Scandinavia, which includes Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, is home to so many fantastic destinations and things to do, if you hope to experience them all you’d probably have to spend months if not years doing it. For those who don’t have that kind of unlimited time or funds, you’ll have to pick and choose. These spots are some of the very best in this region of northern Europe to explore, helping you to narrow down your itinerary.
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Reine, Lofoten Islands, Norway
The little fishing village of Reine sits in the Lofoten archipelago north of the Arctic Circle in Norway, surrounded by stunning bays, towering fjords and dramatic mountain peaks. Many of the vibrant red-painted fishermen’s cabins dotted around the coast have been transformed into cozy cottages that offer direct access to the sea. After dark, you’ll have a front-row seat of the night sky, which in the chillier months of the year can mean a dazzling display of the northern lights, and in the summer, the midnight sun.
The famous Flam Line winds through fjords and spectacular mountains as it makes its way from Myrdal to Flam. The one-hour adventure is one of Norway’s most popular tourist attractions, rising from the shores of Aurlandsfjord as it makes the steep climb – steeper than any other normal-gauge railroad in the world. Passengers can gaze out at the myriad of waterfalls and roaring rivers that cut through deep ravines, as well as twist through tunnels that spiral in and out of the mountain. Taking the train isn’t a necessity, though it is highly recommended. If you drive to Flam, consider hiking to Brekkkefossen waterfall, a two- to three-hour round-trip trek with maps available at the tourist information center.
While many people come to Norway to experience its breathtaking fjords and soaring mountains, the capital city of Oslo is well worth spending a few days to enjoy its top attractions. Take a harbor cruise for magnificent views of the fjord, islands and the city, and perhaps visit medieval Akershus Castle and its gorgeous grounds before strolling through Palace Park. Just steps away are two popular attractions, Ibsen Museum, which is currently undergoing renovations and will reopen in 2021, and the new National Museum that will open in 2020.
One of Europe’s last great untouched wilderness areas, the Svalbard Archipelago lies between the Norwegian Sea, Arctic Ocean, Barents Sea and the Greenland Sea. In this remote and rugged place filled with glistening glaciers and craggy mountains, there are more polar bears than people. It’s one of the northernmost permanently inhabited places on Earth, and under 3,000 people call it home. In addition to polar bears, visitors can glimpse polar fox, walrus and reindeer. Kayaking trips are popular, with the chance to witness glaciers calving into the sea along with all sorts of marine life, including humpbacks, belugas and blue whales.
In the Swedish capital of Stockholm, you can discover an enticing mix of attractions that combine ancient history and tradition, modern amenities and plenty of picturesque scenery. There is no other large city that has as many green spaces, ideal to explore on foot or two wheels. Paddling the sea in a kayak is a popular activity too. The city also offers lots of great shopping opportunities from the upscale designer boutiques in elegant Ostermalm to the artistic treasures at Moderna Museet.
Sweden’s “second city” Gothenburg is a less expensive and less pretentious alternative to glitzy Stockholm. Enjoy strolling the streets lined with impressive architecture, through beautiful parks and gardens like Gothenburg Botanical Gardens, as well as Slottsskogen and Kiellers parks. There are lots of art galleries and museums, including a unique natural history museum, and as it sits along the coast, local restaurants often serve mouthwatering local seafood. Beer enthusiasts can partake in the outstanding craft brew scene too.
Sweden’s largest island Gotland sits in the Baltic Sea, popular for summer getaways among Swedes. A laid-back paradise, it’s known for its plentiful sunshine, sandy beaches and dense forests that make for great hiking and biking. You’ll find sparkling lakes, unique rock formations, caves with stalactites and stalagmites and colorful gardens. Visby is the main settlement, a historic town famous for the medieval defensive walls that surround it, as well as hosting a spectacular medieval cathedral and church ruins. A former Viking site, items from the Viking Age are regularly uncovered here.
Sweden’s first National Marine Park is located in the vehicle-free Koster Islands, only a two-hour drive from Gothenburg. It’s a popular place for outdoor adventures, including kayaking, diving and seal safaris, while also offering spectacularly unspoiled beaches. It’s famous for its captivating “Koster Light,” which inspires countless artists, while lobster enthusiasts can join a lobster safari and even become part of the crew before returning to feast on the delectable catch.
Gudhjem is located in the Baltic Sea, renowned for its stunning chalk cliffs, lush forests and pristine white beaches. It’s crowned by a windmill that stands over the sloping streets and half-timbered houses. This is Denmark’s only mountain town, built into the rocky terrain and up the Bokul mountain range. By climbing the mountain, you’ll be rewarded with a dazzling view of the town, its red roofs, harbor and the sea beyond.
Aarhus is often named one of the world’s happiest cities. It’s no wonder, set along the coast next to jaw-dropping fjords, emerald forests and Viking rune stones. It’s home to a magnificent Old Town with traditional Danish architecture that dates from the 16th to 19th centuries, and it’s also a popular foodie destination with everything from trendy cafes to Michelin-star restaurants for sampling New Nordic cuisine.
Funen Island, Denmark
Funen was the birthplace of one of Denmark’s most beloved authors, Hans Christian Andersen. It’s surrounded by gently rolling hills, orchards and hedgerows, while streets are lined with thatched, half-timbered homes and manor houses. The old cobbled district of Odense, where the famous author was born, hosts the Hans Christian Andersen Museum, part of which is located in the house of his birth, showcasing an impressive collection from his life and the times, like period furniture, and many of his drawings and paper clippings. Egeskov Castle, one of Europe’s best preserved Renaissance water castles is another highlight, dating to 1554, located in a picturesque park with multiple other attractions.
Copenhagen is a compact capital loved for its colorful collection of attractions and shopping as well as boasting impressive architecture that reveals its centuries-old past. Rent a bike, one of the most popular ways to get around, by the hour, day or week, and explore its pretty parks and wealth of attractions like the Danish Crown Jewels housed in Rosenborg Castle.