REVIEW: The Baltic Sea is ringed with northern European countries that are sure to please culture vultures and amaze architecture buffs. Enjoy sophisticated cities, richly-stocked museums, impressive churches and imperial palaces.
One of the easiest and most affordable ways to see this region is on a cruise. Holland America’s Eurodam will sail you in style roundtrip from Denmark to Russia, Sweden, Estonia, Finland and Germany in just 12 days.
It’s a six-pack cruise of sensational countries. You will see the highlights of Saint Petersburg, Stockholm, Tallinn, Helsinki, Kiel, Warnemunde and Copenhagen. A cruise is also a great way to taste-test these cities so you can decide if you want to return for a closer look some day.
Saint Petersburg is considered the most artistic city in Russia and a cultural hotspot. You’ll have two days here, so be sure to see one of icons of the city, the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. It’s the site of Tsar Alexander II’s assassination and will wow you with its marble floors and intricate mosaics made of gold and semi-precious stones. You’ll wish you brought a chisel.
For museums, head to the famous Hermitage located in the former Winter Palace founded by Catherine the Great. It houses more than three million items and claims to have more paintings than any other museum in the world. The French Impressionist paintings are most popular, but the Faberge eggs are fascinating.
For palaces, take an excursion out of town to Peterhof, Peter the Great’s summer palace built in 1710. Walk through the rooms to see historic artifacts and furnishings. Outside in the garden, stroll among fountains and more than 80 statues and sculptures.
Or visit Catherine Palace, the summer residence of many Russian tsars located in the town of Pushkin to see its magnificent ceilings, Throne Room and the palace’s highlight, the recreated Amber Room lined with golden panels.
Stockholm, Sweden is a vibrant city built on about 14 islands and connected by more than 50 bridges. Its cityscape consists of modern Scandinavian style juxtaposed with medieval architecture. You’ll get two days here, so head to Gamla Stan, one of the best preserved medieval old towns in the world for its winding, cobblestone streets lined with souvenir shops, antique stores and quaint cafes. Or step inside the City Hall, the site of the Nobel Prize banquet to see the gold mosaic walls of the Golden Hall.
For your port-of-call in Estonia, visit Tallinn because its old town is delightful for its medieval architecture and large square. This village dates back to the 13th century and visitors enjoy horse and carriage rides along the cobblestone streets, boutiques, souvenir shops and cafes ideal for people-watching.
Helsinki, Finland boasts the famous Temppeliaukio Church, built into the side of the rock which has amazing acoustics. Wander through Senate Square to enjoy the neoclassical architecture of the 19th century. Head to the open-air market where you can buy anything from fruit to fur hats and enjoy a view of the harbour.
Kiel, Germany is an important maritime hub that hosts one of the largest sailing events in the world so it’s no wonder the picturesque waterfront attracts thousands of visitors. If you like to shop, one of the longest shopping streets in Germany is Holstenstrabe. Or relax on one of the beaches such as Kiel-Strande or Laboe. The Laboe Naval Memorial has the famous Second World War submarine U995, which was also used for filming the 1981 movie “Das Boot”.
Warnemunde, Germany is a quaint resort town with a lighthouse built in 1897 that provides a great view of the sea. Walk along the Alte Strom to enjoy the promenade or eat at one of the restaurants serving fresh fish. From this town, you can also easily visit Wismar, a UNESCO World Heritage site with quaint streets, architecture and micro-breweries for delicious beer tasting. Or, get up really early and take a three-hour train ride to Berlin for the day.
Copenhagen, Denmark started as a small fishing village and has transformed into a metropolitan delight. The city’s pulse emanates from its harbour and Nyhavn is a pretty canal district lined with brightly coloured houses and historical wooden ships.
With bicycle paths lining most of streets, it’s no wonder residents cycle more than 80,000 miles a day. Streets are also busy with musicians –mostly of the classical kind –and magicians and jugglers.
Also see the icon of the city, the Little Mermaid statue based on the fairytale by Hans Christian Andersen, and visit Tivoli Gardens, one of the oldest amusement parks in the world.
Among many attributes, Baltic countries offer gorgeous architecture ranging from medieval to modern that showcase a history of seafaring tales and decadent royal spoils.
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