If an Alaska Cruise is on your bucket list for this year’s travel season, there’s no time like the present to begin planning your shore excursions. While some port destinations have adventurous excursions you’ll want to take advantage of, others present entirely walkable towns to explore at your own pace. The culturally rich town of Sitka AK is exactly that—walkable, charming, and full of opportunities for discovery.
You may have just one day to explore Sitka, but it should be enough time to introduce yourself to several local attractions. On my Alaska Cruise with Holland America, I found Sitka to have mild temperatures—perfect for a great day of exploring on foot. My spouse and I started our walking tour shortly after 7am port arrival, which gave us about eight hours to explore.
First inhabited by Tlingit Indians, and later occupied by Russia prior to the sale of Alaska, Sitka’s historical influences are evident throughout the town. Bring a camera and adventurous spirit, and these top spots will keep you busy during your visit.
Explore Sitka’s history during a leisurely walk downtown. St. Michael’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral, listed on the National Register of Historical Places, takes center stage. Its construction began in 1844, though a fire in 1966 prompted a rebuild. Many of the cathedral’s icons and artifacts were preserved by residents and are again housed inside. Mariner’s Wall, located at 231 Katlian Street, pays tribute to Southeast Alaska’s rich maritime history. A short walk away is the Sheet’ka Kwaan Naa Kahidi Tribal Community House which offers cultural events and a gift shop featuring unique artwork.
Books and Coffee
Old Harbor Books, established in 1976, carries a vast selection of regional books and gifts with a knowledgeable and friendly staff on hand. You’ll find an assortment of signed editions that make great gifts for booklovers. In the center of the shop, admire the vintage 1895 Chandler & Price printing press. Be sure to refresh your cup of java with a visit to the café in the back of the shop.
A short walk from the bookshop will lead you to Sitka’s Russian Cemetery. Centuries old, the mossy grounds include more than 1600 graves to explore from a winding hillside path. Age and vandalism have impacted the condition of many markers, though the site is worth a visit to appreciate local history amid lush greenery. Ask a local for directions or use a walking map to guide you to its location.
Sitka National Historical Park, known locally as Totem Park, is Alaska’s oldest national park. The collection includes Tlingit and Russian artifacts, with an impressive collection of historically significant totem poles available for viewing. Poles have been repaired and restored over the years and visitors to Sitka will notice their presence throughout the town. In the park’s carving shed, guests can watch craftsmen carving a tree into a canoe.
After all this exploration, you’ll want to sample local eats before heading back to your cruise ship. The Raven Dining Room offers fine dining options inclusive of Alaskan halibut, salmon, crab, and more. You’ll also find an assortment of budget-friendly pubs, fish markets, and quaint cafes throughout town, with a full list of offerings available at Visit Sitka. Or, drop by the Sitka visitor’s center, located at 104 Lake Street, where you can pick up local recommendations, free walking maps, and helpful brochures on area eateries and attractions.
Cruising with Holland America
My HAL Cruise was aboard the MS Westerdam, a fabulous mid-size ship with plentiful dining and entertainment options, along with on-board guides to help introduce guests to Alaska’s diverse regions. If planned excursions are your preference, consider a 4×4 Nature Safari, Dry Suit Snorkel, Sea Kayaking, or one of the many other excursion options offered. Be sure to celebrate your journey to Alaska with special on-board dining options. I loved when HAL transformed the Lido Deck into a seafood party and served up Alaskan King Crab. And, this is definitely one of those cruises where splurging for a suite with a balcony is worth it. You’ll have amazing views from inside your cabin via floor-to-ceiling glass, and the private balcony seating is great for watching marine wildlife, sipping coffee during sunrise, and relaxing during sunset. Like the sound of my experience in Sitka? Plan your own ideal cruise with Holland America.
Lori A. May is a Seattle-based travel writer.
Photo credits: CT Shier.