Head north and see a different side of Europe, from the picturesque fjords of Norway and lava fields of Iceland to the Viking and Imperial heritage of the Baltic capitals.
Norway's coast is best viewed from the deck of a cruise ship or inside of a kayak, allowing you to enter the narrowest passages and get up close to puffins, seals and other wildlife on your way to the Arctic Circle.
Cruises of Northern Europe have risen in popularity recently, with more international cruise lines adding routes around the Baltic Sea, Iceland and Norway's North Cape departing from Germany, the Netherlands and the UK.
- Currency - most of Northern Europe lies outside of the Eurozone, with each country using independent currencies. ATMs are plentiful in cities and you can exchange international currency for krones and roubles.
- Population - the countries of Northern Europe are not as populous as other parts of the continent. The countries with the largest populations are Sweden (9.4 million), Denmark (5.5 million), Finland (5.4 million) and Norway (5.1 million). The least populous countries in the region are Estonia (1.3 million) and Iceland, home to just over 320,000 people.
- Language - English is understood and spoken as a second language in the region, which has a wide variety of native languages. These are mostly based in North Germanic with the notable exception of Finnish, which has no external influence and is considered to be one of the most difficult languages in the world for a non-native speaker to learn.
- Time Zone - Iceland and the Faroe Islands use Universal Coordinated Time (UTC), which is the same as Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Norway, Sweden and Denmark follow Central European Time (CET), which is 1 hour ahead (UTC+1). Most other countries are on Eastern European Time (EET), which is 2 hours ahead (UTC+2). Saint Petersburg uses Moscow Standard Time (MSK), which is 4 hours ahead (UTC+4).
Who goes there?
More international cruise lines are opening routes in Northern Europe. Celebrity Cruises and Royal Caribbean International offer cruises of Norway's fjords and Iceland in the summer, while Princess Cruises combines Norway and Iceland with the Shetland and Faroe Islands for travellers who wish to see more of the region.
Even more cruise lines operate in the Baltic Sea, including premium lines Azamara, Crystal, Cunard, Regent Seven Seas, Seabourn and Silversea, with stopovers in Copenhagen, Stockholm, Saint Petersburg and other major cities.
Best time to go?
May to August is high season for cruises in Northern Europe, to avoid the freezing temperatures of the winter. Some companies operate specialist cruises in the winter, in particular tours of the Northern Lights and Lapland.
- Baltic Capitals - with their prime locations around the Baltic Coast, a cruise of the historic port cities of Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki and Tallinn on the way to Saint Petersburg is an economical way to get a taste of multiple countries on a single trip. Each of these cities is overflowing with history, from fairy tale castles to cobbled market squares and some of Europe's finest museums.
- Norway - Norway's distinctive coastline was formed by the movement of glaciers over millions of years, and a cruise along the majestic fjords features on many travellers' wish lists. Head ashore to discover the museums and parks of Oslo and Bergen, cities small enough to explore on foot, before continuing north to the Arctic Circle to see the natural wonders of the Northern Lights and the Midnight Sun.
- Iceland - isolated from the rest of Scandinavia, Iceland still holds on to its Nordic heritage but has developed a substantial cultural cache of its own, from medieval sagas to alternative bands. Iceland continues to gain popularity as a tourism destination, with many visitors being drawn to its stunning geological features that include active volcanoes and abundant waterfalls. Summer temperatures are comparatively warm considering the country's latitude.