Baltic cruises without the crowds – the best off-the-beaten-track excursions

John Wilmott
Oslo harbour at sunset - Jens_Lambert_Photography

Love the idea of cruising to the grand cities of the Baltic, but hate the thought of the crowds? Old quarters and major monuments can heave with visitors, especially if several ships are in the dock. Here are 10 excursion ideas on how to appreciate the delights of these cities and their surroundings without fighting your way through a forest of selfie sticks. Check excursion availability before booking your cruise.

Stockholm

If you must leave this beautifully green city, there’s the historic little waterside town of Sigtuna and Unesco-listed Drottningholm Palace. Back in Stockholm, boat cruises and high-speed RIB trips are escape options. However, you won’t find too many tourists up on the roof of the Old Parliament Building close to the old town, where Princess Cruises can kit you out with a safety harness to enjoy the views.

A 14-night Scandinavia & Russia Collection, round-trip from Southampton, departs June 25, 2020, from £2,549pp (princess.com).

Copenhagen

Head north out of the bustling city to the wonderful castles of Frederiksborg and Kronborg. It’s a popular trip, though, so you may still find queues. Alternatively, a short way south is Dragør, a traditional fishing village with cobbled lanes, colourful thatched houses and boat-filled harbours. Celebrity Cruises combines a trip here with the Carlsberg brewery and a city canal cruise.

14-night Scandinavia & St Petersburg cruise, round-trip from Southampton, departures May to July 2020, from £1,899pp (celebritycruises.co.uk).

Tallinn, the most charming of Baltic capitals Credit: iStock

Tallinn

Visitors crush into the tiny walled centre, but there’s a few attractions nearby such as Kadriorg Palace – now an art museum – the TV Tower and, down the coast, the summer resort of Haapsalu. Saga has an unusual excursion examining Estonia’s resistance movements through the 20th century through a private collection of artefacts, including a demonstration of a fearsome Russian tank.

A 15-night Secrets of the Baltic cruise, round-trip from Dover, departs August 7, 2019, from £2,630pp (travel.saga.co.uk).

St Petersburg

A ride on the beautifully decorated metro, a visit to a Russian home and a trip to less-known Yusupov Palace are all worthwhile. But you can’t ignore the Hermitage, the fabulous art museum. After-hours tours are often available but Viking cruises goes a step further, taking guests into the city’s suburbs to see the museum’s restoration centre and many priceless items not on public display.

10-night Russia & the Baltic cruise, Stockholm to Copenhagen, departures May and July 2020, from £3,990pp including flights (vikingcruises.co.uk).

Riga

Thousands of cameras click at Riga’s medieval and art nouveau architecture. Find far fewer tourists among the forested ravines of Sigulda, an hour away. The 13th-century fairytale Turaida Castle, whose tower affords sweeping views, and one of the Baltic’s largest caves, Gutmanis, are the highlights. Regent Seven Seas Cruises can take you there, with a small-group option too.

A 12-night London to Stockholm cruise departs June 11, 2020, from £8,009pp including flights (regentsevenseas.com).

Sr Petersburg's eye-catching Church of the Resurrection (aka Church on the Spilled Blood) Credit: iStock

Gdańsk

Gdańsk’s compact centre is exquisite but often packed. Gdynia, where most ships dock, is quieter but less appealing. The magnificent Malbork Castle is a popular out-of-town option but historians could also make a poignant trip to Stutthof Concentration Camp Museum, which was set up by the Nazis in 1939 to imprison Polish leaders and intelligensia. Oceania offers an in-depth tour.

A 10-night Rennaisance of Culture cruise, Stockholm to Oslo, departs July 6, 2020, from £2,839pp including flights (oceaniacruises.com).

Helsinki

Solace can be found in the Finnish capital’s leafy parks, on boat or kayak trips or by taking a short ferry ride to the Suomenlinna sea fortress. About 30 miles east of Helsinki, picturesque Porvoo is crammed with old wooden buildings and boasts a 15th-century cathedral. Holland America has various excursions here, combining the town with a manor house, a horse breeder or an eco-farm.

A 10-night round-trip from Copenhagen, departs July 16, 2020, from £1,799pp excluding flights (hollandamerica.com).

Oslo

Find your own space in the intriguing Vigeland sculpture park near the city centre or on the Bygdøy peninsula a few miles west, where there are three excellent nautical-themed museums. On your way into port your cruise ship will have passed Drøbak, an old market town famed for its year-round Christmas shop. Fred Olsen offers a scenic boat cruise along the fjord to the town.

A 14-night Capitals of the Baltic cruise, round-trip from Edinburgh, departs June 8, 2020, from £1,999pp (fredolsencruises.com).

Exceptionally handsome: Helsinki port Credit: iStock

Visby

On the Swedish island of Gotland, Visby is a charming medieval walled town that now sees plenty of cruise ship traffic. Outside the ramparts, the island’s countryside, coast and numerous old churches are ripe for an exploration on a coach tour. P&O Cruises’ excursion includes a visit to a cheese-making farm, a tour of the railway museum and a ride on its vintage train.

A 16-night Baltic cruise, round-trip from Southampton, departs May 31 or August 21, 2020, from £1,599pp (pocruises.com).

Skagen

Denmark’s northernmost port, famed for its painters, has soared in popularity with cruise lines. Fortunately, breathing space is close by. Voergaard Castle is a moated renaissance gem filled with art – and it’s haunted too. Royal Caribbean, however, has a tempting tour to a birds of prey centre and to Rabjerb Mile, a 130ft-high sand dune that shifts 50ft to the north-east each year.

A 14-night Scandinavia and Russia cruise, round-trip from Southampton, departs July 3 or August 8, 2020, from £1673pp (royalcaribbean.co.uk).