Scandinavia is known for its cold temperatures and long stretches of winter darkness but it’s also one of the happiest places to live in the world. In 2010, Denmark topped Newsweek’s list of the best places in the world to live, and Sweden came in at number two. It’s also very beautiful, even in the winter. For a really unique trip many choose to visit multiple countries in Scandinavia all at once, to do this you could travel by road, rail or sea. Scandinavian cruises are increasingly popular, even with people who normally wouldn’t consider this type of travel. From the famous fjords of Norway to the design museums of Helsinki here’s what to expect from each stop on your journey…
If you manage to bag yourself a reasonably priced cruise deal you might find yourself setting sail from Denmark’s capital city. Small and welcoming, Copenhagen is probably most famous for Tivoli Gardens and the Little Mermaid. Although the city has a lot more to offer – it’s filled with a multitude of pavement cafes and cosy (often world-class) restaurants. The hipsters migrate to the Meatpacking district – an area of former meat processing plants now transformed into a collection of intimate clubs and cool DJ bars, and the collection of historic royal palaces, national museums, galleries, parks and excellent shopping seem to keep the masses happy.
Architecturally, the city is an eclectic mix of futuristically modern buildings and an ensemble of handsome Renaissance palaces, parks and merchant houses laid out around the waterways and canals that give Copenhagen a distinctive Dutch flavour.
Oslo and the Fjords, Norway
Oslo – the capital of Norway – is one of the most expensive but underrated cities in Europe. It’s also the oldest of the Scandinavian capital cities, although the centre embodies the urban elegance of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries with wide streets, immaculate parks and gardens, solid buildings and long vistas. The city also has a superb collection of museums from the fabulous Viking Ships Museum to the Munch Museum which is dedicated to the life and works of the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch (make sure you visit for ‘The Scream’ – one of the most recognisable paintings the world).
Head on further to the rainy but beautiful city of Bergen. The city is filled with medieval buildings and a selection of good museums but its biggest draw is its status as being the gateway to the famous fjords – one of the most naturally beautiful and dramatic landscapes in Europe (and listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List). The glacial valleys are eerily silent, and are surrounded by high, snow-topped mountains and waterfalls that give the area an other-worldly beauty. Sognefjord is the longest, deepest and most celebrated of the country’s waterways closely followed by Hardangerfjord. Although also make sure you include a visit to the Jostedalsbreen glacier (the largest ice sheet in Europe), Nordfjord, and Geirangerfjord, perhaps the most scenically impressive of all the fjords.
In Finland, life revolves around sauna culture and nature. While you will probably have the chance to experience a sauna in Finland’s capital city, chances are you will not have time to see a taiga forest, in Finnish Lapland, or take a boat ride on one of the country’s 180,000 lakes. Finnish lake cruising is a whole separate type of holiday.
Helsinki is known for its art, architecture and modern design. In fact, the city was named the World Design Capital for 2012. Alvar Aalto, a Finnish architect, completed around 500 buildings in his career, and many of them can be found in Finland. Do not miss Aalto’s Finlandia Talo; this stunning concert hall is open for tours. From furniture and tableware to fabrics and crafts, Finland is celebrated for its design traditions and its cutting-edge approach to form and function. Spend your time in Helsinki exploring the Design Museum or the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma.
Built across 14 islands in the Baltic Sea, Stockholm is a beautiful and ultra-modern city. In fact, two-thirds of the city is water and green space, which makes it one of the cleanest and most environmentally friendly places in the world. Known for its tolerance and high quality of life, the city you see when you get off the ship is thankfully not going to look like what Stieg Larsson conjured up in the crime novel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
The Old Town, or Gamla Stan, is the heart of Stockholm. It is a combination of baroque architecture and quaint red and yellow buildings. The Old Town is the ideal place to grab something to eat. A cinnamon bun and a strong coffee is a classic Swedish snack, while a fancier dinner might include seafood, elk or reindeer dishes. There are over 100 museums in Sweden, the two most popular being the Modern Art Museum and the Skansen, which is a living history museum.
Co-written by the team and all photos were taken by regular contributor James Taylor during his Scandinavian Tour. Find more of his photos on Instagram @theteacherjames