With waterside cities brimming with beautiful art, architecture and history, the Baltic is one of the world’s most fascinating regions, writes Ben Gibson.
Combining imperial treasures, spectacular scenery and maritime culture, and with each destination so different from the last, it’s easy to see why. Thankfully though, the Baltic still feels deliciously classic, a world away from the tourist traps often found in the south of Europe.
The passage to the Baltic is made quick and simple by cruising along the Kiel Canal – a fascinating 60-mile transit through the German countryside ending with a blast of ‘God Save the Queen’ from the canal lookout station, which plays the national anthem of each ship as they pass. What a welcome to this remarkable region!
A Baltic cruise has so many attractions, it’s hard to pick just a few, but a good place to start is St Petersburg. Built with more than just a touch of 18th and 19th-century European pomp by a great variety of architects, Russia’s magnificent showcase city is full of vast squares, grand boulevards and elegant palaces.
The sheer number of attractions can be daunting, but you must at least make time to see the wealth of treasures within the Hermitage Museum and gaze in wonder at the resplendent Rococo palace that was the summer residence of Catherine I. By staying overnight you have the perfect opportunity to sample the nightlife too – you may opt for an evening at the ballet or see a special performance by the State Hermitage Orchestra.
The Baltic’s other ports of call are just as memorable. Copenhagen retains many regal and architectural treasures, from Rosenburg Castle where you can view the crown regalia and jewels, to the enchanting walkways of Tivoli pleasure gardens and the peaceful canals which line the city.
Or for another fairytale experience head to Tallinn in Estonia, a beautiful city of medieval architecture heralded as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Its hanseatic history is highlighted by the wealth of cathedrals, churches and palaces while its cobbled streets are full of tempting shops and intriguing museums.
On the opposite shores of the Baltic, the Finnish capital of Helsinki is a sleek metropolis packed with striking examples of modern art and architecture set amid historic buildings such as those in Senate Square and the sea fortress of Suomenlinna.
If Stockholm is visited on your cruise, then an early breakfast out on deck is recommended so that you can watch the ship manoeuvre through the tiny islands (there are 24,000 of them) leading to Sweden’s capital. Upon reaching terra firma there is plenty to do ashore, and Stockholm’s criss-crossing network of bridges and wide streets means it is surprisingly pedestrian friendly.
Discover the full range of Baltic cruises available through Saga,