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Cruising northern Europe offers an endless number of ports of call

From the coastal villages and majestic fjords of Scandinavia to the splendor of St. Petersburg and maybe even up to the Arctic Circle, few regions of the world offer such variety of landscapes, beauty, and cultural significance as northern Europe’s Baltic Sea  and beyond.

All of it can be enjoyed in a comfortable and often highly luxurious way--by cruise ship. In fact, in a part of the world where natural environments, history, and culture have been shaped by the sea, there may be no better or easier way to savor it. And, thanks to inclusive pricing and current foreign exchange rates, passengers who have paid in advance in United States currency are enjoying much appreciated extra value on their northern Europe cruise.

Northern European cruises can range from three days to two or three weeks in length, with embarkation ports in the United Kingdom, Scandinavia, and many cities in mainland northern Europe.

Destinations and ports of call can include: Ireland and Scotland; the beautiful cities of Scandinavia, including Copenhagen, Oslo, Helsinki, and Stockholm; Russia and other capitals of the Baltic; Germany; Poland; and even more far-flung possibilities like Greenland, Iceland, and Arctic Circle cruising. While the Baltic and Northern Europe cruise season once was quite short (July to August), voyages can now be found somewhere from May to September.

There are longer voyages that encompass Scandinavia and Russia and shorter ones with a more narrow focus--like the North Cape and the Arctic Circle, the coast of Norway, or the British Isles. And, many transatlantic crossings feature ports in northern Europe, as well as exotic destinations such as Iceland and Greenland. Adding to the appeal are some of the newest cruise ships afloat, as well as several of the most luxurious. In all, travelers have more to choose from than ever--in size and number of ships and itineraries.

The Baltic

The Baltic Sea is generally bordered by Finland, Sweden, Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, northern Germany, and the eastern part of Denmark and its islands. It merges with the North Sea on its western side through Kattegat Bay and into the Skagerrak Strait. Northern Germany’s Kiel Canal, which is one of the world’s most busy artificial waterways, connects the Baltic Sea and the North Sea--saving ships hundreds of miles of travel around Denmark.

The approximate size of the Baltic is 145,000 square miles, with an average depth of about 180 feet (though it reaches a maximum of more than 1,000 feet). The large body of water has led to many historic ports of call, featuring a kaleidoscope of cultures, languages, traditions, and--even still--currencies.

The possibilities of ports of call are limited only by the amount of time a potential passenger has. Traditional seven-night itineraries might include classics like Copenhagen, Oslo, Helsinki, and Stockholm, while longer sailings can include ports like Poland’s Gdansk, Germany’s Warnemunde (the gateway to Berlin), St. Petersburg, and new options like Latvia’s Riga and Estonia’s Tallinn.

Because of their location, Stockholm and Copenhagen remain very popular embarkation and debarkation ports with Amsterdam, and Britain’s Dover, Southampton, and Harwich among other possibilities. It’s well worth flying into either Stockholm or Copenhagen early to take advantage of these two port’s many allures (ranging from Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens and Little Mermaid to Stockholm’s old town, Gamla Stan).

Once at sea, many more historic cities await exploration. Can’t miss options in Oslo have to include: the beautiful approach through Oslo Fjord; the new Nobel Prize Peace Center; City Hall; and world-class museums. Helsinki highlights can be the historic Lutheran Cathedral, the National Museum of Finland, and lively Market Square.

Those who want to visit Berlin book cruises that call on the port of Warnemunde. Though Berlin’s 165 miles south and reaching it involves a three-hour train ride or even longer bus trip, it’s well worth the journey. Once there, there’s simply not enough time to see Potsdamer Platz, the Holocaust Memorial, Checkpoint Charlie, and the various remains of the Berlin Wall (some still close to a mile in length).

Poland’s Gdansk is famed for the shipyard and Solidarity leader Lech Walesa that eventually led to communism’s end in Poland and further afield. Once docked, there’s an historic old town and The Roads to Freedom Exhibition right in Gdansk Shipyard.

Most lines and ships that head to St. Petersburg actually dock for one or two nights. This gives time to see more of Russia’s cultural capital, including: the Hermitage; the Russian Museum; several palaces; the Russian Ballet; and the famed Nevsky Propekt street. Those who have been to St. Petersburg previously often take advantage of an oft-offered shore excursion (by plane) to Moscow.

Latvia and Estonia are relatively new to the cruise scene, but both are equally alluring Baltic destinations. Riga is the capital of Latvia and boasts Old Riga (a UNESCO World Heritage site) and lots of stunning Art Nouveau architecture. Tallinn is Estonia’s capital and features many medieval buildings lining cobblestone streets.

Beyond the Baltic

Even further afield lie northern European options like the fjords of Norway on the Atlantic coast, Aarhus, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Great Britain, Ireland, Iceland, Greenland, the Faroe Islands, and the Arctic.

Classic Norwegian fjord itineraries might include Bergen, Tromso, Trondheim, Stavanger, Geiranger, Alesend, Flam, and many other tiny ports of call. Smaller ships might even head to the Gulf of Bothnia for Finland’s Rauma, Pori, and Turku (the original Finnish capital) and Sweden’s Lulea and Sundsvall. Located between the Baltic and the Atlantic, Aarhus is Denmark’s second largest city and is often on longer cruise itineraries that include both the Baltic and the Atlantic.

Located on Holland’s Atlantic coast, both historic Amsterdam and more modern Rotterdam have a long cruise heritage (like Holland America Line). Great Britain has many ports where cruise ships embark, debark, or call, including the ports of Southampton, Darwich, Dover, and even London proper. Over on Ireland, both Belfast and Dublin continue to draw more and more ships.

Even further afield, both Iceland (Reykjavik) and up-and-coming Greenland (Illulissat and many smaller ports) are drawing rave reviews from passengers. And, the truly adventurous book sailings that can include places like the Faroe Islands and the Arctic Circle.