Lonely Planet Writer

Pathfinder pics: cruising Scandinavia and Russia

Lonely Planet Pathfinder Emily Luxton of Emily Luxton Travels recently set sail on a Baltic cruise. Over eleven days, she sailed from Germany to Oslo by way of some of the most beautiful cities in Scandinavia and Russia.

Punctuated by lazy days at sea with the cobalt blue of the Baltic stretching ahead and behind, here's how her ocean odyssey unfolded.

Delving into Tallinn's past

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Our first port of call was Tallinn, where I found myself lost amongst the cobbled streets and red-brick rooftops of the Old Town. Tallinn is known for its colourful architecture and fairytale vistas, but beyond the viewpoints I loved discovering the city’s more recent past at the KGB Museum. The dark period of Soviet rule seems like ancient history when contrasted with the colourful city centre on a sunny day, but of course most locals still remember the occupation – the stories of the secret KGB base at the Hotel Viru were seriously eye opening.

Dazzled by colours in St Petersburg

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Somewhat naively, I’d been expecting St Petersburg to be a gloomy, bleak city. I certainly wasn’t prepared for all the colour! The Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood is decorated as elaborately as its name, with colourful domes outside and ornately painted ceilings inside.

Exploring the Peterhof Palace

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St Petersburg has been on my bucket list for years, so I was grateful to have two full days to explore before the ship set sail for Stockholm. Most of the second morning was spent at the iconic Peterhof Palace. Despite being burned down and almost completely destroyed after the Nazi occupation, the palace has been expertly restored to its former glory.

Fika in Stockholm

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I couldn’t resist taking time out to experience fika in Stockholm. Elevating the simple coffee break into an almost ritual, fika is about stopping for coffee and cake with friends. There has to be cake, and you have to really pause to enjoy it all: this is much more than a quick refuel. We used the time to check our Stockholm guidebook and plan our day exploring Gamla Stan – the old town – and the trendy 'hipster' neighbourhood of Södermalm.

Uncovering the beauty of Helsinki

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No trip to Helsinki is complete without a visit to the cathedral. Its vivid white exterior and glinting gold-and-teal domes looked particularly dazzling against the clear blue sky on the day I visited.

Pausing to enjoy the view

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One of the most special things about a cruise is waking up to a new view every day. I loved sitting on my balcony watching the ever-changing shades of the sea as we sailed across the Baltic, or drawing back the curtains in the morning to reveal a brand new country. This view of Nynäshamn in Sweden was my favourite, with the lush forest and traditional Scandi architecture reflected in the oddly still sea.

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Emily Luxton travelled to Russia and Scandinavia with support from Princess Cruises. Lonely Planet contributors do not accept freebies in exchange for positive coverage.