1). Whatever the season, pack clothes you can easily layer. You’re in what can be quite a changeable part of the world, so even if it is the height of summer, you may feel a little chilly. For summer, shorts, long trousers, t-shirts, a fleece, a rain jacket and sandals and sneakers are ideal. For winter, you’ll need much the same, but also a heavier coat, boots, thermals and knitwear.
2). You’re likely to be doing a lot of walking, sometimes on cobblestones – make sure your footwear is comfortable. Save the stilettos for dinners and nights out.
3). Try food from the different countries you visit. Ok, there are McDonalds near every port, and you might get stuck thinking of Baltic specialities beyond herring. While you can indeed get herring – and it’s very nice with a shot of vodka – you can also find pierogis, blinis, potato salad, gravadlax, kebabs and hearty stews as you tour the area.
4). Be aware but not paranoid. The Baltics region is generally fairly safe, and you’re highly unlikely to be in any danger if you exercise the same precautions against pickpockets and muggers as you would anywhere. Otherwise, if it sounds too good to be true – attractive women wanting you to buy them a drink, bars with yet more attractive women gyrating in their underwear, people in the street wanting to buy dollars or euros at incredible rates – then it probably is, and you and your wallet are about to be taken for a ride.
5). Shop judiciously. Obviously, if you see a unique item that you’re highly unlikely to ever come across anywhere else, then go for it. Otherwise, Scandinavia is notoriously expensive and there no point in buying spirits, perfume or tobacco there when plenty of Swedes pile onto ferries to buy the same cheaper in Lithuania, Latvia or Estonia. Russia can be the best place to shop, and your cruise ship gift shop is likely to be the most expensive place to buy.
6). Don’t attempt to fill every minute of every day. Baltic cruises are great because they offer the opportunity to visit many different ports in several different countries. But although you could easily start sightseeing every day after breakfast and return to the ship late, try and pace yourself and don’t make every day a long day. Anyway, having a drink in a local pub or walking around a park can sometimes be just as rewarding as seeing attractions.
7). Book your tours in advance if you can, and do your research. Particularly if you have special interests or mobility requirements, or have your heart set on attending a particular concert, show or ballet, booking in advance will help your operator plan the best experience that they can. Ask Guide-Guru to recommend Baltic cruise excursions in St. Petersburg and Moscow to you.
8). Virtually every country on your itinerary uses a different currency, and only one or two will use Euros. There are advantages and disadvantages, and different charges and commissions, for buying currency on board, using credit cards, withdrawing cash at ATMs, and buying your currency before you go. While some people can and do use dollars or Euros at shops, the number of outlets that accept them are limited, and you’re likely to get the least favorable exchange rate possible if you pay in a foreign currency at a touristy shop.
9). Try and learn a little of the region. Ok, so you aren’t going to master all the dozen or so languages that might come in handy, or acquire an intimate and all encompassing knowledge of the history of the Baltics. But the region has so much history – the Vikings, the Teutonic Knights, the Hanseatic League, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Tsars, the Nazis, the Soviets have all controlled parts of it at one time or another, as well as other famous rulers – that it’s likely that you’ll be interested in reading about at least one or two of them.
10). As with food, try the drinks. If you’re on the wagon, then kvass, a sort of squash, is a favorite in this part of the world. You’ll also find various types of beer, and vodka. Scandinavian vodka can taste just like water – deceptive, until you try to stand up. Black Balsam, made in Riga, was believed to have helped to cure Catherine the Great of illness when she visited the city. St Petersburg is noted for beer. However, remember that in the Baltic States and Russia, vodka is served in larger measures that you may be used to. Don’t try to outdrink the locals.
Did you know you can enter Russia visa-free if you are travelling by cruise ship? Learn more >>