Framing the azure Baltic Sea, northern Europe offers a kaleidoscopic adventure of languages, currencies and art traditions. Whether you’re visiting Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens or Stockholm’s regal harbor, Scandinavia and the Baltic states are a delight.
Getting around is easier than ever thanks to new train connections and an improved ferry network. With a Eurail pass in hand, you can enjoy easy travel across the region.
The Baltic Sea is a tranquil and beautiful destination, and its picturesque coastlines have been drawing tourists for centuries. Its long sandy beaches and quaint towns are popular with beach lovers, hikers, and cyclists. The seaside resorts of Ronne, Denmark on Bornholm Island; Ystad, Sweden; Parnu and Palanga, Estonia; Sopot, Poland; and Liepaja and Jurmala, Latvia, are among the most visited destinations.
In addition to cruising, rail travel is an ideal way to explore the Baltic states and its coastal cities. With comfortable passenger trains running several times per day, the Baltic states are easy to reach from Europe. The new high-speed line, Rail Baltica, will make it even easier to visit the region.
Until that time, the old-fashioned railways offer a nostalgic taste of the past. The classic railways of the Hanseatic League are particularly interesting, as they were once major highways of trade. Merchants traded herring and stockfish, smoked fish and salt, softwood timber for shipbuilding, hemp and flax for ropes, and grain. They also imported forest products like tar and amber.
Today, the Baltic Sea remains a vital economic and social resource, and the coastal nations strive to balance its uses with environmental protection. However, these countries face a challenging task because the sea is highly productive and already suffers from dead zones and algae blooms. The international organization HELCOM is working to improve the situation, but it is a difficult balancing act.
Cruises on the Baltic are a great option for first-time cruisers or those who don’t enjoy the heat of tropical destinations. A Baltic cruise is cool, calm, and charming with a unique blend of maritime flair and Hanseatic traditions.
Before embarking on a Baltic cruise, travelers should make sure that they have packed the right things. For example, they should pack comfortable shoes for exploring cobbled streets and a credit card with no foreign transaction fee. They should also pack the right clothing for each region. For example, the temperatures in the Baltic can vary dramatically from one season to another. In addition, they should carry a rain jacket and sunscreen in case of bad weather.
The Baltic’s long, sandy beaches and quaint seaside towns are the perfect way to enjoy a vacation by the sea. The sea is a great place to sample regional seafood, such as smoked herring, and the many seaside resorts are renowned for their spas and massages.
Cruise ships dock right in the heart of most cities and towns, making it easy to explore on foot. The cruises offer a wide range of tours, including walking and bus excursions. Some cruises also include a day in another city, such as Helsinki, Tallinn, or Riga.
A cruise aboard a large ship offers the convenience of having all meals and accommodations taken care of, and often carries more people than trains. These are ideal if you want to spend more time at each destination, and they typically visit several ports on each itinerary.
Ferries have a unique advantage over trains in that they can be used to travel between cities on routes where train connections do not exist, even if the stops are quite far apart. Some of these ferries offer cabins for overnight sailings, making them an economical option for multi-day trips between cities. On the Stockholm-Turku and Helsinki-Tallinn/Riga routes the ferries stay in port for a full day, allowing you to leave your bags locked up in your cabin (with access to them later if you wish) while you tour the city.
In its heyday the Hanseatic League united some 300 northern European cities in active trade and cultural exchange, and in the centuries that followed pleasure voyages from the metropolises of Denmark and Sweden to nearby seaside destinations enjoyed growing popularity. The 30 years since the end of the Cold War have allowed the Baltic to become less a fraught geopolitical space and more a sea fit for personal travel.
The Baltic’s regal palaces, ornate waterways and welcoming cultures are among the region’s finest treasures. Few cruising regions in the world are as diverse as the Baltic.
The Baltic Sea is a sea of regal castles, ornate palaces, windmill-lined waterways and welcoming cultures. While some cruise lines have shifted away from the region in recent years, smaller luxury cruise companies are still taking passengers there with itineraries of various lengths, leaving out or including several countries.
Most Baltic cities are easy to explore on your own. In Helsinki, for example, you can walk to most of the city’s main attractions from the ship. A stroll through the city center takes you past the neo-classical Town Hall and Presidential Palace to Kauppatori (Market Square). The city’s many seafood restaurants are found on its waterfront, including the famed smoked herring stand at Storkhuset.
In Gdansk, you can meet Polish statesman Lech Walesa and hear his firsthand accounts of the Solidarity movement that changed the course of history in eastern Europe. On the Danish island of Bornholm, visit the ruins of medieval Hammershus castle and its perch on coastal cliffs.
Buses are also an option for getting around the Baltic states. While a train journey to the Baltics from Germany can be long and slow, buses are much faster and more comfortable and can make the trip much shorter. Eurail Global and Scandinavia passes grant a discount on ferries between Tallinn and Riga, as well as Stockholm and Helsinki; direct buses from Tallinn to Riga save time (4 hours, $20 without a rail pass).
Most countries visited by cruise ships offer inexpensive and convenient public transportation systems. If you’re interested in exploring independently, you can purchase a ticket from the local bus company as soon as you get off the ship. Buses often have large windows to allow you to enjoy the scenery as you travel. Independent excursions are typically cheaper than booking through your cruise line and are often more personalized.
You can book independent excursions in most Baltic ports through tour companies that cater to tourists. Most of these will help arrange visas, if necessary. In some cases, they will also handle the arrangements for flights and hotel stays as part of a package deal. However, be sure to double-check that all required documentation is in order before booking your tours. You don’t want to end up missing your cruise because of paperwork problems!
Taking a cruise of the Baltic Sea is a wonderful way to experience one of Europe’s most stunning regions. It offers a cool and calm alternative to tropical cruises and is ideal for first-time cruisers and those who don’t enjoy the heat in warmer destinations. A cruise of the Baltic Sea also provides access to some fascinating cities that are otherwise difficult to reach. In addition, the Baltic Sea is close to many major airports, making it a convenient destination for travelers from around the world.
The best time for a cruise to the Baltic is between May and August, when temperatures are milder and flowers bloom in full force. During these months, it’s possible to visit the many famous palaces in St. Petersburg, including the Hermitage and Winter Palace, which are considered architectural masterpieces. The White Nights of summer are also a great time to cruise, when the city is lit up at night by streetlamps and illuminated buildings.
If you are planning to take a cruise of the Baltic Sea, it is important to prepare for the trip ahead of time. You should bring comfortable shoes for walking on cobblestones and a credit card that has no foreign transaction fees. You should also exchange for the local currency and have enough cash for your cruise. You should also pack warm clothing as the weather can change rapidly.
A cruise of the Baltic Sea takes you to Scandinavia, which is home to a number of beautiful and historic cities. In Stockholm, you can see the iconic Vasa ship, which sank on its maiden voyage in 1628 and was eventually raised from the seabed. The neoclassical Helsinki Cathedral, Senate Square, and the neo-classical town hall are must-sees in the capital of Finland.
In Oslo, you can explore the Norwegian Maritime Museum and the Viking ship museum “Viking-skipshuset” with ships from the 9th century. You can also find a variety of shopping options in the Old Town. You should also make sure that you pack a camera and some extra batteries.
Rostock-Warnemunde is Germany’s largest coastal port and a popular cruise ship destination. The city’s UNESCO-listed Old Town is home to numerous historical and cultural sites, including the old lighthouse, the Griebenmarkt (Fish Market), and the medieval Town Hall. During your cruise, you’ll be able to sample authentic North German cuisine and experience the peaceful, unhurried way of life on the Baltic Sea coast.