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Sublime Scandinavia And The Baltics, Part One

By:
Joanna Hall
 

With long summer days and ever changing scenery, Europe’s northernmost countries are ideal to explore by cruise ship. On offer is an impressive lineup of Scandinavian and Baltic capitals, cities, and medieval towns, along with dramatic fjords, rugged coastlines, and a host of new experiences from cuisine to culture. Here’s part one of our lowdown on what you’ll see, and do.

Amsterdam

It is one of the coolest cities in Europe, the biggest city in the Netherlands, and has long been a magnet for tourists, artists and creatives of all kinds. Just saying its name conjures up diverse images; 17th century architecture, narrow canals with houseboats, and a lineup of world class museums. Get out on foot, or grab a bike, and explore Amsterdam’s districts, making sure to relax in a canal-side café with a coffee and a pastry.

Pick of the Excursions: The Van Gogh Museum, home of the largest collection of masterworks by the great Dutch artist, and a scenic canal cruise. 

Berlin (Warnemunde) 

Since the infamous wall was dismantled in 1989, Berlin has enjoyed a new lease on life as the capital of a new Germany. Although much of what was historic in Berlin was destroyed during World War II, many churches and landmarks have been rebuilt. Sightseeing essentials are confined to a relatively small area, including the Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag, Holocaust Memorial, Potsdam Platz, Berlin Cathedral, and Checkpoint Charlie.

Pick of the Excursions: A visit to Charlottenburg Palace, one of the few sites left in Berlin which reflects the grandeur of a bygone era.

Bruges (Zeebrugge) 

Bruges is one of the most visited cities in Europe, a fairytale medieval town to which visitors flock for many reasons; to meander along picturesque cobbled lanes, explore spectacular Flemish and Renaissance architecture, and hang out in the Markt and Berg main squares. Bruges has a bustling café life, restaurants with fine food, and offers great people watching. Order a bowl of “golden frites” as a snack with a Hoegaarden beer, or with local mussels cooked in creamy garlic and a white wine.  

Pick of the Excursions: A canal boat tour so you can gaze up at Bruges’ historic buildings and stone bridges from the water.

Copenhagen 

Copenhagen is home to some of the best preserved medieval architecture in Europe, as well as being a cosmopolitan city with people who know how to have fun. On the surface the city is a mix of historical buildings, church spires, and modern architecture all connected by cobbled streets, but at its heart is a thriving café, bar and shopping scene, making it one of the hippest places in Scandinavia.

Pick of the Excursions: The Dutch Renaissance Frederiksborg Castle on Lake Slotso, home to a museum with an outstanding collection of portraits.

Gdansk (Gydnia) 

Gdansk has a long history dating back to the 10th century, and despite being the focus of fierce battles during World War II, its historic Main Town was rebuilt during the post-war Soviet era. Today, entering this stunning historical quarter is like stepping back in time. “Must sees” include the main square’s Dutch Renaissance-style mansions, St. Mary's Church, believed to be the largest brick church in the world, and the seven-story medieval Great Mill on the waterfront. 

Pick of the Excursions: Malbork Castle, a UNESCO medieval fortress and museum, and the world’s largest brick castle, overlooking the River Nogat.

Helsingborg 

This medieval town sits on the shores of the Oresund, a narrow strait separating Sweden and Denmark, and is a hot, new destination on Baltic cruises. Helsingborg is also one of the oldest cities in Sweden, with quaint cobbled streets and castle ruins, and its twin city, Helsingor, is just four kilometres across the Oresund in Denmark. Both cities have endured a torrid past including many wars, marked by the historic landmarks of Kronborg Castle on the Danish side, and fortress of Karnan on the Swedish side. 

Pick of the Excursions: The Kullaberg Peninsula is a protected nature reserve, home to several species of birds, Stone Age archaeological treasures, and sweeping ocean views.

 

You can read part two of this story here.

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