Rick Steves Scandinavian & Northern European Cruise Ports


By Rick Steves

By Cameron Hewitt

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Set sail and dive into Europe’s magnificent port cities with Rick Steves Scandinavian & Northern European Cruise Ports! Inside you’ll find:
  • Rick’s expert advice on making the most of your time on a cruise and fully experiencing each city, with thorough coverage of 18 ports of call
  • Practical travel strategies including how to choose and book your cruise, adjusting to life on board on the ship, saving money, and traveling economically and ethically
  • Self-guided walks and tours of each port city so you can hit the best attractions, sample authentic cuisine, and get to know the culture, even with a short amount of time
  • Essential logistics including step-by-step instructions for arriving at each terminal, getting into town, and finding necessary services like ATMs and pharmacies
  • Rick’s reliable tips and candid advice on how to beat the crowds, skip lines, and avoid tourist traps
  • Helpful reference photos throughout and full-color maps of each city
  • Useful tools like mini-phrasebooks, detailed instructions for any visa requirements, hotel and airport recommendations for cruise access cities, and what to do if you miss your ship
Full list of coverage: Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki, St. Petersburg, Tallinn, Riga, the Port of Gdynia, Gdansk, Sopot, Warnermunde, Rostock, Berlin, Oslo, Stavanger, Bergen, the Norwegian Fjords, Flam and the Nutshell, Geirangerfjord, Amsterdam, the Port of Zeebrugge, Bruges, Brussels, Ghent, Southampton, Portsmouth, Dover, Canterbury, London, Le Havre, Honfleur, the D-Day Beaches, Rouen, Paris

Maximize your time and savor every moment with Rick’s practical tips, thoughtful advice, and reliable expertise.

Heading to the Mediterranean? Pick up Rick Steves Mediterranean Cruise Ports.


Welcome to Rick Steves’ Europe

Travel is intensified living—maximum thrills per minute and one of the last great sources of legal adventure. Travel is freedom. It’s recess, and we need it.

I discovered a passion for European travel as a teen and have been sharing it ever since—through my tours, public television and radio shows, and travel guidebooks. Over the years, I’ve taught thousands of travelers how to best enjoy Europe’s blockbuster sights—and experience “Back Door” discoveries that most tourists miss.

For each major destination, this book offers a balanced, comfortable mix of the predictable biggies and a healthy dose of intimacy. Along with marveling at masterpieces in the Louvre, Hermitage, and Rijksmuseum, you can sip a pint in a trendy London pub and sweat with the Finns in a working-class sauna.

I advocate traveling simply and smartly. Take advantage of my money- and time-saving tips on sightseeing, transportation, and more. Try local, characteristic alternatives to expensive hotels and restaurants. In many ways, spending more money only builds a thicker wall between you and what you traveled so far to see.

We visit Europe to experience it—to become temporary locals. Thoughtful travel engages us with the world, as we learn to appreciate other cultures and new ways to measure quality of life.

Judging by the positive feedback I receive from readers, this book will help you enjoy a fun, affordable, and rewarding vacation—with the finesse of an independent, experienced traveler.

Bon voyage and happy travels!




Map: Top Destinations


Imagine yourself lazing on the deck of a floating city as you glide past the spiny skylines of Tallinn, Copenhagen, or St. Petersburg; the jagged fjords of Norway’s west coast; or the thousands of picture-perfect islands topped by quaint red vacation cottages in the archipelago between Stockholm and Helsinki. Each day, stepping off the gangway, you’re immersed in the vivid life of a different European city. Tour some of the world’s top museums, take a Scandinavian-style coffee break while you people-watch from a prime sidewalk café, bask on a surprisingly sunny and sandy Baltic beach, and enjoy some of Europe’s most expensive cities on the cheap. After a busy day in port, you can head back to the same cozy bedroom each night, without ever having to pack a suitcase or catch a train. As the sun sets and the ship pulls out of port, you have your choice of dining options—from a tuxedo-and-evening-gown affair to a poolside burger—followed by a world of nightlife. Plying the Baltic and North Sea waters through the night, you wake up refreshed in a whole new city—ready to do it all again.

Cruising in Europe is more popular today than ever before. And for good reason. Taking a cruise can be a fun, affordable way to experience Europe—if you choose the right cruise, keep your extra expenses to a minimum...and use this book to make the absolute most of your time in port.

