Six northern delights
From medieval walled towns to stylish modern cities, and Viking treasure to cutting-edge contemporary design, discover a fascinating and vibrant blend of scenery, cultures and cuisines where East meets West.
Here are six examples of sensational destinations you can fall in love with on selected cruise holidays to the Baltic:
Nestled between rolling green hills and tranquil fjords, the Norwegian capital of Oslo is a compact city that’s perfect for exploring on foot or on two wheels. Named European Green Capital for 2019, it’s renowned for its green spaces, including Frogner Park, which contains the world’s largest sculpture park by a single artist, with more than 200 works by Gustav Vigeland.
Marvel at the city’s modern architecture in the shape of the sculptural glass Opera House and the striking Barcode, 12 individually designed buildings of different heights and widths. For the best views in the city, climb to the roof of the Opera House, or the observation deck at the top of Holmenkollen ski jump. And when you’ve worked up an appetite, head to the trendy Mathallen indoor food market, or one of the dozens of restaurants lining Aker Brygge wharf.
It’s easy to see why artists have long been drawn to the sublime light of Skagen – Denmark’s most northerly town enjoys hours of daylight. Painters flocked here in the 19th century, and today summer tourists do the same, to enjoy its beautiful white sand beaches, bustling harbours and pretty neighbourhoods of distinctive red-roofed yellow houses.
Stand on the narrow spit of land at Grenen, at the northernmost tip of Jutland, and it’s possible to have a foot in two seas – this is where the Kattegat and Skagerrak meet, often with suitably dramatic results. No visit to Skagen would be complete without sampling one of the local seafood delicacies – try the delicious fiskesuppe, a traditional fish soup, or the famous Toast Skagen, prawns on toast.
The city of Visby, on the Swedish island of Gotland, is a history lover’s paradise. The largest of the Baltic islands, Gotland sits at the crossroads between east and west, and has been a key trading post for thousands of years. The Gotlands Museum is home to hundreds of fascinating artefacts from the Stone and Bronze Ages, as well as unusual Viking picture stones and the Spillings Hoard, the largest Viking Age silver hoard ever found
From the 12th to the 14th centuries, Visby was the main centre for the Hanseatic League, a network of powerful merchant traders. Its 13th-century ramparts, warehouses and grand merchants’ houses are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the best-preserved example of a fortified commercial city in northern Europe. You can also walk the beautiful cobbled streets of the medieval walled town.
Another UNESCO World Heritage Site and major Hanseatic centre, Tallinn’s Old Town is a fairy-tale mix of Gothic spires, cobbled alleyways and pastel-painted merchants’ houses. Over the centuries Estonia has been a battleground for Danish, Swedish, Polish, German and Russian forces all jostling for supremacy, but today Tallinn is a peaceful yet vibrant modern capital.
Evidence of its colourful and varied past abounds, from the Danish 13th-century St Mary’s Cathedral and the Danish King’s Garden – the legendary birthplace of the Danish flag – to the Russian Orthodox Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and the stark 1970s Soviet TV tower, the Teletorn. Scandinavian and German influences are also evident in Estonian cuisine – sample the local delicacy of kiluvõileib, a sprat sandwich made with traditional black bread, washed down with a local craft beer.
The Latvian capital of Riga is famed for its Art Nouveau architecture, with a third of the city’s buildings – around 800 – in this flamboyant style. To see some of the finest examples, take a stroll through the ‘quiet centre’ along Elizabetes Street and Alberta Street, also home to the Art Nouveau Museum.
Twenty minutes’ walk away is the medieval Old Town, its skyline dominated by church spires, including the 123m-high steeple of St Peter’s Church and the imposing 13th-century Riga Cathedral. Don’t miss the Town Hall Square, the city’s historic meeting place, and the Three Brothers, adjoining dwellings built in the 15th, 17th and 18th centuries that give a wonderful glimpse into the city’s architectural heritage.
Scandinavia is the home of great design, and nowhere is that more evident than in the stylish Finnish capital. There are countless architectural gems to discover in Helsinki, from the historic – the 18th-century Suomenlinna Sea Fortress, the gold-domed Uspenski Cathedral and the neoclassical Senate Square – to the contemporary, including Alvar Aalto’s modernist Finlandia Hall, Temppeliaukio Church, carved out of solid rock, and the Sibelius Monument, a striking sculpture of over 600 steel pipes.
The vibrant Design District is a creative hub, packed with galleries, workshops and boutiques, and home to the fantastic Design Museum. For a moment of calm, step inside the Kamppi Chapel of Silence, an oasis of peace with its thick wood-clad walls and tranquil atmosphere. Or experience one of Finland’s enduring traditions in one of the new generation of public saunas, including the stylish waterfront Löyly.