Baltic Cruises

When to Travel:
The latitude in Northern Europe limits favorable cruising conditions to the Baltic and Norwegian Fjords to the height of the summer season in June, July and August. Weather is important as Baltic cruises are loaded with day-long shore excursions, and warm, blue-sky days will enrich your land adventures and photos.

Mid-May to mid-June
Advantages:Fares are at their lowest level,Tourist crowds are moderate
Disadvantages:Days can be nippy and windy,Rainiest Baltic cruise period,Seas can sometimes be choppy

Mid-June to mid-August
Advantages:Many warm, sunny days, Calm seas with light winds,More daylight hours for excursions
Disadvantages:Temperatures occasionally soar, Tourist crowds are heavy,Cruise & airline fares peak Cruises & airlines can be fully booked.
These conditions are less likely to occur in June than in July and August.

Mid-August to mid-September
Similar to the mid-May-to-mid-June period, but it rains less. And, it has fewer daylight hours to enjoy.

Getting There:
Most cruises to Northern Europe range between 7 and 14 nights, and usually Cruise from  Southampton or cruise from Dover in the UK.Popular Local departure points include Copenhagen and Stockholm which are ideal for cruise and stay holidays.

Map of the Baltics
Popular Ports of Call

Most cruise ships that visit Copenhagen are berthed at Langelinie, a pier just north of the Little Mermaid and about 4 km or 2.5 miles from Tivoli and the main railroad station. The main passenger piers, Langelinie and Free Port, are just 5 minutes from the city center.

There is one place to shop in Copenhagen, and that’s the Strøget – an impressive 3.2km-long pedestrianised thoroughfare made up of five streets. It is here where the main stores of Copenhagen are located, along with plenty of cafés for the foot-weary. At the top end of the Strøget you’ll find the designer stores including Prada, Chanel and Gianni Versace among others. It is towards this end too that the massive edifice of Magasin is to be found, Northern Europe’s biggest department store.

What to Buy
If you’re after something specifically from Copenhagen, you should consider one or more of the following: Royal Copenhagen porcelain, Scandinavian Crystal and handknitted clothing.

Sweater Market is a good place to find handknitted Scandinavian style jumpers at knockdown prices and further along the Strøget there is more than one outlet selling both crystal and porcelain.

The other thing Denmark is famous for is the silver jewellery of Georg Jensen. The designer inspired a whole style of silvercraft and the shop that bears his name is the most famous silversmiths in the world.

There is too much else going on in Stockholm for shopping to be the main attraction, and besides, prices are high compared to other international cities – although quality is seldom compromised. The main shopping area is along the pedestrianised Drottninggatan up to Sergels Torg (the main square). More exclusive shops are found along Kungsgatan leading up to Sturegatan.

What to Buy
Swedish glass is known throughout the world for its beauty and graceful design. Designers and craftsmen work in close collaboration to produce glass and crystal ware of exceptional quality. The Småland area in the Southeast of Sweden is known as the Kingdom of Crystal due to the quality of the local sand and the skill of the craftsmen. Big names include Orrefors and Kosta Boda.

Woolen jumpers and other winter clothes are a good buy, although strictly speaking many of the distinctive designs are likely to come from Norway, Finland or Iceland.

Viking memorabilia might seem like a good idea at the time but try getting a three-foot long broadsword through customs. Settle for a small model of a longboat at the most.

Right in the heart of the city centre the main shopping area is Aleksanterinkatu and the Esplanadis. This pedestrian street stretches from Senate Square to Mannerheimintie (the street where The Forum is, see below). It’s crammed with boutiques, craft stores, eateries and more. A city park runs parallel to Aleksanterinkatu, and on either side of it run the Esplanadis. This is where you can find many small retailers selling traditional Finnish wares.

The first name to spring to locals’ lips when you ask about shopping centres is The Forum (Mannerheimintie 20). This mall holds a plethora of necessities and frivolities, ranging from fine jewellery to home furnishings and electrical supplies. It’s a glossy, multi-storey affair in the city centre, boasting approximately 120 stores, restaurants and service vendors.

What to Buy
Finnish fur and leather is of as high a quality as you’ll find anywhere. Several shops in the city centre specialise in leather and fur outerwear.

You’ll find plenty of shops right in the centre of town around Karl Johans Gate and Grensen. These tend to be mainly chains and department stores, though there are a few smaller, more unusual shops hidden between them. One of the main department stores,

What to Buy
Oslo has a good selection of handicrafts on offer, especially glassware and pottery. Handcrafted silver and pewter jewellery is also popular, as are carved wooden products and knitwear. More unusual souvenirs are products made out of fish leather, which looks a bit like snakeskin. Common items include wallets or belts.

