A cruise on the Baltic Sea will take you to towns and capital cities filled with history, culture, old-world charm and imperial splendour, says Deborah Stone
Built on 14 islands, stunning Stockholm is one of the coolest cities in Europe. The hop-on-hop-off tourist boat will take you to all the highlights of the Swedish capital. For many this will include ABBA The Museum. It’s on the city’s south quay and is near the other must-see attraction, the Vasa Museum. If you want to see ABBA stage clothes, props, photos and to sing along with their songs then don’t forget to book online before your cruise. But if you want to see one of the world’s most fascinating slices of history, go along to the Vasa Museum to see the full-size 17th-century wooden warship. It sank immediately after its launch in 1628, was recovered from the sea in 1961 and needed years of chemical treatment before it could be displayed out of the water. Other places of interest are the City Hall, which has Byzantine-like mosaic interiors and is where the Nobel Prize banquets take place, and the Royal Palace, official residence of the Swedish royal family.
Must do: Go shopping at Nordiska Kompaniet (nk.se), a wonderful art nouveau department store.
Getting there: Royal Caribbean International has a seven-night Scandinavia and Russia cruise departing 20 May 2017 from £1,694pp including return flights. The Copenhagen round-trip on board Serenade of the Seas calls at Stockholm as well as Helsinki, St Petersburg and Tallinn (royalcaribbean.com). Find out more: visitstockholm.com.
Sail past hundreds of islets to get to Helsinki, which must be the least polluted capital in Europe. The cruise terminals are only a 10 or 15-minute walk to the colourful harbour market place, and it’s an easy stroll to Helsinki Cathedral and the huge Senate Square. The architecture reflects Finland’s extraordinary history: once part of the Swedish trade empire it was transferred to Russian rule in 1809 and declared its independence in 1917. So while parts of the city resemble Stockholm, the Finnish National Gallery and Ateneum Art Museum are Art Nouveau and the fantastic Temple Church looks like it has been gauged out of a rock face. The silver organ pipe monument in memory of the composer Sibelius in Sibelius Park is a good place to rest after a walking tour. Helsinki is a shopaholic’s paradise, with designer stores (including Marimekko) and shopping centres galore.
Must do: Buy fresh berries from the market then sit in nearby Esplanade Park where free concerts take place in summer.
Getting there: MSC Cruises has an 11-night Northern Europe round-trip cruise departing 24 May 2017 on MSC Magnifica from Warnemünde which calls at Helsinki, from £1,229pp based on two sharing (msccruises.co.uk). Find out more: visithelsinki.fi/en.
Denmark’s capital city is enchanting and easy to navigate. A stroll along the harbour at Langelinie takes you to the famous statue of Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid curled up on a rock in the water. Take the path through the grounds of the old Citadel then head for Amalienborg Palace, where the royal family lives in four grand Rococo buildings surrounding a courtyard. You can walk straight through the courtyard and look back towards the river to see the modern opera house, or up towards town to see Frederik’s Church, with its wonderful green copper dome. At the centre of town are the Tivoli Gardens, now a theme park, and the City Hall. Nearby is the Latin Quarter, full of cafés, bars, fashion and vintage clothes shops, while the pedestrianised Kompagnistraede is a haven of antique shops and craft boutiques.
Must do: Stop for a drink at Nyhavn (New Harbour) where you can watch the world walk by before jumping on a boat for a trip around the canals between the city’s islands.
Getting there: Princess Cruises has a seven-day Scandinavia cruise on Crown Princess, round-trip from Southampton departing 27 May 2017 from £649pp, based on two sharing. The itinerary offers two days in Copenhagen and also calls at Oslo, Helsingborg in Sweden and Zeebrugge for excursions to Brussels or Bruges (princess.com). Find out more: visitcopenhagen.com.
St Petersburg, Russia
The jewel in the crown of any Baltic cruise, St Petersburg is absolutely breathtaking. If you only take ship excursions in one port on your Baltic cruise this is the place to go – otherwise you’ll have to arrange your own visas. Independent sightseeing means getting from the new cruise terminal three miles out of town, although small ships may dock on the Neva River in the heart of the city. The must-see destination is the Hermitage Museum, which incorporates several buildings including the Winter Palace and Menshikov Palace – a guided tour will help you track down the highlights. The onion-domed Church of Our Saviour on Spilled Blood is equally unmissable and shopping down Nevsky Prospekt is a must. If there are evening excursions go to the ballet: the Mariinsky is the most famous, but there are others in classical buildings where you’ll feel like Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.
Must do: Most ships stay two days in St Petersburg so on the second day take an excursion to Catherine Palace in Pushkin, to see the restored Amber Room and gilded stucco walls of the Great Hall ballroom.
Getting there: Fred. Olsen Cruise Line has a 14-night Scandinavian Capitals & St Petersburg cruise from £1,699pp, departing from Newcastle on 16 July 2017, which includes two days in St Petersburg and calls at Copenhagen and Riga (fredolsencruises.com). Find out more: visit-petersburg.ru.
Tallinn’s Old Town, just a 15-minute walk from the cruise terminal, has a fairytale appearance which belies its troubled past, including Soviet occupation. You can pay to walk part of the walls, with their red turrets, and the city museum, free with the Tallinn card, has a fascinating exhibition detailing Estonia’s history. Also worth visiting is the KGB Museum. It’s also an easy walk from the port to the beach and Kadriorg Palace, built by Peter the Great for his wife, Catherine I. You can also see the humble cottage where he stayed while the palace was being built.
Must do: Visit St Alexander Nevsky Cathedral at the top of Toompea Hill. Complete with onion-domed towers, this Russian Orthodox church is full of icons and intricate decorations.
Getting there: P&O Cruises has a 14-night Scandinavia and Russia cruise departing 24 June 2017 from £1,899pp based on two sharing on board Britannia. The Southampton round-trip cruise calls at St Petersburg and Warnemünde (pocruises.com). Find out more: tourism.tallinn.ee.
To read about Norway, Sweden and Germany voyages, see part two of Baltic Sea cruises.
Whether you’re looking for a cultural holiday or relaxing break, find your perfect cruise here.