What images does Scandinavia evoke? Dramatic scenery, winter sports, the northern lights and the midnight sun, saunas, and reindeer? Yes, but that’s just the beginning. In Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Sweden, and Norway you can travel the full spectrum from sophisticated urban culture to the wildest natural areas imaginable.
The Lay of the Land
The five Scandinavian countries are all extraordinarily scenic, from pastoral lowlands and sweeping beaches in Denmark to dramatic peaks, dense forests and lakes in Norway, Sweden, and Finland, and geothermal wonders in Iceland.
Denmark, the southernmost Scandinavian country, connects continental Europe with the Scandinavian Peninsula and links to Sweden via a 13-mile bridge. Finland has 35 national parks, which translates to a vast amount of protected acreage including lush forests, archipelagos, and in the far north, beautifully open landscape with sparse vegetation and endless sky. Norway and fjords are almost synonymous. Dazzlingly steep mountains plummet into deep blue lakes, several of which are UNESCO world heritage sites. One fun way to get a breathtaking glimpse of this landscape is to take a ride on the Flåm Railway. Iceland is another world, in the Atlantic halfway between Europe and North America. Geographically it’s young - the island of Surtsey rose from the ocean in 1963! Explore glaciers in the east, fjords in the west, and craggy highlands in the center, all ringed by dramatic black sand beaches.
The Aurora Borealis: a lovely name for an unforgettably beautiful phenomenon also known as the Northern Lights. This spectacular display of light is visible on clear nights, usually from September to October and from March to April, in the polar regions of Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Iceland.
The topography and climate of Scandinavia provide superb opportunities for sports and nature appreciation. The surface area of Scandinavia is largely covered with lakes and rivers, not to mention ocean shoreline, making all manner of water sports popular. Thanks to the midnight sun, you can participate in outdoor activities into the wee ours during the summer. In the winter, you may be challenged to fit in all the winter sports available!
Denmark’s rolling countryside and hundreds of islands offer great places for boating, fishing, windsurfing, golf, and tennis. Put your feet on the pedals to enjoy more than 10,000 km/ 6,200 mi. of cycle paths!
In Finland, how about a dog-sled safari before returning to your snow hotel to enjoy a sauna and some relaxation? In Sweden you can glide along for miles on a long distance trip skating excursion in winter – or ski on a summer night lit under the midnight sun! In Norway you might enjoy some cross-country skiing, or hiking along the fjords on long summer days. See Iceland from a different perspective on a pony trek, a whale watch, training for the Reykjavik Marathon, or choose hiking, skiing, or maybe a long soak in natural hot springs, while snowflakes drift onto your face.
The first humans known to inhabit the area north of the Arctic Circle in Norway, Sweden, and Finland were the Sami People of Sápmi, parts of which are also known as Lapland. The Sami have inhabited this part of the world for thousands of years, leading a nomadic existence hunting, fishing, and following their reindeer herds. Nowadays, they continue to honor ancient traditions, with the aid of modern technology. Learn about Sami culture, their beautiful handcrafts, customs and language in Finnish Lapland, Sweden’s Laponian Area, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Norway’s Sápmi Culture Park.
Can we think of ancient Scandinavia without visions of marauding Vikings wreaking havoc on villages throughout Scandinavia and the British Isles? This civilization reached the height of its power around AD 900. Although they are best remembered for misbehaving, did you know that their superb seafaring allowed them to found many colonies and cities, among which are Normandy and Dublin? They also settled Iceland, which led to the colonization of Greenland, and went so far as Newfoundland and present day New York! Be a Viking for a day at Foteviken Viking Village in Sweden, and don’t miss the famous Viking Ship Museum in Oslo, Norway or exploring Denmark’s Viking heritage.
Culture and Capital Cities
The cultural legacy of Scandinavia is enormous: think of the music of Sibelius of Finland, Greig from Norway, and Iceland's Bjork; the intellectual gifts of Søren Kierkegard from Denmark)and Alfred Nobel of Sweden; the literary genius of Hans Christian Andersen and Karen Blixen, thank you Denmark and Norway's Henrik Ibsen! Design is another strong suit in Scandinavia, from architecture, lighting, and furniture to crystal, textiles, and clothing. Museums, palaces, dining, shopping, cafés - be sure to include time to explore the urban delights of Scandinavia’s capital cities, all in unusually impressive natural settings!
Copenhagen is identified with the graceful Mermaid in the harbor, but there is so much more to see and do! Tivoli Gardens is a wonderland for children and adults. Get to know the city on a canal boat ride, and then explore the museums, Amalienborg Palace, or some interesting alternative sites.
Reykjavik is the world’s northernmost capital and has a reputation for being one of the most sizzling! The nightlife, dining, and shopping are superb, yet you’ll always be just minutes from nature. Be sure to spoil yourself with a spa experience, or take a short trip to Hafnarfjördu and learn about Icelandic elves!
Oslo has over fifty museums and galleries, including Vigeland Sculpture Park. Discover the wide range of architecture in Oslo, spanning the centuries. A wide range of shopping, active nightlife, and excellent restaurants is available, all in the peace and beauty of Oslo’s stellar setting at the head of Oslo Fjord.
Stockholm stretches across fourteen islands, its sparkling waterways connecting the various neighborhoods. Gamla Stan and Riddarholmen comprise the beautifully preserved medieval center of the city, still bustling with activity today. For a more natural setting, explore the parkland and the many attractions of the Royal Djurgården Park.
Helsinki is bursting with attractions that will appeal to all tastes. Delve into its seafaring history at the Suomenlinna Maritime Fortress, a UNESCO World Heritage site; visit one of over 80 museums displaying art from the ancient to the most modern; or tour the spectacular modern architecture throughout the city.
Whether you want to take a leisurely cruise in outstanding scenery or dare to try an extreme outdoor sport, immerse yourself in history or see what’s on the cutting edge of design, Scandinavia is the place to do it!