St. Petersburg, Russia
What makes it Russian at heart is the overwhelming scale and opulence of its palaces. With 3 million items on exhibit you couldn't get through the Hermitage in a year! You may also explore more dazzling palaces like the Petrovorets, Pushkin and Pavlovsk, shop in the newly opened designer stores along busy Nevsky Prospekt, shiver at the looming fortress of Peter and Paul and wonder at the immense quantities of gold, polished marbles and precious gems lavished on St. Isaac's Cathedral.
Stockholm, Sweden Stockholm is a city with a vibrant cultural life and the majority of the country's cultural institutions such as theaters, opera and museums. In the "Venice of the North" there are two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Drottningholm Castle and the Skogskyrkogården Cemetery. Stockholm has also been European City of Culture. Every year Nobel Prizes for literature, physics, chemistry and medicine are awarded during a formal ceremony. In Gamla Stan (Old City), see where Stockholm began as a Viking fort. Watch glassmakers work at an open air museum of Swedish folk arts. Visit the Golden Hall where Nobel Laureates are honored. And take a boat tour of Lake Malaren, where every Stockholm family has a summer cottage - including the Royal Family.
The capital of Denmark, Copenhagen is the country's biggest city with some five million inhabitants, taking its suburban population into account. Its position on the Baltic Sea has generated substantial maritime activities including shipyards, fishing and commerce. Its port is today one of the busiest in northern Europe.The Danish monarchy claims to be the world's oldest, dating back to the 10th Century. The Amalienborg Palace in Copenhagen has been home to the Danish Royal Family since the late 18th Century and today includes a museum, which chronicles the Family's history through the centuries. When the Danish queen is in residence, changing of the Guard takes place at the palace at noon. In ancient times the Royal Family lived at Christianborg, a charming castle full of history and artistic masterpieces. The castle, on Slotsholm Island, hosts the Folketing, the Danish parliament. Probably the city's most famous sight is the waterfront statue of the Little Mermaid, a tribute to the city's most famous son, Hans Christian Andersen. Another renowned sightseeing destination is the Tivoli Gardens amusement park, which is more than 150 years old. The park is close to the city centre and is a good place to join in the fun on the numerous rides available.
The city has many restaurants and bars, particularly in the Nyhaven and Stroget areas, in which to try out some of the local specialities. Copenhagen's most typical dish is the smorrebrod, a type of rye sandwich filled with herring, smoked meat, salmon and accompanied by hard-boiled egg, beetroot in vinegar, salad and onion. Also worth a try is platte, a cold dish of herrings, fish fillets, pate, meatballs and cheese.
The modern city of Helsinki is a fascinating architectural mix, partly in a style based on St Petersburg and partly a futuristic suburbia. As the capital of Finland, it is also the cultural centre, with more than 30 art galleries and museums.
Among the city's most important buildings are the Lutheran Cathedral in Senate Square, the Uspenski Orthodox cathedral, the University and the Presidential Palace. One of the main Lutheran temples is the renowned Temppeliaukio church, carved in rock and a venue for art exhibitions and concerts. The most important music venue is the Aalto-designed Finlandia-talo. Nearby is a park dedicated to the Finnish composer Sibelius and including a statue of celebrated writer Eila Hiltunen. The street markets of Helsinki are another of its main attractions.
Tallinn, the cultural and political heart of Estonia and once known as Reval, is renowned for its art galleries and open-air theatres, and each summer hosts a world-famous music festival. Sailing is one of the favourite activities of the residents of Tallinn, which hosted the sailing events of the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games. So-called 'white nights' when the sun never sets are a particular feature of the city, comparable to those of St Petersburg. The historical sites of Tallinn are within easy reach, making the city ideal to explore on foot. A major landmark is the 13th Century fortification at Toompea, the hill on which Tallinn was originally built by the Danish King Waldemar ll in 1219. The area now houses Estonia's various departments of state. The Gothic Town Hall, complete with soaring steeple, is the oldest civic building in the Baltic. Its symbol, Vana Toomas, dates from 1530 and the interior Congress Hall, with specially carved seats, is of particular interest.
Estonia is known for beautiful embroidered cloths, carpets and multicoloured tapestries. Other local specialities include leatherwear and ornate jewellery including silver, topaz and ruby.