Destinations, Ports, Itineraries, Alternatives, and Resources

In this article you will find:


It’s a Different World


Scandinavia/Northern European Cruise Region


Pros and Cons of Cruising This Region


Major Cruiselines Serving the Region


Two Cruise Worlds: Mainstream and Expedition


Popular Regional and Destination Ports


Sample Itineraries for the Region


Standard and Unique Itineraries


Recommended Resources

Welcome to the legendary lands of the Vikings, the seafaring warriors of medieval times. Both sparsely populated and highly urbanized, as well as beautiful but frequently chilly and rainy, numerous fairy-tale settings in this breathtaking region instantly connect with travelers in search of special cruise experiences. Few come away disappointed.

It’s a Different World

From snow-capped mountains, awesome glaciers, majestic fjords, unusual wildlife, and thousands of islands to ancient castles, imposing palaces, colorful medieval towns, and cosmopolitan cities with gothic cathedrals, canals, and bridges, this region has it all. Cruise Scandinavia and Northern Europe and you’ll quickly get an education on the cities, people, landscapes, weather, waters, and strong shipping and trading traditions of this vast sprawling but always fascinating region. Here’s where the Arctic, North Atlantic, North Sea, English Channel, Baltic Sea, and Baltic region meet and commune around today’s growing tourist trade. The further north you cruise into barren and icy lands punctuated with a few small settlements, the more Mother Nature seems to be in charge of your cruise experiences!

Scandinavia/Northern European Cruise Region

From the perspective of cruise ship companies, the Scandinavia/Northern European cruise region stretches from Greenland (Denmark) in the west to St. Petersburg in the east and from the Netherlands and British Isles (England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Ireland, ) in the south to the Arctic Circle in the north. It includes Scandinavia (Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark) and encompasses several Northern European countries facing the Baltic Sea (Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Germany). Major ports in this region include Copenhagen, Stockholm, Oslo, Bergen, St. Petersburg, Helsinki, (Warnemunde (Berlin), Edinburg, Gdańsk (Poland), Flam (Norway), Portree (Scotland), Tallinn (Estonia), Amsterdam, Visby/Gotland (Sweden), Honningsvag (Norway), and Southampton (UK). The 61-mile fresh water Kiel Canal in Northern Germany connects the North Sea to the Baltic Sea. By taking this canal, rather than going around the Jutland Peninsula, cruise ships, freighters, and other vessels can shorten their journey by 280 nautical miles as well as avoid stormy seas. The Kiel Canal is the world’s more heavily used artificial seaway, handling nearly 45,000 commercial and cruise ships a year.

While Scandinavia/Northern Europe is the least popular European tourist region (80 million visitors each year versus 350 million in Southern Europe/Mediterranean, 205 million in Western Europe, and 156 million in Central and Eastern Europe), the 14 countries and 3 autonomous territories that define this region have increasingly become popular with both mainstream and adventure cruisers. Indeed, with recent climate changes negatively impacting the frozen far north, this has become the gateway region for expedition cruises into the Arctic Circle and the Northwest Passage that snakes through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. National Geographic, for example, offers an adventuresome 26-day expedition cruise through the Northwest Passage on its new Polar Class 5 Endurance that goes from Oslo, Norway to Nome, Alaska with stops along the way in the Russian High Arctic and Russian Far East and along the Siberian coast – one of the most interesting new cruises originating in this region. But they are not alone nor the pioneer of such cruises. Scenic Eclipse, Quark Expeditions, Hurtigruten, and Abercrombie & Kent also take similar Northwest Passage cruises.

The Scandinavia/Northern European region offers many wonderful destinations, exciting ports, awe-inspiring sights, majestic glaciers, wintery wildlife, colorful coastal villages, medieval towns, aging castles, traditional food markets, world-class museums, and chic design centers. It’s also a region with thousands of islands — 30,000+ in the Baltic Sea alone, although Stockholm claims it has 270,000 islands and Estonia alone points to 2,222 islands in its waters.

