Cruise line: Crystal Cruises,
Jill Faulds discovers the many attractions of the Baltic ports while on board her Crystal Symphony cruise to the region
MY 7-night 'Baltic Getaway' itinerary on board Crystal Symphony to Northern Europe began in Stockholm, Sweden sailing to Tallinn, Estonia, St Petersburg - the cultural capital of Russia - and Helsinki, Finland, arriving finally in Denmark's capital Copenhagen.
Before embarking the ship, it was well worth arranging to stay pre-cruise in Stockholm, sprawling over 14 islands and known as 'The Beauty on Water'. New blends with the historical; a city of bridges, parks, forests and walking areas, with an abundance of shops, restaurants and cafes. We sailed from Stockholm overnight for Tallinn.
The attractions of Tallinn's centre and 'Old Town' with its cobbled streets and medieval walls are all within easy walking distance of the port - from flower stalls, shops and art galleries, to cathedrals and craft shops. If time allows for taking a guided coach tour of this, the 2011 European Capital of Culture, you can hear about the Estonian Open Air Museum, Zoo and Botanic Gardens just on the outskirts of Tallinn.
As a treat ashore I would recommend lunch at Balthasar - this the first Estonian garlic restaurant was opened in 1999, in a medieval building of the Town-Hall Apothecary and is situated in the very heart of the Old Town. A magnificent view opens from the restaurant's windows on the Town-Hall Square.
Did you know Tallinn is one of the most advanced internet countries in the world where software Skype - the telephone call service over the internet - was founded?
As we set sail for St Petersburg - also known as the 'Venice of the North', with its network of waterways and canals - the excitement of my fellow Crystal travellers was palpable. Russia's architectural capital is an extraordinary combination of Classical and Baroque. Founded in 1703 on the whim of Peter the Great, St Petersburg on the Neva River has changed its name three times since - Petrograd (1914), Leningrad (1924) and then back to St Petersburg (1991).
An overnight stay in St Petersburg allowed us time to explore the many and varied attractions. The best views can be seen by climbing the 262 steps to the top of the impressive St Isaac's Cathedral, the third largest domed church in the world.
A visit to the world-famous Hermitage Museum was enhanced further for guest by an excursion with special access to The Gold Room with its awesome collection of royal jewellery, gifts and treasures. Some of the other guests chose to tour the Palaces of the Czars - Catherine, Peterhof and Alexander, or tour St Petersburg on foot with a guide.
Onward to Helsinki, a diverse and unique city only independent since 1917, its distinctive history having been tied closely to that of Russia and Sweden. With its four strongly contrasting seasons - hot and sunny summers, crisp and colourful autumns, white and wonderful winters to dramatic and dynamic springs, Helsinki's cultural life is extremely active.
Crystal Cruises operate organised shore excursions, however it is possible to discover Helsinki by foot. Highlights not to miss are: the Kauppatori Market Square; an impressive neo-classical Town Hall, more than 150 years old and Senate Square with its interesting Lutheran Cathedral.
For shopping it is hard to pass up on glassware and ceramics and beautiful textiles by such Finnish designers as Marimekko and Vuokko, or Lapp handicrafts.
Our last night on board was spent in wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen, voted Europe's Leading Cruise Port at the 2008 World Travel Awards .
The early days of author Hans Christian Andersen were spent in the Nyhaven area, now the famous canal quarter, living in poverty as a failing actor. His poetry eventually attracted the attention of King Frederick and through his patronage Andersen's talents were able to grow, writing around 167 fairy tales, one of the most famous of course being The Little Mermaid. Her statue now overlooks the shores in Copenhagen, undoubtedly the capital city's most famous resident.
Other 'Must sees' when visiting Copenhagen are the Tivoli Gardens, The Viking Museum, The National Gallery and the Amalienborg Palace.
Tivoli Gardens, the highly popular amusement park, is usually top of everyone's list of places to visit. Founded in 1843 it is a beautiful, romantic park with lanterns in the trees that create a unique atmosphere. It has a wealth of high-class restaurants and stages for music and theatre.
Amalienborg Palace, the royal couple's winter residence, is a major architectural work and probably the most outstanding piece of Rococo architecture in Denmark.
A cruise in the Baltic Sea region can only be described as truly an adventure - the destinations and cruise ports surrounding the Baltic sea offer a wealth of diversity, spectacular scenery, historical attractions and exciting cultural experiences and these countries are all English-speaking. The Baltic ports will appeal to both families and individual travellers, with good flight accessibility from the UK. There is wide choice of cruise lines sailing in this part of the world - many offering fly-cruise programmes.
51,000gt, 940 guest capacity, operates a programme of Baltic region cruises between 19 June and 12 August 2009, with itineraries/entry level fares of 7 nights/£1.902pp, 11 nights/£2,629pp and
Reproduced with permission from Stowaway magazine
Overall rating: 4