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Travel bucket list idea:

Last updated: 06 February, 2024
Expert travel writer: Sue Bryant

Layers of history, majestic old port cities and above all, glimpses into a world once closed to the outside, are all reasons for the revival of the Black Sea as a culture-packed cruise destination.

You’ll usually embark in Istanbul for the scenic sailing along the narrow Bosphorus to the mouth of the Black Sea. Other highlights include the grand, baroque boulevards of Odessa and pretty Nessebar in Bulgaria, peppered with medieval orthodox churches and clinging to a rocky island connected to the mainland by an isthmus.

The Georgian port of Batumi, with its waterfront of futuristic glass towers, lies against a backdrop of the hazy, green Caucasus mountains. From Sochi, you can visit Stalin’s dacha, the holiday home where the dictator would summer, eerily preserved as it was until his death in 1953.

Some cruises also incorporate the Sea of Marmara, calling at Canakkale for Troy, or Mudanya for trips to Bursa, the original Ottoman capital.

Editor: despite Russia’s illegal and heinous invasion of Ukraine, we’ve left Russian content in our guides. There’s no reason you can’t add Russia to your travel bucket list for future visits. The war, and Putin, won’t last forever, and then we hope you go back. There are many innocent Russian people, whose livelihoods depend on tourism, suffering greatly too from the actions of this evil man and his cronies.

Logistics

Price from: £Varies
Minimum age: Any
Age suitable: 18+
When: All year around
Duration: Min 7 days

Getting there & doing it

Typically, cruises depart from Athens or Istanbul, visiting Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, Russia, Georgia and sometimes, the northern Turkish coast. Note that Crimea is still closed to tourism. A cruise is by far the best way to take in the Black Sea ports; connecting all these cities by flight would be complex and expensive. Also, these are port-intensive cruises, with little in the way of beach excursions.

Adding on a few days in either Istanbul or Athens pre- or post-cruise is worthwhile if you haven’t explored either in-depth before.

Fred Olsen, one of the pioneers of the Black Sea revival, offer comfortable, mid-sized ships aimed at the mature traveller.

When to do it

Cruises operate in summer, between May and September, when the weather is at its finest.

Who to go with: tour operators

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Our writer’s recommended tour operators to book with

Fred. Olsen Cruises [Black Sea]

Fred. Olsen Cruises [Black Sea]

London, Multiple countries

One of the pioneers of the Black Sea revival, they operate a fleet of four comfortable but affordable, mid-sized ships aimed at the mature traveller. Itineraries include smaller ports as well as bucket list destinations.

Saga Cruises [Black Sea]

Saga Cruises [Black Sea]

Folkestone, Kent, Multiple countries

UK-based luxury cruise operator specialising in cruises for the over 50s. Beautiful, contemporary ships, with everything included; these cruises are ideal for solo travellers, too.

Destination guides

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Destination guides including or relevant to this experience

Istanbul

Marmara Region, Turkey

Large illuminated mosque at night with sea in background

Exotic, inexhaustible and dynamic – East meets West head-on in this mesmerising city metropolis, famed for its extraordinarily rich history, superb food and shopping, and mind-blowingly magnificent, over-sized mosques.

Round-ups

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