Eight musical cities to visit on your next Baltic cruise

Lesley Bellew
Musikhuset Aarhus, home to the Aarhus Symphony Orchestra - © Walter Bibikow 2015

Baltic cities have been making waves on the international music scene for centuries and cruises into Europe’s northern coasts give passengers easy access to celebrate both golden age and modern day composers and musicians.

On independent tours or cruise excursions there’s a sea of concert halls, opera houses and festivals to indulge in every kind of music genre. You'll also be able to visit the homes of great composers, listen to the wacky Singing Trees in Aalborg, Denmark, and say thank you for the music during the ultimate pop experience at ABBA the Museum, in Sweden’s capital Stockholm.

All that jazz

In Denmark’s second-largest city everyone gets behind the annual Aarhus Jazz Festival (July 13-20, 2019) with free daytime concerts, jazz for children, jazz lunches and concerts with local and musicians.

Voyages to Antiquity’s ship Aegean Odyssey sails into Aarhus during this year’s festival on July 18, but if you are calling into this young-at-heart student city on another date, there’s almost always an admission-free concert; try the Musikhuset Aarhus, home to the Aarhus Symphony Orchestra, or Fatter Eskil, a live music venue at Skolegade 25.

A 15-night Norwegian Fjords cruise on Aegean Odyssey sails from Copenhagen to London Tilbury. From £2,995pp, departs July 16, 2019 (01865 951333; voyagestoantiquity.com).

Sounds of Sibelius

Nowhere does the music of Jean Sibelius better than his home country of Finland and guests on all-inclusive cruise ship Marella Explorer can celebrate the works of the great composer during a concert in Helsinki’s National Hall. The tour continues to Sibelius Park, where the Sibelius Monument, a sculpture of hollow metal tubing, creates beautiful sounds in the breeze. A further excursion features Sibelius’s former home, a timber-built villa in Ainola, near Lake Tuusula, where he composed more than 300 works.

The Sibelius Monument creates beautiful sounds in the breeze Credit: Helsinki

A 15-night Baltic Explorer cruise on Marella Explorer is a round-trip from Newcastle. From £1,661pp, departs June 20, 2019 (0871 230 2800; tui.co.uk/cruise).

Thank you for the music

During a sailing on board Norwegian Pearl, Norwegian Cruise Line's passengers can walk in and dance out of ABBA The Museum, in Stockholm, after singing along with Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus, Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid (Frida) Lyngstad in a high-tech hologram stage show and dancing on a flashing disco floor.

Meet ABBA, in wax Credit: Jonathan Nackstranda/AFP/Getty Images

With music co-written by Andersson and Ulvaeus, ABBA have sold 400 million records worldwide since their 1974 Eurovision Song Contest-winning hit Waterloo and gold discs line the museum walls alongside original costumes and memorabilia. A new exhibition, Mamma Mia! Behind the Movie Magic, opens on April 6.

A 14-day Scandinavia & Russia: Ultimate Baltic fly-cruise is a round-trip from Amsterdam. From £1,836, departs May 25, 2019 (0333 241 2319; ncl.com).

Salute to musical heritage

When sailing into the birthplace of composers Johannes Brahms and Felix Mendelssohn the Elbphilharmonie concert hall rises above the River Elbe like a futuristic cruise ship to salute Hamburg’s musical heritage.

Hard to miss on the horizon is Elbe Philharmonic Credit: Getty

Guided tours of Elbphilharmonie start from the visitor centre opposite the main building (Am Kaiserkai 62) with a focus on the architecture, how the concert hall operates and its music programming. Book ahead, online.

A two-night cruise on Queen Victoria sails from Southampton. From £399pp, departing March 28, 2020 (0344 338 8644; cunard.com).

The Singing Trees of Aalborg

Musicians who visit Aalborg, in Denmark, are asked to plant a tree in the city’s Kildeparken music park. Sir Cliff Richard was the first to do so, after he performed in Aalborg Congress & Culture Centre, so press a button at the foot of his Singing Tree and sing along to Congratulations!

Explore Aalborg's charming streets Credit: Getty

More than 80 musicians including Sting, Sir Rod Stewart, Elaine Paige, Take That, Sir Elton John, Victor Borge and ZZ Top have also done the honours so visitors can choose their top of the pops. Cruise ship Azamara Quest moors in Aalborg until 9pm so guests also have time to tour the new Musikkens Hus (House of Music), home to the Aalborg Symphony Orchestra.

A 10-night Denmark Intensive Voyage sails from Southampton on Azamara Quest. From £2,589pp, departs June 8, 2020 (0844 493 4016; azamaraclubcruises.co.uk).

Pinch yourself in a palace

It’s one of those pinch me, I must be dreaming, moments – a private tour of the Hermitage State Museum that ends with a concert by the Hermitage Academy Symphony Orchestra. In the Italian Skylight Hall, lined with centuries-old art masterpieces, drink champagne and listen to classical music scores from waltzes to ballet and opera. The tour costs £129pp but it is worth every penny just to enter the Hermitage with no other tourists in sight.

Saint Mary Cathedral on the island of Gotland Credit: Getty

Saga Sapphire’s Sounds of the Baltic cruise also features a concert in Visby, on the Swedish island of Gotland, featuring the work of Swedish composers.

A 15-night cruise sails from Dover on Saga Sapphire. From £2,454pp, departs April 28, 2019 (0800 50 50 30; saga.co.uk/ocean-cruises).

Make a song and dance

Every five years, the Hanseatic city of Tallinn hosts Estonia’s Song and Dance Festivals and during 850-passenger Boudicca’s cruise call there’s an opportunity to attend one of the world’s largest amateur choir events at the Tallinn Song Festival Grounds and delight in the Dance Festival at Kalevi Keskstaadion. Boudicca stays late in the port so there’s also time to explore the Unesco-listed Old Town, Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and try to local specialty honey beer.

Cruise to Tallinn and listen to a choral music in picturesque surrroundings Credit: iStock

A 14-night Baltic Capitals with St. Petersburg cruise sails from Dover. From £1,899pp, departs July 1, 2019 (0800 0355 242; fredolsencruises.com). 

Double indulgence

During Viking cruises' Russia and Baltic Sea cruise on board Viking Sky guests can revel in an evening of ballet in St Petersburg, while listening to Tchaikovsky’s magical scores during excerpts, including Swan Lake and The Nutcracker. For a double indulgence, you could also attend a theatre performance of Russian folk music and dance, which is passed down through generations to celebrate weddings, holidays and harvests.

An 11-night Russian and the Baltic Sea cruise sails from Copenhagen. From £3,990pp, departs July 8, 2020 (0800 298 97 00; vikingcruises.co.uk).