This region has one of the shortest cruise seasons – May through September is the best time to cruise in terms of decent weather and long summer nights. The region is known for its cold and rainy weather, turbulent seas, and limited winter daylight hours. Nonetheless, this region is on the bucket lists of many seniors. The Norwegian fjords and the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) alone draw millions of cruisers to this region each year.

Pros and Cons of Cruising This Region


  • Visit some amazing places, from beautiful fjords, glaciers, snow-capped mountains, and spectacular coasts to charming cities, lovely architecture, rich histories, and appealing cultures.
  • Climate change has opened exciting new luxury cruise adventures that once were the province of great and sometimes tragic Arctic explorers, such as the Northwest Passage and the North Pole.
  • Experience a good sampling of several destinations – a smorgasbord of beautiful places.
  • Good value compared to expensive ground travel.
  • Beautiful fairy-tale destination ports set along majestic fjords, especially Norway’s ports of Flam and Geiranger which are organized to entertain nature-loving cruise passengers.
  • Ports conveniently located near center of major port attractions (within walking distance of the ship). But Berlin is not, and St. Petersburg is complicated because of the expensive ($160) and restrictive visa issue and the cruise ship’s work-around (must take costly ship-sponsored excursion to avoid the expense and hassle of acquiring a Russian visa – the $160 visa may look like a bargain after spending two days on ship-sponsored tours of St. Petersburg!).
  • Nice to arrive by water into a new destination and experience the fascinating nautical scenery (islands, boats, ships) rather than experience the chaos of air, train, bus, or car arrival.
  • Multiple onboard activities to choose from, including the freedom to not do anything.
  • Many things to see and do – sometimes too much!
  • A photographer’s delight – lots of interesting people, places, and wildlife to shoot.
  • Good onboard service and excellent food.
  • Interesting cruise mates and serendipitous encounters.
  • Very educational and intellectually stimulating experiences.
  • The perfect bucket list cruise – but may need to come back for more in-depth exploration of the most interesting places.
  • Wonderful expedition cruising in Norway, Iceland, Greenland, and the Arctic region.


    • Weather can be fickle – very changeable which requires packing appropriate and sufficient clothes (prepare to layer) and accessories (windbreaker and rain gear) for unexpected cold, windy, and rainy days.
    • Weather is often rainy and cold with long dark winters and short summers. Finland and Norway are the least weather-friendly countries given their cold climates.
    • Be prepared for “port fatigue” since cruises to this region tend to be very port-intensive — both tiring and expensive.
    • Cities tend to be very expensive, especially in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, from restaurants to taxis to shopping.
    • Beware of shopping scams, especially for Baltic amber which could be imitation plastic
    • Avoid the Russian visa hassle by taking the ship excursions in Russia – the ship arranges a special 72-hour visa for their tours.
    • Overnight visit constrained by Russian visa requirement in St. Petersburg.
    • Often too crowded onboard and onshore.
    • Very expensive ship-sponsored shore excursions.
    • Most cruise ships don’t stay in ports long enough, especially for those who enjoy high-energy nightlife. Many cruise ships overnight in St. Petersburg – but limited city access for most cruise passengers because of visa issue (see above). Viking Cruises now overnights in other ports.

    Major Cruiselines Serving the Region

    Most cruises in the Scandinavia/Northern European region run 7- to 14-night cruise tours. Most of the major cruise lines have a presence in this region:

    Several senior-friendly tour companies also sponsor cruises in this region. Overseas Adventures Travel (OAT), for example, which is owned by Grand Circle Cruise Line, offers a 14-day “Grand Baltic Sea Voyage” from Copenhagen to Stockholm on its own 88-passenger cruise ships (MV Clio and MV Corinthian). Tauck River & Small Ship Cruising, a high-end tour company, offers a similar 12-day “St. Petersburg and the Baltic Sea” cruise program from Stockholm to Copenhagen on Ponant’s small luxury ship Le Champlain. Road Scholar (formerly Elderhostel) offers cruises on the Baltic Sea and to major Scandinavian and Northern European ports on Oceania (Marina) and Crystal (Crystal Symphony) cruise ships.

    A few highly specialized expedition cruise companies explore the upper reaches of Norway, Iceland, Greenland, and the Arctic Circle, including the Northwest Passage:

    Most of these companies include video libraries that feature their cruises to this region.

