How Baltic cruises are innovating for 2023
With St Petersburg and other Russian ports now off-limits to travellers, we look at how Baltic cruises are filling the void.
Despite the loss to the itinerary of St Petersburg, cruises to the Baltic have plenty to offer and are continuing at full steam. Other notable cities are showing that they play more than a supporting role, including the waterway-filled wonders of Copenhagen and Stockholm, the modernist delights of Helsinki and the pretty, narrow, cobblestoned charms of Riga and Tallinn.
Unexpected delights include Klaipeda in Lithuania, tucked behind the 61-mile Curonian Spit, a slither of sand and dunes that crosses the border with the standalone Russian province of Kaliningrad halfway down. No one goes near the boundary, but an e-bike tour involving tiny ferries visits Smiltynės Beach, which resembles the wild Californian coast. Regent Seven Seas Cruises offers a Baltic Pleasures cruise in 2023, as well as two others: Northern Folktales & Traditions and Under The Midnight Sun, which take in Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia.
Which ports have filled the gap?
It’s been boom time for smaller places on the edge of Scandinavia. These include the island of Bornholm — a placid agricultural haven full of wheatfields, cattle, one of Denmark’s biggest vineyards (with wine and honey grappa made from its own bees) and little seaside villages.
Another is Skagen, at the tip of Denmark’s finger-like northern protrusion, where the North Sea greets the Baltic and beaches meet in an entrancing eddy of sand. It’s an almost unheard-of spot that offers wild beauty as well as gentle cycling excursions. Both destinations are on Ambassador Cruise Line’s Hidden Nordic Treasures sailing, which also visits Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
On Oceania’s Baltic Treasures cruise, you can visit the tiny Finnish town of Hamina (listed on itineraries as Kotka, the nearby port). It was once part of the Russian Empire and sits 25 miles from the border. Close by, Langinkoski Imperial Fishing Lodge, on the Kymi river, is now a museum. Alexander III of Russia used to come to his summer house here to escape the pressures back home — ironically cruising from St Petersburg by steam yacht in the late 1880s.
Princess Cruises has updated its two 2023 Baltic cruise itineraries by swapping out St Petersburg for Visby on the Swedish isle of Gotland. Reckoned to be Scandinavia’s best preserved medieval city, it’s circled by a two-mile wall. Its annual Medieval Week in August — a festival commemorating the Middle Ages with performances, lectures and markets — is often attended by many visitors from varied cruise ships.
What are the experts saying?
Bernard Carter, senior vice president and managing director EMEA at Oceania Cruises, says: “For 2023, the Baltic is actually further ahead for us at this point than in any of the past four years. St Petersburg would take up quite a chunk of the itinerary as we’d stay two nights and three days, so the change allows us to go to more ports. We’re definitely not going to pull out of the Baltic.”
Top tips for Baltic cruising in 2023
1. See several nations
Oceania’s Icons of Sweden & Baltic Sea itinerary calls at seven countries, including Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
2. Learn from a local
Silversea’s eight-country Copenhagen round-trip, departing 8 September 2023, has a tour of Tallinn led by a freedom fighter from the 1990s.
3. Go to the top
Ponant’s Historic Cities of the Baltic Sea cruise, which departs on 10 August 2023, features a presentation by former Polish president Lech Wałęsa.
Published in the Cruise 2023 guide, distributed with the Jan/Feb 2023 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)
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