Europe's Other Great Sea; ADVERTISEMENT SPECIAL; More and More People Are Putting the Baltic Sea at the Top of Their Cruise Wish Lists. It Is a Region of High Culture, Architecture, History and Astonishing Natural Beauty. A Cruise Ship Lets You See It Best

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THERE was a time when people planning on taking a cruise dreamed of sailing south towards the sun. These days, the Baltic coast and Norway's fjords have come into their own as must-see areas. And don't assume that a Baltic or Norway cruise means cold weather. These itineraries are only offered in the summer, when it can be even hotter there than around the Mediterranean.

Warmed by Gulf Stream air, there are few better places to be in the world than sailing through the 24,000-island archipelago outside Stockholm en route to Helsinki during one of the long, hot, summer nights that extend daylight hours between June and September. Your cruise ship towers over tiny wooden houses used as summer escapes by Swedes and Finns as it squeezes through seemingly impossibly narrow channels which divide the multitude of islands.

This is just one of many highlights of what the cruise lines call a 'Northern Capitals' itinerary. But while Stockholm, Oslo, Helsinki and Copenhagen are all excellent destinations,the non-capital cities also make an impact. There are at least 19 ports of call across the region's 10 countries - Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Russia and Sweden.

For a typical seven-night Northern Capitals cruise, you will fly to Amsterdam or Copenhagen to board your ship. On a 14-night cruise, you can board at UK ports like Dover, Harwich or Southampton.

Stockholm, Copenhagen, Oslo and Helsinki are all easy to explore on foot, each demonstrating Scandinavian style through modern shops and classic architecture. From the narrow cobbled streets of Stockholm's Gamla Stan medieval quarter to the wonderful Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Oslo's Viking House Museum and the elegant Lutheran Cathedral of Helsinki,all display a sense of history while exuding a feeling of calm that contrasts with the Mediterranean's often chaotic capitals. …