Russia has always been high on my travel bucket list. I had always heard that visas could be problematic and as seasoned and avid cruisers we decided that a cruise to Russia was going to be a great option for us. So what do you see on a Baltic Cruise and is it worth doing?
Our cruise departed and returned to Copenhagen. Followers of the blog will know that Copenhagen is one of my all time favourite cities. If you are going on a Baltic cruise then you really must try and spend at least 48 hours in this great city at the beginning or end of your cruise. We have the perfect two day itinerary for castle lovers that we did before our cruise.
Embarkation day in Copenhagen was smooth and is a port that is really well set up for cruising.From the port you get a great view of Oresund Bridge, most famously the titular feature of the Swedish danish crime – the bridge! The cruise out of Copenhagen is also spectacular. You sail past many quaint looking villages and timber framed buildings.
My favourite view though was sailing past Helsingor castle. This castle is better known as Elsinore and made famous in Shakespeare’s Hamlet!
The first stop on our cruise was Warnemunde. Where is that I hear you cry? Well most people use it as a starting point for Berlin but to be honest we couldn’t face the two hour drive to get to Berlin from Warnemunde so decided to have a low key day. Warnemunde is in essence a quaint little seaside town. The port is perfectly walkable to the town centre. The main attraction in the centre is the lighthouse and also some quaint looking fisherman cottages. We enjoyed a couple of hours just lazying on the beach. We knew the rest of the trip was going to be jam packed so decided to have a restful day.
Our next stop was Talinn in Estonia and turned out to be one of the unexpected highlights of the trip! Again, we walked from the port into the town but for those less inclined to do so I would recommend the hop on and hop off city bus which my parents took advantage of. The old town of Tallinn is simply stunning. We enjoyed taking photos from the city walls down towards the town and then enjoyed a slow walk into the old town.
While we were there the market was on in the central square. We enjoyed purchasing some locally made artisan products and then headed for a spot of local lunch. We enjoyed trying a mix of local cheeses and meats including fried black pudding crisps and Wandermust Daddy enjoyed the local beer and potent local liquer!
Next up was the reason we went on the cruise – St Petersburg. We were lucky that our trip stayed for two full days. It should be noted that you need to be on some organised trip in order to enter Russia from a cruise and can not be done on your own which is our usual modus operandi! On the first day we opted for a visit to Peterhof. Peterhof is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and often referred to as Russia’s Versaille and it is easy to see why. Unfortunately Peterhof was largely destroyed during the Second World War by the German Army who were occupying it. Because of this, most of what you see at Peterhof is actually a reconstruction. For me the highlight of the tour of Peterhof were the gardens in particular the Grand Cascade.
After our visit to Peterhof and the Gardens we took the Hydrofoil back to St Petersburg and had a local lunch which I hate to say I found pretty inedible. I am usually pretty good with food but I just couldn’t stomach it. Wandermust Daddy said it wasn’t great but he coped with it much better than me! My advice to anyone taking one of these organised tours would be to take snacks with you. I was famished by the time we got back on the boat that evening!
After lunch we had a brief city tour before heading back to the boat.
Day Two – we had opted for a tour of the city with particular emphasis on the Church of the Spilled Blood and a tour of the Hermitage. The Church of the Spilled Blood or Savior on Blood was given its name after Emperor alexander II was fatally stabbed here. The church was built on the spot after the incident. The exterior is the traditional Russian onion design that one associates with Russian churches and the inside is no less ornate.
In the aftermath of the Russian Revolution the church interior was ransacked and it was closed as a church. Since then the site has been used as a morgue during the Second World War and for potato storage after the war! I have never seen such an ornate larder! Today the site is a museum of mosaic and is one of the most ornate churches I have ever seen. A must for any tourist to St Petersburg.
The next stop on our trip was the Peter and Paul fortress. Orginally a fortress, today the buildings act as a museum and a mint. Our favourite building on the site was the Peter and paul Cathedral where the remains of the doomed Romanov family were reinterred.
Our final stop in St Petersburg was at the Hermitage Museum. We just had an afternoon here which was more than enough as I would be suffering from some serious museum fatigue if I was there for a whole day. The museum has some fantastic collections dating from Egyptian antiquities to modern art. The building itself is a collection gem!
While the Hermitage Collection deserves a post all of its own it is worth mentioning here out favourite room which was the Small Throne Room. It is so easy to imagine the tsars sitting in this room.
Again by the end of th day I was famished, having had yet another inediblenlunch. Overall the cruise operated tours were great but I think there lunch stops need to be reconsidered.
On the way out of St Petersburg it is worth spending time out on deck or on your balcony as you pass a fascinating old naval dockyard.
The next port of call after St Petersburg was Helsinki. Helsinki has to be our favourite port of the trip. Not only because it is a stunning city but we found out the reason why Russian food didn’t sit well with me – Baby E was on her way! We had a lovely day wondering Helsinki and purchased an array of Moomin paraphernalia for our baby to be.
The last stop on the trip was Stockholm. I must admit this was our first visit and we weren’t bowled over. I had horrendous morning sickness – I may or may not have thrown up all over the Swedish royal residence – sorry guard outside who had to witness this! It rained the whole day and was super busy. We however went back this Christmas and had a lovely visit! The Vasa Museum home to the Vasa shipwreck is unlike anything I’ve ever seen and the living history museum Skansen offers a lot for families. For those wanting a traditional Swedish meal then I recommend Tradition in the Old Town.
I am so glad our first trip didn’t put us off returning. I’m sure on another day we would have loved Stockholm first time round!
Stockholm was unfortunately out last stop And we returned to Copenhagen and onto the airport ready to start a new chapter in our travel adventures.
Have you been on a Baltic cruise? What were your highlights and lowlights? What surprises did it bring you?