Helsinki and Stockholm

Finnair Skywheel allows travelers to get the bird’s eye view of Helsinki from 131 feet above the ground.
Finnair Skywheel allows travelers to get the bird’s eye view of Helsinki from 131 feet
above the ground.

Within Europe’s northern tier, Helsinki and Stockholm are “classic” Baltic ports with storied maritime histories. Each capital city hosts several hundred cruise ship calls every summer. What should luxury travelers see and do and what’s new or hot for cruisers?

Helsinki, Finland

For the ultimate bird’s eye view, we suggest luxury travelers soar 131 feet in the air aboard the new waterfront Finnair Skywheel. Opt for the “Veuve Clicquot VIP experience,” which begins at the skywheel’s champagne bar. From there, VIP personnel will escort guests to the VIP Gondola, a specialty piece of art with slightly shaded windows for more privacy. Guests will enjoy a prolonged ride in air-conditioned comfort on leather seats with a glass floor below, while listening to music and sipping Veuve Clicquot Champagne. Separately, Oceania Cruises and Hapag-Lloyd Cruises are among upscale lines that offer their own excursions with a Skyview twirl.

Fit cruisers sailing on Crystal Cruises to Helsinki in 2016 can set off with Nordic poles on a five-mile Nordic walking tour offered during multiple voyages. Guests will peruse a marina, residential area, Kaivopuisto Park, exclusive waterfront properties and embassies, the Lutheran Cathedral, Parliament and Contemporary Art Museum.

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Newly renovated, but with a decidedly historic bent, is Helsinki’s Old Market Hall at Etelaranta near Market Square. Originally opened in 1889, you can still see products similar to those hawked more than a century ago including fresh fish, meats, shellfish, fresh vegetables, artisan cheeses, cakes, spices and coffee. Today, though, the market has evolved, serving up such treats as Spanish meats and Vietnamese spring rolls. For coffee and cinnamon buns (a Finnish passion) or, at lunchtime, to taste traditional cured salmon or whitefish on sliced bread, we’d suggest a visit to Robert’s Coffee within the market hall.

For tasty oyster sandwiches, we recommend the Kalakauppa E. Eriksson fishmonger, which sells smoked fish, cured fish, fresh fish and shellfish, and has converted stalls 50, 52 and 54 into an oyster bar. More than a century old is the hall’s Hongiston leipamyymala bread shop, home to yummy breads, buns, cakes, tarts, pastries and pies. You’ll also find organic breads and gluten-free treats.

New Restaurants in Helsinki

Check out Finlandia Caviar Shop & Restaurant, specializing in the world’s most exclusive caviars, champagnes and vodkas. Fresh oysters are also served. You can choose from white sturgeon caviar, Russian Oscietra caviar and, our favorite, the Beluga Kaluga caviar, with an aromatic scent of the sea and a slight buttery whiff. Also new is Michel Restaurant & Cocktail Bar (called Ravintola Michel) with a light menu that reflects a sense of humor. Perhaps try the ox tartare or blue oyster tango appetizer or the ABC (Angus Beef Club) or LOL Lobster entrees.

Luxury travelers onboard Seabourn Cruise Line’s 21-day “Northern Europe Exploration” itinerary (July 16 departure) on Seabourn Quest can take a “Panoramic Helsinki & Country Home Visit,” to see city highlights and tour elegant Hommanas Manor & Estate and taste home-made baked goods.

Drottningholm PALACE is one of three UNESCO World Heritage sites in Stockholm.
Drottningholm PALACE is one of three UNESCO World Heritage sites in Stockholm.

Stockholm, Sweden

New on the cruise front this year are port calls at this “Venice of the North” by Disney Magic and the new Viking Star, and an increased number of turnaround calls by cruise lines. Stockholm boasts three UNESCO World Heritage sites. Along Lake Malaren, Birka on Bjorko island was once a bustling Viking hub and marketplace, while Drottningholm Palace, has one appealing summer perk — the chance to peek inside the on-site Chinese Pavilion pleasure palace with one of Europe’s finest rococo interiors with chinoiserie. Woodland Cemetery, the third UNESCO site, features a 20th-century design that nicely blends vegetation and architectural elements.

