Norwegian cruise line quits Venice: Where will ships stop instead?

Here are the historical cities where cruise passengers may find themselves instead of Venice this year.

A top cruise line has cut the iconic city of Venice from its itineraries in 2024 and 2025 as the Italian destination continues to clamp down on visitors.

Norwegian Cruise Line announced the decision after Venice declared its waterways a “national monument” and banned large cruise ships from anchoring in its historic centre.

Norwegian, along with other cruise companies, has been ferrying visitors to the city by much smaller tender boats – but, now, they say even that compromise is no longer viable.

Speaking to Euronews Travel, a spokesperson explained the decision: “While we have made every effort possible to maintain these calls to Venice, the tender operation and overall experience this provides our guests has fallen short of the standard we aim to deliver.”

Venice was forced to ban cruises from its centre in 2021, after damage to the lagoon saw UNESCO threaten to put the city on its endangered list unless they prohibited the ships.

Experts say that these large boats cause pollution and erode the foundations of the city, which already suffers from regular flooding.

At the time of the ban, many cruise companies were in favour of the decision. The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) said it had “been supportive of a new approach for many years” calling it a “major step forward”.

Where will passengers on Norwegian go instead of Venice?

Some cruise lines have found ways around the ban to get their guests to Venice, like MSC Cruises, which stops in Marghera, just across the water from the city. Others stop in Trieste or Ravenna – both at least two hours from the ‘floating city’.

Venetian authorities, meanwhile, are continuing their years-long efforts to limit over-tourism.

This year, Venice will implement a tourist fee for day visitors from the spring and will attempt to limit the size of tour groups this summer.

From 2025, Norwegian will replace stops in Venice with a day at sea or at another port – yet to be decided.

This year, though, cruise passengers will see the city replaced on their itineraries with either Ravenna in Italy, Rijeka and Zadar in Croatia, or Koper in Slovenia.

Here’s what to know about those destinations.

What can you do in Ravenna, Italy?

Some two and a half hours south of Venice, Ravenna is the capital city of the province of Ravenna, in the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy.

While not as famous as other Italian cities, it certainly has a rich history.

From the beginning of the 5th century, it was a capital city three times: in the last moments of the Western Roman Empire , during the reign of the Goths under Theodoric , and then again under the Byzantine dominion.

Its historical significance survives today, with the city boasting eight monuments which have been declared as UNESCO heritage sites.

Ravenna is also the final resting place of the ‘Father of the Italian Language’ Dante Alighieri, who died there in 1321.

Head just outside the city and the coastline features nine beach towns as well as canals – not unlike Venice’s own – and pine forests too.

Cruises get privileged access to Rijeka, Croatia

Leaving Italy behind, three hours away is Rijeka, the third-largest city in Croatia after Zagreb and Split. Although perhaps not as well known as those two icons of travel, there’s a reason for that.

Rijeka is notoriously difficult to get to by air outside of the tourist season, with frequent flights only running between May and October.

That means cruise passengers will have the privilege of seeing a destination which is relatively untrodden.

Nevertheless, Rijeka was the first Croatian city to be awarded the prestigious title of European Capital of Culture in 2020.

Since then, it’s been adding to its historical heritage with a number of cultural programmes, with an aim to attract visitors from across Europe.

A tourist takes in the beauty of Rijeka, Croatia
A tourist takes in the beauty of Rijeka, CroatiaFilip Baotić via Unsplash

Stay cool in Zadar, Croatia

Further south in Croatia is Zadar, the oldest continuously inhabited city in the entire country. Sitting on the edge of the Adriatic Sea, it’s often hailed as one of the “coolest” destinations to visit in the region.

It’s one of the most recognisable stops on a tour of Croatia and so, arguably, won’t benefit as much as Rijeka might from Norwegian’s new schedule.

However, the Balkan nation has faced criticism since it switched currencies to the Euro last year, with some tourists saying they feel priced out of a previously affordable country, so Croatia could well be grateful for the increased visitors brought by boat.

Swap Venice for Koper, Slovenia

Just across the border from Trieste, Koper is the fifth largest city in Slovenia and its biggest coastal city, too.

Being so close to Italy, you may not be surprised to hear Koper is officially bilingual, with both Slovene and Italian as its official languages.

A view of Venice-a-like buildings in Koper, Slovenia
A view of Venice-a-like buildings in Koper, SloveniaMalcolm Ketteridge via UnSplash

Although not as well known as other destinations in Slovenia, it’s long been a stop for a number of Mediterranean cruising lines.

It is, in fact, architecturally fairly similar to Venice, with a must-see 15th-century Praetorian Palace and Loggia in Venetian Gothic style as well as a 12th-century Carmine Rotunda church and St. Nazarius’ Cathedral, which boasts a 14th-century tower.

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