Baltic capitals: explore Europe’s marvelous north

Drifting glaciers, the chance of a magical encounter with the Aurora Borealis, long, cool, tranquil days, and clear, star-studded nights; Baltic cruises are all about otherworldly splendor. The diverse and sophisticated cities of Northern Europe offer a whole new world of experience, from the candy-striped  minarets of St Petersburg to the elegance of Copenhagen.

 Copenhagen, Denmark

Copenhagen, Denmark-1

Many cruise lines depart from Copenhagen, making it the perfect starting point.  Before you set off, squeeze in a few sights in this iconic city. Check out the painted houses of Nyhavn, a bustling canal neighborhood where boats drift by to the sounds of lively buskers, then swerve by Rosenborg Castle to explore its opulent Renaissance architecture. Only a ten minute walk from the pier, make sure to stop by the Little Mermaid statue en route to the port; where she basks in quiet contemplation.


Helsinki, Finland

Helsinki, Finland

Surrounded on three sides by shoreline, the Finnish capital has a number of bite-size adventures to offer day-trippers, as well as delicious seafood. Any excursion should include a trip to Suomenlinna. This island sea fortress is only accessible by water, but don’t despair, the crossing takes no longer than 20 minutes, and this is one UNESCO World Heritage Site you won’t want to miss. On returning to the mainland, make for the pristine domed Lutheran Cathedral, then explore one of the city’s many museums; whether your interest is in contemporary art or sports, there’s a museum to cater to every passion in Helsinki.


Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn, Estonia

Only 53 miles from Helsinki by sea, Tallinn is a logical destination. This quaint city is distinctive for the sea of red rooftops in its medieval Old Town, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a great base for exploration, especially with a tight schedule to work to. Pick up cheap oddments and unique souvenirs at the bustling marketplace of Balti Jaama Turg, then wend your way through the winding streets of the city’s Old Town, or tour its historic underground tunnels by train for an alternative perspective on the city.


St. Petersburg, Russia

Petersburg, Russia

This imposing city with its extravagant architecture and potent history needs to be seen to be credited. A lack of English language on its signage and information makes it worth considering the appointment of a Russian tour guide with a reputable company in advance to get the most out of St Petersburg.  If you do opt to see the Hermitage, allow as much time as possible, and don’t expect to see more than a fraction of the treasures enclosed in this wonderful museum complex.

Of course, this is just a small sampling of the experiences to be encountered on a Baltic cruise, and doesn’t even allude to Norway or Sweden, which both have charms which are more than equal to the destinations mentioned in this itinerary. Wherever you choose to embark on an adventure into Northern Europe, as long as you don’t neglect to pack warm clothes, you won’t be disappointed.

Images by John Anes, Mariano Mantel, Kevin Jaako and Edmund Gall used under creative commons license.

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