Unlike most cruising guidebooks, which dote on details about this ship’s restaurants or that ship’s staterooms, Rick Steves Scandinavian & Northern European Cruise Ports focuses on the main attraction: some of the grandest cities in Europe. Even if you have just eight hours in port, you can still ride a red double-decker bus through London, paddle a kayak on a Norwegian fjord, stroll Berlin’s Unter den Linden or Copenhagen’s Strøget, and walk in Lech Wałęsa’s footsteps at the Solidarity shipyards in Gdańsk.

Yes, you could spend a lifetime in any of these places. But you’ve got a few hours...and I have a plan for you. Each of this book’s destination chapters is designed as a minivacation of its own, with advice about what to do and detailed sightseeing information for each port. And, to enable you to do it all on your own, I’ve included detailed instructions for getting into town from the cruise terminal.

In each port, you’ll get all the specifics and opinions necessary to wring the maximum value out of your limited time and money. The best options in each port are, of course, only my opinion. But after spending much of my life researching Europe, I’ve developed a sixth sense for what travelers enjoy.


The book is divided into three parts: First, I’ll suggest strategies for choosing which cruise to take, including a rundown of the major cruise lines, and explain the procedure for booking a cruise. Next, I’ll give you a “Cruising 101”-type travel-skills briefing, with advice about what you should know before you go, and strategies for making the most of your time both on and off the ship. And finally, the majority of this book is dedicated to the European ports you’ll visit, with complete plans for packing each day full of unforgettable experiences.

I haven’t skimped on my coverage of the sights in this book—which is why it’s a bricklike tome. To get the most out of the book, please don’t hesitate to tear out just the pages you need for each day in port (see sidebar).


I’m not going to try to convince you to cruise or not to cruise. If you’re holding this book, I assume you’ve already made that decision. But if you’re a cruise skeptic—or even a cruise cynic—and you’re trying to decide whether cruising suits your approach to experiencing Europe, I’ll let you in on my own process for weighing the pros and cons of cruising.

I believe this is the first and only cruising guidebook written by someone with a healthy skepticism about cruises. When I was growing up, cruising was a rich person’s hobby. I used to joke that for many American cruisers, the goal was not travel but hedonism. (How many meals can you eat in a day and still snorkel when you get into port?)

But now I understand that cruising can be both an efficient and cost-effective way to travel if done smartly. After many years of exploring and writing about Europe, I haven’t found a more affordable way to see certain parts of the continent than cruising (short of sleeping on a park bench).

For a weeklong European cruise that includes room, board, transportation, tips, and port fees, a couple can pay as little as $100 per night—that’s what you’d pay for a simple hotel room alone in many cities. To link all the places on an exciting one-week European cruise on your own, the hotels, rail passes, boat tickets, taxi transfers, restaurants, and so on would add up fast. The per-day base cost for mainstream cruises beats independent travel by a mile—particularly in northern Europe, which has one of the highest costs of living in the world. (While a cruise saves money on a trip to Greece or Spain, it’s an even better deal in Norway or London—where hotel costs can be more than double.) And there’s no denying the convenience and efficiency of sleeping while you travel to your next destination—touring six dynamically different destinations in a single week without wasting valuable daylight hours packing, hauling your bags to the station, and sitting on a train.

And yet, I still have reservations. Just as someone trying to learn a language will do better by immersing themselves in that culture than by sitting in a classroom for a few hours, I believe that travelers in search of engaging, broadening experiences should eat, sleep, and live Europe. Good or bad, cruising insulates you from Europe. If the Russian babushkas selling nesting dolls in St. Petersburg are getting a little too pushy, you can simply retreat to the comfort of 24-hour room service, tall glasses of ice water, American sports on TV, and a boatload of people who speak English as a first language (except, perhaps, your crew). It’s fun—but is it Europe?

For many, it’s “Europe enough.” For travelers who prefer to tiptoe into Europe—rather than dive right in—this approach can be a good way to get your feet wet. Cruising works well as an enticing sampler for Europe, helping you decide where you’d like to return and explore deeper.

People take cruises for different reasons. Some travelers cruise as a means to an end: experiencing the ports of call. They appreciate the convenience of traveling while they sleep, waking up in an interesting new destination each morning, and making the most of every second they’re in port. This is the “first off, last on” crowd that attacks each port like a footrace. You can practically hear their mental starter’s pistol go off when the gangway opens.

