Explore the eastern Baltic in depth, from the days of the medieval Hanseatic trade network and the centuries of struggle for dominance between Sweden and Russia, into the modern era, where great design and architecture make for compelling destinations. This 17-day tour from Stockholm to St Petersburg combines visits to excellent collections, historical and architectural walking tours, and the quiet beauty of the Baltic landscape. The itinerary includes two crossings of the Baltic, a train journey into Russia from Helsinki, and a performance at the Riga Opera House.
Stockholm’s Vasa Museum, a testament to the country’s former maritime glory, and the historic capital of Uppsala
The beauty of the Stockholm archipelago, surrounding the city and admired on our Baltic crossing
Great Art Nouveau architecture in Riga, and the medieval old town of Tallinn
Stunning modern and contemporary buildings in Helsinki, including Alvar Aalto’s Nordic modernism
The glories of imperial Russia in St Petersburg: palaces, gardens, cathedrals and great art galleries
A performance at the Riga Opera House
Days 1–3: Explore Stockholm’s royal and maritime history, modern architecture and design.
Day 4: Overnight ferry to Riga.
Days 5–6: In Riga, investigate the heritage of this former Hanseatic port and enjoy a performance at the Riga Opera House.
Days 7–8: Drive to Tallinn, the superbly preserved Estonian capital, and tour the old town.
Days 9–12: Ferry to Helsinki. Visit Russian and Swedish imperial sites and sample Finland’s remarkable design and architectural scene.
Days 13–17: Train from Helsinki to St Petersburg. Visit galleries and palaces from Russia’s imperial period and explore the country’s extraordinary history.
The tour begins at our hotel in Stockholm and ends at our hotel in St Petersburg. Emirates and Qatar Airlines offer direct flights into Stockholm and out of St Petersburg from most Australian cities. Contact us for quotes and bookings.
Included meals are shown with the symbols B, L and D.
Monday August 23: Arrive Stockholm
Flights from Australia arrive at various times during the day. In the afternoon there will be a brief orientation tour of the area near our hotel. This evening we gather in the hotel for a light dinner. (D)
Tuesday August 24: Viking heritage and the city
After a morning talk we stroll through the elegant Östermalm neighbourhood, admiring the many examples of early 20th century architecture and visiting the food hall. At the Swedish History Museum, a museum guide shows us the jaw-dropping gold collection, with pieces dating back to 2,000BCE and including many Viking-era pieces. There is then time to visit the fine medieval galleries before a break for lunch. This afternoon we take a short boat cruise through some of the islands that comprise the Stockholm Archipelago, followed by an optional stroll through Stockholm’s oldest neighbourhood, the Gamla Stan. This evening we visit a local restaurant for our welcome dinner. (B, D)
Wednesday August 25: Modern art and an ancient ship
We visit Stockholm’s Moderna Museet, one of the world’s finest collections of 20th century painting. There is also an engaging architecture and design museum next door. We then take the tram to to Djurgården island. After a simple lunch in the Waldermarsudde estate, we visit the Vasa Museum. The centrepiece is the 64-gun warship Vasa, which sank on her maiden voyage in 1628 and was amazingly recovered in 1961, almost intact. Built at the height of Sweden’s naval power, she has become a symbol of Sweden’s Golden Age. You may also like to call in at the adjacent Nordiska Museet, a social history museum housed in a vast early 20th-century edifice. (B, L)
Thursday August 26: Uppsala – ferry to Riga
The university town of Uppsala, and hour north of Stockholm, is Sweden’s spiritual and intellectual heartland. Today’s excursion takes us to old Uppsala, with its Viking sites and then to the fine medieval cathedral, burial place of Swedish kings. We then call in at the Gustavianum, a museum on the campus of ancient Uppsala University. After a lunch break there is time to visit the 18th century botanical garden established by renowned Swedish botanist Carl Linneus. In the mid-afternoon we transfer to Stockholm ferry terminal for our 5.00pm departure for Riga.The first few hours of the crossing take us through the stunning landscape of the Stockholm archipelago. We have dinner on board. Accommodation is in comfortable A-Grade outside cabins. (B, D)
Friday August 27: 20th century Riga
This morning there is a talk on our ferry before our 11am arrival in Riga. The principal city of the Baltic States has a 1,000-year history encompassing the Hanseatic merchants and a centuries long struggle for independence. On arrival we visit some key monuments in the city then stroll through the elegant district of Art Nouveau architecture just north of the old city. In the early afternoon we visit the National Art Museum, housed in a beautifully restored building. We then proceed to our hotel, with the later afternoon free. There is dinner in a local restaurant. (B, D)
Saturday August 28: The old city
This morning our local guide shows us the old town, crammed with historic buildings and winding laneways. We then continue to the vibrant city markets, housed in former WWII Zeppelin hangers. Nearby is a soviet-era district, still home to Riga’s sizable Russian population. This afternoon is free, but you might like to join the tour leader on an optional visit to the Riga Motor Museum, a delightful collection containing over 100 antique vehicles, including a priceless collection from the Soviet era. If cars are not your thing, then there are galleries and other museums to explore in the old town. This evening there is a strong chance of a performance at the Riga Opera House. Details will be available in mid-2020. (B)
Venue: Riga Opera House
Program: to be announced, early 2021
Performers: to be announced, early 2021
Sunday August 29: To Tallinn
We leave Riga by coach after breakfast and head for Sigulda, a town containing the ruins of a medieval castle built by the knights of the Livonian Order, defenders of Christianity and the German aristocracy. We take a cable car across the scenic river valley nearby and enjoy lunch in a simple Latvian country restaurant before continuing to Tallinn. Dinner is in a local restaurant. Estonia is famous for its choral traditions, and we will see if we can catch a performance during our stay. (B, L, D)
