From majestic fjords and cool canal tours to epic forest hikes and biking around green-friendly cities, Scandinavia is a haven for adventure travellers. Rome2rio’s own Alisa Tykhonova shares her top travel tips for this magnificent part of the world.
Where did you travel in Scandinavia?
I travelled for 3 weeks and went to Denmark (Copenhagen), Sweden (Malmö and Stockholm), Finland (Åland islands and Helsinki), and Norway (Bergen, Balestrand, Flåm and Oslo). Of course, I used Rome2rio to plan my itinerary.
What are your top tips for planning a trip to Scandinavia?
The best time to visit Scandinavia depends on what you want to do. Long summer days and the midnight sun are perfect for cycling, hiking and cruising around the fjords. If you are not afraid of cold weather, winter in Scandinavia is the best time to enjoy snowy landscapes, Christmas markets and exciting winter activities like dog sledding or staying in an ice hotel. There’s also the breathtaking Northern Lights, that are best viewed from September to March.
No matter which time of year you decide on, it’s better to book all your transportation in advance. Sometimes, trains or buses can be almost double the usual price if tickets are bought on the same day. Accommodation options in small towns can be limited as well so try to book early if travelling during the peak season.
Which cities would you encourage people to visit and why?
I would recommend spending at least a few days in Copenhagen; it is one of the most liveable, greenest, and bike-friendly cities in Europe. The alternative neighbourhood, Freetown Christiania, was the most unique and unusual place I visited on the trip. It is a semi-autonomous hippie commune founded in the 1970s and it felt like walking into another world! If you’re lucky enough to be in Copenhagen on a warm sunny day, head to Amager Beach Park. It’s a 2km long artificial island that forms a big sandy beach – perfect for sunbathing, relaxing and picnics. I’d also recommend the brilliant Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, which is only a quick hour train ride from Copenhagen.
Stockholm was also a really fun city to visit; their subway is really pretty and easy to navigate. I would also recommend the Royal Djurgården for a relaxing park experience and a walk around Södermalm for a cool, hipster vibe.
What are your must-do experiences for this part of the world?
I would say staying in a cabin with a sauna by the lake on the Åland Islands is definitely up there! It’s a typical Finish summer getaway and I really enjoyed it. All the major fjord-side towns in Norway offer plenty of activities in summer such as a fjord safari, kayaking, canoeing and guided tours to famous landmarks. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my hiking gear on me this time, but I’m definitely planning on returning to Norway to hike to some of the most beautiful places in the world: Pulpit Rock and Trolltunga.
What was the highlight and lowlight of your trip?
The most memorable part of the trip was exploring Norwegian fjords. I landed in Bergen, which is one of the most popular gateways to the fjords. From there I took a few scenic ferries; firstly to Balestrand along Sognefjord, the largest and deepest fjord in Norway, and then to Flåm along the UNESCO heritage-listed Nærøyfjord, which had some of the most breathtaking landscapes I’ve ever seen. Some other scenic ferry routes I’d recommend in Norway are Flåm to Gudvangen and Geiranger to Hellesylt.
The lowlight was definitely Norwegian weather. We were going to spend an extra day in Balestrand to explore the outdoors. Instead, we had to stay in the hotel all day because it was foggy, freezing and rained non-stop.
What was the best way to travel and why?
For international trips between Scandinavian capitals, ferries were my favourite way to travel. You get a great buffet breakfast (or dinner) with a fantastic view. There is usually a sauna and a bar on board so you won’t get bored.
Hopping on a bike is definitely a fun and easy way to get to know your surroundings; I think riding around all day is a perfect way to explore a new city. I would recommend installing the Donkey Republic bike-sharing app. It is reasonably cheap, easy to use, available in most European capitals and the bikes were well taken care of.
It’s also worth checking out the famous Flåm Railway in Norway. This 20km line has a height difference of 866 metres making it one of the steepest railways in Europe. It runs through the mountainous valley of Flåmsdalen offering incredible views. Other scenic railway journeys in Norway I’d recommend are Dombås to Åndalsnes, Oslo to Bergen and Oslo to Trondheim.
What was especially interesting about travelling around Scandinavia?
I was surprised to find out that Nordic countries have the highest coffee consumption per capita in the world. Stockholm public ferries even offer free coffee!
What are your top tips for travelling in Scandinavia?
- Download apps for local public transport tickets. In most Scandinavian capitals, you can buy a mobile tram, metro or bus ticket in the app. It’s very convenient: you don’t need to look for the ticket machine and try to figure out how to use it. Besides, mobile tickets are often cheaper.
- Ferries are more than just transport; they make for great day trips. If you are staying for longer than 4-5 days in Stockholm, I would recommend taking the Viking Line’s cruise to the Åland Islands and back.
- Check the opening hours of local supermarkets. I arrived in Norway late on a Saturday night and discovered all supermarkets are closed on Sundays according to local laws.
- Try to get a window seat if you are flying from or into Bergen. The views of fjords on a clear day are incredible!
- Don’t forget a blackout eye mask if you are travelling in summer. It’s very difficult to sleep if you are jetlagged and the sun is shining brightly around 4 am. Northern European apartments are famous for their “no curtain” setup so a good eye mask is a must.
- Things can get pricey so here are some money-saving tips: Carry a reusable water bottle – a bottle of water in a Norwegian convenience store will cost you roughly 5 EUR. Remember to bring snacks when travelling in remote areas to avoid ridiculously overpriced food.
- Even though Scandinavia is one of the most expensive regions in the world, there are plenty of cheap or even free attractions like walking tours, scenic parks and stunning architecture. The Stockholm metro has some of the most beautiful stations I’ve ever seen and is regarded as the longest art gallery in the world.
Can’t wait to check out Scandinavia? Download the Rome2rio app so you can plan your journey on the go.