Other cruisers are there to enjoy the cruise experience itself. They enjoy lying by the pool, taking advantage of onboard activities, dropping some cash at the casino, ringing up a huge bar tab, napping, reading, and watching ESPN on their stateroom TVs. If the Mona Lisa floated past, they might crane their necks, but wouldn’t strain to get out of their deck chairs.

With all due respect to the latter group, I’ve written this book primarily for the former. But if you really want to be on vacation, aim for somewhere in the middle: Be sure to experience the ports that really tickle your wanderlust, but give yourself a “day off” every now and again in the less-enticing ports to sleep in or hit the beach.

Another advantage of cruising is that it can accommodate a family or group of people with vastly different travel philosophies. It’s possible for Mom to go to the museum, Dad to lie by the pool, Sally to go for a bike ride, Bobby to go shopping, Grandma and Grandpa to take in a show...and then they can all have dinner together and swap stories about their perfect days. (Or, if they’re really getting on each other’s nerves, there’s plenty of room on a big ship to spread out.)

Cruising is especially popular among retirees, particularly those with limited mobility. Cruising rescues you from packing up your bags and huffing to the train station every other day. Once on land, accessibility for wheelchairs and walkers can vary dramatically—though some cruise lines offer excursions specifically designed for those with mobility issues. A cruise aficionado who had done the math once told me that, if you know how to find the deals, it’s theoretically cheaper to cruise indefinitely than to pay for a retirement home.

On the other hand, the independent, free-spirited traveler may not appreciate the constraints of cruising. For some, seven or eight hours in port is a tantalizing tease of a place where they’d love to linger for the evening—and the obligation to return to the ship every night is frustrating. Cruisers visiting Paris will never experience the City of Light after dark. If you’re antsy, energetic, and want to stroll the cobbles of Europe at all hours, cruising may not be for you. However, even some seasoned globetrotters find that cruising is a good way to travel in Europe on a shoestring budget, yet still in comfort.

One cruise-activities coordinator told me that cruisers can be divided into two groups: Those who stay in their rooms, refuse to try the dozens of activities offered to them each day, and complain about everything; and those who get out and try to get to know their fellow passengers, make the most of being at sea, and have the time of their lives. Guess which type (according to him) enjoys the experience more?

Let’s face it: Americans get the least paid vacation in the rich world. Some people choose to dedicate their valuable time off to an all-inclusive, resort-style vacation in Florida, Hawaii, or Mexico: swimming pools, song-and-dance shows, shopping, and all-you-can-eat buffets. Cruising gives you much the same hedonistic experience, all while you learn a lot about Europe—provided you use your time on shore constructively. It can be the best of both worlds.


Cruising is a $37 billion-a-year business. Approximately one out of every five Americans has taken a cruise, and each year about 17 million people take one. In adjusted dollars, cruise prices haven’t risen in decades. This, partly, has sparked a huge growth in the cruise industry in recent years. The aging baby boomer population has also boosted sales, as older travelers discover that a cruise is an easy way to see the world. While the biggest growth has come from the North American market, cruise lines have also started marketing more internationally.

The industry has changed dramatically over the last generation. For decades, cruise lines catered exclusively to the upper crust—people who expected top-tier luxury. But with the popularity of The Love Boat television series in the 1970s and 1980s, then the one-upmanship of increasingly bigger megaships in the early 1990s, cruising went mainstream. Somebody had to fill all the berths on those gargantuan vessels, and cruise lines lowered their prices to attract middle-class customers. The “newlyweds and nearly deads” stereotype about cruise clientele is now outmoded. The industry has made bold efforts to appeal to an ever-broader customer base, representing a wide spectrum of ages, interests, and income levels.

In order to compete for passengers and fill megaships, cruise lines offer fares that can be astonishingly low. In fact, they make little or no money on ticket sales—and some “loss-leader” sailings actually lose money on the initial fare. Instead, the cruise lines’ main income comes from three sources: alcohol sales, gambling (onboard casinos), and sightseeing “excursions.” So while cruise lines are in the business of creating an unforgettable vacation for you, they’re also in the business of separating you from your money (once on the ship) to make up for their underpriced fares.