    Two Cruise Worlds: Mainstream and Expedition

    In many respects, the Scandinavia/Northern European region consists of two distinct cruising worlds. The first one is for mainstream cruisers who want to experience a normal cruise to interesting destinations centering on history, culture, architecture, and shopping. Popular destinations such as St. Petersburg, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Tallinn, Helsinki, Riga, Gdansk, and Bergin more than fit the mainstream cruising bill. The “normal” cruising rituals are well defined – lots of onboard activities, food, entertainment, spas, gambling, music, shopping, lectures, and ship-sponsored shore excursions.

    The second cruising world reflects the unique location of this region and the desire for all-inclusive experiences – no nickel-and-diming of passengers. Similar to the Antarctica, Galapagos, and the Amazon, this is a region filled with some of the most interesting expedition cruises. These are highly specialized small ship experiences built for the challenges of polar regions and tiny coastal towns and ports not normally included on the itineraries of mainstream cruise ships. These cruises also exemplify the trend toward edutainment – combining education and entertainment – and sustainability in cruising. Expedition cruises are typically led by scientists and academic researchers who specialize in various aspects of the region, be it wildlife, climate, geography, weather, glaciers, or history. Some may conduct research while onboard. Such tours may involve exploring areas by zodiacs, kayaks, and helicopters. Onboard experiences may involve presentations on the areas visited or participating in a research project. Unlike mainstream cruise ships, expedition cruise ships are not into flashy entertainment, gambling, dancing, games, and other “fun” onboard activities. Eating, drinking, and lectures/discussions are valued. Expedition cruisers find such cruises to be intellectually challenging, stimulating, and meaningful. Crew members and fellow cruise mates tend to share similar interests and values — concerned with important environmental issues addressed by the expedition cruise including sailing on environmentally-friendly expedition ships such as Hurtigruten’s two new hybrid ships – MS Roald Amundsen and MS Fridtjob Nansen.

    While only one percent (300,000) of all cruisers (30 million) take expedition cruises each year, the passenger numbers continue to grow as new luxury expedition ships launch, some with helicopters and submarines (Seabourn Venture, Crystal Esprit, and Scenic Eclipse). Some companies are converting their regular ships to expedition-class ships (Silversea’s Silver Wind and Silver Cloud now have ice-class hulls for polar cruises). Viking also has entered this arena.

    Popular Regional and Destination Ports

    While this region includes over 200 embarkation ports and ports of call – from very large (Copenhagen) to small (Nuuk), the most popular cruise ports include Stockholm (Sweden), Helsinki (Finland), St. Petersburg (Russia), Tallinn (Estonia), Riga (Latvia), Amsterdam (The Netherlands), Oslo (Norway), Copenhagen (Denmark), Southampton (London), Dublin (Ireland), Warnemunde/Berlin (Germany), Gdansk (Poland), and Reykjavik (Iceland). Cruises tend to focus on Iceland and Greenland, the British Isles (Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, England), the Norwegian fjords, or several ports within the Baltic Sea, such as Stockholm, Visby, Helsinki, St. Petersburg, Tallinn, Gdansk, Berlin, and Copenhagen. For a good video introduction to many of these ports, see the following YouTube video by veteran travel writer Cameron Hewitt: Northern European Cruise Ports.

    Norway is especially popular with cruisers because of its beautiful fjords, Northern Lights, and gateway ports to the Arctic Circle. The country includes 41 cruise ports over a 1,300 nautical mile area. The most popular ports are Bergen, Stavanger, Olden, Tromso, Flam, Geiranger, and Alesund. Two small ports are literally destination ports, because of their fairy-tale settings along two of Norway’s most spectacular fjords – Flam and Geiranger. While several traditional cruise ships offer Norwegian cruises, several expedition cruise lines, such as Hurtigruten, specialize in exploration cruises from Spitsbergen (Svalbard) to small northern ports of Norway, Iceland, Greenland, and the Arctic Circle in search of natural wonders (glaciers and icebergs) and wildlife (polar bears, caribo, seals, walrus, whales, birds).

