The word “Scandinavia” probably evokes a whole array of images in your mind – endless fir forests, awe-inspiring fjords, wilderness, and as of late, perhaps crime fiction and noir thrillers such as Borgen, Wallander and The Killing. While Scandinavia is all of these things and more, these images hardly do justice to the region’s vastness and diversity.
In English, Scandinavia refers to the three regions of Denmark, Norway and Sweden. While not technically in Scandinavia, Finland also has a Nordic feel with vast expanses of lake and forests. Nomadic reindeer herders travel from mountain to forest and the naked sauna is a national pastime. And if you’re up for something a little different, you can witness a husband winning his wife’s weight in beer in the World Wife Carrying Championships (held in Finland).
For those who still believe in the magic of Christmas, you can always take a trip to visit Santa and his reindeer!
So if you’re looking to visit parts, or majority of Scandinavia, you’ll find the highlights of each of these countries detailed below, to help you decide on your next travel destination.
The western coasts of Denmark are often wild and wet, with magnificent fjord cliffs which defy your sense of scale. However if it’s rolling fields and woods you’re looking to enjoy, head south to Denmark’s countryside – a gentler and picturesque landscape ideal for touring by bike. While most regional towns and even cities in Scandinavia tend to be small, relatively sleepy, but very pretty, the capital cities are compelling destinations in their own right.
Copenhagen, Denmark’s captial, is renowned for its chic sophistication and fine dining. For a region that subsisted largely on herring and rye bread, only occasionally looking to France and Italy for some culinary cues, the food has changed significantly over the recent decade or so. Local chefs, such as René Redzepi of Noma, have transformed the way they find and use what’s on their doorstep, and the world is now beating a path to their kitchen doors.
Your must-see/do in Denmark includes Royal Castles (plenty all over the country), Little Mermaid, Legoland, Hans Christian Anderson, Tivoli Gardens, The Old Town Aarhus, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, National Gallery, Viking Ship/Open Air Museums and churches (Fredriks Church, Church of our Saviour etc.)
Similar to Denmark, Sweden has plenter to offer, depending on what you’re looking to gain from your trip. From cosy cottages, forests and rocky islands to viking lore and the traditional Sami people whose nomadic lifestyle is built around reindeer herding, there are plenty of cultural and nature-gazing activities to keep you busy. And if it’s good food you’re after, you might like to visit Sweden’s market halls for local fish and produce to satisfy those taste buds!
Your must-see/do in Sweden include Gamle Stan, Skansen Open Air Museum, ABBA Museum, Nobel Museum, Djurgarden, Drottingholm Palace, Liseberg Amusement Park, Archipelago of Gothenburg, Lund Cathedral and Astrid Lindgrens World. If you’re looking for something totally different, why not consider Sweden’s ice hotel – built entirely from… you giuessed it, ice!
During summer in Norway, the days stretch forever with 24 hour sunshine, and every Scandinavian country explodes in a celebration of light, music, culture, Baltic beachcombing, lakeland fun and some legendary fishing (especially in Norway during the salmon runs). This is the time to explore remote coasts and sleepy traditional islands by car, canoe, ferry or historic Baltic schooner, and to plan mountain and trail hikes. It’s also when midsummer festivals are at their peak.
Putting together an itinerary to sample the best of the region is quickest via the network of airports. Travelling overland poses its challenges, but promises greater adventure too. Determined independent travellers willing to piece together an itinerary that takes in several countries can make the most of rail, road and ferry travel over some pretty incredible landscapes. The Oslo to Bergen railway or the Norwegian coastal steamer route are just a few examples. Happily, all these mini-adventures will generally run to timetable, thanks to innate Nordic good sense and organisation.
Your must-see/do in Norway includes Fjords, Lofoten Island, Nobel Peacecentre, Holmekollen, Viking Museums, of which there are plenty all over the country, Arctic Cathedral, Ulriks Banen, Nidaros Cathedral and Bergen Brygge.
Best time to travel?
May to August when daytime temperatures rise into teens and 20C, greenery abounds and everyone makes the most of the “midnight sun”. It’s also when the vast majority of food, culture and music festivals happen and the seasonal attractions and camping grounds re-open.
Travelling around Scandinavia
Rail travel in Scandinavia is usually reasonably priced and has some good regional and cross-border intercity connections. You might find that your cross-country rail journey is wonderfully scenic in its own right, such as the Bergen railway which crosses the “roof of Norway” on Northern Europe’s highest altitude line. If you’re planning extensive rail travel and you’re happy to plan ahead (we’d be delighted to help with that by the way), Eurail offers great deals on unlimited rail travel around Scandinavia – it also offers family tickets and discounts on some ferry routes in the region too.
Car hire is always an option in Scandinavia and the roads are generally easy to navigate.
Much of the region is dependent on ferries and, if you do decide to travel by car, there are many car ferry routes available. However, bare in mind that at weekends, ferry fares do tend to go up. Sweden has the largest fleet of ferries serving the islands of the Stockholm archipelago. Some ferry routes are worth the journey in themselves, perhaps chief among them Norway’s extraordinary Hurtigruten.
While exploring Scandinavia, travelling in a small group allows you to take in all the must-see attractions as well as the hidden secrets of each destination. Most Scandinavian cities have English-speaking local guides available to provide you with an insight into their home town/area. During your free time, your guide will also offer their suggestions of the best places to explore or to shop. Most tours of Scandinavia incorporate some cruising on the Norwegian fjords, but generally only for a few hours.
If you’d like to know more about Scandinavia or you’re ready to plan your next holiday, you can always give us a call on (02) 6041 5577 or book an appointment. You can find more on our top travel destinations here!
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