Just wondering if anyone has stopped in Helsinki and Tallin for the day as a port of call on a cruise. I am undecided on whether or not to book a tour or do it on our own.
Check out Rick's Northern European Cruise Ports book, which covers the destinations mentioned above and in your other posts.
Check out the Ports board here as well
We enjoyed a 2014 Princess Baltic cruise and used the RS guidebook Laura mentioned above for our do-it-yourself stops in Helsinki and Tallinn. In Helsinki, we took a Hop-on-hop-off bus to stop at some sites (including several interesting outdoor markets) and in Tallinn we walked a short distance from the cruise port to the old town area and spent the day there (also a great market). It depends on how much research you want to do for getting around on your own --- or if you prefer to have it all organized by a tour operator. But both these cities are quite easy to do on your own as long as you know what you want to see and are good with walking. Tallinn does have some hills.
We were just there two weeks ago on a Silversea cruise.
We took the ship's excursions. The guide in Tallin was so informative, and she also spoke from the heart. She was a teenager when Estonia was seeking its freedom...she participated in the Song Festival, and she spoke of what life was like prior to that and then post freedom. She shared that Estonia really values its NATO membership and that the country plans to send more than its 2% membership fee this year, just to demonstrate its appreciation. SHE was what stayed with us, well after we saw the sights. We could have seen the sights on our own, but hearing her story...a representation of the lives of her fellow citizens....is what will stay with us forever.
Friends who traveled with us took a slightly different excursion (also thru the ship), and they were also emotionally affected by learning just how much Estonia appreciates and values its freedom, as well as hearing about the stark contrast between previous life and life now. We all will always remember our guides there and how to not take what we enjoy in our country for granted.
So, I would definitely recommend a guided tour there.
Helsinki is a toss-up. If you want to see the Church of the Rock, you could definitely do that on your own, as well as visiting the museum, the sculpture to honor the famous composer (whose name I cannot spell at this second), and the government buildings (from the outside). There was also a craft/food market near the port, which we visited on our own. Our guide there got us around efficiently, as we likely saw more with him than we would have figured out on our own, but info and logistics were the value of a guided tour there.
We just visited these cities on a cruise two weeks ago. We used Rick's walking tours from his cruise guide mentioned above, puttering and digressing as our time allowed. We felt quite satisfied with our experience. We found Tallinn more interesting and scenic than Helsinki and enjoyed wandering up and down the streets. Lots of woolen items, sweaters, hats. Incidentally, two of the low cost restaurants Rick mentions in his Tallinn walk are now closed. Helsinki was attractive, we liked the market place and bought some ceramics from the artist. The Church of the Rock is the outlier on the Helsinki walking tour; we got to see it but the schedule posted at the door indicated periodic opening and closing times during the day (weddings?) . We lucked out and had some time to visit before it would close, but about 10 minutes would have done it for us anyhow. We did a 2 day private tour in St Petersburg with toursbylocals.com and it was excellent, but I rank these cities in a different category and felt good enough about what we accomplished on our own. Enjoy your cruise and your visit.
We will be leaving for the Baltic cruise this week, and appreciate all of the information I am finding here. I also bought the RS tour book, for us and another copy for friends who are going with us, but so far none of us had time to read it and we plan to do so on the flight over. But meanwhile we also appreciate any first hand experiences and tips and suggestions. My biggest question is safety in St. Petersburg, should we book a tour via the ship, or is it safe to go off on our own? If so, language could also be a barrier if we do out own thing, since I don't expect a lot of locals to speak English. What has your experience been?
Visa requirements for Russia are different than many other places. I really don't think you can "walk off" on your own. The ship tours include visas for participants; the private guide we engaged handled it for us. Obtaining your own visa is probably not possible if you leave very soon. Others more expert may reply. Contact your cruiseline for visa information. I think you may need to regroup here fairly quickly. Good luck and safe travels.