A visit to Denmark and Sweden three years ago had me adding a Baltic cruise to my burgeoning bucket list. While in Denmark I coveted the crown jewels of the Danish royal family, took in the tales of Hans Christian Andersen, toured Tivoli Gardens alight with red lanterns, and biked beside the Baltic on the island of Aero while staying at a Danish farmhouse. At the Vasa Museum in Stockholm I heard about the hardships of Viking life in the 17th century and viewed a restored Viking warship. Here’s a look at some of my favourite ports.
CopenhagenCopenhagen is a green city where bikes rule the roads and designated lanes come complete with stop lights. Take a stroll down Stroget, an open-air shopping area near the city centre, and order a coffee at one of the quaint cafes. Not far from the cruise ship pier stands the famous sculpture of the Little Mermaid, a loveable character inspired by Hans Christian Andersen, born in Denmark. At Amalienborg Palace, the winter home of the monarch, visitors can witness the changing of the guard daily at noon.
StockholmStockholm has been described as ‘beauty on water’. The city boasts 14 islands, 57 bridges and plenty of parks. Built in the 13th century, medieval structures stand side by side with the modern harbour and port. Sailing into Stockholm takes travellers through an archipelago of 24,000 islands to dock in the city centre near shopping, museums and historic sights. Enjoy the narrow cobblestone streets of Gamla Stan (Old Town) with its ancient architecture and charming shops and restaurants. You won’t want to miss the Royal Palace, one of the largest in the world, the daily parade of soldiers and changing of the guard. Skansen, an open-air museum founded in1891 features historic homes and demonstrations of Swedish customs and handicrafts.
Staffan Eliasson/Stockholm Visitors Board
OsloLocated at the northern end of the Oslo Fjord covering an area of 450 square kilometres, the Norwegian capital is surrounded by island beaches and forested wilderness. Vigeland Sculpture Park, displays more than 200 bronze, granite and cast iron sculptures by sculptor Gustav Vigeland. The Viking Ship Museum maintains the world’s best-preserved Viking ships from the 9th century and other artifacts dug up from Viking tombs. The Norwegian Museum of Cultural History houses 155 traditional houses from all over Norway and a Stave Church from the year 1200. Indoor exhibits include handicrafts, folk costumes, Sami culture, weapons and toys.
HelsinkiHelsinki is a modern city with old world influences. Many cruise ships dock in South Harbour in the heart of Helsinki or at Hernesaari Quay in West Harbour, where passengers can walk or take a shuttle to the city centre. For stunning specimens of neoclassical architecture, visit Senate Square to tour Helsinki Cathedral, the Government Palace, the main building of the University of Helsinki and the National Library of Finland. Other impressive attractions include Market Square and Esplanade Park, the Suomenlinna Maritime Fortress and Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral, the largest Orthodox Church in the world.
Helsinki Tourist and Convention Bureau/Matti Tirri
TallinnTallinn on the Gulf of Finland is one of the most completely preserved medieval cities in Europe despite Viking attacks, wars and occupations, and is listed on the UNESCO World Heritage list. For cruise passengers Tallinn is easy to tour as most of the must-see sites are conveniently clustered in Old town. The top attractions for cruise passengers are Town Hall Square, the hub of Old Town, the Town Wall and Towers dating back to the 14th century, St. Olav’s Church and Tower, once the tallest building in the world, the Cathedral of St. Mary the Virgin, the main Lutheran Church in Estonia and Freedom Square.
RigaRiga, one of the largest cities on the Baltic Sea, has been named a UNESCO World Heritage site due to the large concentration of art nouveau buildings. Over the years, Riga served as an important trading centre between east and west and some of the buildings in Old Riga date back to the year 1201, surviving two world wars. Some important architectural gems are the Riga Cathedral, the Gothic-style St. Peter’s Church, St. Jacob’s Cathedral, St. George’s Church, the Synagogue of Old Riga, and Riga Castle. Other attractions in Riga include Riga Central Market, the Latvian National Opera and the Latvian Open-Air Ethnographic Museum in Riga.
RostockIn the maritime town of Rostock, the most important German port on the Baltic Sea, visitors can view gabled houses, imposing Gothic architecture, buildings with Baroque exteriors, and modern structures. In Neur Markt (New Market), the 13th-century Town Hall was treated to a Baroque facade between 1727 and 1729.
St. PetersburgWith its wide avenues, impressive palaces, and rich culture, St. Petersburg combines Russian heritage with European sensibilities. Founded by Peter the Great in 1703, St. Petersburg was home to famous writers and artists. The power centre of Tsarist Russia experienced turbulent times in the 20th century and maintains evidence of Russia’s fascinating history. No trip to St. Petersburg would be complete without a visit to the Hermitage Museum with its impressive collection of Italian Renaissance and French Impressionist paintings, with works by Rembrandt, Picasso and Matisse. The Winter Palace, the residence of the Tsars and the backdrop for the 1905 and 1917 Revolutions, houses the Hermitage, the world’s largest museum of art.