If you want to take in some of western Europe's most fascinating cities but haven't much time to devote to a holiday, consider booking a short cruise in 2012. For four or five days, you can absorb the rich culture of destinations like Florence, Cannes, Barcelona and Rome, while enjoying all the onboard amenities of your cruise ship.
Take a flight from the UK to Barcelona, where your vessel will be waiting. This cosmopolitan Spanish city is well worth exploring before you set sail, so after getting established onboard, venture back on to the shore, where you can take in the top sights.
Among the main attractions to be found here are the various architectural works of Antoni Gaudi. The renowned Catalan architect was the brains behind some of the city's most prominent buildings, including the awe-inspiring Sagrada Familia cathedral. Take a walking tour to see the edifice - as well as a clutch of Gaudi's other designs - up close. Call in at the Picasso Museum during your visit, sample some tasty tapas at the many bars to be found in the city, or head to a beach for a couple of hours to work on your tan.
From Barcelona, your Med cruise will take you to the city of Cannes, known as the queen of the French Riviera. Wander along the lovely Promenade de la Croisette for superb views and visit the medieval remains of castle La Suquet. Inside the latter is a museum where you can find out more about exotic cultures and admire Mediterranean and Egyptian antiquities.
Depending on the time of year you stop by, you could find the city bustling with activity as part of the Cannes Film Festival. Usually taking place during mid-May, the event sees entertainers from the big screen rewarded for their work, so you might just brush shoulders with some famous names! If not, you can always pay a visit to the star-studded pavement Allee des Etoiles du Cinema, where many movie luminaries have left their handprints.
The romantic city of Florence will be your next port of call, and this is a great spot for exploring narrow cobbled streets to discover grand feats of architecture and art. The Italian city is a sort of open-air museum, with its historical squares, gardens and palaces, and also boasts more than 150 fascinating centres where you can find out more about the area's history, culture and art.
A must-visit is the Uffizi Gallery, which dates back to the mid 1500s. This antique building started out as offices and is now the city's main attraction, housing exceptional works of art by the likes of Michelangelo, Botticelli, Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci.
An equally impressive spot you'll also visit during your getaway is Rome. Climb ashore and you can take in renowned sites like the Roman Pantheon and Colosseum, the beautifully ornate basilica of St Peter, and the grand Trevi Fountain, into which you can toss a coin; it is believed that whoever throws one into the fountain will return to Rome sometime in the future. There are plenty of pizzerias in the city, where you can enjoy some authentic Italian cuisine, although if you'd rather save your money you can always take advantage of the great food back on your ship.
In fact, your vessel should have plenty to offer, especially if you're travelling as part of a family cruise. Children and teenagers will find themselves well catered for with a range of age-appropriate activities, while mum and dad can relax in the sauna and Jacuzzi, or work up a sweat at the fitness suite.