which focus on ports of call in some of the world’s best cities, are a growing segment in the cruise industry, with more and varied itineraries entering the market in recent years. Appealing to both veteran cruisers looking to branch out from a typical beach-focused itinerary, as well as first-timers interested in visiting a specific city or multiple, foreign cities on a single vacation, city cruises are a great way to experience a region’s highlights. "A cruise ship is your floating hotel," says Bob Newman, certified master cruise counselor at Cranston, RI-based Cruise Brothers. There's no packing and unpacking, no running to catch buses or trains. Travelers can enjoy 4 European cities within a week without the frenzy they'd feel on the same land-based trip. That's especially valuable when the city is small.

"Some cities are wonderful places to visit for a day. You don't necessarily need 2 or 3 days to get a feel for places like Salzburg and Pisa,” says Rob Clabbers, president, Cruise Holidays of Chicago. For example, says Clabbers, on a sailing from Budapest to Nuremburg, short stints might include Vienna, Melk, Salzburg and Passau. By law, most major cruise lines are required to make at least one stop in a non-US port on each itinerary so larger ships can’t do US-city-only itineraries. But passengers can opt for smaller river cruises to experience US cities up-close, book itineraries that include Canada or take trans-Atlantic voyages from New York to Europe.

Here are some city-focused itineraries worth considering, from major lines to smaller river cruises.

British Columbia and US West Coast

Norwegian Cruise Line's 2,394-passenger Norwegian Pearl takes in 2 major cities on the US West Coast before heading north to Canada’s Victoria and Vancouver during this 7-night itinerary. Highlights onboard include a bowling alley, a rock-climbing wall and 16 dining options.

Ports: Los Angeles, CA; San Francisco, CA; Astoria, OR; Victoria, Canada; Nanaimo, Canada; Vancouver, Canada

Norwegian Pearl cruises to Alaska

South America

Costa Cruises' Costa Magica calls at some of the top South American cities in Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay in this week-long cruise departing from Buenos Aires that provides just a taste of the cities’ features (there’s a full day in Rio de Janeiro, and half-days at the other ports). The 1,300-passenger ship has 4 pools, 4 restaurants, a wellness center and a sun deck with a retractable roof.

Ports: Buenos Aires, Argentina; Angra dos Reis, Brazil; Punta del Este, Uruguay; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Romantic Danube

With a quick-hit itinerary that includes major cities and charming villages, this 8-day sailing on the 189-passenger Viking Legend, travels along the Danube from Budapest to Nuremberg. It offers opportunities for passengers to experience Germany's oldest restaurant in Regensburg and Europe's largest church organ in Passau.

Ports: Budapest, Hungary; Vienna, Austria; Melk, Austria; Passau, Germany; Regensburg, Germany; Nuremberg, Germany

Mediterranean: Italy, Spain, France

MSC Cruises' Splendida departs from Naples, and includes the show-stopping ports of Marseille and Barcelona in its 7-night itinerary. Ship highlights include a VIP area with large suites and 24-hour butler service.

Ports: Naples, Italy; Palermo, Italy; Palma de Mallorca, Spain; Barcelona, Spain; Marseille, France; Genoa, Italy


Sailing from Southampton, England, this 13-night Baltic cruise aboard P&O Cruises’ Azura packs in a lot of city punch, including 2 full days in St. Petersburg. With Scandinavia still a pricey vacation destination, it's a particularly good value to experience the region via an all-inclusive cruise.

Ports: Southampton, England; Oslo, Norway; Copenhagen, Denmark; Stockholm, Sweden; Helsinki, Finland; St. Petersburg, Russia; Tallinn, Estonia; Warnemunde, Germany; Bruges, Belgium

Southeast Asia

This 14-night cruise aboard the 694-passenger Azamara Quest lingers for a while at a few of its ports of call, including docking for 2 nights in Bangkok and one night each in Ho Chi Minh City and Halong Bay, Vietnam.

Ports: Singapore; Bangkok; Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; Hue, Vietnam; Halong Bay, Vietnam; Hong Kong

Castles Along the Rhine

This boutique river cruise company offers 7-night sailing along the Rhine on its brand-new luxury river cruiser Antoinette. Onboard lectures, portable audio headsets for in-port tours, free bike rentals and a wine-tasting in a German castle are included.

Ports: Basel, Switzerland; Colmar, France; Strasbourg, France; Rudesheim, Germany; Koblenz, Germany; Cologne, Germany

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