Top 10 Sailing Destinations in the Baltic Sea

The Baltic Sea is an unique area located between the Baltics and Scandinavia. It is one of the largest brackish inland seas (i.e. mix of salt and fresh water) in the world. For a sailor, this area offers unique cruising with plenty of islands and sheltered waterways.

What I most like about the Baltic Sea area, is the diversity of the nature. When sailing from the south towards north, one can experience a totally different landscapes and sceneries  for example, from the long sand dunes in the south, to the barren, rocky islands and higher landscape in the north.

It is impossible to put these such different areas in order, so I decided to list our favourite places from north to south.

And I would like to add, that we have not sailed round the whole Baltic Sea yet, so there is probably something essential missing. So feel free to comment and suggest new places, which you think, should be included in the list.

1. Höga Kusten  the High Coast of Sweden

This area on the Swedish side of the Bay of Bothnia offers the highest and perhaps the most scenic landscape in the whole Baltic Sea area. The nature in the High Coast has been affected by the latest glacial period, when the land masses were depressed by the weight of a huge glacier. After the ice age, the land started rebounding and is now rising at rates that are among the highest in the world.

Also the highest island in Sweden, Mjältön is also located in the heart of the High Coast. In addition to the beautiful landscape, there are many picturesque, red painted fishing villages, where one can enjoy the calmer and more tranquil atmosphere than in the south. Here is more information about the High Coast.

2. Northern Åland archipelago  the last wilderness of the Baltics

Åland is an autonomuos, demilitarised region of Finland. It consists of about 6 700 islands, but only 65 islands are inhabited and 90 % of population lives on the main island. Due to the legislation, it is difficult (or impossible) to own real estate in Åland for people who do not have the right to domicile in Åland. Therefore, there is significantly fewer summer houses, than in the archipelagos of Turku or Stockholm, and the area has been kept in its natural state to a greater extent. This is especially true in the northern part of the Åland archipelago, which is one of my utmost favourite places in the whole Baltics.

The largest islands in Åland are forestry, but the shoreline and outer islands are rocky, since the area is mostly open to the winds from the Baltic Sea. One special characteristics of the archipelago is the Åland’s bedrock’s red granite, which is especially visible along the coastline and on the islands.

3. The Archipelago Sea  20 000 reasons to visit

There are over 20 000 islands in the archipelago of Turku alone. Many of those are small, uninhabited barren islets. Of the larger forestry islands, many are inhabited and have picturesque, small fishing villages. The fisherman tradition is still living in the area, and some of the islands are inhabited all year round.

Many of the traditional fishing villages are located in the southern Archipelago Sea, which consists of the intermediate and outer part of the archipelago. In the intermediate part there is more open sea compared to the inner archipelago, but the outer islands and islets give shelter from the waves of the northern Baltic Sea. For a sailor, this offers an amazing cruising area with a lot of choices for mooring. One can basically spend a lifetime sailing here, and still find new anchorages. Examples of the most popular islands are Aspö, Helsingholmen, Berghamn and Björkö.

4. Stockholm the city built on fourteen islands

Sometimes referred to as the Venice of the north, Stockholm is built on fourteen islands, connected by 57 bridges. Thus, the sea, the archipelago and boating are very present and visible in the capital of Sweden. Approaching the city on a busy summer day is an experience: large cruising ships, hundreds
of small and large sail- and motorboats, ferries and Waxholmbolaget’s connection boats are all navigating the same waterways.

The location of Wasahamnen guest harbour is ideal for visiting Stockholm: it is within a walking distance from the city center, but located on a beautiful Djurgården-island, which is a city park consisting mostly of parkland and forrest. There is a direct ferry connection from Djurgården to the beautiful Stockholm Gamla Stan, the old medieval city center. The ferry runs until late at night and seeing all the lights of Stockholm at night from the sea on way back to the Wasahamnen is a great experience!

5. Fårö  a far away island

Fårö is a small island northeast from Gotland, which is a popular holiday destination for Scandinavians. While the majority of the boats sail to Visby on Gotland, on Fårö one can find more peaceful and original atmosphere of Gotland. It feels almost like time has stopped beating in Fårö. The island is scattered with old stone fences, which were built to keep the own sheep from mixing with the neighbour’s. Also traditional grass-roofed houses and windmills are a typical sight on the island. Sheep farming has been and still is an important industry in Fårö; a sheep is also pictured in the island’s flag.

There are some great long sand beaches on Fårö. Sudersand in the south is the most popular among the vacationers. However, the white rocky beaches around the island offer great scenery and walks as well. Gotland and Fårö are also known for rauks (limestones), which are rock formations caused by erosion. Perhaps the best known rauk area is Langhammar, located in the west coast of Fårö. Langhammar was also the setting for Ingmar Bergman’s film Through a Glass Darkly. This famous Swedish film director was also the most famous resident of the island for fourty years.

PART II: From Visby to Gdansk

In the first part, the first five sailing areas in the northern part of the Baltic Sea were presented. Now in this second part, I look at the interesting cruising grounds in the middle and southern part of the Baltic Sea.

