Whether you're a foodie, a culture vulture or just enjoy sitting around in cafés watching the world go by, a cruise is one of the best ways to experience some of the most beautiful cities on the Baltic. And with Oslo, Stockholm and Copenhagen all within 400 miles of each other, your Baltic cruise will be packed with highlights
With its combination of daring new buildings such as the Black Diamond, an extension to the Royal Library Building, and the Royal Danish Opera house to the beautiful 17th-century Rosenborg Slot, which resembles a fairy tale castle, the city is packed full of architectural eye candy.
It's compact and easy to get around on food with many of the main sights packed into a small central area. Three of the most appealing districts are central Strøget, famous for its retail scene, Nyhavn and Kastellet, with their pretty canalside streets and historic sights. For great views of the city, climb to the top of the red-brick Rundetaarn – the tower's cobbled spiral ramp leads right up to the open-air viewing gallery. Built by Christian IV, it's said to be the oldest functioning observatory in Europe. From the top, you can enjoy great views of old Copenhagen's tightly packed town houses, squares, canals and green copper spires.
As well as the its history and traditions, over the last four decades, Copenhagen has become famous for its commitment to modern design. The city's first skyscraper, Arne Jacobsen's shimmering Radisson SAS Royal Hotel, was finished in 1960 and is considered something of a modern design classic.
To experience the latest and greatest in industrial and domestic design visit Henning Larsen's glass edifice, the Dansk Design Centre. As well as permanent and temporary exhibitions it also has a well-stocked shop full of interesting souvenirs.
Copenhagen is packed with cosy cafés and chic restaurants. Try the Coffee Collective, which also has a micro-roastery and coffee school, or Ida Davidsen for an authentic Copenhagen eating experience – Danish open sandwiches are the flavour the day. Café à Porta is a beautiful Viennese-style café which was a favourite with one of the city's most famous sons, Hans Christian Andersen.
Built at the point where Lake Mälaren meets the Baltic Sea, Stockholm is made up of 14 individual islands. Many of these are linked via bridges, though it's also easy to jump on a boat to travel between them, and this will also give you another perspective of the city.
It's worth beginning your visit with a tour of Stockholm City Hall, situated right on the water's edge and overlooking Riddarfjärden Bay. Its famously stunning blue hall is transformed once a year into a banqueting space for the annual Nobel Prize award ceremony. From the city hall, it's an easy walk to Gamla Stan, the medieval heart of the city.
It's well worth spending some time exploring the narrow cobbled streets which are packed with cafés, bars and all sorts of interesting retail outlets. From here, make your way to the main square, Stortorget, with its charmingly haphazard buildings. Two of the city's highlights – the Cathedral and Royal Palace – are also nearby. The latter, finished in 1754, is said to be one of the biggest palaces in the world and is still used by the current royal family.
Another area worth exploring is the bohemian Södermalm, which is now linked with Stieg Larsson's cult literary success, the Millennium trilogy, which begins with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
Anyone interested in Viking history should take the boat to Djurgården, and make a visit to the Vasa museum. The Vasa was a warship that sank on its maiden voyage in 1628 and stayed at the bottom of the sea until it was brought to the surface in 1961.
Den Gyldene Freden is one of Sweden's oldest and best-known restaurants, serving hearty classics such as game pâté and smoked duck. Sundbergs Konditori is a 200-year-old bakery where you can sample delicious strudel and hot chocolate. For cocktails, the Gold Bar in the Nobis Hotel is a fashionable but relaxed bar, popular with all age groups
Oslo was at one time thought of as Scandinavia's least-interesting capital. Things have changed, though. An increasingly cosmopolitan atmosphere, waterside regeneration and some standout architecture mean that the city is anything but dull. It's down at the harbourside that you get an idea of just how much the city is evolving.
Once the last stop for many of the city's most dangerous criminals, the tiny island of Tjuvholmen is now home to a glamorous new hotel playfully named The Thief, as well as the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, a sleek, elegant structure in glass and timber. Behind the harbour lies the more traditional side of Oslo: the City Hall, designed by Arnstein Arneberg and Magnus Poulsson is one of Oslo's most famous buildings. The roof of the eastern tower has a 49-bell carillon which plays every hour.
From here the city centre is a short walk away and the old market square is still the site of a vibrant weekly flower market. It's worth taking a mini cruise to discover some other of the city's highlights, including the Opera House – built from white marble and granite, it resembles a giant iceberg which seems to float just above the surface of the water.
For some of the best fish and seafood in the city, Solsiden is a long-standing restaurant right next to the fjord. For cocktail hour, try the roof terrace at The Thief Hotel, while the Ekeberg Restaurant is located in a 1930s listed building and has stunning views over the harbour, though the high prices mean this is probably somewhere for a special occasion.