One of the things I love about cruising is the range of destinations you can see with relative ease. It’s hard to beat coming back to the same luxurious floating hotel each night compared to stuffing things back in your suitcase and changing hotels every morning.
Our 10-day adventure with Princess Cruises combined all the comforts of cruising with a truly memorable itinerary. From the Medieval walls of Tallinn, to Swan Lake in Russia and Fika in Sweden – every day bought a new cultural experience to treasure.
While it was hard to draw out just 7 highlights from 6 contrasting destinations, I wanted to give you just a taste of what you can expect on this cruise, after all the beauty comes from experiencing it yourself, right?
Cruising Russia and Scandinavia – 7 best bits!
Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg
I’m not sure what wowed me more about St Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum, the staggering 3 million works of art or the sensational buildings they are housed in. Spread across 7 historic buildings, including the mint green, Baroque style Winter Palace, the Hermitage houses works by Da Vinci, Monet, Renoir and the largest collection of Rembrandt outside the Netherlands.
We were lucky to gain early access on our excursion with Princess Cruises so could marvel at everything from the gold-leaf walls, to marble staircases, frescoed ceilings and golden peacock clock without a single obstruction.
Check out Vicki from Make Time To See The World’s awesome photo tour of the Hermitage Museum for more information on the buildings and exhibitions.
Swan Lake by the Russian Ballet
Top of my Russia bucket list was seeing Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and our night at the ballet in St Petersburg was certainly a highlight of the trip. Like many, I knew the story but had never seen it danced on stage.
We were so lucky to have seats so close to the front we could watch every magical move of the dancers’ muscles and hear the patter of delicate feet as they floated across the stage. The costumes, music and setting were spectacular.
Tallinn’s Medieval Old Town and Telliskivi Creative City
It’s been many years since I’ve explored the Medieval Old Town of Tallinn so it was great to go back on this trip and feel transported once again into a history book.
Unlike my previous visits to Tallinn, however, we also took the time to see Estonia’s modern side with a visit to Telliskivi Creative City. This creative hub, within walking distance of the Old Town, has cafes, boutiques and offices in old industrial buildings, including a disused rail depot. We dined at F-Hoone and I think their Perogi were one of the best things I ate off the ship.
Fika in Sweden
Speaking of eating off-ship, I knew I would like Stockholm based purely on my knowledge of the Swedish custom of enjoying Fika – basically a guilt-free coffee and cake break that’s considered a social institution in Sweden.
Stockholm was, in my opinion, the coolest city we visited on the cruise and somewhere I could see myself living – if I could speak a word of Swedish. We enjoyed a spectacular lunch with show-stopping views at Eriks Gondolen, literally a dining gondola suspended over the city, but it was the cinnamon bun I smuggled back on the ship for some Fika on the balcony that makes me lick my lips just thinking of it.
Sauna in Finland
Helsinki was the most laid-back city we visited on this trip and I think that might be because of all the time the Finns spend unwinding in the sauna.
On a boat tour of the waterways it was fun to spot all the miniature waterfront saunas built to match the wooden houses and learn more about how seriously the Finns take their sauna habit.
Did you know practically every household and some public spaces have a sauna? I’m talking libraries, Burger King and even Helsinki’s big wheel – it’s called SkySauna and it sounds awesome! I hadn’t come dressed to work up a sweat but I’m keen to try a sauna in the Finnish winter and am already planning a trip back in my head.
Copenhagen is another of the destinations that wasn’t new to me but seeing it in the sunshine was definitely a new experience. I’d explored the city on bike some years before so this time took the easy option and hopped on the Hop On Hop Off bus that was waiting outside the ship to cover a lot of ground in the time we had to play with.
I managed to cover off the Latin Quarter, Tivoli Gardens, Christiana, The Little Mermaid and the iconic primary coloured buildings of Nyhavn, which was by far my favourite area.
It was a warm and sunny public holiday so the waterways were lined with tourists and locals dunking their feet, ordering fresh seafood dishes and drinking cold beer. The atmosphere was as vibrant as the paintwork and I could have spent all day just soaking it in.
Opera House, Olso
Last on our itinerary was Olso and what turned out to be the most sensational sail in between fjords and morning mist. It was worth rising early to watch the approach to this port, breathing in the fresh pine-like fragrance from my perch on the balcony.
Admittedly once in port our energy was flagging a little from all the jam-packed days of sightseeing but luckily one of Oslo’s most impressive works of architecture is just a short journey from the ship. Designed by Norwegian artists Kristian Blystad, Kalle Grude and Jorunn Sannes, the Oslo Opera House was created to be treated the same way as Norway’s nature – i.e. you are encouraged to walk it.
The sloping marble roof and giant glass windows reflect different parts of the city and landscape and it’s just as incredible to observe from up close as afar.
Tips for a Baltic Cruise
If you’re thinking of booking a cruise to this region, here are a few tips based on my experience.
Grab a port guide – If you haven’t already booked excursions for your port days, grab a port guide from guest services on board the ship for help with planning sightseeing and advice on things such as key phrases.
Enjoy a mix of organised tours and independent sightseeing – Speaking of excursions, one of the things I loved about our itinerary was that it included a mixture of group tours and exploring on our own steam. In Russia you will need to join an organised tour for visa purposes but it really pays to have a local expert here. Other cities, like Tallinn and Stockholm, are easily explored on foot and depending on where you dock you may be able to walk straight into the city. (You can hop on a shuttle bus organised by the cruise ship if not.) I’d recommend doing some prior research on the time you have in each port and main things you’d like to see and then deciding if you’re happy to go alone at some places. If you’re not feeling so independent though, the great thing about Princess shore excursions are that you’re guaranteed to have small groups, the best price and be returned to ship before it leaves!
Get a prepaid travel money card to cover the different currencies – Apart from the 2 countries who have the Euro (Estonia and Finland) you pretty much need a new currency for every destination on this trip. Instead of taking out cash and having lots of unspent coinage, I’d recommend using a prepaid travel money card as they often have lower foreign transaction fees than your regular bank card.
Pack sturdy walking shoes and layers – If there is one thing that city breaks have taught me it’s that you need comfy shoes. This cruise is like doing 7 city breaks one after the other so please invest in a couple of sturdy pairs of shoes that you can walk around all day in. You’ll also need lots of light layers. We found mornings (in May) often started off cold and drizzly but cleared to bright sunshine by the afternoon, so you’ll want lots of layers you can strip off as and when you need to.
Are you thinking of doing a Russia and Scandinavia cruise? Let me know if you have any questions about this itinerary.
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