The Baltic Sea was formed 15 thousand years ago when the glaciers of the last Ice Age melted. Compared with the world's oceans, it contains very little salt so its surface freezes in winter.
Nine countries have Baltic coastline, as the map shows. Because of shared history, Norway is sometimes included although its coast is all on the Atlantic. There are a dozen large Baltic islands and many thousands of smaller ones.
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Once it was crossed by Viking longboats and later by the ships of the Hanseatic League. Today its cities are connected by ferries and visited each summer by the world's leading cruise lines.
Discover the Baltic is designed to help visitors plan their days ashore in Helsinki, St Petersburg and Tallinn, with an honest and up-to-date descriptions of the cities and their sights.
At some ports all the main attractions are close together. At others, you'll need to do a bit of planning.