Luxury Travel Blog

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July 1, 2015

Just Back: Denmark, Sweden, Estonia, Finland & Russia

Artisans of Leisure’s founder and CEO, Ashley Ganz, recently returned from a private tour of Denmark, Sweden, Estonia, Finland and Russia. Read about the highlights of her trip, including private art and design touring, family-friendly excursions, top luxury hotels and culinary experiences.

luxury Russia toursDenmark

Our tour started in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The colorful buildings of Nyhavn, a 17th-century waterfront district, are just a short stroll from our preferred luxury hotel in Copenhagen, the Hotel d’Angleterre.

The elegant lobby of the Hotel d’Angleterre.

One of our favorite excursions from Copenhagen is to the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. Travelers of all ages appreciate the beautiful grounds, art installations by major modern and contemporary artists, seaside views, walks through the woods and along the coast, excellent restaurant and sophisticated shop.

An exhibition inside Louisiana.

Smorrebrod (open-faced sandwiches) from the cafe at Louisiana.

The cafe also has great Sarah Bernhardts—marzipan and chocolate mousse covered with dark chocolate. Delicious!

Near Louisiana is the Karen Blixen Museum, the house where the writer of Out of Africa and Babette’s Feast was born and lived for part of her life. Upon request, we can arrange a visit for travelers interested in learning more about the acclaimed author, who wrote under the pseudonym Isak Dinesen.

Back in Copenhagen, we visited Torvehallerne, a market renowned for its independent food producers, coffee purveyors and local stands such as this one selling fresh berries.

Another highlight of the city is the excellent Copenhagen Zoo, including the Norman Foster-designed Elephant House.

For interested travelers, we can arrange a private tour or a painting experience with a master painter at Royal Copenhagen, one of Europe’s most revered porcelain manufacturers.

This photo shows the process of making Royal Copenhagen’s famous blue-and-white designs and annual holiday plates.

Copenhagen also has great antiques markets. We found this beautiful antique Royal Copenhagen dish at one of the markets.

We ate at Noma, which is consistently voted one of the best restaurants in the world. Chef Rene Redzepi is known for his creative presentations and use of foraged ingredients.

One of the best dishes we had at Noma was this fried cabbage leaf filled with rich, creamy local greens.

The children and adults alike were fascinated to see the real ants on this edible dish titled “ants on a log.”

While in Copenhagen, we always love visiting Tivoli Gardens. The Moorish Palace pictured here is now home to Hotel Nimb, a boutique luxury hotel, and some very good restaurants.

We recommend watching a pantomime or ballet performance at the Pantomime Theater (also called the Peacock Theater). Visitors to Tivoli have been enjoying these outdoor performances since the 1870s

Tivoli is magical at night when lights twinkle throughout the park.


Next, we visited Stockholm, one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.

We stayed at the Grand Hotel Stockholm, an elegant hotel in an ideal location with harbor views, excellent service and wonderful facilities.

The gorgeous rooms and suites feature Scandinavian design, including beautiful fabrics and simple Gustavian-style furniture.

The Grand Hotel Stockholm also has excellent dining options including a Michelin-star restaurant, a legendary smorgasbord dinner and an incredible breakfast buffet—one of our favorite breakfasts in Europe.

We toured the historic center of Stockholm with a local expert guide…

…including the interiors of the Stockholm City Hall…

…and the room where the Nobel Prize banquet is held. This is a sample of the place settings.

Ostermalms Saluhall food hall in Stockholm is a great place for lunch.

We also visited Rosendals Tradgard, a beautiful garden with a well-loved cafe.

Wooden boxes and cooking utensils for sale at the shop inside Rosendals Tradgard.

Whenever we’re in Stockholm, we always spend time at Svenskt Tenn. It’s one of our favorite design shops, with beautiful products including Josef Frank’s designs.

Haga Park is a favorite spot to see important historic buildings such as Gustav III’s Pavilion and the Sultan’s Copper Tents, pictured here.

luxury Sweden tours

The kids had a great time at Grona Lund, a historic amusement park that is also located in the area.

luxury Sweden tours

We spent a very cold 15 minutes having a drink inside the Icebar in Stockholm.

luxury Sweden tours

The Vasa Museum is a fascinating museum. In 1628, the Vasa warship sank minutes into its maiden voyage from Stockholm and was preserved in undersea mud for hundreds of years. It was eventually raised and is now displayed in its own museum.

Nearby, Skansen is an open-air museum depicting traditional ways of life in rural Sweden. On the grounds are crafts workshops, charming restaurants and historic buildings from around Sweden.

One day, we visited Artipelag, a wonderful art, architecture, culinary and nature destination just outside Stockholm that was created by the founder of BabyBjorn.

The planted rooftop overlooks the forest and sea, and boardwalk paths connect the main building to the waterfront.

The cafe features simple Scandinavian design…

…and an excellent smorgasbord.

Another favorite excursion into the Swedish countryside was a visit to Sturehof Manor.

It’s known for its well-preserved 18th-century Gustavian interiors…

…including rooms with cocklestoves, beautiful stoves covered in painted tiles.


