A guide to Baltic cruises
By Cruise International | 1 Feb 2022
With fairy-tale palaces, intriguing history and a rich mix of art and culture, the Baltic offers cruises with a difference
Baltic cruises are set to soar this year as many of us seek out new and interesting destinations that don’t mean travelling too far from home. With just a short flight or even a sailing from a UK port, you can find yourself immersed in the art, architecture and enchanting capitals of northern Europe, discovering treasures you didn’t even know were practically on your doorstep.
Stroll the medieval streets of Estonian capital Tallinn, explore the Unesco-listed Old Town of Riga in Latvia, cycle the shorelines and green spaces of Helsinki, or make a beeline for the Abba Museum in waterfront city Stockholm – all in one easy journey. You’ll also have a chance to marvel at the Little Mermaid statue watching over Copenhagen’s harbour, inspired by the timeless stories of Hans Christian Andersen.
In fact, many of the ports of call on a Baltic cruise feel like stepping straight into the pages of a fairy tale, with grand palaces and turret-topped castles at every turn. Yet nowhere evokes that storybook feel more than St Petersburg, where the spirit of the tsars still infuses the landmarks and legacy of the former Russian capital.
Tap into high culture with a night at the ballet or a visit to the impressive Hermitage Museum – both perennially popular shore excursions for many lines – visit the lavish Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood or cruise along the canals that earned the city its ‘Venice of the North’ nickname.
Many lines offer ex-UK sailings, so you don’t even have to head through an airport. They include the new MSC Virtuosa, which launched in the UK last year and will return to Southampton again this summer, offering journeys of between seven and 14 nights to the Norwegian fjords, St Petersburg, Sweden and Denmark.
New UK-based company Ambassador Cruise Line is offering Baltic sailings out of Tilbury in May and July, while Saga’s Spirit of Discovery is sailing from Dover in July to unusual ports around the Gulf of Bothnia, the northernmost part of the Baltic Sea, including Kemi in Finland, Visby in Sweden and Skagen in Denmark. It’s an ideal chance to explore the islands around Stockholm, the windswept beaches of the Jutland peninsula, and go on shore excursions to the likes of Gothenburg and Gdansk.
If you’re happy to hop on a short flight, there are even more options to choose from. Celebrity Apex and Enchanted Princess, which both launched last year, will be based in Amsterdam and Copenhagen respectively, taking in Stockholm, Helsinki, Tallinn, St Petersburg, Oslo and more.
Baltic cruises: hot spots
Copenhagen is often chosen for an overnight stay, its Tivoli Gardens, dating from 1843, at their most special after the sun goes down, with everything from walks to theatres, lakes to a 1914 wooden rollercoaster, all illuminated by thousands of fairy lights.
Some itineraries focus on the big names, hopping from one capital to another – Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki, Tallinn in Estonia, and there’s plenty of beauty here, not least the archipelago of 24,000 islands that surround Stockholm – some cruises call at the 17th-century naval city of Karlskrona with historic dockyards and museums of the sort found in extravagant TV costume dramas.
And St Petersburg is a jewel in the cruise crown, a city of waterways and magnificent architecture, including Catherine Palace, Peterhof Palace, the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood and the Hermitage Museum with an extensive collection of more than three million works of art. There’s generally a ballet on offer, too.
Baltic cruises: the hidden spots
Yet there’s also a hidden Baltic. Warnemünde, for instance, a German port that is always flagged as the gateway for day trips to Berlin, a good three hours away, but which is a delightful breeze-blown seaside town with a 19th-century lighthouse, beach, dunes and the waterfront former home of Norwegian artist Edvard Munch, who spent 18 months here.
And gorgeous Klaipėda in Lithuania, a medieval city with striking architecture as well as walks along the 100km Unesco-protected Curonian Spit, with dunes millions of years old protecting the harbour.
Gdańsk, too, the famed Polish shipbuilding centre. Ships dock in Gdynia just along the bay and Gdańsk is anything but an industrial city, with its 16th-century brick Basilica of St. Mary of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, contemporary Museum of Second World War and other striking architecture.
Some cruises follow the coast of Denmark but on others there’s the bonus of a trip through the Kiel Canal, which cuts a line 100km straight across Germany, ships seemingly floating across a flat, rural landscape from the North Sea to the Baltic.