Just as airlines have attempted to bolster their bottom lines by “unbundling” their fares and charging more “pay as you go” fees (for food, checking a bag, extra legroom, and so on), cruise lines are now charging for things they used to include (such as “specialty restaurants”). The cruise industry is constantly experimenting with the balance between all-inclusive luxury and nickel-and-dime, à la carte, mass-market travel. (For tips on maximizing your experience while minimizing your expenses, see the sidebar on here.)

It’s also worth noting that cruise lines are able to remain profitable largely on the backs of their low-paid crew, who mostly hail from the developing world. Working 10 to 14 hours a day, seven days a week—almost entirely for tips—the tireless crew are the gears that keep cruises spinning.

Understanding how the cruise industry works can help you take advantage of your cruise experience...and not the other way around. Equipped with knowledge, you can be the smart consumer who has a fantastic time on board and in port without paying a premium. That’s what this book is all about.




Cruise Considerations







Cruise Lines





Each cruise line has its own distinct personality, quirks, strengths, and weaknesses. Selecting a cruise that matches your travel style and philosophy can be critical for the enjoyment of your trip. On the other hand, some cruisers care only about the price, go on any line that offers a deal, and have a great time.

Still, the more your idea of “good travel” meshes with your cruise line’s, the more likely you are to enjoy both your trip and your fellow passengers. For information on booking a cruise, see the next chapter.


Comparison-shopping can be a fun part of the cruise experience. Read the cruise-line descriptions in this chapter, then browse the websites of the ones that interest you. Ask your friends who’ve cruised, and who share your interests, about the lines they’ve used, and what they thought of each one. Examine the cruise lines’ brochures or websites—how the line markets itself says a lot about what sort of clientele it attracts. Photos of individual ships’ staterooms and amenities can be worth a thousand words in getting a sense of the vibe of each vessel.

Once you’ve narrowed down the choices, read some impartial reviews. The most popular site, www.cruisecritic.com, has reviews of cruise lines, specific ships, tips for visiting each port, and more. Other well-respected websites are www.cruisediva.com, www.cruisemates.com, and www.avidcruiser.com. If you feel that cruising is all about the ship, check www.shipparade.com, which delves into details about each vessel.

Many travel agencies that sell cruises have surprisingly informative websites. One of the best, www.vacationstogo.com, not only sorts different cruise options by price and destination, but also has useful facts, figures, and photos for each ship and port.

Most cruising guidebooks devote more coverage to detailed reviews of specific ships and their amenities than to the destinations—which make them the perfect complement to this book. Look for The Unofficial Guide to Cruises, Fodor’s Complete Guide to European Cruises, and others. (For destination-specific guidebooks, see the list on here.)

As you compare cruises, decide which of the factors in the following section matter the most to you, then find a cruise line that best matches what you’re looking for.

Cruise Considerations

You have several considerations, both big and small, when selecting a cruise. Of these, the three main factors—which should be weighted about equally—are price, itinerary (length, destinations, and time spent in each port), and cruise line (personality and amenities).

If you’ve cruised in the Caribbean but not Europe, be aware that there are some important differences. In general, European cruises are more focused on the destinations, while Caribbean cruises tend to be more focused on the ship (passengers spend more time on the ship, and therefore the shipboard amenities are more important). People choosing among European cruises usually base their decision on the places they’ll be visiting: Which cities—St. Petersburg, London, Oslo, Copenhagen—appeal? Is the focus more on urban sights or on natural wonders (such as fjords and islands)? In contrast, on a Caribbean cruise the priority is simply hedonistic fun in the sun.


This chapter will give you a quick overview of some of the major lines to help you find a good match. For example, some cruise lines embrace cruising’s nautical heritage, with decor and crew uniforms that really let you know you’re on a ship. Others are more like Las Vegas casinos at sea. An armchair historian will be disappointed on a hedonistic pleasure boat, and a young person who’s in a mood to party will be miserable on the S.S. Septuagenarian. Do you want a wide range of dining options on the ship, or do you view mealtime as a pragmatic way to fill the tank? After dinner, do you want to get to bed early, or dance in a disco until dawn?

