A sailing holiday is usually synonym for total relaxation, direct contact with nature and tranquility. Surely, that sounds idyllic, but alternating relaxing days with more adventurous ones, exploring new cities and tasting new cultures, will prevent you from falling in a boredom spiral and, most of all, you will get back home with new learnings and a more open mind!
Exploring the cities is definitely a great way to learn more about new cultures, and visiting fascinating historical sights will help you understand their past. From majestic temples, to beautifully-decorated churches and old towns, these are the best historical cities to visit during a sailing holiday in Europe!
1 - Athens, Greece
When we think of Greek history, we think of Athens. We are talking about the capital of Greece as well as the classical world, where majestic buildings and historical sites gather to create one of the best places to visit for those who love culture and history.
Athens is also home to many of our charter companies, so it’s a great starting point for sailing holidays in the Saronic Gulf, around Cyclades Islands and more.
If Athens is indeed the starting point of your holiday, then you can’t but to spend the day before check-in (or the day after check-out) visiting the beautiful historical sites scattered around the city. Here are some of the best ones you should definitely not miss:
- Acropolis of Athens: this is the highest point of the city, an ancient citadel located on top of a hill hosting some of the most important buildings of ancient history, many of them still intact. In the Acropolis, you can visit the famous Parthenon, where the astonishing Temple of Athena and Nike is located, and the Erechtheion, a complex building that shows off ancient Greek engineering skills for its position on a slope and the marvellous statue-like columns that support the weight of the temple.
- Theatre o Dionysus: built on the southern slope of the Acropolis hill, this theatre was capable of accommodating up to 17,000 spectators and is the place where all classical Greek plays were first presented.
- Areopagus: also known as the “Hill of Ares”, this site is located on the northern side of the Acropolis. It was the site of the Council of Nobles and the Judicial Court, which became the supreme court of Ancient Athens for homicide trials for many centuries, even during the Roman Empire.
- Temple of Olympian Zeus: the peculiarity of Athens is that you can stroll around the city and bump into some of the most amazing historical sights. The Temple of Olympian Zeus is, in fact, located in the middle of the city and consists of 16 surviving columns that were once part of the biggest temple of the city. It took more than 600 years to complete this stunning temple dedicated to the king of the gods.
Do you want to know what and where to eat in Athens? This useful guide will get you through the most delicious Greek dishes as well as the best restaurants to try around the city.
2 - Dubrovnik, Croatia
Dubrovnik is an old city with streets and buildings of cobblestone, harkening back to the Medieval Age. It was chosen as a filming location for Game of Thrones and is a great destination for a sailing journey, with nearby stops like the Kornati Archipelago and Split. Visitors should spend a day exploring the enchanting streets of this charming town.
Here’s what you can visit in a day:
- The city walls: Dubrovnik most famous attraction are its city walls, the best-preserved form of medieval fortification in the whole world that surrounds the city. The walls are completely walkable and offer an amazing view on both the medieval city and the sea.
- Minceta Tower: located in the north-western side of the city, this beautiful tower was built in the 15th century and was used during the filming of Game of Thrones’ to represent the House of Undying. You can get to the top through a challenging 750-step climb and admire the view of the town.
- St. Dominika Street: if you want to feel like you’re back in the Medieval Age, head to St. Dominika Street; this part of the city is completely made of cobblestone, with the street flanked by high walls leading to a Dominican monastery and a museum.
- Fort Lovrijenac: this imposing cliff-top fort is one of the various fortresses scattered around the city, and was built to overlook the western entrance on the Adriatic Sea from invaders.
- Dubrovnik Cathedral: the cathedral that you can visit today is not the same that was built in the 7th century. A earthquake happened in the 17th century completely destroyed the building, which was rebuilt in the Baroque style of that time. In the cathedral, you can admire the treasury, a collection of precious relics.
Are you looking for some Vitamin D after a visit to the city? These are the best beaches around Dubrovnik where you can enjoy a few hours of sun and relaxation.
3 - Bodrum, Turkey
Bodrum, located on the coast of the Aegean Sea, is a stunning Turkish port city with crystal-clear waters and beautiful natural sights. It is an ideal destination for a sailing holiday and also has many historical buildings and sites to explore. Here are the best ones not to miss:
- Mausoleum at Halicarnassus: one of the Ancient World’s seven wonders, which is already interesting enough to be worth a visit. The site is a majestic tomb built around 350 AC, and was sculpted by some of the most renowned sculptors of that century.
- Bodrum Castle: if you reach the city by boat, you will be welcomed by this majestic building overlooking the harbour. The castle was built during the 15th century by the Knights of St. John to unify different knight orders during the Ottoman Empire, also recycling parts of the aforementioned mausoleum.
- Museum of Underwater Archeology: this museum is located right inside the castle and is home to the largest collection of underwater finds, mostly coming from Medieval shipwrecks found around the Aegean Sea.
If you want to know more about Bodrum and its beautiful historical sites, read this article.
4 - Cefalù, Sicily
Sicily is most certainly one of Italy’s most beautiful place to visit, and it’s hard to pick a coast when it comes to a week-long sailing trip. This island was home to different empires, from Greek to Romans to Arabs and Normans, which gave it that typical multicultural look we can admire in the historical buildings scattered all over the land. One of our favourite routes is the one that goes from Palermo to San Vito Lo Capo, which includes many stunning stops along the way.
Palermo is one of the most beautiful historical cities to visit. It's the starting point of many sailing itineraries due to the high concentration of charter companies in the marina.
Today, we want to focus on a smaller seaside town. It's part of the aforementioned itinerary and is the perfect combination of a cultural and relaxing holiday. Here’s what to see in beautiful Cefalù:
- Cefalù cathedral: among the many churches sited in the city, this medieval building is one of the town’s main attractions. The church is a great example of the many influences of the empires that dominated the island, gathering Byzantine, Reinassence and Latin stiles in one building.
- Lavatoio: this is a Medieval public laundry built in the middle age and located in the heart of the city; it was used by women to wash clothing and bathe, with the basins once filled by the river Cefalino.
- Museum Mandralisca: located in the cathedral square, this museum contains a wide range of archeological finds, paintings, and more mostly coming from the Arab and Greek periods.
- La Rocca: if you fancy a climb up to a beautiful viewpoint, we suggest hiking through la Rocca, a one-hour path that leads to the remains of a Norman castle. The breathtaking view of the Tyrrhenian Sea and the ancient city is worth the climb, and on particularly clear days you can also spot the Aeolian Islands.
5 - Nice, France
The French Riviera is one of the prettiest European traits of coast that clearly deserves a place in this list.
This area is home to many historical buildings coming from different ages, from the Neanderthal one to the Roman settlements, to the baroque classicism. Among the many renowned cities to include in your itinerary, such as Monaco, St. Tropez or Marseille, today we focus on Nice.
- Grotto du Lazaret: a 35-meter-long cave in Mont Boron that was home to Neanderthal men, as proven by the many prehistorical human and animal bones found in the cave.
- Cathedral Sainte Reparate: located in the heart of Nice, the original church was built in 1049 and then demolished and rebuilt to accomodate the growing population of the town. The beautiful baroque style and the intricate decorations make this cathedral a must-seen when visiting Nice.
- Opéra de Nice: this marvellous building was born as a small wooden theatre at the end of the 18th century and was then converted into an Italian-style opera house thanks to King Charles Felix. It is now an internationally-renowned theatre that hosts different acts, from music to ballet and operas.
Want to discover more about French Riviera? Here's everything you need to know about this beautiful trait of coast!