Your pocket guide to 5 northern hemisphere gems

Osijek, Croatia
Osijek, Croatia

Osijek, Croatia

What's to love: A city of intrigue, Osijek is also an architectural delight. It is in Slavonia, a region near the border with Hungary and Serbia. The city suffered terribly from Serb shelling in the 1990s (pockmarks still scar some structures), but most of its grand buildings have been restored. A stroll through town reveals Art Nouveau mansions and fine baroque buildings amongst a bewildering jumble of architectural styles. Rumours persist that a network of tunnels pass under the city, reaching well into the countryside.

Best for: Farm-to-table restaurants serving Austro-Hungarian food. Slavonia's wide-open spaces and nutrient-rich soil have created an ethos where "clean eating" isn't a trendy new concept but a traditional way of life. Wine-making in Osijek dates to Roman times and the first ever Croatian beer was brewed here in 1697.

Best time to visit: Daytime temperatures are pleasant in May, June and September, although bring a sweater for the evening.

Getting there: Visit Osijek on a Viking 23-day European Sojourn cruise between Amsterdam and Bucharest.

Belgrade, Serbia

Belgrade, Serbia

Belgrade, Serbia

What's to love: Belgrade's strategic location has been fought over in 115 wars and the city has been razed to the ground 44 times, but many of its buildings have been gloriously restored. Modern socialist architecture is squeezed between Art Nouveau masterpieces, and the remains of the Hapsburg legacy contrast with Ottoman relics. Must-see sites include the Church of St Sava, the second largest Orthodox church in the world, and the bohemian quarter. Today, Belgrade is an exuberant, forward-looking metropolis known as "the city that never sleeps".

Best for: A good time. Forget notions of a war-ravaged people brutalised by Attila the Hun and Slobodan Milosevic, Belgrade's locals like to enjoy themselves. Cafes and bars are busy day and night and Belgrade relishes its Mediterranean lifestyle.

Best time to visit: September to October and March to May are the best times to visit.

Getting there: The Viking 23-day European Sojourn from Amsterdam to Budapest, or the reverse, stops at Belgrade.

Kodiak Island, Alaska

Kodiak Island, Alaska

Kodiak Island, Alaska

What's to love: Known as Alaska's Emerald Isle, Kodiak Island has a large fishing port that is famous for its catches of king crab and salmon. The island's velvety green mountains and sheltered, ice-free bays were the site of an early Russian settlement in the 18th century.

Best for: Nature enthusiasts. The Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge covers two-thirds of the island and its diverse habitat ranges from rugged mountains and alpine meadows to wetlands, spruce forest and grasslands. The refuge has outstanding fishing but the most popular activity is a journey to view one of the park's 3000 Kodiak bears in the wild. There are no roads into the park, so tours to see the bears arrive by boat or seaplane.

Best time to visit: The influence of the North Pacific Current ensures a lovely temperate marine climate all year round - however, plan for 18 hours of daylight in mid-June and only 6.5 hours in mid-December.

Getting there: Viking's iconic 23-day North Pacific Passage voyage from Tokyo to Vancouver includes a stop at Kodiak Island.

Melk, Austria

Melk, Austria

Melk, Austria

What's to love: The picturesque little town of Melk sits on the River Danube at the point where it enters the Wachau Valley. Best known for its massive Benedictine Abbey, Melk is a highlight of a visit to Lower Austria.

Best for: History and architecture buffs. Melk Abbey housed monks for over 900 years and today it stands as a remarkable example of baroque-style architecture. Its stunning apricot hues are picture-postcard perfect. There's a breathtaking ceiling fresco resembling Greek mythology inside the Marble Hall and an impressive library of over 100,000 volumes, which is said to have been the inspiration for Italian writer Umberto Eco's "The Name of the Rose". Rich in history, Melk Abbey today operates as a school.

Best time to visit: High season is June-August when there's excellent weather and sunny days, but shoulder-season months (April-May, September-October) are less crowded.

Getting there: Viking's 15-day Grand European Tour and 23-day European Sojourn river cruise itineraries include visits to Melk.

Bergen, Norway

Bergen, Norway

Bergen, Norway

Why visit? Bergen is the heartland of Norway's fjord region. It has a rich heritage as a centre of trade and the beautifully preserved wooden buildings of Bryggen are World Heritage listed.

Best for: Seafood-lovers have plenty of reasons to like Bergen, which is a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy. Local specialities include fish cakes and persetorsk, a traditional steamed cod dish.

Best time to visit: Most visitors choose to visit in the Northern Hemisphere summer (May to September), but there is a lot to enjoy about Bergen's climate year-round. Being on the Atlantic coast, it's not as cold as you might think for somewhere this far north.

Getting there: The 15-day Viking Homelands and the 29-day Baltic Jewels & The Midnight Sun cruises with Viking both visit Bergen.

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