World's 10 Best Historic Cruise Ports

Cyclists in front of the Acropolis, Athens Elisabeth Blanchet
By Heidi Sarna

Many of the world's ancient civilizations developed near the sea. For cruisers, this means cathedrals, temples, fortresses, and other antiquities are easily accessible from cruise ports around the world.

While some historic sites in Rome, Florence, and Bangkok are more than an hour from the actual port, other sites take 30 minutes or less to reach from the cruise terminal -- an important convenience if your ship only docks for a few hours.

Of all the places within a short drive of the cruise docks, here are the 10 best historic ports in Europe, Asia, and North America that you shouldn't miss.

Photo Caption: Cyclists in front of the Acropolis, Athens
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View of the coastline, Dubrovnik Brian Southward
The seaside city of Dubrovnik is picture perfect with its ancient walled city, orange-tile roofs, and Renaissance-era architecture. Spend a few hours walking along the top of the 1½-mile-long medieval wall that surrounds the 13th-century Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site. From the wall -- complete with turrets, towers and staircases -- you'll find the best views of the city and harbor.

Photo Caption: View of the coastline, Dubrovnik
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Piazza San Marco at night, Venice. Riccardo De Luca
A maritime powerhouse in the Middle Ages, Venice holds a significant place in history for its contributions to art, music, and architecture. By the late 13th century, Venice was the most prosperous city in all of Europe. Among the amassed riches, gilded bronze horses -- brought to Venice 800 years ago after the sacking of Constantinople -- still stand watch above the entrance to St. Mark's Basilica. Linger near the picturesque canals and bridges and spend time in St. Mark's Square, where its iconic campanile (bell tower) still chimes every hour.

Photo Caption: Piazza San Marco at night, Venice.
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The coast near Lisbon, Portugal. Photo by <a href="http://www.frommers.com/community/user_gallery_detail.html?plckPhotoID=f59d68a4-b3b2-4a9e-8f0f-2e414adb16d6&plckGalleryID=c0482941-0d2d-4cca-b8c4-809ee9e20c72" target="_blank">lpete/Frommers.com Community</a> Frommers.com Community
Julius Caesar ruled Lisbon more than 2,000 years ago; centuries later, the city was captured by the Moors. Built on seven hills facing the Atlantic Ocean, Lisbon's steep cobblestone streets wind through the medieval old town, or Alfama, which spreads down the hillside from the well-preserved 10th-century fortress, Castelo de São Jorge.

The historic city also boasts two UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the turreted 17th-century Belém Tower built at the mouth of the Tagus River and the Jerónimos Monastery, built in the 1500s.

Photo Caption: Sunset over the Tagus River in Lisbon, Portugal. Photo by BJHOPLA/Frommers.com CommunityPhoto Caption: The coast near Lisbon, Portugal. Photo by lpete/Frommers.com Community
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Early morning at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. Frommers.com Community
Istanbul served as the capital of three successive empires -- the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman -- and this legacy lives on. It's a short taxi ride to the Old City, where you can walk to museums, churches, palaces, mosques, and bazaars. Highlights include the 6th-century Hagia Sophia (with its famous domes and mosaics) and the 17th-century Blue Mosque (with its six minarets and dazzling blue-and-white Iznik tiles). Save time for the Grand Bazaar, where some 4,000 shopkeepers sell carpets, jewelry, leather goods, and antique reproductions.

Photo Caption: Shopping at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. Photo by seattlenativemike/Frommers.com Community
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Army Post on The Great Wall-Beijing Piyush Kumar Gupta
From the port of Tianjin, it's only a half-hour train ride into Beijing and its Forbidden City. Closed to the public for 500 years, the complex opened in 1949 as the Palace Museum. Today, visitors can explore a maze of royal palaces dating back to the 1400s. The enormous complex comprises 800 buildings and 9,000 rooms.

Stop by Tiananmen Square, which is dominated by a larger-than-life portrait of Chairman Mao. Most two-day stays in port also include a trip outside the city to The Great Wall, parts of which date back to the 5th century B.C.

Photo Caption: Army Post on The Great Wall in Beijing
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Hadrian's Arch, Athens George Tsafos/Lonely Planet Images
One of the world's oldest cities is just a half-hour drive from the port of Piraeus. Considered the cradle of Western civilization and the birthplace of democracy, Athens has more than its famous hill-top Acropolis. Admire the fluted columns of the Parthenon, an iconic symbol of ancient Greece that dates back to the fifth century B.C. Other historical sites nearby include the colonnaded Temple of Athena Nike and Hadrian's Arch, a centuries-old gateway that once marked the division between the old and new parts of Athens.

Photo Caption: Hadrian's Arch, Athens
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Stockholm, Sweden Harryfn/Dreamstime.com
Stockholm is built on 14 bridge-connected islands in Lake Mälaren, which marks the beginning of 24,000 islands and islets that stretch all the way to the Baltic Sea. Stockholm's 13th-century Old Town, or Gamla Stan, is within walking distance of the cruise-ship pier. Highlights include the Royal Palace, ancient churches, and historic merchant houses. It's a short hop by ferry to Djurgården (Deer Park) to check out the open-air Vasa man-of-war museum. On its maiden voyage in 1628, the Vasa sank to the bottom of Stockholm harbor only to be excavated about 50 years ago, along with period antiquities such as coins, tools, clothes, and decorative sculptures.

Photo Caption: Stockholm, Sweden
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Ampitheatre in Euphesis. Kusadasi, Turkey Davina Quarterman
Kusadasi is the port for the nearby Roman city of Ephesus, built in the 11th century B.C. At one point, Ephesus was the second largest city in the Roman Empire and the second largest city in the world. Ephesus was originally built along the sea, but the harbor silted up -- a few thousand years later, it's now three miles inland. The ruins here include an impressively intact 25,000-seat amphitheatre that was used for plays and gladiatorial combat. You can also stroll down an ancient main street paved in marble, and marvel at the still-standing two-story facade of the 1,900-year-old Library of Celsus.

Photo Caption: The amphitheatre in Euphesus near Kusadasi, Turkey
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Du Trésor Street, Quebec City Anthony Woods
One of the oldest European settlements in North America and the only walled city north of Mexico, Québec City is perched on a cliff overlooking the St. Lawrence River. In 1608, the French explorer Samuel de Champlain was the first European to claim Québec City and today, the city is still fiercely French (both culturally and linguistically).

The old city is a beautiful jumble of stone houses with tin roofs clustered around the castle-like Château Frontenac hotel, which sits proudly on a dramatic bluff with river views. The historic district of Québec is one of only three UNESCO World Heritage Sites in North America.

Photo Caption: Du Trésor Street, Quebec City
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A carriage outside the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. Frommers.com Community
Most ships stay in St. Petersburg for two or three full days, giving you enough time to ogle the gilded splendor of Imperial Russia's palaces, cathedrals, museums, and gardens. The main highlight is the Hermitage Museum, founded in 1764 as the private museum of Catherine the Great. Today, the Hermitage is Russia's largest art museum with some three million pieces of art, including ancient Greek and Roman works and 15th- and 16th-century French and Impressionist masterpieces. Some tours include a visit to the Gold Room to see the famous Scythian and Greek gold collection, royal gifts, and an impressive spread of European jewelry.

Photo Caption: A carriage outside the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. Photo by SteveC/Frommers.com Community
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