Among the 10 countries that border the Baltic Sea, some are familiar vacation destinations, like Finland, Sweden and Germany. Others are new arrivals to the tourism scene, such as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. All offer a glimpse of fascinating traditions, folklore and culture, along with delicious cuisine, high-quality shopping and historic sights. Shore excursions typically visit museums, palaces, castles and cathedrals.

In St. Petersburg, Russia, where cruise ships often overnight, passengers have a chance to see the legendary Hermitage, one of the world’s foremost art museums. Canals meander beneath the architecture of golden domes and pastel-colored palaces, and Russian-style restaurants serve local favorites like blintzes, caviar and beef Stroganoff. Across the sea, Stockholm, a common port of call on Baltic itineraries and the capital of Sweden, is a cosmopolitan city spread over 14 islands connected by bridges. Visit the great warship Vasa, Stortorget Square with its historic stock exchange, and the hall where Nobel laureates are honored.

Three countries are known as the Baltic states: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Once members of the Soviet Union, they are now independent nations, although they have joined the European Union. Each country has its own character, centuries-old traditions and national pride. Cruises to Latvia call at Riga, a major port and the capital city. A tour of Old Riga leads to narrow lanes and broad squares -- many of the streets look as they did in the 14th century. In Klaipeda, Lithuania, those looking for unique keepsakes can shop for elaborate weavings, a widely practiced folk art. Tallinn, Estonia, holds the honor of being named a European Capital of Culture. 

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