Today, there is no real danger of swashbuckling on the Baltic’s high seas. Such dreams of conquest have fallen away to history. Rather, its allure can be found in the shimmering waters and the stately cities that overlook its shores. Mesmerizing sunsets, pristine coastlines, and easy access to the world’s most desirable travel destinations are some of the most compelling reasons that intelligent and curious travelers long to cruise the Baltic Sea.
The Baltic States
The Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania boast a rich mercantile history, some of the most atmospheric medieval Old Towns in all of Europe and a breathtaking Baltic setting.
Tallinn, Estonia exudes a rich and intoxicating blend of modern and medieval. It is underappreciated even by the most seasoned travelers, which makes it a less-crowded boon for jet-setters in the know. Its medieval Old Town is a pleasure to explore by bicycle or on foot, winding your way down enchanting cobblestone streets or among immaculately preserved Hanseatic homes and churches. Shoppers will want to take in the vibrant atmosphere at Viru Gate, the city’s trendiest district.
In Riga, Latvia’s Old Town, the feeling is pure romance. Its building boom at the turn of the 20th century left it with a graceful and evocative array of Art Nouveau buildings. The Riga Central Market, an indoor and outdoor bazaar, serves fresh, delicious local fare and offers ample opportunity for people watching. The pride of the city is its Freedom Monument, a striking pre-Soviet memorial to Latvian independence. For a bird’s-eye view of the city’s medieval splendor and its riverside setting, the recently opened terraces of the ancient Triangula Bastion fortress are a must.
The pristine shores of Lithuania, the largest of the three Baltic states, are some of Europe’s finest and least spoiled. Here, the cream-colored sand dunes and fragrant pine forests of the Curonian sand peninsula lead to charming little beach towns. Surrounded as they are by such beauty, Lithuanians roll out a warm and sunny welcome to visitors. At the village of Nida, artists capture the towering dunes on easels and beach lovers head in from the sands to nibble on smoked fish. It all makes for an idyllic canvas along Baltic shores.
Norway, Finland, Sweden and Denmark share more than stunning natural landscapes and sweeping Baltic shores. Each country also has deep Scandinavian roots, fascinating cosmopolitan capitals and forward-thinking and celebrated cultures.
Nordland of old, Norway stretches across the northernmost reaches of Europe like a tilted cap. Its long coast harbors a maze of magnificent fjords that shelter tiny fishing villages that beg exploration. Above the Arctic Circle, cities have preserved their wooden homes and summer days are endless under the long and lingering midnight sun. Norway’s capital, Oslo, famously hosts the Nobel awards. And its maritime capital, Bergen, boasts a rich merchant past as a key member of the Hanseatic League and an historic center overflowing with seaside atmosphere.
Finland has grown into one of the world’s most technologically advanced countries. Its capital, Helsinki, has often been called the “design capital of the world.” With its white marble cityscape—dating only to the early 1800s—and stunning public art, the city’s optimism for the future is clear. As if to prove the point, it has no Old Town, unique among European capitals. Instead, it boasts about its prestigious Kiasma and its Helsinki Music Center, two of Töölönlahti Bay’s most breathtaking architectural landmarks.
The northern reaches of Sweden are unspoiled and breathtaking, perfect for a Swedish summer escape from city life. But with a city like Stockholm, its capital, there might be no need to escape. Spread out over 14 islands on the Baltic Sea, this archipelago is an elegant blend of historic buildings, cultural gems and trendy shopping. Island hopping is pure pleasure here, whether by strolling over its many bridges or exploring its waterways on a boat tour.
City of Hans Christian Andersen and Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the Danish capital of Copenhagen has many stories to tell. Not the least of them is its rich Viking past and its once-mighty rule over all of Norway and part of Sweden. Denmark is more modest today, but its capital is no less grand, as a stroll past the cheerily colored houses of Nyhavn, or the “New Harbor,” attest. More grand still are the Rococo interiors of Amalienborg Palace, where the Danish Royal Family winters.
When Tsar Peter the Great wanted to give Russia unfettered access to the sea in the early 1700s, he headed north from Moscow and built his elegant city of St. Petersburg. Located at the easternmost tip of the Gulf of Finland, it has grown into the country’s most Western-flavored city, graced with sprawling palaces, sweeping plazas and wide boulevards.
To the visitor, everything about St. Petersburg seems magnificent: the pointed spire piercing the sky from the Peter and Paul Fortress, the vast expanse of Palace Square, the massive breadth of the Winter Palace and the broad avenue of shop-lined Nevsky Prospekt.
But there’s more to St. Petersburg than its grandiloquence. Russia’s rich culture is also on display on every corner, from the Fabergé eggs and other priceless works of art at the Hermitage Museum to intricate performances by ballet troupes and the State Hermitage Orchestra to traditional folk music and a hearty stroganoff or potato knish. It all blends seamlessly to make St. Petersburg a tantalizing feast for the senses.
View our Ocean Cruises on the Baltic Sea.