We continued to Tallinn, the capital of nearby Estonia.

Our guides in Tallinn are exceptional and really bring this fascinating city to life.

We explored the most scenic parts of Tallinn’s medieval Old Town…

…including insider locations such as these gardens outside the city walls.

Our guides are a wonderful source of information about the history of Tallinn, such as this local guild house and other important buildings in the town.

We also visited unique shops selling traditional Estonian textiles and folk crafts.

Although a small city, Tallinn is very sophisticated and has wonderful restaurants and specialty boutiques.

The kids enjoyed taking a private marzipan-making lesson and getting to eat their creations.


We continued to Helsinki, the beautiful capital of Finland. The sea surrounds much of the city, and scenery such as this can be enjoyed right in the city center.

This monument to Jean Sibelius, Finland’s most famous composer, is an assemblage of hollow steel tubes in a seaside park.

Architecture, history and sports fans will enjoy touring the Helsinki Olympic Stadium. Built in 1938, the stadium was used for the Olympic Games in 1952.

Another highlight of Helsinki is visiting the home of Finnish architect Alvar Aalto (1898–1976), which was completed in 1936. Upon request, Artisans of Leisure arranges private tours of the house.

The living room of the Alvar Aalto house.

While in Helsinki, we recommend visiting the historic Karl Fazer Cafe for the delicious buffet lunch and the opportunity to sample the cafe’s renowned pastries and chocolates.

The market in the center of Helsinki is a great place to sample local foods, such as these strawberries—the best we have ever had!


We continued to St. Petersburg, Russia, which is only three hours from Helsinki by high-speed train.

One of our first stops was the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood to see the colorful onion domes and dazzling interior mosaics.

We stopped by Eliseyev Emporium, a historic gourmet food hall that has been open on Nevsky Prospect since the early 1900s. The interiors reflect the Art Nouveau style that was fashionable at the time.

Spectacular St. Isaac’s Cathedral, a St. Petersburg landmark, is nearby. The lavish interiors feature extensive use of malachite.

St. Petersburg has wonderful luxury hotels, including the Four Seasons Hotel Lion Palace St. Petersburg, Hotel Astoria and Belmond Grand Hotel (pictured here).

We arrange private boat rides on the Neva River for our travelers. It’s a great way to see the city’s beautiful palaces and historic monuments from a different perspective.

St. Petersburg has fantastic dining options, including Michelin-star restaurants and casual rustic fare. For lunch one day, we enjoyed this hearty traditional meal of buckwheat with mushrooms, farmer cheese with an herb sauce, and a sweet carrot salad.

The children and adults all enjoyed a private, hands-on lesson in painting matryoshka (nesting dolls).

We also shopped for beautiful Imperial Porcelain (formerly known as Lomonosov Porcelain). The famed Cobalt Net pattern is very elegant.

The Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul is a highlight of St. Petersburg. The interiors are an amazing combination of pastel colors, gold leaf and chandeliers. The cathedral also contains the tombs of the Romanov royal family.

We could spend days exploring the beautiful rooms of St. Petersburg’s palaces and museums, including the Russian Museum, Hermitage Museum, Faberge Museum, Yusupov Palace and other cultural institutions.

The beautiful Winter Palace, part of the Hermitage.

Artisans of Leisure arranges private tours of the Treasure Galleries at the Hermitage. Visiting these spectacular collections of imperial jewels and treasures is one of our favorite experiences in St. Petersburg.

The striking War Gallery of 1812 in the Winter Palace, one of many beautiful galleries in the Hermitage.

St. Petersburg is a dream for anyone interested in art, design and interiors.

Artisans of Leisure arranges private tours of the sumptuous Yusupov Palace, an architectural gem in the city.

The palace interiors are spectacular—each room is more beautiful than the last!

Visitors are always intrigued to see the location in the palace where the influential monk Rasputin was assassinated.

Attending a ballet performance at the Mariinsky Theater is one of the most memorable experiences of visiting St. Petersburg. Artisans of Leisure arranges tickets to performances for our travelers.

The blue domes of Trinity Cathedral.

We spent a day visiting Catherine Palace in the countryside outside St. Petersburg. Artisans of Leisure arranges for travelers to skip the lines to tour the incredible Baroque interiors.

We also arrange visits to the palace’s Amber Workshop for a behind-the-scenes look at the artisans creating and restoring elaborate amber decorations in the palace and elsewhere. The workshop also has a beautiful amber shop that sells priceless works of amber art, jewelry and other items.

Lunch at the rustic Podvorye restaurant is a must when visiting the palaces outside St. Petersburg. Set in a traditional log house, the restaurant serves delicious Russian fare; live folk music and dance add to the ambience.

We also visited Peterhof, an enormous palace on the Gulf of Finland. The highlight is the terraced gardens—we recommend starting at the upper garden and walking down past the fountains to the waterfront.

Scandinavia, the Baltic States and Russia make a wonderful combination for in-depth private cultural touring. Contact Artisans of Leisure to start planning a customized private tour in Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Estonia or Russia.

Destinations:  Baltic States, Denmark, Estonia, Europe, Russia, Scandinavia, Sweden

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