Monday August 30: Old and new Tallinn
Tallinn is justly famous for its remarkably well-preserved old town, a major trading hub since the 13th century and today Estonia’s capital. Historically, Tallinn was fought over by Swedish, German and Russian colonisers, all of whom have left their mark on the city and on Estonian culture. After a talk, a guide takes us on a walking tour of the city, culminating in the exuberant Alexander Nevsky orthodox cathedral overlooking the city. Not many tourists venture beyond the old town, so this afternoon we explore some of the modern city, renowned for its technology start-ups. We visit the Kadriorg Palace, built in the Baroque style for Peter I of Russia and today an art museum. We also call in at the adjacent Kumu art museum, an impressive collection of modern and contemporary Baltic art. (B)
Tuesday August 31: To Finland
This morning we take the two-hour ferry ride across the Baltic to Helsinki. As we enter Helsinki harbour, we pass by the vast Suomenlinna fortress, built by the Swedes and enhanced by the Russians. After checking-in at our hotel, we take a walking tour of central Helsinki, admiring the mix of Russian colonial, National Romantic, Art Nouveau and contemporary architecture. There is dinner in a restaurant on Helsinki’s elegant Esplanadi this evening. (B, D)
Wednesday September 1: Modern art and architecture
After a morning talk, we travel by coach to some of Helsinki’s architectural highlights. This includes the Olympic Stadium, the home and studio of legendary Finnish modern architect Alvar Aalto and the mid-century modern Didrichsen House and museum, an elegant private museum overlooking one of Helsinki’s countless harbour inlets. This afternoon there will be time to further explore some of Helsinki’s architectural marvels, such as the 1960s ‘rock church’. (B)
Thursday September 2: Artists on the lake
This morning we travel north from Helsinki to Lake Tuusula. In the early 20th century, the shores of this lake hosted an important community of artists and musicians whose houses reflected the nature-loving traditions of the Finnish. First, we visit Ainola, the composer Jean Sibelius’ beautiful country home, before making an extended lunch stop at Villa Kokkonen, which was designed by Alvar Aalto for his composer friend Joonas Kokkonen. The current curators of the villa will host us to lunch and perform for us in the beautiful piano-shaped music room. We return to Helsinki this afternoon, stopping in at the lakeside studio of painter Pekka Halonen, built like a Russian dacha. The studio contains dozens of the artist’s works. (B, L)
Friday September 3: Art museum and a fortress
This morning we call in at the Atheneum Art Museum, close to our hotel. The museum contains many key works of the Finnish National Romantic Movement, based on legend and celebrated in the music of Sibelius. We then head by ferry to Suomenlinna fortress. Occupying several islands at the entrance to Helsinki harbour, this massive piece of military engineering – a world-heritage site, opens our eyes to the centuries of struggle for control of the Baltic region. This evening we hope to catch the opening concert of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra’s 2020-2021 season. The orchestra is extremely highly regarded. (B)
Performance details Venue: Musiikkitalo, Helsinki
Program: to be announced, early 2021
Performers: to be announced, early 2021
Saturday September 4: To St Petersburg
This morning we depart Helsinki by train and head to St Petersburg, a journey of just under four hours. After arriving and checking in our hotel, we orientate ourselves with a cruise on St Petersburg’s network of canals, passing by the city’s grandest buildings. This evening we dine in a local restaurant. (B, D)
Sunday September 5: Touring St Petersburg
Peter the Great laid the foundations for Russia’s interest in the Baltic states, and engaged with Sweden, Russia’s main competitor in the region. After a morning talk we visit the Peter and Paul Fortress. Our day continues at the Carl Fabergé museum. Located in the Shuvalov Palace, the museum houses the world’s largest collection of works by Fabergé including nine of his famous imperial Easter eggs. (B)
Monday September 6: Russia and Europe
We travel to Peterhof Park and Monplaisir, the Tzar’s celebrated gardens and fountain complex overlooking the Gulf of Finland. We continue to Kronstadt, the Swedish fortress on an island in the gulf, reminiscent of Suomenlinna in Finland. In the afternoon we visit to the nearby Russian museum, whose magnificent collection of old Rus icons reflects a time when Russia was interacting with the Hansa cities of the Baltic and the distinctive Church of the Spilled Blood. The elaborately decorated church was erected on the site where Alexander II was mortally wounded in 1881. This evening, if available, we will attend a performance at the legendary Mariinsky theatre. Details will be available in June 2020. (B, L)
Performance details Venue: Mariinsky, Theatre
Program: to be announced, early 2021
Performers: to be announced, early 2021
Tuesday September 7: The Hermitage
The morning is set aside for a guided visit to the Hermitage Museum, one of the world’s great repositories of art. Our focus will be on the excellent Dutch collection assembled by Peter the Great and indicative of his admiration of the seafaring nations of northern Europe, but there will be plenty of time to explore other parts of the collection. The afternoon is free to stay on at the Hermitage or to continue exploring St Petersburg’s many attractions. This evening we share a farewell meal in a local restaurant. (B, D)
Wednesday September 8: Departure
The tour ends after breakfast. A late check out is available for passengers departing on flights leaving later tonight. Matthew will be happy to advise on optional activities during the day. (B)
Dr Matthew Laing
A political scientist and expert in US history, with a doctorate on the history of the United States presidency.
