Cruise passengers who choose to sail the Baltic Sea will find centuries of history -- from 10 countries -- all within reach. Tour the palaces of Russian czars in St. Petersburg or visit the inspiration for Shakespeare’s tragedy, “Hamlet” -- Kronborg Castle at Elsinore -- during a stop in Copenhagen.

See medieval squares and architecture in Tallinn, Estonia, which was founded in 1154. St. Olav’s Church dates to the 13th century and was once the tallest structure of its time. The Tallinn City Museum, in the heart of Old Town, has exhibits dedicated to everything from textiles and weapons to a scale model of the city modeled after 1825 drawings.

The end of Soviet-era politics was felt by many in the Baltic region. Gdansk, Poland, was the cradle of the 1980s Solidarity movement, which helped bring down Soviet control of Eastern Europe and transformed this region’s map. Cities in Latvia and Lithuania are now burgeoning cultural centers. Riga has the Latvian National Opera, home to the Baltic Ballet and Riga International Opera festivals.

St. Petersburg is a much-anticipated port for many travelers, and ships often stay overnight to maximize time spent in the city. Those looking for vestiges of Russia’s czarist past can investigate Catherine Palace and Peterhof Palace. The latter frequently is compared to Versailles, as it is situated on a 300-acre park dotted with fountains. Helsinki in Finland is a relatively young city by European standards. Originating in the 16th century, it began as a trade center. In 1808, a fire decimated many of its wooden structures, and the German-born architect Carl Ludvig Engel was commissioned to reimagine Helsinki. The result is some of the purest neoclassical architecture in the world. 

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