If you’re looking for a summer cruise and want to avoid the now mainstream Mediterranean, Northern Europe is a great alternative.
The Arctic Circle and Baltic Sea is home to a myriad of cultures, fascinating cultures and stunning landmarks. Whether you’re a foody, art lover or history buff you’ll find something to thrill you on a cruise around Northern Europe, here’s a look at some of the top things to and see.
Northern Norway’s largest city, Tromso, is located over 200 miles above the Arctic Circle and is surrounded by snow-capped peaks. The city is one of the best places on the planet to catch the spectacular Northern Lights and boasts an excellent outdoor scene as well as a reputation for partying thanks to is many festivals.
Aside from the great hiking and skiing, Tromso is home to some outstanding landmarks and museums. Perhaps the most famous is the Arctic Cathedral, formally known as Tromsdalen Church. Built in 1965, the modern 35 metre cathedral dominates the Tromso skyline and is well worth a visit for the picture opportunities alone.
The Polar Museum is a must-see for anyone interested in Polar exploration. Housed in a former customs warehouse, the museum dedicates and entire room to Roald Amundsen and features permanent exhibits on trappers, overwintering, whaling and the discovery of Svalbard.
Polaria, the world’s most northerly aquarium has an Arctic aquarium, interesting knowledge-based exhibits, a panoramic cinema and the main attraction, bearded seals.
Oslo, Norway, Baltic
Norway’s capital, Oslo, is an action packed cosmopolitan city with something for everyone – museums, history, outdoor pursuits, excellent shopping and nightlife as well as a burgeoning bar and café culture.
Architect lovers will enjoy the contrast of the 17th century baroque Oslo Cathedral and the stunning glass Opera House – opened in 2008 as part of a £400 million waterfront redevelopment.
For anyone looking for something a little more artistic, the Astrup Fearnley Museet is perhaps Oslo’s artistic highlight not only for its brilliant contemporary art collection but its aesthetic qualities as well – the gallery floats on jetties and rafts which combined with its sail-like roof give it the appearance of an old wooden boat. The Vigeland Park is also a highlight, home to more than 200 sculptures created by Gustav Vigeland.
For a bit of history head to the open-air Norsk Folkemuseum, a collection of 17th and 18th century buildings collected from around Norway and rebuilt on the site, or the Vikingskipshuset which houses two exceptionally well-preserved Viking boats.
Stockholm, Sweden, Baltic
The Nordic region’s most populous city, Stockholm, is the cultural heart of Sweden. Spread across 14 islands on its namesake’s archipelago, the city is home to a fantastic selection of a historical buildings, museums and a modern city centre that gleams with high fashion and an inventive gastronomic scene.
Gamla Stan, Stockholm’s old town, dates back to the 13th century and is home to some of the city’s more iconic buildings; the Stockholm Cathedral and Kungliga slotte, Sweden’s baroque royal palace. The Royal Palace is a day out in itself and boasts over 600 rooms including a treasury and several museums as well as the notable Royal Chapel and the Bernadotte Library. The cathedral is a little more compact and houses the famous St George and the Dragon sculpture and the legendary Vädersoltavlan painting which depicts the halo-like atmospheric phenomenon called sun dogs, observed over Stockholm in 1535.
Perhaps Stockholm’s biggest draw is the Vasa Museum, home to the only fully intact salvaged 17th century ship in the world, the 64-gun warship, Vasa. The ship sank 1,300 metres into its maiden voyage in 1628, rescued 333 years later and painstakingly restored since, the ship can be seen in close to its original glory and sits among 10 exhibits that inform visitors about life on the ship.
Copenhagen is the Nordic region’s trendiest destination with chic bars, modernist museums and a pioneering culinary scene evident throughout the city. 16 restaurants share 20 Michelin stars and the Louisiana modernist gallery is regarded as one of the finest in the world, but the royal capital is so much more than a flash-in-the-pan destination for trendsetters.
Opened in 1843, the Tivoli Gardens have an air of magic about them thanks to exotic buildings, lush landscapes and brilliant rides such as the nostalgic wooden roller coaster built in 1914. Thousands of coloured lights create a fairy tale atmosphere at night when the free open-air performances get going.
For architecture enthusiasts the 1940 expressionist-style Grundtvig Church is a must as are Rosenborg Castle and its botanical gardens. The Dutch renaissance style castle has beautifully ornate interior and also houses the royal artefact collection and the crown jewels.
St. Petersburg, Russia
While Moscow may be the political centre of Russia, Saint Petersburg is without question its cultural heart. Founded by Peter the Great in 1703, it was the imperial capital until 1918 and this heritage saturates the city with stunning palaces, churches and museums.
The State Hermitage is one of the oldest and largest museums in the world and comprises six buildings housing over three million items. While the cultural and historical collections are worth exploring, the Hermitage’s collection of artwork is its main draw – Cezanne, Picasso, Matisse, Michelangelo and Rembrandt are all on show.
St Isaac’s Cathedral and the Church of Our Saviour on the Spilled Blood (formally the Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ) are also a must-see for many visitors. Both of the colossal structures are beautifully adorned and have exquisite interiors.
If you want to take in as much as possible in a single day, a walk or boat tour along the seven kilometre Fontanka River is well worth the effort – the highlight for many is the Summer Palace of Peter the Great.
Helsinki is a more laid-back affair compared to some of its contemporaries along the Baltic. The quirky city has a reputation for cutting edge design but its green spaces, charming archipelago islands and markets are a dream for travellers.
Market Square is Helsinki’s most international and famous market where you’ll find traditional market foods and treats as well as brilliant handicrafts and souvenirs. Once you’ve trawled the market, the nearby Esplanade Park is an ideal place to relax.
To really get away from the throng of the city, regular ferries are on-hand to whisk you away to any one of the 300 plus islands that make up the Helsinki archipelago with restaurants, beaches, museums and castles dotted throughout.
No trip to Helsinki without a visit to a traditional public wood-fired sauna to get the full Finland experience.
Tallinn is an intoxicating mix of ancient church spires, baroque palaces, glass skyscrapers sitting on sunny, cobble stoned squares. Tallinn’s medieval past gives it a fairy tale charm evident in its Old Town while brilliant galleries and museums give the city a sophisticated feel.
Travellers flock to Tallinn’s Old Town as a first port of call and for good reason – the cities social hub is walled by elaborate merchant houses and the Town Hall and is a venue for concerts, fairs and brilliant markets.
Kadriorg Palace and Art Museum, built in the early 18th century by Peter the Great, is perhaps Tallinn’s standout site. The baroque palace is surrounded by beautifully manicured gardens and the elaborately painted ceiling and stucco work of the two-storey main hall is breath-taking. The museum itself houses a stunning collection of art from western and Russian artists.
For contemporary and Estonian art, head to the brilliant Kumu – a spectacular structure of copper and glass that brims with excellent exhibitions and works.