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10 must-see ancient civilisation cruises

Author: Steve Newman

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With modern cities populating the globe, take time to step back to a more ancient past on your next cruise holiday. Here are 10 spots that cannot be missed!

This year sees the opening of the new Grand Egyptian Museum complex to house, display, and preserve some of the country’s greatest ancient treasures.

So, what better time then to visit a site some of the other ancient civilisations on an ocean or river cruise? Be it the Mayan cities of Central America, the statues of Easter Island, the theatres of ancient Greece, the tombs of the Pharaohs or the 5,000-year-old settlements of our own islands?

On some cruises it’s easily possible to visit the archaeological site of two distinct cultures on separate excursions.

Here then are some ten ideas for you to reconnect to those past civilisations to which we owe so much.

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Skara Brae

Perched on the Bay of Skaill on the west coast of mainland Orkney Skara Brae was exposed by a storm in 1850. It is older than Stonehenge and the Pyramids of Giza and has been referred to as the "Scottish Pompeii" because of its excellent preservation.

Much of the site is still unexcavated but at the moment ten houses are on view. Made of flagstones, held in earth dams that provided support for the walls; they have clearly visible stone hearths, beds, cupboards and even an early form of waste disposal system. The site also has a reconstruction of one of the houses.

The path circumnavigates the site from above giving excellent views of the rooms and corridors.

Fred Olsen has a five-night “Scenic Orkneys & Shetlands” Cruise departing 1st Jun 2022 from Newcastle. This cruise also visits the ancient ceremonial stone circles of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar.

- READ MORE: 10 reasons to cruise: Why your next holiday should be a cruise trip -

Machu Picchu

Only discovered in the first decade of the last century Machu Picchu could well have been a centre of worship for the Inca civilisation and a place for astronomical observation. It is almost the only Inca site in Peru that survived the Conquistadores invasion and means it is one of the few places where you can experience the incredible razor-like cut stoneworks of the Inca masons.

Sitting on top of a mountain ridge some 8,000 ft high and surrounded by the tropical forest the site is made up of homes, plazas, temples, tombs, stone canals, stairways and platforms. More than 700 terraces grew crops and helped distribute water.

Silversea offers a pre or post-cruise land programme to Machu Picchu on several of their voyages.

Their Fort Lauderdale to Lima cruise via the Panama Canal also offers you the chance to visit the Maya city of Quirigua in Guatemala.

Take in the amazing views from the ancient Incan site atop a mountain. Credit: Shutterstock

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The ancient Egyptians capture our imagination and the monuments to their civilization are certainly awe-inspiring. The new Grand Egyptian Museum due to open this year housing all of the major treasures including those of Tutankhamun is sure to be a major draw.

Apart from The Pyramids and the Sphinx at Giza other attractions include the temples at Karnak and Abu Simbel and The Valley of the Kings.

If you can visit them on a restored luxurious 19th century Nile steamer with royal connections so much the better. Jules Verne has a selection of cruises on the Nile but their “Royal Steamer Restored” cruise on the SS Misr between Thebes and Nubia to Lake Nasser and Aswan certainly gives you an air of elegance visiting the hotel that Inspired Agathe Christie’s “Death on the Nile”.

There are also cruise extension options available to Cairo and the Red Sea.

- READ MORE: Nile cruise on the ship that inspired Agatha Christie's Death on the Nile -


Ancient Pompeii was a prosperous provincial centre with an estimated population of 20,000. When Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD the whole town was buried beneath more than 20 feet of ash and pumice stone. Frozen in time, houses, frescoes, mosaics, shops, theatres, the Gladiator School and Forum are fascinating to explore. If you’re on your own get to the brothel early as the queue here can be very long by mid-morning.

The site of Pompeii can be very busy, and it is important to always stay with your guide and you will need comfortable shoes to walk on the cobblestone streets. However, it is not recommended for those with walking difficulties.

The tour is available on all Star Clippers’ Amalfi and Sicily sailings throughout summer 2022 June 18 & 25, July 2, August 20 & 27, September 3, 10, 17 & 24, October 1 & 8.

Visit the city frozen in time, but make sure to arrive early to avoid crowds. Credit: Shutterstock

Angkor Wat

The Temple of Angkor Wat is the jewel of Khmer architecture and one of the world's most important archaeological sites. You enter by the central sanctuary and take in breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside. In the afternoon, you explore the fortified city of Angkor Thom, which houses several of Angkor's most popular sights.

This cruise also lets you shop at Old Hanoi's markets and see the haunting beauty of Ta Prohm, where jungle vines embrace ancient ruins. Explore Phnom Penh by cycle rickshaw. Discover silk towns, fishing villages, monasteries and floating markets.

With hotel stays in Hanoi, Siem Reap and Ho Chi Minh City bracketing your cruise.

