As cruising has become more common along the shorelines of the nine nations that border the Baltic Sea, passengers are crossing various iconic attractions -- such as Stockholm's Gamla Stan, Helsinki's Church in the Rock, Copenhagen's Tivoli Gardens and St. Petersburg's esteemed Hermitage -- off their bucket lists.
But each of those destinations, as well as other Baltic Sea ports, has lesser-known attractions that will lure repeat visitors. If you're lucky enough to get to the Baltic a second time, here are some sights that will let you one-up your cruising friends.Stockholm, Sweden
Activity: Traipse along the rooftops.
What it is: The company's name says it all: Rooftop Tours. Snugged into a harness around thighs and chest, you'll hold the harness' tether, which connects you to a thin metal cable. In turn, the cable is attached, ankle-high, to slanted rooftops atop buildings next to the city's Gamla Stan, or Old Town. Over a distance of 950 feet, you walk along a narrow metal path paralleling the cable -- as high as 140 feet above the streets.
It's not just one foot in front of the other, either. Occasionally the carabiner connecting tether to cable gets slightly snagged on the cable's joints. Then, you have to maneuver the carabiner by jiggling the tether, nudging the sliding clamp with your foot or squatting down to guide it by hand.
Who will like it: Modest thrill-seekers will find this activity interesting.Helsinki, Finland
Activity: Explore a fortressed island.
What it is: Began by the Swedes in the mid-1700s, the massive Suomenlinna fortress has played many roles in the centuries since, including as a POW camp for men captured in the Finnish Civil War. A number of them were executed there in 1918. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the fortress, which sprawls along six islands in Helsinki's harbor, is home to about 800 residents and a number of civilian prisoners.
The grounds are perfect for strolling, picnicking, sunbathing or kite-flying. The museum has both artifacts and a fine video in multiple languages, and guides lead walking tours in English. Visitors reach the island by commercial ferry or public transport.
Who will like it: History buffs and picnickers will relish time there.Kiel, Germany
Activity: Squash into a submarine.
What it is: A few yards from your ship's dock in this maritime city is the terminal for the hourlong ferry ride to the beach-lined suburb of Laboe (roughly pronounced LUH-beu) and a most-unusual museum, a 220-foot-long WWII submarine.
Inside the U995, the first thing to marvel at is the lack of space. The interior can't be much more than 10 feet wide. Walls and ceilings are covered with gauges, electrical switches and handles. Some of the crew -- up to 52 people -- even slept beneath suspended torpedoes. A couple of vertical hatches the sailors and visitors must pass through are less than 3 feet tall.
By the time visitors have transited from the stern to exit near the bow, they're likely to think how wonderful the outside world looks.
Who will like it: Maritime and military historians will value this experience.Copenhagen, Denmark
Activity: Visit a historic Danish fishing village.
What it is: A train ride of maybe 15 minutes, followed by a bus through the suburbs, is actually a modest bit of time travel: Dragor (pronounced DROW-weer ) will bring you back about 800 years.
The arrival of steam ships lessened Dragor's commercial value, but about 50 irregularly shaped, blocks remain in this coin purse of a community.
Most of the centuries-old one-story, structures are still residences, painted a dark gold or ochre and roofed with real thatch or red barrel tiles. The homes sit on meandering cobbled lanes too narrow for two cars. Flowers drape from window boxes or struggle skyward on narrow stalks.
It's pleasant to stroll about, and you can't get lost because every lane leads either to the tourist-oriented waterfront, with its appropriately small maritime museum, or to the commercial road slicing through the old town.
Who will like it: Those yearning for simpler times will feel at home there.Warnemunde, Germany
Activity: Sample brews.
What it is: Though Wismar (pronounced VEES-mar) was bombed in WWII and then made part of East Germany, pieces of buildings that date to the 14th century still stand or have been rebuilt and are in use. An hour from the cruise port in Warnemunde, Wismar's core is a UNESCO World Heritage Site; residences created in the Brick Gothic architectural style have capstones or wrought-iron numbers reading 1584, 1621, 1732.
A few minutes' walk from the main square is the city's sole remaining brewery. (There were once 183.) Brauhaus am Lonborg zu Wismar occupies the building its predecessor began using in 1452. However, the surviving brewery produces about 1,000 gallons a week, in a variety of tastes. You can sample them in that 560-year-old building, all wooden beams and creaking floors.
Who will like it: Check this place out if you're a lover of architecture or beer.Tallinn, Estonia
Activity: Climb to a view.
What it is: In the early 1300s, a mighty city wall was built and still surrounds hundreds of medieval structures; this Old Town is a brief shuttle-bus ride from the cruise dock. Some of the best views of the upper and lower parts of the area -- a cathedral, palaces, defense towers , the wall itself -- will cost you a few euros and a few hundred steps up a spiral staircase in the hilltop Kiek in de Kok. The name translates roughly to "look into the kitchen," based on the cannon and archers' windows so high above residences. Those of stout legs can pause during their climb at several levels where paintings, artifacts and dioramas recount everything from major battles to dealing with the Plague. Weaponry and uniforms range from the 16th to 20th centuries. On one level, there's also a clever layout of the Old Town's wall and its dozens of towers.
Who will like it: Students of medieval Europe will be fascinated.Oslo, Norway
Activity: Travel back in maritime history.
What it is: A few minutes' ferry ride across Oslo's harbor, or a few minutes more by bus, is the Bygdoy (roughly pronounced BIG-duh) peninsula and its trio of ship Museums.
At the Viking Ship Museum, you can check out three Viking ships, constructed in the 9th century A.D. as burial ships to carry the wealthy onward. The ships, preserved in clay and unearthed in the 19th century, are sleek, and the largest is about 72 feet long.
The Fram Museum has Fram, constructed in 1892 to allow it to be carried by drifting polar ice so that explorer Fridtjof Nansen could test his theory about avenues of early human migration. The three-masted schooner spent three years in the ice before sailing back to Norway.
And finally, the Kon-Tiki Museum contains Kon-Tiki and Ra II, diminutive vessels hand-built in the 20th century and sailed by the indomitable Thor Heyerdahl to prove his theories of migration by ancient peoples. Kon-Tiki, a flat raft made of balsa wood, crossed more than 4,900 miles from Peru to Polynesia. Ra II was sailed from Morocco to Barbados -- about 3,270 miles.
Who will like it: This is a perfect trip for adventurers, and those who marvel at them.