Sailing holidays: most people think turquoise blue waters, Instagrammable tropical drinks and slow life somewhere off the coast of the Caribbean or Mediterranean seas. But there are sailors who turn their helms to the North and prefer harsher climates, where the color of the sea can range from deep charcoal to a mesmerizing green.
The wind is colder, the waves choppier, and for those who are a bit rough around the edges and want to get away from the crowds of summer – sailing a Northern ocean or sea might be a dream come true.
The Baltic Sea is a perfect example of how different and diverse one sailing excursion can be if you choose a smaller inland sea to explore as opposed to a vast expanse of ocean, like the Carribean.
There are a lot of culturally different regions and countries that sit on the Baltic coast – Germany, Sweden, Poland, Finland, Estonia, Denmark, and Lithuania. If you manage to make it to at least three of these places, you will have an incredibly varied cultural experience.
Here is a list of four port cities on the Baltic Sea that are worth a visit when you’re sailing Europe:
1. Gdańsk, Poland
The port city of Gdańsk is a historic jewel. Its old town sprawls over the river Motlawa and spreads into a maze of tiny streets, nooks, and crannies. It’s a city very much affected by its German and Polish past, which is evident in the architecture. The city has a unique medieval feel to it.
Every building is different, and there are little treasures like a gargoyle here, an embellishment there, a sculpture or an architectural detail that catch your eye everywhere you look. There are a ton of things to see here.
There is a 15th-century wooden astronomical clock, which is a rare treasure. It has been reconstructed in 2018 and now includes a whole mechanized “show” of the three wise men, music and other clockwork wonders. It can be found in Bazylijka Mariacka.
If you love jewelry or want to get a one of a kind souvenir from the Baltic, Gdańsk is definitely your number one city to purchase anything amber. You will do doubt see many galleries and shops that offer anything from earrings to complicated amber sculptures.
This is a great city to enjoy the local cuisine of pierogi, roasted meats, local fish, and tasty regional beers.
2. Tallinn, Estonia
Sailing further into the Baltic, you will come upon Estonia – an ancient country that remembers many Vikings sailing up its coast. If you approach the ancient city of Tallinn, you best plan to stay for a few days and explore.
Sail into Tallinn Bay and find a designated marina – but be on the lookout for the many ferries that come here as well. The traffic can be surprising for such a secluded city, and there are regular ferries here from Mariehamn, St. Petersburg, Helsinki, and many other Baltic port cities.
Tallinn has an amazing, medieval old town that is a maze of cobbled streets and ancient buildings. There are many secret cafes and restaurants located in old cellars – they make for an amazing and mysterious climate.
Tallinn is one of those cities where you happen to find yourself alone in an alley, you might wonder if you have accidentally slipped through time into a completely different era. Stop and absorb the history.
There are two parts to Tallinn – the upper, and the lower. The upper is the slightly more regal part, and is thought of as the “birthplace of Tallinn”. This is where you can explore the 15th-century castle, now a government building.
The lower part of Tallinn is where you can find all the winding streets, craft workshops, galleries, and cafes – it’s the same layout as a classic medieval city.
If you dock in the Port of Tallinn Old City Marina, the closest marina to the old town, you will feel like a true local.
3. Saint Petersburg, Russia
For some reason, a lot of people miss this iconic port city. Sadly, the formalities of docking here can be a pain, and a lot of sailors simply opt out and go elsewhere. For those willing to undergo a little bit of bureaucratic nuisance and have some time to spare for exploring, this is a perfect port to visit.
There are many yacht clubs here, and you should contact them ahead of time. Most of them are on the river Nevka – or one of the Neva’s many fingers. Before going, be sure to have a visa and contact Vladimir Ivankiv in St. Petersburg – he is a Consultant Yacht Agent and will help you get all your paperwork in order. If you are chartering a yacht to sail on the Baltic, your charter company should be able to help you out as well.
Once you’re here and you’re docked and squared away, St.Petersburg is your oyster. If you’re only here for a few days then breathe and relax – you won’t be able to see everything anyway. Sorry! But you can pick a few of the things that interest you the most and have a crack at it.
For the art lovers, there is the Hermitage Museum, which is a maze of some of the world’s most amazing art. This alone can take you a week of exploring, so better pick a few high points and move on.
If there is anything truly iconic when you think of Russia, it’s gotta be the onion dome churches – they’re fairy tale like, dripping in gold, embellishments and bright colors. There are a few to see in St. Petersburg including the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, which marks the assassination spot of Tzar Alexander II.
You can tour the Peter and Paul Fortress, Catherine Palace as well as the Peterhof Palace. These royal buildings will leave your head spinning with their opulent beauty.
If you had enough time on board and just long for a walk, head to the Nevsky Prospect – it’s almost 5 kilometers long, and it’s the Champs Elysees of St. Petersburg. There are more things to see here than we have room to describe.
If you want to get away from touristy things, there is a great chance for that too – St. Petersburg has a vibrant artist underground, and there are hundreds of cafes with live music, art exhibits, clubs. They all have a very unique atmosphere and are worth a look – it’s best to plan an “underground hop” and visit a few on a particular night!
4. Stockholm, Sweden
Stockholm is a perfect city for a sailing holiday. Like all of the above-mentioned port towns, this could very well be the only destination you concentrate on during your charter adventure, because there are so many things to explore here.
When you look at any chart of the Stockholm area, it will become very clear why this is a sailor’s dream. This whole region is practically half water! In fact, Stockholm is made up of as many as 14 islands.
You can easily make this a beginning of a longer voyage inland, and meander through the maze of inlets and passages. But while docked in Stockholm proper, stretch your legs and wander this amazing Venice of the North!
The Gamla Stan, or the Old Town is picturesque and full of great restaurants that serve not only local cuisine but an international fare as well. There are your usual tourist trappings – galleries, little shops, boutiques, cafes, and bars.
There are many museums, including the Modern Art Museum and the Swedish History Museum. It’s always interesting to see any historical treasures in the city you’re visiting. It makes you understand local culture better and gives you a great context for exploration.
The Vasa museum is also a place to see amazing artifacts and one of the world’s best-preserved pieces of maritime history. It’s something every sailor should see!
You can also simply stay on your chartered sailboat and cruise the many canals of Stockholm. Most people will agree that the best place to see this Swedish city is from the water – take in the city skyline and the iconic red city hall. Here, you can be away from the crowds but feel a part of the city at the same time.
Charters on the Baltic
There are many opportunities to charter a yacht on the Baltic – and it’s well worth it to explore this little inland sea. Its history, people, cuisine and ancient cities will hold your imagination for years to come.
Pack a sweater and a sense of adventure when you board your vessel and don’t forget some sunscreen – it’s not the Caribbean, but the sun can get relentless in these parts too!