Around 5 million passengers cruise the Baltic in every year, following in the path of Viking explorers and Russian Tsars. Often overlooked by its glitzy Mediterranean neighbour, this fascinating region is brimming with history and culture: from onion-domed churches to Cold War relics, medieval villages and modern Nordic cuisine. Highlights include Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki, Tallinn, Gdansk, Berlin and St. Petersburg … all bathed in the long and lingering twilight of northern summers.
Here are just a few reasons to book a Baltic cruise:
RUSSIAN HISTORY AND HERITAGE
St. Petersburg is the jewel in the region’s crown and the pinnacle of every Baltic cruise. Glittering palaces, eye-poppingly colourful churches and imperial monuments are all within reach, normally on planned excursions to comply with strict visitor visa rules, although independent travel is possible for those who are sufficiently organised and confident.
The Hermitage State Museum houses one of the world’s greatest art collections, located in the beautiful Winter Palace on the banks of the Neva River. With most cruise itineraries spending at least one overnight in this fascinating city there is plenty time to enjoy an evening at the ballet, visit the cellar where Rasputin was poisoned at the Yusupov Palace and marvel at the fountains at Peterhof, Peter the Great's summer palace outside the city
Copenhagen is the gateway to the Baltic and the birthplace of contemporary Nordic cuisine. Tivoli Gardens, the traditional amusement park famous for inspiring Walt Disney and Hans Christian Andersen, is within walking distance of the port and easily enjoyed as a day trip.
Most cruise ships weave through the stunning Stockholm archipelago as they enter and leave the Swedish capital, revealing this serene and magical place at a gentle pace. Many Swedes escape for the weekend to these 20,000 rocky islands, covered in pristine forest and dotted with idyllic summer cabins, to nurture their love of the outdoors.
MEDIEVAL OLD TOWN
Dating back to 1252, Gamla Stan, in central Stockholm, is one of Europe’s largest and best-preserved medieval towns. The kaleidoscope of colourful old houses, narrow streets and quaint cafés provide the perfect backdrop to do Fika – delicious coffee and cake. Tallinn and Riga are beautiful UNESCO-listed old towns; with a maze of cobbled alleyways winding past immaculately conserved Hanseatic houses and market squares.
RELICS OF THE COLD WAR
Europe has seen huge change since the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union. A Baltic cruise takes in many important aspects of this historical shift: from the deserted concrete buildings of Tallinn, reminiscent of a lost Soviet era, to the infamous landmarks of Berlin. To see the towering Brandenburg Gate and Checkpoint Charlie, be prepared for a full day of travelling from the charming German town of Warnemunde.
The Baltic Sea is on the UK’s geographical doorstep, connected by a narrow channel off the Danish coastline or through the busy Kiel Canal. Many cruises to the region depart from UK ports, with round-trip itineraries leaving from Southampton, Dover, Portsmouth, Tilbury, Newcastle and Harwich. For the traveller who doesn’t like planes, a Baltic cruise is the perfect no-fly option.