The 15-days Magnificent Mekong cruise from Viking Cruises offers return flights to select UK airports, a French Balcony stateroom, 16 guided tours, all on board meals. The new ship Viking Saigon will host 80 guests in 40 outside staterooms.

- READ MORE: Explore the Corinth Canal with Fred. Olsen's record-breaking cruise -

Ancient Greece

To start or end your cruise in Athens and see all the sites from the Acropolis to the Panathenaic Stadium and then to sail to the major sites of Delphi and Olympus is a very good idea. This cruise not only allows you to do that but visit sites where the heroes of the Trojan war walked and immerse yourself in Greek culture.

You not only visit Mycenae the home of Agamemnon but the original Olympic Stadium and the acoustic marvel that is the Theatre at Epidaurus.

Sailing on the 45 passenger Galileo, sometimes with her sails up, you circumnavigate the Peloponnese peninsula passing through the Corinth Canal and visiting all the main sites and museums.

Variety Cruises 8-day Greece - Antiquity to Byzantium Cruise runs from March to November. Do try to do this at the end of the year as it is still warm, and the vast numbers of tourists have gone leaving the sites easier to explore.

Check off this famous tomb from your bucket list in Petra. Credit: Shutterstock


The "Rose red city, half as old as time" was the capital of the Nabataean kingdom from around the 6th century BC.

Most people associate Petra with the iconic tomb known as The Treasury seen in so many films and advertisements but there is far more to the city than this. Covering a huge area, it is well worth climbing the steps to the massive tomb known as The Monastery high above.

Also step up to the back row of the theatre which held thousands of people, sit down and just think about how all this was hewed out of a solid cliff face.

You will walk about a mile down the narrow canyon called the Siq but do take some water as once the sun gets over the mountain there is no shade.

MSC has an excursion to the city from Aqaba on their Saudi Arabia and the Red Sea cruises which start and finish at Jeddah and visit Yanbu and Medina.

- READ MORE: Seabourn: Top 10 UNESCO World Heritage sights to visit by cruise -

Easter Island

Not only is Easter Island the remotest spot on the planet it is also one of the most enigmatic and mysterious.

The giant statues that the island is famous for are known as the Moai and weigh around some 20 tons each and are over 20 feet tall. There are over 900 of them on Easter Island placed on platforms known as ahus which are tombs for the people that the statues represented.

Each statue was carved with different characteristics since they were intended to represent the appearance of the person.

As an added bonus, in Belize this cruise visits Altun Ha, the ancient Mayan ceremonial centre where stone steps allow you to climb to the top of the temples.

Seabourn's 32- Day Paths to The Pacific onboard Seabourn Sojourn, departs on 6th January 2023 Miami, Florida and then sailing to Key West, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama, Ecuador, Easter Island, French Polynesia.

Head to Agra on your cruise to visit the legendary Taj Mahal. Credit: Shutterstock


India assaults all your senses and emotion. It’s as simple as that. For thousands of years this civilisation has lived alongside the River Ganges the holy river of Hinduism and a river cruise along that living waterway is probably the best way to discover this kaleidoscope of colour, smells where you can breathe the history in the air.

This guided tour of India and the Ganges River cruise begins in the bustling city of Delhi, before travelling to Agra—the site of the legendary Taj Mahal.

You have the chance to join a sunrise excursion to the Taj Mahal. Then it's on to the city of Jaipur, with its famous Palace of the Winds, and spectacular Amber Fort, before flying to Kolkata to board your Ganges River cruising slowly through one of the world's most fertile and populated areas.

Stop in Murshidabad for an excursion to Azimganj and Jiaganj. You also explore the fascinating Hare Krishna headquarters in Mayapur and visit Saint Mother Teresa's former home upon your return to Kolkata.

Avalon Waterways 13-day river cruise from £4,306pp including intra-vacation air and taxes, based on 16 September 2022 departure.

- READ MORE: How fast do cruise ships go? Amazing cruising facts and figures -

The Maya

The Maya civilization lasted for some 2,000 years until the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadores and is noted for its highly sophisticated writing system as well as for its art, architecture, mathematics, and incredibly accurate astronomical calendar. The Maya lived in the area that today comprises southeast Mexico, all of Guatemala and Belize, and the western portions of Honduras and El Salvador.

Their cities are simply amazing with giant pyramids, dedicated commercial buildings and well laid out street patterns with water and Irrigation systems.

Azamara has a 7-Night Key West & Yucatan Voyage on Azamara Quest departing 15th February 2022 with a chance to visit the ruins of the Mayan city of Tulúm an architectural and cultural wonder that offers an incredible insight into this ancient civilization.

They also have a Central America Tapestry Voyage (First segment of the World Voyage) departing on 5th January 2024.

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