The Baltic really is best seen on a cruise. The communities here reach back to Viking times and beyond, when the waterways were the only way to navigate the region - and today they still make the most sense. Travelling through the night to allow the maximum amount of time in the day to explore the towns, cities and countryside of this enthralling region.
View some of our favourite Baltic River Cruise destination below:
The Danish capital is a wonderful stop-off, with a hint of fairytale magic about it - no wonder Hans Chirstian Andersen chose to make it his home. From the Little Mermaid sculpture on the waterfront commemorating the writer, head along to the Tivoli Gardens where you can enjoy fantastic views across the city from a suspended hot air balloon before exploring the leafy labyrinth below. Amble along the Nyhavn Canal to discover the market stalls and fine sailing ships moored on its banks, then spend the evening sauntering past shops and café as the city lights twinkle.
Baltic cruises are increasingly choosing to dock at Gdynia, a centre for festivals and open-air concerts in the summer and a great place from which to make excursions into Poland, with the most popular being to Gdansk - home to a lovely pedestrianised Old Town and numerous historic icons, including the 13th century gothic Oliwa Cathedral - and to Malbork, Europe's largest gothic fortress.
As you approach this lively Swedish city, you pass by a beautiful archipelago and sleepy fishing villages before reaching the green parks and botanical gardens of the city. The centre is home to a range of designer boutiques as well as the striking Opera House.
Founded more than 1,000 years ago, Hamburg holds a wealth of historic sites for the Baltic cruise goer to explore and displays a range of architectural styles, both modern and ancient. It stands today as an impressive and prosperous city, with an exciting cosmopolitan edge. Spend time exploring the Alster lakes, canals and parks, before enjoying a little solitude in one of the grand churches.
The Finnish capital is one of the great maritime cities - and as such a must-visit on a Baltic cruise. Encircled by the sea and a string of islands, the city holds a number of sailing events through the year as well as other cultural shows, including dance, ballet and opera. This is true especially as the city emerges from the winter darkness and the genuine warmth of summer takes hold. Visitors can get around Helsinki easily on foot or by 'pub tram' and should explore the vibrant flower market near the harbour and historic centre. It won't be long before they notice the Soviet influence in the architecture - particularly at Uspensky Cathedral - a reminder that the country only gained independence within the last 100 years.
Baltic cruise goers will reach the Norwegian capital, surrounded by imposing snow-capped mountains, by sailing along the calm Nordfjord. Founded just less than 1,000 years ago, today the city is a diverse mix of medieval castles, 18th century homes nad swathes of green parks and sparkling lakes. No visit is complete without a trip to the Viking House Museum, the medieval Akerhus Castle - all dungeons, secret passages and crypts - and the Edward Munch museum. Other artworks, sculptures by Gustav Vigeland, can be found in Frogner Park.
The Latvian capital and popular modern-day cruise destination, Riga, has endured many periods of occupation, from the Swedes, Poles and Russians, but is today enthusiastically embracing western culture. Vibrant bars and restaurants line the streets, while the walled Old City remains largely unchanged since centuries ago - in the maze of narrow streets find lies the medieval Dome Cathedral, which houses a wonderful organ.
Like Helsinki, Sweden's capital, Stockholm, is approached on a Baltic cruise through a string of 14 islands and a number of smaller islets. The medieval quarter at the centre of the city, Gamla Stan, dates from the 13th century and is home to an atmospheric labyrinth of cobbled alleyways and streets. There you will find mysterious Storkyran cathedral and the detailed 17th century Nessin Palace. A journey along the waterways will offer up some great views of the stunning architecture and complex bridges linking to islands.
Arguably the jewel in the crown of any Baltic cruise, St Petersburg offers a view of Russia at its most spellbinding. Along the banks of the River Neva stand a number of impressive palaces and churches and from there you should head to the Hermitage Museum to explore the comprehensive collection of art and sculpture - including works by Leonardo da Vinci, Gauguin, Rembrandt and Matisse. Other highlights to explore include the onion-spired Church of Spilled Blood, battleship Aurora, Catherine the Great's palace and Yusupov Palace where Rasputin was murdered.
The medieval capital of Estonia, Tallinn, is a showcase for Tuetonic, Polish and Russian architecture. The splendid onion domes of the Nevski Russian Orthodox Cathedral stand in this city alongside the Baroque Toompea Castle and the gothic façade of Europe's oldest townhall, the 13th century Raekoda. Delightful jewellery and lacework is on offer in the shops of the atmospheric old town for a little souvenir, but make sure you have some time to simply sit and enjoy the world go by in a pavement café as the brass band plays.
Viking River Cruises currently operate some river cruise itineraries along the Baltic River.