Dr Matthew Laing is a historian and political scientist at Monash University who has led tours to the Americas and Europe with Academy Travel for five years. He has a strong personal interest in architecture, cultural history and modern art, with a particular expertise in the United States.
Matthew holds a BA and PhD from the Australian National University, and wrote his doctorate on the history of the United States presidency. He has worked as a lecturer and research fellow at the Australian National University, Utrecht University in the Netherlands, and now at Monash University in Melbourne. He is an accredited ADFAS lecturer and frequently holds public lecture series in Melbourne. He currently teaches United States history and leadership, and has published on both topics.
Matthew’s tours strive for intellectual engagement and to reveal the stories, both big and small, that can bring history to life. A voracious reader and traveller, Matthew strives to be a generalist and draws upon a wide range of subjects – from politics to architecture – to develop his understanding of a place. Matthew’s passion for the United States started as an intern in the United States Congress in 2007. Since then he has made dozens of trips across the country, for both work and pleasure, and is closing in on his goal of visiting all 50 states. He has lectured and written on a wide variety of US subjects, including the American Revolution, the Gilded Age, and American Modernist architecture. Matthew also lived in the Netherlands for two years and has travelled widely there, and has a particular interest in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe.
Matthew has been tour leading for Academy Travel annually since 2013, with many tours to the United States and Europe, and is now taking on a greater role managing and developing further tours in these regions, including developing new tours to areas like the Southern United States.
We asked Matthew, what do you enjoy most about leading a group tour?
“As an academic, the personal joy of leading tours for Academy Travel is that I get one of the best classrooms I could ask for of intelligent and attentive global travellers who share my passion for learning about our world. And yet often I also find myself the student – with intellectually-engaged travellers from all walks of life, some of the most stimulating debates and discussions I’ve had are with my clients on tours.”
“I think those who come on tour with me benefit most from my enthusiasm, energy and passion – whether it’s a giving a morning lecture or having a causal chat at lunch, I’m always striving to draw out new insights and connections that can further understanding and increase engagement.”
Unless otherwise stated in the itinerary, our tours include the following:
Any flights mentioned in the itinerary that take place during a tour
Land travel by private air-conditioned coach. Where appropriate, taxis or public transport are also used for short distance travel on some tours
All accommodation in hotels or apartments as stated in the itinerary
Breakfasts, lunches and dinners specifically stated as included in the itinerary
Drinks at welcome and farewell meals. Other meals may not have drinks included
Background talks on tour, site notes and online resources
Services of tour leader throughout tour
All entrance fees to sites mentioned in the itinerary
Local guides at some sites
Tips for drivers, local guides and restaurants for included meals
Costs involved in obtaining visas for countries visited, where required and when stated as included
Tours begin either at the arrival airport or the first hotel, depending on the itinerary. If you have booked your international flights with Academy Travel and arrive before the tour commences, we will provide airport to hotel transfers to the closest main city on your arrival, and to the closest airport at the end of the tour. These may be either individual or group transfers.
What is not included in the tour price?
Our tours do not include the following:
Return international/domestic air travel unless those flights take place during the tour
Special taxes and airport levies that can only be paid in cash at the destination. We will advise you of these charges (if any) before you depart
Travel insurance. We require all participants to have comprehensive travel insurance. A typical policy for one of our tours will cost from $160 upwards, depending on your age, pre-existing medical conditions, the countries you are visiting and the overall length of your trip
Lunches and dinners not specifically mentioned as included in the itinerary
Personal expenses such as laundry and phone calls
Costs associated with any activity mentioned as “optional” in the itinerary, or any suggested free time activity