My wife and I are taking a Viking cruise in July, starting in Venice and sailing to Athens. (Click on the link for details of the whole cruise.) We have our time in those two cities pretty much planned out, so we don’t need advice on them. (Okay if you really must tell us about something, go ahead.)
But we’re also stopping for one day each in these ports, about which we know next to nothing:
(The links take you to the cruise page for that day.)
Have you been to any of these cities? Can you recommend any must-see sights, locations, or activities we should consider for the one day we’re in each?
The cruise offers several excursions in each port, one of which at each stop is included in our fare, while the others cost extra, up to several hundred dollars per person. (Click on one of the links and scroll down to see the excursions.)
If you happen to be familiar with any of these cities and would care to look at the excursions offered there and give us your opinions about them, we’d love to hear them.
I spent several days in and around Zadar a couple of years ago, and loved it (and Croatia in general). I’ll think about the one-day limit and come back to the thread. For now, I wrote some general thoughts on the country, and some specific thoughts about Croatian food, in this thread.
I sailed past Santorini on my way to a smaller, less tourist-crazy Greek island. My only real recommendation there is that the port areas of these islands can get really hectic, so do not try cutting it close when it’s time to re-embark. Give yourself plenty of leeway.
I’ve been to Santorini and was decidedly unimpressed. It’s like a crowded outdoor mall in southern California, but with a Greek theme. If you like shopping for local tchotchkes, you’ll like it. Otherwise it’s crowded with lines everywhere. The donkeys are treated inhumanely (according to the local guide we had); do not support the people who use them.
I haven’t been to your other destinations, but I have been to several spots in the Aegean, both on the mainland and on islands. The tourist center of every little Mediterranean port is more or less interchangeable with every other one. My goal was to get away from the touristy area into a more historical areas. There’s often excursions that will do that, if that’s what you’d like to do. We’d often take an excursion to some archaeological site, then get a nice meal wherever looked interesting.
We visited Santorini a few years ago. You can go up the cliff on a cable car, but it gets very busy at times. It is very tourist-dependent and lots of cruise ships go there. Ours was one of three on the day we were there.
The advice about not leaving it late to return is sound. Not only can the queue for the cable car be long, but it’s a tender port as well. We waited until late morning, rode up to the town, had a wander round and took some photographs, had an expensive coffee, and went back to the ship for ice cream and cocktails.
On Santorini, the Akhrotiri archaological site is a good two-for-one, as you can walk from there to the beautiful Red Beach (although there is some clambering over rocks involved – if you have mobility issues, it might be better to take one of the boats that go around to the different beaches). I’m not sure if this is one of your offered excursions, but it should be easy to get anywhere on the island by taxi (there are also buses, but they all connect through Fira and most routes run only every 1-2 hours, so a taxi would probably be better if you’ve only got one day to spend there).
I liked the volcano boat tour and the Fira-to-Oia hike as well. It is a very crowded and touristy island, as others have said, but also genuinely beautiful, and once you get out of Fira the crowds thin out.
I haven’t been to any of the other destinations except Zadar and Dubrovnik, and it’s been a while, but if memory serves, you can’t go wrong with simply wandering around the historic area. I probably wouldn’t book any excursions, unless you really want to get out into one of the parks.
I’ve been to Zadar and Dubrovnik, both stops during a family vacation driving around Croatia. Only spent one night in Zadar and mostly just walked around the Roman Forum and along the riva to watch the sunset and check out the sea organ. The next morning we drove up to Nin to go to the salt museum, which we though was a unique and worthwhile stop.
In Dubrovnik we mostly walked around Old Town. I think we paid to walk the perimeter of the walled city up on wall which gives fantastic views. We took a ferry out to Lokrum, an island with an old monastery and some beaches, and is populated by fairly tame rabbits and peafowl.
Santorini has an incredible history. In the Minoan era, it was the site of a relatively advanced culture; but the volcano exploded and buried the town of Akrotiri like an even older Pompeii. The exploding volcano also left a huge sea-filled crater in the middle of the island, twenty-plus miles across and a thousand feet deep. A tsunami raced across the Mediterranean and destroyed towns on the nearby islands, and probably contributed to the downfall of the Minoan civilisation.
I’ve been to Corfu too, which is very nice; especially if you know anything about the Durrells.
Sounds like Dubrovnik.
Cruise ships wait in line to unload tourists (victims), who then have to stand in line to get into the Old Town. The deluge of visitors grew with Game of Thrones. You’ve been warned.
This is my recommendation, too. It doesn’t look like it’s one of the tours, but I bet you can arrange to do it. It was the highlight of my trip to Greece. Admittedly, that was decades ago, and things may have changed.
@puzzlegal, thanks for the recommendation. Akrotiri is on one of the cruise’s excursions, Ancient & Modern Island Life, and it looks interesting, so my wife and I will reconsider whether we’d prefer that or the (more expensive) tour we had been planning on, Cruise the Caldera.
Zadar - haven’t been there, but I’ve been to Šibenik which is one of the tours on the linked page. Šibenik is quite nice, good food. I was there for the sailing though, so I didn’t spend much time on the touristy bits.
Dubrovnik - it’s very touristy, and overwhelmingly tourism based around Game of Thrones. That said the city is just beautiful and amazing despite it, so I enjoyed it several times by just trying to ignore all the touristy junk and walking all day around the walled city. Hopefully you can talk the tour guide into talking about everything but GoT. An alternative I see is the shore excursion to Mostar. I thought Mostar was amazing - also somewhat touristy but a very different vibe from Dubrovnik. Much cheaper, better food.
Kotor - lived nearby for a spell. Kotor is another massive medieval walled town like Dubrovnik, but not quite as overrun (though they’re working on it). Again I most liked just walking around with no guide, but the walking tour would be worth it if you know little of the local history. Get some cured meats and maybe some olives from the market just outside the city walls, south from the cruise terminal. From the linked excursions, I don’t think you could go wrong with any of them - Cetinje itself pretty much sucks, but the road there has pretty spectacular views, so even the “Highlights” trip could be worth it. Of all of them, assuming you’ll have some time in Kotor town anyway, I’d pick Perast - it’s another typical pretty shoreside village, quite calm, and the island monastery in the trip is pretty cool. I’d be less inclined towards the food-based excursions (Montenegrin cooking just isn’t as good as the neighbours in my opinion - sorry), and compared to Kotor itself, I think the Glamour and History excursion (Sveti Stefan, which you can see but not enter, and Budva, which is a smaller medieval walled city populated by Russian oligarchs but is otherwise nice and very pretty) may be a bit of a letdown since you only have a single day.
Ancient Olympia - also can’t go wrong I think. The archaeological site is pretty impressive, though I prefer others around Greece (e.g. Epidavros, Nemea, Mystras…)
Santorini - just a pity that you’re not going to almost any other Greek island