    Measured by the number of passengers passing through, the following cruise ports are the busiest in this region:

    • Copenhagen (Denmark)
    • Tallinn (Estonia)
    • Helsinki (Finland)
    • Stockholm (Sweden)
    • St. Petersburg (Russia)
    • Riga (Latvia)
    • Gdansk (Poland)
    • Bergin (Norway)
    • Gothenburg (Sweden)
    • Kiel (Germany)

    Many are dual-purpose ports – they also function as major commercial ports for handling tons of freight. Some countries, such as Poland (Gdansk), include a major military/naval presence. On the other hand, Russia headquarters its powerful Baltic naval fleet in the small province of Kaliningrad (part of Germany before the end of World War II), which is wedged between Lithuania and Poland (tourists can visit but not cruise ships) and disconnected from the rest of Russia.

    The following ports are some of the largest, busiest, and most loved in Scandinavia and Northern Europe:


    • Bergin (Norway’s largest port and gateway to fjords)
    • Oslo (Norway’s capital and largest city of 670,000)
    • Tromso (largest port – 70,000 – above Arctic Circle, the gateway “Paris of the North”)
    • Flam (A small destination port in a fairy-tale setting — take the “Norway in a Nutshell Tour”, which is Norway’s most popular tour)
    • Geiranger (A small but spectacular port – a destination port for many cruise companies)

    • Stockholm (Sweden’s capital of 935,000 spread over 14 islands + mainland, linked by 58 bridges, and visited by 650,000 cruise tourists annually)
    • Gothenburg or Goteborg (Sweden’s second largest port of 550,000 handles over 80 cruise ships and 170,000 passengers a year)
    • Visby/Gotland Island (This city of 25,000 handles 115 ships and 175,000 passengers annually. Gotland Island is the largest island in the Baltic Sea)

    • Copenhagen (Denmark’s capital of 600,000+ handles 950,000 passengers annually)


    • Helsinki (Finland’s capital of 650,000 handles 450,000 cruise passengers each year)


    • St. Petersburg (Russia’s largest cruise port and second largest city of 5.3 million handles 700,000+ cruise passengers each year)


    • Tallinn (Estonia’s capital of 430,000 handles 500,000 cruise passengers a year)


    • Klaipėda (Lithuania’s largest port of 150,000 handles 95,000 cruise passengers a year)


    • Riga (Latvia’s capital of 650,000 handles nearly 100,000 cruise passengers each year)


    • Amsterdam (This capital city of 850,000 handles 140+ ocean and 1500+ river cruise ships — 700,000 cruise tourists — each year)

    • London/Dover (UK’s second largest passenger seaport – combined sea and ferry – handles 170,000 cruise passengers a year)
    • London/Southampton (UK’s largest passenger seaport and Europe’s fourth largest, after Barcelona, Rome, and Balearic Islands – handles 500+ ship calls and 1.5+ million cruise passengers annually)


    • Dublin (Ireland’s capital of 560,000 handles over 220,000 cruise passengers annually)


    • Edinburgh (Scotland’s capital handles 115 cruise ships and 155,000 passengers annually)
    • Glasgow (Scotland’s largest city of 600,000+ handles 115,000+ passengers annually)


    • Warnemünde-Rostock/Berlin (Largest cruise port in Germany; located 2 hours by train from Berlin; handles 24 different companies with 190+ ships and 800,000+ passengers)
    • Kiel (One of Germany’s largest cruise ports handles nearly 700,000 passengers a year; operates the Kiel Canal)
    • Hamburg (Germany’s largest seaport of 1.8 million that handles over 215 cruise ships and 900,000+ passengers each year; home port for German cruise companies – AIDA, TUI, Hapag-Lloyd, and Fred Olsen – and CroisiEurope riverboats)


    • Gdansk (A huge port city for commerce and the Polish Navy is also a popular port of call for 70+ cruise ships and 35,000+ passengers each year)


    • Reykjavik (Iceland’s capital of 132,000 is visited by 155 ships and 155,000 passengers each year. Claims to be the “cleanest city on earth”)


