The Baltic Sea has endured continuing popularity as a cruise destination -- and for good reason. Not only do cruises to this area allow you to see Northern European countries you might never step foot in otherwise, but the generally calm waters also provide a smooth and pleasurable sailing experience. (Plus, it's a cheaper way to visit a notoriously expensive part of the world.)
While at least 10 countries have ports on the Baltic Sea, don't expect to see all of them on the typical cruise. On our 11-day Baltic voyage on Holland America's Eurodam, we visited six countries, including some that would have been logistically more difficult to visit on our own.
Ready to begin your Baltic journey? Take a peek at seven popular stops.
Photo: De Visu/Shutterstock.com
Copenhagen might be best known for Tivoli Gardens, the world's second-oldest amusement park, but truth be told, there's so much more to see that you might want to skip it. Instead, peruse Tivoli's perimeter, and then either walk or pedal the city. Copenhagen is one of the most bike-friendly cities, and rentals are easy to find. After visiting the Little Mermaid, who celebrated her 100th birthday in 2013, meander down the Stroget, one of Europe's longest pedestrian streets, a mecca for shopping and restaurants.
Tip: Venture to the Meatpacking District (Kodbyen), a popular, up-and-coming area, where you'll find fun restaurants, including Mother, a cozy, candle-lit Italian restaurant with handwritten menus, and the organic restaurant Bio Mio.
Photo: Oleksiy Mark /Shutterstock.com
Ask anybody who's been to this medieval city what stands out most, and you'll hear about the fairytale spires. You'll get a wonderful view of them -- and Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site -- from Toompea Hill. The city is small enough that you can walk there, but wear supportive shoes, as the streets are cobblestoned. Back in town, stroll by St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, a Russian Orthodox church with the city's largest church bell, and St. Nicholas' Church, which houses a small art museum. Once you reach Raekoja plats (Town Hall Square), take a look at the handicrafts being sold by local merchants.
Tip: Tallinn is a Wi-Fi mega-hotspot, most of it free. If you want to connect without having to pay the ship's fees, bring your devices with you.
Photo: Andrei Nekrassov/Shutterstock.com
St. Petersburg, Russia: The City
Prepare to be enchanted by St. Petersburg, dubbed "Venice of the north" because of its numerous canals. It's also one of the world's most beautiful cities, boasting cathedrals, museums and palaces, and a history steeped in conflict and intrigue. Many cruises spend two days there, allowing you to come back into the city at night, when you can go out to dinner or catch a ballet.
During the day, make sure you visit some of the city's most popular -- and artistic -- attractions, including the Hermitage, with its 3 million works of art and artifacts; St. Isaac's Cathedral; and the Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood, where Alexander II was assassinated.
Tip: Russia's famous souvenirs include matryoshka dolls, lacquer boxes, amber jewelry and Faberge eggs. Take time to peruse St. Petersburg's shops, many of which offer free shots of vodka.
Photo: Roman Evgenev/Shutterstock.com
St. Petersburg, Russia: The Countryside
Having a summer home will take on new meaning when you venture outside St. Petersburg to two of the area's most famous palaces. The first is Peterhof Palace, built by Peter the Great and dubbed the "Russian Versailles." Yet it's the grounds that captivate people, as they're adorned with hundreds of statues and fountains, including some that trick visitors. The main fountain, the Grand Cascade, has a "dance" set to music during the summer. Meanwhile, in Pushkin, you'll find Catherine Palace, another beautiful palace which was restored after World War II; the highlight is the amber room.
Tip: The best way to see all of the sights is through a tour. Although you can book through your cruise line, you can also find tours on your own by doing research online. They're often cheaper and accommodate smaller groups of people, making the experience more intimate, personalized and enjoyable.
Photo: Anton_Ivanov /Shutterstock.com
Helsinki's population tends to be more spiritual than religious, but that hasn't stopped the city from becoming famous for its two main churches. First is the Lutheran Church, what many refer to as Helsinki's wedding cake. The other, also Lutheran, is Rock Church, which was literally cut into a rock. In between these two sites, grab a coffee at Karl Fazer Cafe, a modern classic cafe that has a history dating back to 1891. (The Finns consume some of the most coffee in the world.) It's located in the heart of the city on Kluuvikatu Street.
Tip: Finns revere their saunas, which some say is why they have one of the longest life spans. Join them at Culture Sauna, an urban, contemporary public sauna on the Helsinki waterfront.
While you might know Stockholm as the site of the Nobel Peace Prize, you might not know that it's built on 14 islands connected by 57 bridges. Although you can easily wander the city on foot, you'll see the area faster by taking a hop-on, hop-off ferry, which affords beautiful views of Stockholm from the water. Two must hop-off stops are the Vasa Museum, where you can see a ship that sunk on its maiden voyage in 1628 and was salvaged in 1961, and Gamla Stan (Old Town), with its winding narrow streets, galleries, stores and cafes.
Tip: Looking for a walking excursion? Take a free tour through Free Tour Stockholm. The company currently offers two different tours -- one of the city and the other of the Old Town -- that last 1.5 hours and meet at easy-to-find locations.
Photo: Oleksiy Mark/Shutterstock.com
Although you might be tempted to take a three-hour train ride into Berlin, Warnemunde, one of Germany's favorite seaside resorts, is worth your time. Relaxation is the main reason people visit, which is why you'll find them lounging on the wide, white-sand beach. Even if you're not a beachgoer, walking through the quaint town is enjoyable, whether you're strolling the Beach Promenade, climbing the lighthouse or enjoying the numerous streetside fish markets selling their fresh fare. (Try a fish sandwich, but be prepared to fend off the seagulls.)
Tip: You can easily explore Warnemunde on your own, but it's more fun (and informative) when you take a tour through Friends of Dave. Founded by an American expat, the company operates four engaging walking tours, including a full-day outing that takes you to Wismar, a UNESCO World Heritage site where you can sip its famous dark beer, called mumme.
Photo: Wolfgang Zwanzger/Shutterstock.com
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It's one of the most common cruising questions: When is the best time to cruise Alaska, Australia, the Caribbean, Canada/New England, Hawaii, Europe or the South Pacific? The answer depends on many variables. For example, fall foliage enthusiasts will find September and October the best time to cruise Canada/New England, whereas families prefer to sail in summer when temperatures are warmer for swimming. The best time to cruise to Alaska will vary depending on your preferences for viewing wildlife, fishing, bargain-shopping, sunshine, warm weather and catching the northern lights. For most cruise regions, there are periods of peak demand (high season), moderate demand (shoulder season) and low demand (low season), which is usually the cheapest time to cruise. High season is typically a mix of when the weather is best and popular travel periods (such as summer and school holidays). However, the best time to cruise weather-wise is usually not the cheapest time to cruise. The cheapest time to cruise is when most travelers don't want to go because of chillier temperatures or inopportune timing (too close to holidays, the start of school, etc.). But the lure of cheap fares and uncrowded ports might make you change your mind about what you consider the best time to cruise. As you plan your next cruise, you'll want to take into consideration the best and cheapest times to cruise and see what jibes with your vacation schedule. Here's a when-to-cruise guide for popular destinations.
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