Independent shore excursions

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Northern Europe & Baltic Sea
Aarhus, Bergen, Copenhagen, Gdansk, Greenland, Helsinki, Oslo, Reykjavik, Riga, St. Petersburg, Stockholm, Tallinn
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Sydney, Australia
4 Posts
Joined Sep 2017
Hello there, I am a first time cruiser and will be travelling next Aug-Sep from Copenhagen around the Baltics with my 83 year old mother and 8 year old daughter, We are on a budget and would like where possible to avoid the seemingly pricey port excursions offered through the cruise line.
Given we only have 10-12 hours in port at most stops, my priority is to see the 'sights' without exhausting my mum or daughter and draining our bank accounts, as well as getting back to the ship in time.
Does anyone have any tried and tested methods for going it alone on shore excursions? We will be visiting Oslo, Rostock, Tallinn, St Petersburg, Helsinki and Stockholm. St Petersburg is the only stop I am planning to purchase a ship offered tour. Thanks in advance!
457 Posts
Joined May 2013
Try your roll call to find small group tours that would a bit more flexible, and usually cheaper, than ship based excursions. Other than walking around, or doing a HOHO bus/boat, I'm not sure cheap, seeing all the sights, and not exhausting your mother are compatible. Lots of these ports are very walkable, but they are long walks to see everything.

Be aware that the cobblestone streets in Tallinn and Gamla Stan (old town) Stockholm are serious trip hazards. Be careful if your mom is not steady on her feet.

In honesty, I'd recommend a semi-private tour in SPB. Lots of recommendations here, usually for TJ, Alla, Best Guides, or Anastasia. They tend to be again, more flexible, smaller groups, and more tour for less money. No worries about the visa issue, as they do it and it really is just a form they email you to print out and give to passport control on the pier. We used TJ and have nothing but good things to say about them.
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West Hempstead, NY
5,337 Posts
Joined Jan 2003
You don't say how mobile your Mom is, and that would be the issue. When we did the Baltics, we (as seniors) did every port on our own except St Petersburg, where we opted for a tour from a private tour company. SPB Tours. I would heartily recommend you also use a private tour company. They are cheaper, you can see more and I would say the best reason, they use small vans to get around which IMVHO, would be much better than some large tour bus the cruise lines use. You will have a small group, (max 16-20 people) which also makes getting around so much easier, especially in crowded places. They supply your temporary visa and I can really guarantee you will be much better off.

As for the other ports, depending on if your Mom can walk for a couple of miles at a time, all the ports are very doable on your own. Copenhagen is very compact, but, I do believe there is also a HoHo bus that could help you. Tallinn is very walkable, but there is an incline for a couple of blocks to get to the top of the hill. Several people have suggested a taxi to the top and then walk down and back to the ship. Stockholm is spread out and you will need transportation to get around, but they also have a HoHo bus or boat to help out (Not that cheap, but it is the best way unless you want to use a taxi or public bus).Helsinki you will need some sort of transportation to get to Market Square, but, from there, most of the sites are walkable, except the Church in the Rock, which you will need the tram (very easy). Rostock is very walkable and they also have street cars to help out if needed.
There are private tours from each port that would be cheaper than the cruise line, if that is an option.


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Arlington, Virginia
2,639 Posts
Joined Sep 2010
1. Do not do a ship's excursion in St.Petersburg--go with one of the private tour companies! The tour group will be smaller (max of 16 for the private companies vs. 30+ with the ship's excursion) and the price will be cheaper with a private company. They take care of all the paperwork for you and tou don't have to worry about missing the ship--they will get you back in plenty of time. There are many private companies, but the 3 most often recommended (and the ones I compared) were Alla, SPB and TJ Travel.

2. A fantastic resource for finding out about how to tour these ports on your own (or what other options there are) is "Rick Steves' Northern European Cruise Ports." I found a copy at my local library, but you also order it from Amazon or your local bookstore.
Romsey England
11,552 Posts
Joined Mar 2009
I agree with the excellent advice you've already been given.

Those independently-booked shared tours in St Petersburg have exactly the same visa-free status as ships' tours, though cruise lines' phraseology can mislead you into thinking otherwise.
You do need a pre-booked tour, whether thro the ship or thro one of those very good local operators, because to go thro immigration without a tour ticket you must have a visa, which is expensive & complicated. But if you book with a local operator you don't pay with booking & most don't even want a credit card number - they trust you. You print-off the e-mailed tour tickets that they send you, you pay during your tour by cash or card.

Be on deck or your balcony for the glorious sail-in to Stockholm through the archipelago of islands, most so close that you feel that you can reach out and touch the trees. If mother can handle the hop-on ferries, that's the way to see Stockholm. Use the stop at Gamla Stan then mebbe walk thro the old town & past the Royal Palace to the next ho-ho stop. And stop at the historic ship Vasa, housed in a museum.

Helsinki there's probably a ship's shuttle to the Market Place, then either a circular tram ride or a boat trip out to Suomenlinna.

Tallinn there'll be a ship's shuttle to old town, but it goes to the lower part. Things to see & do in the lower part, but Len's suggestion of a taxi to the top of old town & then walk down is a good one.

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414 Posts
Joined Jul 2002
Also, we've really enjoyed free walking tours (tip afterward) when available. In Copenhagen, we went with Copenhagen Free Walking Tours (there's also Sandemans); in Tallinn, we did Tallinn Free Tour (check out and in Helsinki, we went with Green Cap Tours (there's also Happy Guide Helsinki, but not available on the day we docked.
We did private company tours in SPB, Berlin and Stockholm (which we were actually glad we had booked Stockholm privately since we all only learned upon cruise check in that we were docking at Nynashamn instead, and our company picked us up there instead)

You'll have a great time on your cruise - we loved the ports!

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