Don’t believe the lack of hype. Nor should you write off cruise ship holidays indefinitely, due to the current Corona climate. Indeed, holidays on the open seas don’t have to conform to the stereotypes of retirees soaking in gin’n’tonic, of boredom on board and a lack of adventure on terra firma. When this thing all blows over, there’s plenty to titillate and delight on the hallowed decks. With that in mind, here are 5 IDEAL stops on your cruise of the Baltic Sea.
Though Stockholm is Sweden’s capital, anyone who knows will you tell you that Gothenbury is the hip, happening heart of the Scandanavian country.
With its compact centre of elegant squares, gardens and canals, Gothenburg represents a manageable, convenient port of call, as everything is within walking distance and there’s loads going on within close proximity. Head for the sweet-smelling central park, Trädgårdsföreningen, where the Palm House stands among manicured lawns and the perfume of over 5,000 roses; bliss. A tight grid of smart streets buzzes with a vibrant café culture, intriguing food markets, impressive museums and a great selection of restaurants – five with coveted Michelin stars and three more with the more affordable alternative, the Bib Gourmand. The seafood in the city is particularly brilliant and synergetic with your choice of travel, we think.
If succinct Scandi design interests you, then make sure you head to the Röhsska Museum for displays of Scandinavian design classics, particularly that iconic, globally renowned 20th-century modernist furniture. The Swedes are also adept at showing class on canvas; the Art Nouveau paintings of Carl Larsson and more modern watercolours on display at the Nordic Watercolour Museum on Tjörn Island are certainly worth your attention. The island is just a 45 minute train journey from Gothenburg.
Copenhagen ticks all the boxes for a fulfilling, fun place to dock. It’s a compact, easily accessible city, with a welcoming vibe and English spoken everywhere. Public transport runs smoothly (though you’ll barely need it) and most of the key sites are easily walkable. Yep, the Danish capital has it all; canals (if you fancy more boats), a cycling culture which makes for super clean air, and some of the most satisfied residents on the planet. Laid back, Scandi cool is defined here, as well as that famed hygge, so expect cosiness and charm in bucketloads.
One of the best parts of a quick trip here is most certainly food, with Copenhagen being one the world’s leading foodie destinations. Check out our IDEAL foodie guide to 48 hours in Copenhagen here for the ultimate weekend of eating.
Russia’s old imperial capital St. Petersburg has certainly lost none of its charm since ceding capital city status to Moscow. It’s a grand yet graceful place to spend time, and the largest, most influential port city on your Baltic Sea cruise. Marvel at the Northern Capital’s breathtaking, grandiose architecture, and the canals made in the image of Venice and the Netherlands; just stunning.
St. Petersburg is considered the cultural capital of Russia, and as such, Eastern Europe as a whole, and is the birthplace of countless poets and writers of great prestige and revolutions that changed the course of history. It’s not surprising that UNESCO has named its historical centre as a world heritage site.
Though less well documented, St. Petersburg is also home to a thriving culinary scene, taking inspiration from the ocean’s bounty as well as the city’s diverse cultural heritage. If you’re visiting in spring then you’re particularly in luck – it’s smelt season. These are tiny fish that swim in the coastal waters of Europe and thrive in the Baltic sea. In St. Petersburg, smelt is the local delicacy and from March through April you’ll find vendors all over the city selling these little fishes, lightly fried. How to find them? Simply follow the smell of fresh cucumbers; curiously smelt smell like them (bit of a tongue twister, that). Every year in May, St. Petersburg holds a smelt festival where all the locals (and tourists) can enjoy their favourite fish. For seekers of authentic, traditional Russian food, Palkin is the first restaurant of its kind in the whole city. It’s still thriving ‘till this day.
If your cruise includes docking at the Danish island of Bornholm, then you know the trip was planned by someone who knows how to write an itinerary. 200km east of Copenhagen, residents of Denmark and visitors alike head here to catch some rays; it’s known as the sunniest place in the country and is even nicknamed the Sunshine Island. Though that’s all relative in this darker part of the world, Bornholm is blessed with dramatic, rugged scenery and pine forests aplenty.
The island’s fishing villages mean meals here lean heavily on seafood, and that’s just fine by us. There’s even a Michelin starred restaurant on Bornholm, Kadeua, which surely has some of the finest, most interrupted sea views of any eatery out there; without hyperbole, this is one of the lightest, most beautiful dining rooms in the world. Be sure to try the local figs, known as Bornholm’s Diamond, as part of Kadeua’s superb tasting menu.
Back on board and onwards to Lithuania, the hugely underrated destination on the southeastern shores of the Baltic Sea. Being the only port in the country, Klaipeda is your key to unlocking the untapped beauty of the Land of Storks. The post and beam, timber framed houses dotting the banks of Dane river which flow through the town make for a picture-perfect snapshot of quaint, laid back life here.
That said, Klaipeda gets busy in summer, particularly in the run up to (and the hangover from) the Sea Festival, which sees 500’000 people descend on the town each 1st July. So, if you’re making holiday arrangements well in advance or you’re planning on booking last minute cruiseslater down the line, be aware that Klaipeda sees a huge surge in visitors during the height of summer. Though it’s heaving, and despite its name, the Sea Festival is about as much fun as you could possibly have on dry land. Go get it!