American vs. European: While most US travelers opt for an American cruise line, doing so definitely Americanizes your travel experience. When you’re on board, it feels almost as if you’d never left the good old U. S. of A.—with American shows on the TV, Heinz ketchup in the buffet line, and fellow Yanks all around you. If you’d rather leave North America behind, going with a European-flavored cruise line can be an interesting cultural experience in itself. While Europeans are likely to be among the passengers on any cruise line, they represent a larger proportion on European-owned or -operated boats. Surrounded by Germans who enthusiastically burp after a good meal, Italians who nudge ahead of you in line, and French people who enjoy sunbathing topless—and listening to every announcement translated into six different languages—you’ll definitely know you’re in Europe. Once I cruised for a week in Norway as one of just 13 Americans on a budget ship with more than 2,000 passengers. I never saw another Yank, spent my time on board and in port with working-class Italians and Spaniards from towns no tourist has ever heard of, and had what was quite possibly the most truly “European” experience of my life.

Environmental Impact: Most forms of travel come with a toll on the environment. And cruise ships are no exception—they gulp fuel as they ply scenic seas, struggling to find waste-disposal methods that are as convenient as possible while still being legal. Some cruise lines are more conscientious about these issues than others. If environmental impact is a major concern, you can compare the records for all the major cruise lines at www.foe.org/cruise-report-card.


European cruises can range from a few days to a few weeks. The typical cruiser sails for seven days, but some travelers enjoy taking a 10-, 12-, or 14-day cruise, then adding a few days on land at either end to stretch their trip to two weeks or more. A cruise of seven days or shorter tends to focus on one “zone” of northern Europe (Norwegian fjords, Baltic highlights); a longer cruise is more likely to provide you with a sampler of the whole area.

Due to the chilly weather at these latitudes, the tourist season in northern Europe is extremely brief: June, July, and August. While a few straggler cruises may be offered outside that window, I’d think twice before heading to Oslo, Helsinki, or St. Petersburg in other months (and if you do, be prepared for rainy and cold weather). For a month-by-month climate chart that includes various ports, see the appendix.

Fortunately, even though tourists bombard the region during those key months, northern European destinations are still typically less crowded than Mediterranean hot spots like Venice or Barcelona. (There are exceptions: Any day during cruise season, the crowds inside St. Petersburg’s Hermitage museum are next to unbearable.)


From the Mass-Market to the Ultra-Luxury categories, the per-person price can range from $100 to $700+ per day. Sales can lower those prices. (For more on cruise pricing, see the next chapter).

While going with the cheapest option is tempting, it may be worth paying a little extra for an experience that better matches your idea of a dream cruise. If you’re hoping for glitzy public spaces and sparkling nightly revues, you’ll kick yourself later if you saved $40 a day—but ended up on a musty ship with stale shows. If you want to maximize time exploring European destinations, it can be worth paying an extra $20 a day for an itinerary with two more hours at each port—that translates to just 10 bucks an hour, a veritable steal considering the extra experiences it’ll allow you to cram in. Don’t be penny-wise and pound-foolish in this regard.

On the other hand, I’ve noticed that sometimes, the more people pay for a cruise, the higher their expectations—and, therefore, the more prone they are to disappointment. I’ve cruised on lines ranging from bargain-basement to top-end, and I’ve noticed an almost perfect correlation between how much someone pays and how much they enjoy complaining. In my experience, folks who pay less are simply more fun to cruise with. When considering the people I’ll wind up dining and going on shore excursions with, price tag aside, I’d rather go with a midrange cruise line than a top-end one.


On Sale
Aug 21, 2018
Page Count
1150 pages
Rick Steves

Rick Steves

About the Author

Since 1973, Rick Steves has spent about four months a year exploring Europe. His mission: to empower Americans to have European trips that are fun, affordable, and culturally broadening. Rick produces a best-selling guidebook series, a public television series, and a public radio show, and organizes small-group tours that take over 30,000 travelers to Europe annually.  He does all of this with the help of more than 100 well-traveled staff members at Rick Steves’ Europe in Edmonds, WA (near Seattle). When not on the road, Rick is active in his church and with advocacy groups focused on economic and social justice, drug policy reform, and ending hunger. To recharge, Rick plays piano, relaxes at his family cabin in the Cascade Mountains, and spends time with his son Andy and daughter Jackie. Find out more about Rick at http://www.ricksteves.com and on Facebook.

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Cameron Hewitt

About the Author

Born in Denver and raised in central Ohio, Cameron Hewitt settled in Seattle in 2000. Ever since, he has spent three months each year in Europe, contributing to guidebooks, tours, radio and television shows, and other media for Rick Steves’ Europe, where he serves as content manager. Cameron married his high school sweetheart (and favorite travel partner), Shawna, and enjoys taking pictures, trying new restaurants, and planning his next trip.

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