A cruise can take you to inland wonders, too, including the Great Wall of China. - Photo by Simon Harris / eStockPhoto
Cruises are a great way to tick boxes off your bucket list. You can get to some of the world's most historic and significant places, including lots of UNESCO World Heritage sites, both in traditional cruise ports and through longer land-based extensions. Here are five top bucket list sights you can see on a cruise:
Port: Kusadasi, Turkey
The ancient city of Ephesus is just a few miles inland and a short drive from port; all cruise lines that call on Kusadasi offer tours to this, the city's preeminent historic site. Dating all the way back to the 11th century B.C., it was once the second largest city in the Roman Empire. Today, it's one of the most intact and spectacular ancient cities in the world. Stroll down a boulevard paved in marble, ogle the 2,000-year-old façade of the Library of Celsus, and walk across the rows of the 25,000-seat amphitheatre, where gladiators and actors once performed.
2. The Colosseum
Port: Civitavecchia, Italy
From the port of Civitavecchia, it's just an hour by train or bus into Rome. You can take a shore excursion that includes a visit to the Colosseum as part of a bigger tour or, for more time there, hop on a train. From the Central Termini station, you can walk to the Colosseum, which remains one of the world's most iconic and best-preserved ancient structures. It's a thrill to imagine the days when gladiators fought lions in front of tens of thousands of spectators.
3. The Pyramids
Port: Alexandria or Port Said, Egypt for Giza
Suffering through Cairo's notorious traffic on the two-hour drive -- each way -- from the port is well worth the effort to have a gander at these spectacular royal tombs. The largest, the Great Pyramid, is more than 450 feet high and dates back more than 4,500 years. Until the 14th century, it was the tallest man-made structure in the world. This may be the greatest photo op in the cruise world; many excursions include camel rides, too.
4. Panama Canal
More than a century after it was painstakingly built by thousands of French and American workers over more than 20 grueling years, the Panama Canal is still considered an engineering marvel. It takes about eight hours for ships to traverse the entire 50-mile canal between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Through gravity alone, the Canal's three main locks raise ships over Central America and down again on the other side. Some ships do partial transits and turn around and go back the same way they came; others are too big to pass through the canal's 110-foot-wide locks, including Carnival's, Royal Caribbean's, and Princess's largest vessels.
5. The Great Wall of China
Port: Tianjin, China
Tianjin, about 70 miles from Beijing, is the most convenient port for excursions to see parts of China's famous wall, designed more than 2,000 years ago to keep out invading Mongols. The wall was built gradually over two millennia by successive Chinese dynasties to not only keep out enemies, but to control the movement of trade. Today, it stretches almost 5,500 miles across China, roughly in an east-west direction. Most ships are in port in Tianjin for two days. A day tour to the wall entails a 3.5-hour drive each way; consider a one-night overland excursion that also includes a tour of Beijing's Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.
6. Angkor, Cambodia
Port: Bangkok, Thailand; Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; or Sihanoukville, Cambodia
On many Southeast Asia cruise itineraries, you can book two- and three-night land excursions to the Hindu and Buddhist ruins in and around Angkor, which was the capital of the ancient Khmer Empire between the ninth and 15th centuries. The Bayon Temple at Angkor Thom is beautiful for its many serene carved-stone faces of god-king Jayavarman VII. Ta Prohm's ruinous stone temples and structures are famously covered in banyan tree roots -- it was featured in "Tomb Raider" with Angelina Jolie -- and the Angkor Wat temple complex is admired for its highly detailed carvings of the Ramayana and other Hindu epics.
7. Venice's Canals
Port: Venice, Italy
Arguably the most romantic city on earth, Venice is not only a maze of canals and beautiful architecture, but it's home to many excellent museums, including the Peggy Guggenheim, housed in her private palace along the Grand Canal. In its 13th-century heyday, Venice was the richest city in Europe, and much of the gilded splendor and opulence is still there for tourists to enjoy, including the grand Saint Mark's Basilica in San Marco Square.