    • Nuuk (Greenland’s capital of 18,000 is visited by mainstream cruise lines – Royal Caribbean, Silversea, MSC, Regent, Ponant, Oceania, and Norwegian – and expedition cruise lines – Hurtigruten and Quark Expeditions, which explore other areas of Greenland, the Arctic Circle, and the Northwest Passage; nearly 18,000 cruise passengers visit Nuuk each year – mostly between July and September)

    Sample Itineraries for the Region

    From Amsterdam

    • Windstar (Star Legend): “Amsterdam to Copenhagen.” 8 days. Includes Amsterdam, Stavanger, Flam, Sognefjord, Alesund, Ganger, Geirangerfjord, Bergen, and Copenhagen.
    • Celebrity (Celebrity Apex): “Amsterdam to Amsterdam.” 12 nights. Includes Amsterdam, Berlin, Helsinki, St. Petersburg, Tallinn, Stockholm, Copenhagen, and Amsterdam.

    From Bergen, Norway

    • Hurtigruten (Spitsbergen): “Bergen to Oslo.” 13 nights. Includes Bergen (Norway), Lerwick (Shetland Islands, Scotland), Torshavn (Denmark); Bakkagerdi, Husavik, and Akureyri of Iceland; and Jan Mayen, Spitsbergen, Longyearbyen, and Oslo of Norway.

    From Helsinki

    • Grand Circle Cruise Line/Grand Circle Travel (Havila Kystruten): “Nordic Coastal Voyage: Norway, Finland & the Arctic Circle – Helsinki to Oslo.” 14 days. Includes Helsinki, Saariselkon, Kirkenes, Hammerfest, Vesteralen, Sandnessjoen, Bronnysund, Bergen, and Oslo.

    From Oslo/Tromso

    • National Geographic (Endurance): “Northwest Passage: Tromso to Nome, Alaska.” 26 days. Includes Oslo, Tromso, Norwegian Fjords, Russian High Arctic, Siberian Coast, Russian Far East, and Nome, Alaska.

    From Stockholm

    • Oceania Cruises (Marina): “Stockholm to Copenhagen.” 7 nights. Includes Stockholm, Helsinki, St. Petersburg, Tallinn, Berlin, and Copenhagen.

    From St. Petersburg

    • Ponant (Le Champlain): “St. Petersburg to Copenhagen.” 11 nights. Includes St. Petersburg, Tallinn, Helsinki, Stockholm, Riga, Klapeda, Gdansk, Berlin, and Copenhagen.

    From London

    • Viking (Viking Venus): “London (Tilbury), England to Bergen, Norway.” 12 nights. Includes London and the Norwegian ports of Stavanger, Bodo, Tromso, Alta, Norvik, and Bergen.
    • Ponant (Le Champlain): “London to Stockholm.” 9 nights. Includes London/Tower Bridge, Ostend, Antwerp, Amsterdam, Kiel Canal, Berlin, Ronne, Visby, and Stockholm.

    From Dublin, Ireland

    • Azamara (Azamara Quest): “Dublin to London.” 10 nights. Includes Dublin, Killybegs, Galway, Foynes, and Cork (Cobh), in Ireland; Belfast and Londonderry in Northern Ireland; and London (Southampton).

    From Reykjavik, Iceland

    • Seabourn (Seabourn Venture): “Reykjavik to Reykjavik.” 14 nights. Includes Reykjavik, Grundarfjordue, Vigur Island, Akureyri, Seydisfjordur, Djupivogur, and Heimaey in Iceland; Ittoqqortoormiit, Scoresbysund Fjord System, Rodefjord, King Oscar Fjord, Alpefjord, Ella Island, Blomsterbugten and Renbugten, and Kejser Franz Josef Fjord in Greenland.

    Recommended Resources

    You’ll find many useful resources on cruising in the Scandinavia/Northern European region and related expedition cruises that use this region as a gateway to the Arctic region. You’ll find many other Scandinavian and Northern European YouTube videos created by travel experts, amateurs, and major cruise companies:

    A few travel guidebooks focus on the Scandinavia/Northern European cruise region. If you’re planning to do independent touring in various cruise ports, you may want to consult these travel guides which are available through the CRUZUS bookstore: