Choose to be cool this summer and travel north for culture, sights and adventure
Summer is the perfect time to sightsee Scandinavia. From visiting fjords in Oslo to spotting the Northern Lights just outside Reykjavik, the brevity of activities and sightseeing spots make the region a must-visit.
Scandinavia is an area blooming with beauty and natural splendour. And the stunning topography of the region has a feeling of wildness and savagery, with sensational scenic views that are unrivalled anywhere on the planet. So with the summer temperatures rising to pleasant climes, the region is a great choice to stave away from the typical summer break to Spain.
Here’s our guided tour of the area, from the heights of Bergen to the culture of Stockholm, and with many more adventures in between. All of these cities are great for a three or four-day break, longer with a hire car to explore the surrounding areas, ideal as a small break from the stresses of work and life in general.
Norway’s capital is something of a culture spot
Think of Scandinavia and Norway is one of the first countries that you think of. Perhaps the best thing about Oslo is that it is not near the tourists spots on the coastline, so you don’t have to battle your way around the city with thousands of people recently frequenting the city after getting off the nearby cruise ship. The city is vibrant and a bit of a museum hot-spot, well worth a visit in its own right.
Vigeland Museum shows the works of prominent Oslo sculptor Gustav Vigeland, and even his flat was saved as part of the museum. Staying with a cultural theme, the Museum of Cultural History, holding archaeological facets such as Medieval and even prehistoric collections, with original Viking ships, a collection of Norwegian coins and many other historical nuggets of history prevalent, is an educational escape.
If you want to look at more Viking ships, the aptly-named Viking Ship Museum, based at Bygdøy, holds numerous boats from different times in Viking history.
Away from the museums and Oslo Fjord is a must-visit. The bay is split up in between an inner fjord and an outer fjord, and as well as witnessing spectacular views there are also opportunities to get out on the water, trying your hand at kayaking, canoeing, sailing and fishing.
Finally, just walking around Bygdøy Peninsula in itself is breathtakingly beautiful, and a great place to visit after looking at the Viking boats. The area is full of wooden houses and the residential area is good to museum spot (yes, them again). You can also wile away the hours taking in the view of the water.
Great for: Culture
Need to know…
Currency: Norwegian Krone
Saying ‘hello’: Hallo
National dish: Fårikål (boiled lamb and cabbage).
Average summer temperature: 16.2 degrees
You can fly direct to Oslo Rygge from Stansted with Ryanair for as little as £15.
A great coast spot ideal for a day’s shopping or a walker’s dream
There are a host of towns that blend a mix of architectural beauty and a natural landscape carved by the elements in Norway. Getting a hire car is a superb way of ensuring you visit a few of these spots. What Bergen offers is a lovely city and a great variation of activities for hikers.
Take a peek of the city from the peak of Mount Ulriken, the highest of seven mountains in the city. Getting there is the coolest part; you take a cable car to the top, witnessing spectacular views along the way. Once you reach the pinnacle, a view of the city opens up and is not to be missed. Staying with mountains, Mount Floyen adds a bit more variation to make it worth the hike (literally). Once you reach the top there is a town to make the most of and opportunities for skiing and snowboarding as well. Add the customary excellent view and it’s a must-do.
Again for hikers, the Stoltzekleiven walk sees you pass lakes, but only once you’re a fair way up the 800 steps it takes to get to the top. Once you’re there, it’s easy to connect to the next mountain, and so on, so it’s ideal for fair-weather hikers and fanatics alike.
Not your usual recommendation, but the Leprosy Museum is very much worth a visit. Between 1850-1900 Bergen had three hospitals committed to treating the leprosy epidemic spread across Bergen. The museum building was formerly St. George’s Hospital, and was actually built as long ago as the 15th century.
If you’ve had your meal and a couple of drinks then a walk by Bergen Fortress is a great shout for the end of a romantic retreat. It is located at Bergen harbour’s entrance and is one of the best preserved castles in Norway. It is historically enriched, dating back as far as the 1240s and also houses Haakon’s Hall and Rosenkrantz Tower, entrenched in Bergen’s historical culture.
Great for: Hikers
You can fly direct to Bergen from Heathrow with British Airways for £68.
The must-see spot is far older than the battle of Waterloo
There’s a lot more to Sweden than Benny and Bjorn, and the country’s capital is a veritable hub for culture and to get a feeling for the past. The capital city is a great three or four-day city break escape. As with all of Scandinavia, it’s not cheap, and Stockholm is particularly pricey, but getting there is as cheap as chips and if you’re savvy you don’t need to break the bank.
The main attraction is Stockholm Old Town, also affectionately known as Medieval Stockholm. With a plethora of old-world bars, restaurants, shops and buildings, it’s like taking a walk through history. This was the original city centre and it dates back to the 1300s, but most of the buildings were erected in 1800s. Get lost down alleyways and enjoy the cobbled streets while soaking in the atmosphere. In the summer months, you can also witness the changing of the guards.
Continuing with the theme of stellar walks and simply roaming around, Montelisvagen has waterside cafés, awesome views and pleasant, modern architecture as an antithesis to Old Town. You can get on the hop on, hop off bus from the city centre and spend the day looking at some of the city’s best churches, modern monuments and soak in the views of the surrounding islands.
Vasa Museum is the highlight for many travellers to Stockholm. The maritime museum houses the 17th century warship Vasa, a 64-gun piece of history almost fully intact, being dragged up in the 1960s. Perhaps not quite as memorable as the Titanic, the Vasa sank on its maiden voyage. Only 1,300 metres into its first journey, the colossal warship sank because a gust of wind blew it over. No lie!
Another museum that you have to visit is Skansen. Here you can get a feeling for all things Swedish – in the past and recently. You can stroll through five centuries of history, as well as enjoy an eclectic range of food and drink. You can get to the small island by ferry and make the day of it. You can watch glass blowers, bakers and others at work and get involved yourself with a few workshops running throughout the day.
Finally, just in case you don’t want anything other than Benny and Bjorn, the ABBA Museum has everything you would ever want as a fan. Finding this place could be the name of your game.
Great for: Soaking in the atmosphere
Need to know…
Currency: Swedish Krona
Saying ‘thank you’: Tack
Must do: Get a fika fix – café culture is big in Sweden
Average summer temperature: 16.4 degrees
You can fly direct to Stockholm Vasteras from Stansted with Ryanair for as little as £27.
It’s all about out-of-city adventure
Reykjavik is becoming a very popular spot for people who fancy a trip away to New York with Icelandair. You can make sure you have a couple of days in this beautiful city before jetting off to the Big Apple. But many other budget airlines fly there direct and the city offers a pleasant two day trip, or far longer for those that want a bit of adventure. Iceland came into prominence when it qualified for the European football championships this year, despite only having a population the size of a small city in England. And although the population may be small, the city is truly mighty.
Firstly, as you can anywhere in Scandinavia, there are many tour operators that will take you out of the city to look at the Northern Lights. These are particularly spectacular in Iceland. There’s never a guarantee you’ll see them, but the possibility of seeing such a magical skyline is a major draw that means it is worth running the risk of being left disappointed.
Another tour you can’t visit Iceland and not do is the Langjokull glacier and ice cave tour. Lankjokull is the second largest ice cave in Iceland and is a fair trek from the city of Reykjavik (but very much worth it). The man-made cave allows you to walk through the incredible structure but the journey there is just as cool, going on monster trucks and capturing views of mountains that you will never forget.
For a bit of retail therapy away from all the action, the area in the city known as Lauvagegur is well worth a visit. No monster trucks are seen down this stretch of road. Reykjavik is well-known for its pretty impressive party scene and this is where you get the cream of the crop.
An absolute must is a visit to the incredible cathedral in the city, the Cathedral of Christ the King. Structurally and architecturally it rivals Gaudi’s masterpiece in Barcelona for its spectacular ingenuity in design. Once inside, it’s just as breath taking and the view of the city complements this visit as an afternoon very well spent.
Finally, for a bit more culture and a break from the myriad of adventure tours out there, the Concert Hall regularly has classical concerts that are of an exceptional standard. The building itself is a modern masterpiece made mostly of glass and you’ll be promised a performance you’ll never forget.
Great for: Adventure
You can fly direct to Reykjavik from Gatwick with Wow Air for as little as £72.
A city of splendid architecture
The capital of Finland is a great place for the culture vultures. It is steeped is history and a perfect retreat for a couple for three days. The saying is that you ‘See Naples and die’, such as the beauty of the place, but Helsinki certainly gives it a run for its money in this respect. If you’re interested in history, architecture, culture or a mixture of all three, this should be a high priority on your bucket list.
Where to start? Well, in the heart of the city you can visit Helsinki Cathedral. Built in 1852 and in a neoclassical style, it looks pristine and is modelled in a Greek design. However, just as impressive is the Uspenski Cathedral, built 20 years later by a Russian architect.
Composer Sibelius is widely celebrated in the city, they even named a conference centre after one of his finest pieces of work, but it’s the Sibelius Monument that strikes the sweetest chord. Located in Sibelius Park (well worth a visit in itself), it is a sculpture by Eila Hiltunen titled Passio Musicae and it is a piece of abstract art depicting organ pipes.
The Ateneum Art Museum will keep you on a journey of cultural enrichment. Housing thousands of famous paintings and sculptures with a major focus on Finnish artists throughout history, it also exhibits works from around the globe. Of the non-Finnish works, The Road Bridge at L’Estaque by Cezanne and Street in Auvers-sur-Oise by Van Gogh perhaps garner the most attention. The building itself was designed by Theodor Höijer in the fin de siècle period and it is a piece of art in itself.
To get a feel of every-day life in Helsinki, a visit to Hakaniemi Market is a good shout. As well as being able to buy fresh, local produce, there’s an array of cafés to sit at and watch the world go by. The area is popular with tourists and locals alike and although the prices may be elevated, it’s something you’ll regret missing if you don’t take a look.
Finally, as explained hitherto, the most impressive aspect to Helsinki is its architecture, and Rock Church (also known as Temppeliaukio Kurrki in its native Finnish), is utterly incredible. The Lutheran church was opened in 1969 and you really have to see it to believe it. The interior has been built out of rock and the church organ has 3,001 pipes. Many recordings are made in the church as the building’s surrounds make it ideal for great acoustics. We’re shouting from the rooftops about how amazing this place is.
Great for: Incredible Architecture
Need to know…
Saying: ‘How are you keeping?’ Kuinka voit pitaminen
Fact: Known as the ‘Land of the Thousand Lakes’
Average summer temperature: 15 degrees
You can fly direct to Helsinki Vantaa from Gatwick with Norwegian for as little as £77.
Beers, bars and brilliant art make it a perfect couples’ retreat
Our final whistle-stop tour of Scandinavia takes us to the capital city of Denmark. Copenhagen, like all cities in Scandinavia, is very expensive but one up side over the others is that it is slightly warmer. There’s a wide range of places to sightsee, things to do and even plenty of beer to taste so it makes for a good location for couples to visit and compromise on where to go.
First thing you really need to do when you get to Copenhagen? Visit the Carlsberg Museum! No, really, it’s well worth a visit. What Guinness is to Dublin so is Carlsberg to Copenhagen, and they’ve made a concerted effort to make the museum a real gem. Many of the buildings are old and full of character and a humongous selection of beers make it a great afternoon, with the tour itself highly informative.
It’s more than nice at Nyhavn. The chic part of town is ideal for dinner, drinks, a bit of night culture and fun. The coloured buildings bring the area to life as you people watch by the canal and see the world pass before you. It’s pleasant in the morning, afternoon or evening and an ideal place to visit as a lone traveller, couple or family.
For the penitent among us, the Church of Our Saviour is in the baroque style and, quite simply, is a masterpiece to marvel at. The church spire twists round with hues of gold shining high. Legend has it that the architect jumped from the top of the spire when he realised the spirals turned the wrong way, adding more intrigue to the place of worship.
Again to show the brevity of attractions to tempt you to Copenhagen, a visit to theme park Tavoli Gardens will give you a blood rush. One of the most visited amusement parks on the planet, there’s a huge range of fun and games to be had, including the legendary wooden rollercoaster named Rutschebanen, originally built in 1914!
Finally, to finish off your tour of Copenhagen, a perusal of Rosenborg Castle should be on the cards. The renaissance building was originally erected in 1606. Along with an array of royal collections (including the crown of King Christian IV), the gardens are superb and it’s a great way to spend half a day.
Great for: Romantic mini breaks
Need to know…
Currency: Danish Krone
Must eat: Go to Michelin star restaurant Kokkeriet
Known for: Danepak; Peter Schmeichel
Average summer temperature: 17 degrees
You can fly direct to Copenhagen Airport from Luton with Ryanair for as little as £10.