6. Visby — a medieval city which does not sleep

I have been in Visby only once (with a sail boat). It was at the end of the June in 2010, which was an exceptionally warm summer in the Baltics. I remember sitting on the old medieval stone wall, which encircles the city, and enjoying the beautiful view to the glittering sea. Especially when the weather was so great, one could have easily thought of being somewhere in the Mediterranean  it is not a typical North European view!

Visby is the best preserved medieval-city in Scandinavia and it has been named a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is also a legendary sailing destination with a harbour right in the heart of the city. It is a little wonder, that during July, it is a busy place and one can find boats from all over the Scandinavia and Northern Europe. There are a lot of nice restaurants and the night life is lively during the summer season.

7. Northern Öland  the land of the Sun 

Öland has a special place in our hearts; we visited the island twice in 2011, and both times found the summer there. Especially on our way back home in early August, the hot and sunny weather felt luxurious after many days of sailing in the rainy and windy southern Baltics. Our experiences could be just a coincidence or maybe not, since the northern part of the Öland is statistically the sunniest region in Sweden. Therefore, the island is also popular among vacationers. There are also some great beaches on the east coast of this long and narrow island.

The west coast of Öland is open to the Kalmarsund, but there are some good, sheltered harbours in the biggest villages. Our favourite ones are Byxelkrok and Sandvik.

The feeling and the landscape on this island reminded me of Fårö   there are also a few rauk (limestone) formations in the west coast, although they are not as big as the ones on Gotland and Fårö.

Bicycle is the best vehicle to explore the great nature on this island. One can even tour the whole island along the well marked Ölandsleden-route. On the west side of the island, the route goes near the coastline and offers great views to the Kalmarsund.

8. Bornholm  a green island in the middle of the Southern Baltic Sea

I have visited Bornholm twice; the first time was just a quick stop in mid-May 2010, when delivering Dolphin Dance from Denmark. For a fist-timer, approaching Bornholm was an unforgettable experience: the silhouette of the Hammerhuis fortress ruins over the hills is visible from a good distance and when sailing closer, one starts to see the green hilly coastline, raising steeply from the sea.

We stopped for provisions in Allinge, which is a popular harbour in the northern Bornholm. However, it was still pre-season and the harbour was almost deserted. The case would have been a bit different in July, when the harbour is every night fully packed with boats.

My second visit to Bornholm was in late July 2011, when we stopped in Hammerhavn also in northern Bornholm (we had sailed past this harbour a bit over year before). It is a great small harbour in the nest of green hills. There is a nice, forestry path from the harbour to the Hammerhus castle ruins. On the walls of this fortess, one can absorb information about the interesting history of this island, or just sit down to enjoy the magnificient view over the coastline to the Southern Baltic Sea. I had the same kind of feeling when sitting on the stone wall, that I had had in Visby a year earlier — that this place is not in the Baltics, but somewhere further away…

Bornholm is an island, where we will definitely visit again in the future and I would like to round the island someday.

9. Rügen  the island of famous chalk cliffs 

We have not yet been sailing in Germany, but have heard a lot of positive storiea about the area of Rügen from fellow sailors. Rügen is the biggest island of Germany, and the area is especially famous for the high chalk cliffs, which rise well over hundred meters above the sea level. Rügen and the Danish island of Møn, some 30 nautical miles northwest, once belonged to a large chalk plateau. During the years, the erosion has removed the vast majority of the land mass, leaving the famous chalk cliffs on both islands.

Photo: © Tourismusverband Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (Messerschmidt)

Rügen is also a named for a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a popular holiday destination with many long sand beaches and holiday resorts. After seeing some photos from the area, Rügen will definitely be included as a part of our southern Baltic tour in the future.

10. Gdansk (and other traditional seaports of the Eastern Europe)

Last but not least, the eastern side of the Baltics deserves to be mentioned as well. The landscape on this area is very different from the west side since there are very few islands along the coast. Due to the lack of good natural harbours, the prime interest in this area for a sailor lies in the great historical cities and seaports. Furthermore, the area is developing rapidly and new marinas are opened every year.

Eastern side of the Baltic Sea is also an area, where we have not sailed, but visited by other means. Last May we visited Gdansk (Poland), which is a very beautifully restored city with an impressive history. There is a new marina in the heart of the city center, so it would be great to visit this place by boat someday.

There are also many beautiful old cities in the Baltic countries, for example Tallinn in Estonia and Riga in Latvia, which could be on this listing as well.

When writing this article and searching information on different areas, I have started to appreciate, if possible, even more the beauty and the diversity of the Baltic Sea. However, the article about the Baltic Sea cannot be just a happy story, but one must recognize the great environmental challenges, which this area is facing and which are endangering the future. Baltic Sea is very vulnerable sea area due to its special characteristics: low salinity level, slow water turnover through the narrow Danish straits and shallowness; Baltic Sea is basically a shallow lake compared to the Mediterranean Sea for example. At the same time, there are 90 million people living around the Baltic Sea and this is a huge burden to the sea’s ecosystem. The biggest threats the sea faces are for example eutrophication and risk posed by maritime traffic. Fortunately, there are many good projects going on, which are aiming for concrete improvements in the state of the sea. For example, John Nurminen Foundation and Baltic Sea Action Group have achieved some remarkable results already with their projects.