Since moving to London over two years ago, The Postcard Travelers have mainly focused most of their European travels on mainland Western Europe, so this year we decided to tackle Northern and Eastern Europe, and what better way to travel the Baltic Sea region than via cruise. The steep prices for hotels and dining in places like Sweden and Denmark as well as the inconvenience and expense of having to secure entry visas for Russia make cruising an easy, economical way to get a taste of what the Baltic countries have to offer.
Back in June, Dan and I embarked on Princess Cruise’s Emerald Princess out of the UK port city of Southampton and set sail for two weeks on the Baltic Sea with port calls in Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Russia, and Poland. First up: Bruges and Copenhagen!
The romantic, medieval town of Bruges, Belgium is like something out of a fairy tale. An economic powerhouse even in the 11th century, the city grew wealthy as it rose to become the most important cloth market in northern Europe. Remaining a bustling trade and manufacturing center throughout the 15th century, picturesque mansions and guildhouses were constructed during this period of Flemish Renaissance, and despite several centuries of bygone prosperity as trade routes changed and the country being caught between two destructive World Wars, these centuries-old buildings remain as a neat medieval time capsule.
Hailed as the “Venice of the North” (is it just me, or does it seem like every city north of Venice that has a canal bill itself as such?), think pretty canals, cobblestone streets, medieval gables, and little old ladies making lace and you have Bruges.
Must-do’s while in Bruges:
Drink beer (Belgium produces over 350 different kinds of beer!)- Stop by De Garre, the only place in the world sells the Tripel van de Garre beer on tap (at 12% alcohol, the pub limits you to just three!) or for something different try kriek, a reddish beer with a delightful fruity cherry taste.
Eat waffles– Plain, topped with whipped cream, or covered with chocolate sauce and fresh fruit there’s no wrong way to enjoy a Belgian waffle!
Admire some art– wander through the Groeninge Museum fine collection of 15th century Flemish Primitive art from masters such as Jan van Eyck and Hans Memling.
Eat chocolate by the dozen– Stop by Dumon Chocolatier for a dozen hand-picked, made fresh daily out of this world chocolate pralines for a steal of only €5. Buy more than a dozen, I can promise you from experience that you won’t regret it! I sadly came to this conclusion myself about 100 nautical miles out to sea.
Get a birds eye view– climb up the 366 steps of the Belfry Tower and look down over Markt Square with its distinct, charming gabled roofs and the lively scene below.
Eat Belgian-style french fries– After you’ve climbed up all those steps, it’s time to eat again! On Markt Square there are several equally delicious takeaway stands where you can grab a cone of amazing twice-fried frites smothered in one of a dozen typically mayonnaise based sauces.
Considered the gateway to Scandinavia, the capital of Denmark is continually ranked as one of the happiest in the world. Copenhagen’s long history as a merchant city on the water is reflected in its name with the original Danish name meaning “merchant’s harbor,” and later evolving through German translations into the name we know today — Copenhagen!
Must-do’s while in Copenhagen:
Admire the colorful townhouses along Nyhavn– Once the home of famed Danish fairy tale author Hans Christian Andersen, Nyhavn harbor is a colorful 17th century waterfront district featuring brightly colored 17th-and-18th-century townhouses, restaurants, cafes, and old wooden ships.
Explore Freetown Christiania– Spend an hour strolling through this unique, colorful, hippie squatter’s commune established in 1971 in an abandoned military barracks. The self-proclaimed autonomous neighborhood is home to approximately 850 residents and a noticeable cannabis trade. Enjoy the free spirit of the place as you wander through.
Be a kid again– at Tivoli Gardens! One of the oldest amusement parks in the world, it boasts the highest carousel, the 262-foot Star Flyer, and the world’s oldest wooden roller coaster, built in 1914 and still in operation.
Check out the Little Mermaid statue– Copenhagen’s most famous landmark is only a mere four feet tall. Completed in 1913 and presented as a gift to the city by brewing magnate Carl Jacobsen, the statue expresses the city’s gratitude to Hans Christian Andersen, who published the now well-known fairy tale about a little mermaid in 1837.
Rent a GoBoat– Discover Copenhagen from the water as captain of your own solar-powered picnic boat in Copenhagen’s harbour and canals with a rental from GoBoat. I wish Dan and I had done this!
Enjoy a $50USD burger lunch for one– Life is comparatively expensive in Denmark. We balked at the fact that it cost us over $50 for a beer, iced tea, and a burger (which we split!) at Cafe Norden. The burger was absolutely amazing, so it did take the sting out of looking at the bill!