Scandinavia: So much more than you thought
You can find the area on a map, but you might not know which countries belong to Scandinavia. Norway, Sweden and Denmark form this region, but what do you really know about Scandinavia? Yes, there are the Vikings, pickled herring and the Northern Lights. There are also whales, beautiful scenery, unique museums and fabulous outdoor activities. Here's what makes Scandinavia so much more.
“The Little Mermaid” and “The Emperor’s New Clothes” are familiar stories from our childhood. Hans Christian Andersen, one of the country’s most famous authors, lived and worked in its capital, Copenhagen. Today, one of the best ways to get a glimpse of the author’s life and a view of Copenhagen is to book a Hans Christian Andersen Walking Tour. A guaranteed stop on the tour is Denmark’s most photographed attraction, The Little Mermaid.
Looking for a little amusement? Perhaps, the most famous of Denmark’s parks is Tivoli Gardens. This fairy-tale-like park, created in 1843, is open from mid-April through mid-December. Over the years, it has been painstakingly maintained and improved, and its seasonal themes and decorations are breathtaking to see. Do not fear; it isn’t all historical. The small park has some wonderful and modern rides and roller coasters, as well.
Copenhagen can also boast about its shopping and dining experiences. The Strøget, located in the historic district, is Europe’s longest pedestrian-only shopping zone. While you can dine at any number of fine restaurants, why not dine at a place that you know will be a culinary experience? Noma is one of the top-ranked restaurants in the world and has received the No. 1 designation three times, so a meal there is sure to be a memorable occasion.
For an adventure outside of the capital city, take the train along the Danish coast from Copenhagen to Helsingør. Not only is the town quaint and vibrant, but its nearby castle, Kronborg, is also a wonder to see. From the castle, Sweden is only four miles across the sea, and this strategic location not only served as a military fort until the early 1920s but also as Elsinore, the setting of William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”
A visit to Norway’s capital, Oslo, can provide an abundance of unique sightseeing opportunities. Plan to see the Kon-Tiki Museum, which follows Thor Heyerdahl’s crossing of the Pacific Ocean in 1947. Claiming that settlers from Peru, using rafts made of balsa wood, could have discovered French Polynesia, Heyerdahl and his crew members succeeded in making the 101-day journey. Continuing on a boat theme, Oslo’s Viking Ship Museum contains the best preserved wooden Viking ships from the 9th century.
The most visited tourist attraction in all of Norway is the Holmenkollen National Ski Arena. The arena hosts various World Cup Nordic skiing events each year, but what is an incredibly impressive sight is the ski jump. With a start gate at 60 meters above ground, it is the most modern ski jump in the world. Visiting in September or October? Adrenaline enthusiasts will want to schedule time to take the zipline from the start gate to the finish. It is an exhilarating and thrilling ride.
To know Norway is to get out and explore the countryside, and there is no better way to do it than to book a train ticket on the Oslo-to-Bergen line. Called the best train ride in the world, the seven-hour journey links Norway’s two main cities. The train climbs Europe’s highest mountainous plateau at 1,222 meters above sea level. Started in 1875, the line took 34 years to complete, utilizing 15,000 men who dug 182 tunnels. While on this journey, take a side trip on the Flåm Railway. On this 20-kilometer journey, you will climb steep mountainsides and view incredible waterfalls and ravines. There are several tour companies with packages that include a journey on the railway from Oslo to Flåm, a fjord cruise and transportation to Norway’s second biggest city, Bergen. While there, spend a couple of days exploring the quaint port city, home of composer Edvard Grieg, before taking the train back to Oslo.
Head north for an unparalleled experience above the Arctic Circle. Lofoten is a cluster of mountainous islands 100 kilometers off northern Norway’s coastline. In late fall through early spring, it is one of the best places in Scandinavia to view the Northern Lights. Most people, however, go to the islands for whale watching. From October through mid-January, head out on a tour boat and search for killer whales, sea eagles and seals.
Sweden is the largest of the Scandinavian countries. Its capital, Stockholm, consists of 14 islands and more than 50 bridges and is frequently hailed as being the most beautiful capital in the world. The oldest and most visited of its neighborhoods is the Old Town, Gamla Stan. It was the original Stockholm and today, this medieval neighborhood boasts cobblestone streets, trendy shops, and beautifully maintained 17th century buildings. A stop in Gamla Stan must include a visit to the Royal Palace. It is one of the largest in Europe with more than 600 rooms and several museums, which are open to the public.
The Djurgârden neighborhood is not only Stockholm’s summer recreation area, but it is also the location for some of Stockholm’s most unique attractions. In 1628, the warship Vasa sank within a few minutes of its maiden voyage. In 1961, it was completely salvaged and reassembled. Today, a museum completely encases the original warship (more than 95 percent of the Vasa is its original structure).
If you are a lover of ABBA, then you cannot miss the ABBA Museum. It has been designed to let you experience what it is really like to be part of the epic late 1970s rock group. Or perhaps a literary tour is more your style? Make a stop at the Stockholm City Museum and register for the Stieg Larsson Millennium Tour. Based on the books from the creator of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” the walking tour allows you to follow in the footsteps of Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander.
Gothenburg, Sweden’s second largest city, claims that it is the gourmet seafood capital of the country. With five Michelin-starred restaurants, it is easy to support that claim. The food scene is vibrant here. Visit the Feskekörka, or Fish Church, a fabulous indoor seafood market housed in a structure that looks like a Gothic church. Take a lobster safari! The west coast islands are located only a short boat ride away, and many hotels offer packages including boat trips to catch your own lobster.