A climate change experiment with a fully coupled high resolution regional atmosphere–ocean model for the Baltic Sea is compared to an experiment with a stand-alone regional atmospheric model. Both experiments simulate 30-yr periods with boundary data from the same global climate model system. This particular global model system simulates very high sea surface temperatures during summer for the Baltic Sea at the end of this century under the investigated emission scenario. We show that the sea surface temperatures are less warm in the coupled regional model compared to the global model system and that this difference is dependent on the atmospheric circulation. In summers with a high NAO index and thereby relatively strong westerly flow over the North Atlantic the differences between the two models are small, while in summers with a weaker, more northerly flow over the Baltic Sea the differences are very large. The higher sea surface temperatures in the uncoupled experiment lead to an intensified hydrological cycle over the Baltic Sea, with more than 30% additional precipitation in summer taken as an average over the full 30-yr period and over the entire Baltic Sea. The differences are mostly local, over the sea, but there are differences in surrounding land areas.