You’ve organised the snow gear, saved the cash and applied for annual leave; suddenly, the dream of a trip to Scandinavia is about to become a reality.
But how are you supposed to know what the best places to visit in Scandinavia are? Luckily, this guide to the coolest and quirkiest towns in Scandinavia has got you covered – from cultural capitals and viking settlements, to the home of the Northern Lights, these are the cities you want on your itinerary.
Everyone knows the Swedes are cool – they did invent Ikea and H&M, and give us Abba, after all. So it makes sense that all good Scandinavian holidays feature time in the very epicentre of Scandi culture: Stockholm. Medieval-esque buildings line the cobblestone streets of Sweden’s capital, and at first glance it appears like any other traditional European city. A wander along these historic alleyways soon reveals plenty of hidden gems though, and people so unfairly fashionable you’ll instantly question every item of clothing you’ve packed. With just under 100 museums and galleries in Stockholm, it’s a melting pot of culture and art, and highlights include the Vasa Museum, Nobel Museum and Moderna Museet. Even Stockholm’s subway system is considered a modern masterpiece: 90 of the city’s stations have been transformed by artists who’ve decorated them with incredible murals, installations and sculptures.
For the longest time, Oslo was considered the forgotten Scandinavian capital – overshadowed by its chic neighbours, Stockholm and Copenhagen. Now though, having just been crowned the European Green Capital of 2019, and with a burgeoning contemporary art scene, raging late-night party culture and booming Neo-Nordic culinary movement, Oslo is finally getting the global recognition it deserves. Surrounded by mountains on one side and the Oslofjord inlet on the other, it’s a picturesque city, and its good looks have only been bolstered by the recent addition of some seriously cutting-edge architecture (Oslo’s glass and marble Opera House could give Sydney’s a run for its money!). Head to the neighbourhood of Grünerløkka to get a real taste of Oslo’s cool culture; this industrial area turned hip hangout is chock-full of cafes, markets, vintage stores and bars.
Google the city of Bergen and you’ll quickly notice one common piece of info: it’s allegedly the wettest city in Europe (230 days of rain a year will give you that reputation). But don’t let that deter you. Located on Norway’s southwestern coast, Bergen is actually one of Scandinavia’s prettiest destinations. Like something out of a fairy tale, colourful wooden houses stand out against the grey skies at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Bryggen Wharf, once the heart of this former Viking settlement. Only 280,000 people call Bergen home, and it’s overflowing with small town charm; the streets are filled with friendly locals and the cafes are cosy, serving hot coffee that would rival Melbourne’s best brews. And make sure you take a ride up the 101-year-old Fløibanen funicular to the top of Mt Fløyen – the stunning views will take your breath away.
So much more than just saunas and skinny dipping, Finland’s capital Helsinki is a city developing its own identity. Originally part of Sweden, then Russia, it’s interesting to note that while these foreign influences are still noticeable, they’re slowly fading, and it’s a new Helsinki emerging; a city teeming with creative design types, outlandish dining options, an eccentric live music scene and a strong focus on being active. 330 islands comprise the Helsinki archipelago, with everything from hiking and kayaking to skiing and ice fishing on offer. Restaurants serve up mouth-watering delicacies such as wild salmon and snow grouse, but it’s reindeer that’s a must-try. And as much as it’s a cliché, if you don’t have at least one proper sauna session when in town, you haven’t done Helsinki properly.
No trip to Scandinavia is complete without an attempt to spot the elusive Northern Lights. And the best place to see the Northern Lights? Tromsø, the gateway to the Arctic. From May to July, when the midnight sun takes over, it’s a lively, busy township, with a surprising amount of bars, restaurants and galleries. In fact, Tromsø has more pubs per capita than any other Norwegian city! But it’s September through March, when the masses descend upon Tromsø to chase the lights, that this city really comes alive. While there are no guarantees you’ll see the aurora borealis, Tromsø’s notoriously good Arctic conditions (clear skies, pitch black darkness) mean your chances are pretty good. If the odds aren’t in your favour though, you can always join one of the many Scandinavia tours that go snowshoeing, dog sledding, whale watching or snowmobiling. Not a bad consolation prize!