Copenhagen projects a cool, laid-back lifestyle that belies its 1,000-year history. A perfect blend of innovative architecture and design mixed in perfectly with royal castles and historic buildings. Witness the legacy at Rosenborg Castle, venture into the exuberant neighborhoods of Vesterbro, Nørrebro and the Meatpacking District, sightsee Copenhagen’s artful side on full display at numerous museums. A visit to Copenhagen would not be complete without a stop at famed Tivoli Gardens, where visitors may indulge in gourmet restaurants, concerts and rides all in one. And Strøget, the longest pedestrian shopping street in Northern Europe, offers up a rainbow of avant-garde and traditional boutiques alongside cafe life.
Copenhagen Copenhagen became capital of Denmark in 1167, when Bishop Absalon founded the city. Over the following years herring fishing brought great wealth to Copenhagen and, under the reign of King Christian IV in the 17th century, the city grew to become the important regional capital it remains today. Home to the world’s oldest monarchy, an extremely popular royal family, Copenhagen has a population of 1.9 million and is the largest city in Scandinavia.
Berlin (Warnemunde), Germany
Warnemunde, Germany, is a lovely seaside resort town. Broad, sandy beaches are dotted with fishermen's cottages now converted into shops and restaurants. The picturesque Warnemunde Lighthouse offers a panoramic view of the harbor and is a popular destination for tourists. Pleasantly juxtaposed with the historic lighthouse is the more modern Teepott building, which houses a variety of restaurants.
Warnemünde is also the gateway to Germany's capital. The fall of the Berlin Wall in November of 1989 was a conspicuous and symbolic end to the era of the "Iron Curtain". For 45 years, Berlin had existed as a city divided. Today, with the Brandenburg Gate open once more, Berlin thrives with new life, yet it is not quite totally reunited. Like twins who've been separated for many years, it will take awhile to get to know one another again. From the Brandenburg Gate, Unter den Linden leads to the heart of old Berlin with its Prussian palaces and monuments. Venerable Humboldt Universitat nurtured some of Germany's greatest thinkers, including Hegel, Einstein, the Brothers Grimm, and Karl Marx. Wander through Spandau Zitadelle, a medieval fortress surrounded by placid waters, where the 13th-century Juliusturm Tower guards long-dead stories of past glories. For a taste of Berlin's creative side, sample the cafes and clubs of Kreuzberg.
Ronne (Bornholm), Denmark
Largely rebuilt after World War II, Ronne still feels historic because even the new buildings reflect the older architecture. As a result, walking from more modern areas into the charming Old Town (Gamle Stan) is less noticeable. Don't miss the 14th century St. Nicholas Church, one of the more iconic buildings on Bornholm Island, or the massive round-lower castle and its fascinating military museum in the south of Ronne. To better understand the island's seafaring and natural history, visit Bornholm Museum.
Gdansk (Gdynia), Poland
Enjoy the old medieval quarter of this Baltic jewel and see the lovely Golden Gate, the astonishing 15th century Artus Court and beautiful St. Mary]s Church as well as Oliwa Cathedral, renowned for its three pipe organs. Then see Solidarity Monument Square and the famous shipyard where workers rallied against the communist government. Or take a drive into the countryside and see the fascinating 13th century Malbork Castle, once home to Polish kings.
Lithuania's third largest city, Klaipeda has been in and out of the hands of the Russians, Swedes and Germans. Marvel at the impressive and verbosely christened, St. Mergeles Marijos Taokos Karalienes Church tower and walk through Anika Square. Head to the pristine Baltic waters lapping at the broad sands of Smiltyne Beach. Or duck into the Clock Museum or Castle Museum.
Once called the "Paris of the Baltics", Riga has regained its status as a cosmpolitan capital with dozens of museums and arguably Europe's most exceptional Art Nouveau architecture. Founded in 1201, Riga boasts a magnificent Old Town called "Vecriga". Riga Castle, the residence of Latvia's president was built on the site of the original settlement next to the Daugava River. St. Mary's Dome Cathedral is renowned for its stained glass windows and massive 19th century organ comprised of more than 6,500 pipes. Outside the city limits, traditional Latvian life is on display in outdoor exhibits at the Open Air Ethnographic Museum.
Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, is considered one of the best-preserved medieval cities in northern Europe. Its charming Old Town survived the Soviets, as well as the country's earlier occupations by the Danish and Swedish empires (among others). Today, this city 115 mi northwest of Tartu is an important port on the Gulf of Finland and a popular stop for cruise ships.
Tallinn's many occupations over the centuries have resulted in a cultural mix and unique ambiance of this maritime city. Old Town's cobbled streets and 13th-14th century buildings attract thousands of visitors annually who admire the city’s heritage of medieval buildings, the imposing City Hall, the Orthodox Cathedral, Toompea Castle and Oleviste Church. See former guild houses, including the Great Guildhall of the medieval Hanseatic League. Other attractions include impressive Town Hall Square with 15th century Gothic Town Hall, and numerous Gothic churches including Toomekirik. Toompea Castle has fine views over Tallinn.
St. Petersburg, Russia
St. Petersburg has had three names in less than 100 years, changes that mirror the shifting political winds of Mother Russia. The names of its places and people are a roll call of Russian history of the 19th and 20th centuries: the Winter Palace, the czars, Dostoyevsky, the Catherine Palace, Tchaikovsky, Lenin.
As the former official—some still say cultural—capital, St. Petersburg is the most westernized of Russia's cities. Its grand architecture echoes the great cities of Europe, and there are seemingly endless museums full of staggering quantities of treasure. St. Petersburg sprawls along the banks of the Neva River and was once known as the Venice of the North for the many canals there. For visitors who want to understand what came before, and what is happening now in Russia, St. Petersburg is essential.
Helsinki, Finland's capital, is one of Europe's most interesting and enjoyable cities. Many first-time visitors associate Finland with extreme cold, but the summers—especially in the south—can be magically warm and flooded with light. Even in the depths of winter, daylight is short but present. Although sometimes the skies may be overcast, there are clear, sunny days when the city is illuminated by the sparkle of snow and the dazzling, frozen Baltic Sea.
Visitors can stroll through any local park or square and will probably stumble upon an impressive piece of contemporary sculpture. Helsinki's sparkling nightlife and lively cafe culture add much to its travel appeal. Its terrace cafes are often packed with Finns and visitors alike.
Stockholm, Sweden, is a city of contrasts. Unspoiled architecture dating back centuries is complemented by the best in modern Scandinavian design. Stockholm's appreciation of its culture and heritage shows in its theaters, concert halls and galleries, which showcase a rich variety of artistic innovations. The seasons provide a sharp distinction, too. Stockholm in summer is green and blue, with its attention on the water. In winter, Stockholm is white and frozen, with a sense of stillness and calm, the afternoon darkness punctuated by candlelit cafes and bars.
The waterways surrounding Stockholm's islands clearly define the city's various quarters. From the bohemian cliff-top cafes of Sodermalm and the 17th-century cobbled streets of Gamla Stan to the luxury boutiques of Ostermalm and the parkland calm of Djurgarden, you're never more than a bridge away from a completely different city experience. There are also hundreds of excellent restaurants, as well as a great selection of trendy boutiques. The maze of narrow, cobbled streets, full of art studios, boutiques, antique shops, nightclubs and bars, is best explored on foot.