Tallinn is an interesting and fun place to shop, although its chief draw is the relatively low prices.

Increasingly there are international chains, designer boutiques and, most of all, Western-style shopping malls of which local Tallinners are much enamoured. Don’t miss the local markets that, apart from offering some great bargains, are the perfect place to compile a picnic.

Toompea Hill is monopolised by souvenir shops, which actually have some good merchandise on offer. If you are looking for a handcrafted souvenir head for the Katariina Guild, situated in a narrow street linking Vene with Müürivahe tänav. The Guild operates as a collective of people practising the applied arts and you’ll find shops specialising in stained glass, jewellery and handmade books, among other items.

What to Buy
Estonian jewellery has a Scandinavian quality with striking designs that typically allow the natural materials to announce themselves in clean, spare lines. As Tallinn occupies the fringes of the Amber Coast, you’ll find lots of jewellery incorporating these Jurassic gems.

Another product with distinctly Scandinavian influences, Estonian knitwear is warm and made of entirely natural homespun fibres. A good place to browse and haggle for jumpers, woolly hats and socks is the outdoor market on the corner of Viru and Müürivahe. And before you buy the hat with the floppy bits over the ears, ask yourself “Will I really wear this at home?”

Estonia produces some exquisite cut glass and crystal ware, most with a Bohemian influence. There are many stores around Tallinn. The markets and antique shops are great places to pick up souvenirs from the post-war Soviet and pre-war Russian occupations
St Petersburg

The city’s broad main thoroughfare of Nevsky Prospekt is also the happiest hunting-ground for shoppers generally. The ultra-low price of CD’s is easily explained – they’re all pirated. This causes the perverse irony that foreign artists – who don’t have local lawyers to step-in – go for peanuts

Yeliseevsky’s, 56 Nevsky – founded in 1813 as the acme of gourmet stores in the capital. Even the USSR grudgingly acknowledged this position when it was made “State Produce Store, No.1” in the Soviet era, and it remains the most reputable – if not the cheapest – place to buy caviar in the city. Knowledgeable assistants can advise on the different kinds available, but remember that 200g is your export-controlled customs limit on any of the “black” varieties. You might just have to eat the rest in your hotel-room instead… The shop also boasts a fine range of vodkas to accompany your midnight feasts.

The Souvenir Market is on the Griboyedova Canal, directly behind the Church on the Spilt Blood, and opens seven days. Haggle, or face paying 30-40% more than you should have done. Stacking or matrioshka dolls are everywhere – alongside trad designs, Snow White & the six(!) dwarves, the Beatles, and South Park are all favourites. Other wooden carved items share the honours with Soviet militaria for the rest of it, and all at bargain prices.

What to Buy
Fur is a non-contentious issue in Russia, but you might pause to consider how it would be viewed by others once you get home with it. Cheap fur hats go for RUR300-600 at the souvenir market, but seekers of fine fur garments should head for Irina Tantsurina’s store IT Luxe at Bolshaya Morskaya 16, daily 11h00-21h00.

Antiques & Collectables are no bargain, but you may find rarities here – the Antiques Centre is at Nalichnaya ul 21 (Primorskaya metro, away from the centre), and it may not be an accident that the road name means “Cash Street”.

There is much mystique surrounding caviar, mostly hype from Western retailers. Russians love all kinds, and red salmon caviar is a delicious affordable treat no true Russian would scorn. Black varieties include Osetrovaya and pricy Beluga, and even if you know nothing about it, price is a good indicator of prestige-value. Beware that ikra (“caviar”) in Russian can mean any kind of savoury spread, including, for the unwary, salty aubergine puree, which can be a delicious but annoying mistake.

Vodka is another area where you should put your pre-conceptions aside. That famous brand believed to be “Russia’s best vodka” is merely one of hundreds of average mid-price vodkas in Russia. Flagman, Altai, and Tchaikovsky are all delicious premium vodkas, and at RUR120-200, they are priced to encourage experimentation. In a class, and price-bracket of its own is Russky Standart, a supreme vodka by Russky’s or any other standards, and still less than your local supermarket’s own-label vodka back home. Don’t ignore the flavoured vodkas either – lemon, aniseed, or fiery pepper are Russian classics, whilst the luscious cranberry vodka might convert even sceptics to a drop of the hard stuff.