New this year, the Cannes Film Festival has teamed up with the City of Stockholm to offer the “Film Guide to Stockholm.” Using this resource (www.visitstockholm.com/film), upscale cruisers can create their own plan to see filming spots where Ingmar Bergman, Greta Garbo, Ingrid Bergman and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” made movie history.

Wildly popular is ABBA The Museum, one of Stockholm’s most visited attractions. And now it offers a sightseeing boat tour; guests sail around Djurgarden island, see spots linked to the pop group and listen to stories, anecdotes and, of course, well-known ABBA hits. For independent travelers, Stockholm is a lovely city to wander, particularly around Gamla stan, a maze of winding medieval alleyways and small squares, home to the Royal Palace and ancient churches.

Vasa Museum in Stockholm displays a massive, Swedish warship that sank on her maiden voyage in 1628 and was salvaged in 1961.
Vasa Museum in Stockholm displays a massive, Swedish warship that sank on her maiden voyage in 1628 and was salvaged in 1961.

A must-see for history buffs is the Vasa Museum which displays a massive, 17th-century Swedish warship. The story fascinates visitors. Sailing from Stockholm’s harbor in the 17th century, the ship was top-heavy and sank; fortunately, it was cocooned in mud over the centuries. That preserved it, and today, visitors “ooh” and “aah” at the original wooden vessel. During Silver Whisper’s August 3, 2016 itinerary roundtrip from London’s Tower Bridge, a Stockholm port call offers such options as a half-day “Stockholm Panorama, Vasa Museum and City Hall” excursion.

For superb panoramic views, Stockholm SkyView takes cruisers to the top of the Ericsson Globe. Through late November at the Nobel Museum, luxury travelers can peruse the “Legacy” exhibition, showcasing Nobel Laureates and their reflections on inspiration and role models. Shopping? You’ll find exclusive shops in the Bibliotekstan neighborhood, dating to the late 1880s. It’s the modern-day hot spot for designer fashions (think Armani, Michael Kors, Gucci, Stella McCartney and others), plus cutting-edge Scandinavian home products. One unusual store to pop into is Acne’s original flagship store. You might pick-up some upscale jeans, but at least take a look around; the building was a former bank and the interior conjures up images of an artist’s studio.

Foodies can stroll Stockholm’s Ostermalmshallen — along with locals — to peruse local fresh produce and sample Swedish fresh foods. We love the artisan bakeries and specialty cheeses, along with seafood counters. On the fine dining front, the latest Michelin Guide ratings give Stockholm restaurants a total of 12 stars. We’d recommend Oaxen Krog for dinner. Why? Just two years after its opening, it’s earned a second Michelin star, joining Stockholm’s other two-star restaurants, Frantzen and Mathias Dahlgren. At Oaxen Krog, cruisers can select either a six-course or 10-course menu. It’s certainly easy to salivate over the fried green strawberries with artichoke, polypod fern and walnuts; aged tenderloin with lumpfish roe and emulsion of chicken stock, juice of grilled herbs and frozen buttermilk; and, for dessert, strawberry sorbet in salty toffee with cream of Djurgaarden elderberry and burnt meringue.

Coming in 2016, some cruisers will get off the ship at a new cruise pier designed for mega-ships; it’s opening close to Frihamnen, the city’s “classic” cruise port. Also, the port of Nynashamn, 40 miles from Stockholm but often used by ships on a regional port call, will open a new floating pier. That’s a big plus as it will eliminate tendering for some ships.

Aarhus is Denmark’s second largest city. The Vadestedet is the place in the city where cafés and clubs thrive.
 
Aarhus is Denmark’s second largest city. The Vadestedet is the place in the city where cafés and clubs thrive.

Culture Capital 2017

Aarhus, Denmark’s second largest city, has been named “European Culture Capital” for 2017. It’s preparing an enticing array of 2017 events including the “Long Ships” in June; Classic Race Aarhus from June 3-5; the Fire Festival Regatta August 15-19; a food festival in early September; and the Aarhus Festival September 1-10, among many other events. Luxury travelers also can tour the new, thought-provoking Moesgaard Museum, which focuses on life in the pre-historic Bronze, Iron and Viking ages. Cruise Baltic reports that cruise lines have expressed interest in accommodating some of these cultural festivities in their 2017 schedules. Meanwhile, luxury cruisers can sail into Aarhus in 2016 on Silversea Cruises’ Silver Wind and Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Silhouette, among other ships. Visit www.aarhus2017.dk/en.

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