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In the summer especially, there are dozens of ways toward great travel experiences in Scandinavia and the Baltic states. It just so happens, however, that a chunk of the region’s most visited—and exceptional—cities are on situated on the water, which makes them linkable by cruise ship. Celebrity Cruises alone operates at least 15 itineraries that carry passengers in stylish luxury through the Baltic Sea.
You don’t have to see the region’s glittering, cobbled old towns and salt-wizened sensibilities by cruise, but the quality of accommodations, food and drink, and design available to cruisers has never been higher—and the opportunities to soak up the Midnight Sun at sea never greater. In addition, the abundance of shore excursions available to cruisers, as on Celebrity’s “Scandinavia & Russia Cruise” itinerary, means easier access to the deeper reaches of these exciting destinations.
Here are four cities on the Baltic Sea to visit by cruise, plus a Celebrity shore excursion with which to elevate the experience in each:
1. Tallinn, Estonia
The Estonian capital boasts one of the world’s best-preserved and most colorful old towns, a supremely walkable area marked a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The architecture that cradles today’s restaurants (try aspic and rye bread) includes onion-domed relics from the Soviet years (Alexander Nevsky Cathedral) and a Town Hall that was constructed in 1371. On top of these ancient colors, modern Estonia is thriving. In 2014, President Obama called Estonia “a model for how citizens can interact with their government in the 21st century.” Fast public Wi-Fi is just about everywhere. Museums like Seaplane Harbour and the Estonian Open-Air Museum and the culinary scene, which blends Russian and new Nordic flavors, are growing followings fast.
Go deeper: On the “Beer Tasting and Tallinn Old Town” shore excursion (3.5 hours, $105), a winding guided tour through the old town includes stops to sample six local beers and a visit to the mysterious Wheel Well.
2. Helsinki, Finland
Just across the Gulf of Finland from Tallinn is Helsinki, the small-town Finnish capital of some 650,000 people. Though nearly 500 years old, its time as the seat of power runs back only to the early 19th century, when occupying Russia rebuilt it in the mode of nearby St. Petersburg. Today, you’ll find the blue-domed Helsinki Cathedral in the city center and around it the fingers of the Gulf of Finland everywhere. Finland’s quality of life is consistently ranked among the world’s best, and in summer-warmed Helsinki, the reasons why shine bright. In any season, you can’t leave without a visit to the ever-popular spa.
Featured on: On the “Helsinki and Porvoo with Refreshment” shore excursion (5.5 hours, $89), a guided tour of Helsinki highlights is combined with visits to Finland’s oldest town (Porvoo, founded in the 4th century) and an old country castle for coffee and cake.
3. St. Petersburg, Russia
The city of “white nights” has worn a few names (Petrograd, Leningrad) since being founded by Tsar Peter the Great in 1703. Its historic center, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, includes a sprawl of elegant architecture from Russia’s many years of might on the global stage. The ornamented Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood should not be missed, nor the likes of Our-Lady-of-Kazan Cathedral, but your first stop should be the Hermitage, one of the world’s very best museums. Inside the old Winter Palace are treasures from Michelangelo, Rembrandt, da Vinci, Monet, Matisse, and more. In summer, the region’s persistent sunlight sparkles on a network of waterways that branch off from the river Neva.
Featured on: On the “Peterhof: Parks and Fountains with Hydrofoil Ride” excursion (4.5 hours, $69.75), a guided journey over water ends at the “Russian Versailles,” the spectacular and fountain-rich former summer residence of the tsars.
4. Stockholm, Sweden
With just under a million people within the city limits, Stockholm is Scandinavia’s largest city. The Swedish capital is built over the 14 islands of the Stockholm archipelago, and so walks to see the lavish royal buildings and the tightly wound old town inevitably cross bridges swept with salty breeze. Stockholm’s cosmopolitan reputation is in part built on its restaurant scene, where seafood is usually in the spotlight. In summer, trips by boat into the rocky islands are hugely popular.
Featured on: On the “Stockholm – Nordic Food Walk” (3.5 hours, $209) excursion, the flavors of old and new Stockholm come alive at the 750-year-old Haymarket, where vendors introduce and serve cheeses, pickled herring, pastries, and a whole helping more.
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