I love Scandinavia. The air is clean and crisp. The people are nice and straightforward. There is a ton to see and do. And, hey, this is where the vikings would hangout after plundering and pillaging the rest of Europe. It must be cool, right?! Plus, I was really surprised at how green all of Scandinavia is in summer. But like most people I am limited on how much time I want to spend in each place I travel. On this particular journey around the world, I decided to spend four days (3 nights) in each of the three major Scandinavian cities I was to visit; Oslo, Norway, Stockholm, Sweden and Copenhagen, Denmark. (Finland and Iceland are also considered Scandinavian, but those are for another journey in the future.) I went in August, which is the best time for the weather, but a bit more crowded because all the europeans are on holiday. The crowds didn’t feel overwhelming, because there are just not a lot of Scandinavians. The big question was “Is that enough time to do each city justice?”
When I get to any city, I usually start off by taking a hop-on hop-off bus tour to get my bearings and get a quick overview of the areas I want to explore. Then, as the bus approaches the end of the tour, I hop-off when I see something interesting and check out that area before walking back to my hotel, Comfort Hotel Xpress Youngstorget (great budget hotel in central location.) It’s a really relaxing way to spend a few hours, especially when you’ve been on a long flight, but don’t want to sleep so your internal clock can adjust to the new time zone.
I started with Oslo, the capital of Norway and its largest city. Oslo is ranked number 1 for quality of life in European cities. Even so, Oslo is a fairly small city and easy to navigate. If you are walker like me, you can walk (and take a ferry) to most parts of the city. And if you get a little lost, all the better. I have had some of my greatest adventures by getting lost in a city. Oslo has dozens of beautiful parks and traffic is lite, so walking is really worthwhile if you have a good pair of shoes. If you want to stick to the major sites, I suggest the Oslo Opera House (very cool architecture), The Royal Palace (and the surrounding park – Slottsparken), Frogner Park (with its outdoor nude bronze sculptures), The National Theater, Holmenkollen Ski Jump Complex and Vikingskiphuset – the Viking Ship Museum. There are also a five or six great museums showcasing famous Norwegian artists like Edward Munch and Gustav Vigeland.
My most surprising stop was the Norse Folkemuseum – The Norwegian Folk Museum. I stopped by on my way back from the Viking Ship Museum thinking I would blow in and out within an hour. I ended up spending four hours. It was fascinating seeing the way the Norwegians used to live and farm in this outside culture park. Sure, some of the folk demonstrations were kinda of corny, but others were really interesting and well worth the time. Oslo is not cheap, especially when it comes to food and drink. I paid $32 US for a hamburger, fries and a coke. A beer is $10-12 US. Strangely, there were a lot fewer restaurants, bars and coffee houses than I expected for a city the size of Oslo. I felt like my 4 days (3 nights) was plenty to see Oslo and hangout with the Norwegians. I didn’t see everything, but I think I got a good feel for a great city.
BTW, if you have two extra days in Scandinavia, take the Norway in a Nutshell tour, which uses a series of trains and a ferry to take you through the picturesque Norwegian mountains and fjords, then drops you off in the beautiful city of Bergen. The tour starts in Oslo’s central train station. You will need one full day for the Norway in a Nutshell tour and one full day to visit Bergen. Make sure you take the Floibanen, the Bergen tram for spectacular views of the city and harbor. And, don’t miss reindeer hotdogs (lots of mustard, please) and the open-face crawfish sandwiches at the fish market by the harbor. You can fly out of Bergen to either Copenhagen or Stockholm.
Next stop was Stockholm, the capital of Sweden and its largest city. The Swedish are such beautiful people with friendly dispositions. Stockholm has a long history as an empire which really shows in the palaces, cathedrals and museums. Swedish cuisine is also very tasty. Plus this is where Ikea got its start and is headquartered. How can you not like that?!
I stayed at the Elite Hotel Stockholm Plaza, a beautiful, upscale historic hotel in a great location with tasty breakfast buffet and a laid-back bar. This time I skipped my usual hop-on hop-off orientation bus ride and elected to take a tour by boat around the canals and harbor area. Stockholm is too big to walk everywhere, unless you are willing to wear out a good pair of shoes. However, Stockholm’s ferries and buses can get you close to where ever you want to go in the city. Stockholm is built on 14 islands and has 57 bridges. The city is filled with great restaurants and bars that line its cobblestone streets. Coffee houses are in abundance. Most of the parks are next to a river or a lake and feature low-hanging willows, long spans of green grass and rows of colorful flower beds. My list of must see sites are; Vasamuseet – the world famous Vasa museum, featuring a 300 year old wooden war ship raised from the bottom of Stockholm harbor, Gamla Stan – Stockholm’s old town filled with historic buildings, churches, and more cute restaurants and bars than you can shake a stick at, the Royal Palace (get a slice of Royal Princess cake at the palace cafe), Riddarholm church, and Nordiska Museet – the nordic museum where the building itself is the best part of the museum.
The city is filled with all sorts of museums, like the Abba museum and the spirits museum. It really seems like there is something for everyone. Take time to hangout at some of the restaurant patios and outdoor bars. Stockholm has a nice, people-watching, cafe culture that is a lot of fun in the summer (winter, I’m not so sure about…). You can count how many tall, slender, blond people pass by your table! 4 days (3 nights) was just about perfect to see Stockholm, but it would not have killed me to stay a few days longer… maybe a week… maybe a lifetime. A very cool and interesting city.
My final city was Copenhagen, Denmark’s capital and its largest city. I took the train from Stockholm which included great scenery of the countryside and a ferry ride. In Copenhagen, I stayed at Copenhagen Generator Hostel, a very hip, clean, upscale hostel in a fantastic location with a lousy breakfast buffet, a fun bar and tons of places to just chill out after a long day of sightseeing. Generator is located in a neighborhood filled with restaurants and bars. Originally a viking fishing village, Copenhagen is packed with museums, old churches, castles, palaces, universities, historic government buildings, theme parks, a modern opera house and a colorful harbor with its own
red light district. Although this city has plenty of cool places to just hangout drink a few beers (or glasses of wine)
and listen to music, my best site-seeing picks are; Nyhavn – Copenhagen’s historic harbor and boardwalk, Tivoli Gardens – the world famous theme park and pleasure gardens, Rosenberg Castle – a beautiful renaissance castle, Church of Our Savior with its screw-top tower, Fredricks Kirke – the marble church, Copenhagen Opera House, Royal Library Gardens and Christiansborg Palace – home of the Royal stable (no horses in the summer) the royal kitchen and the royal reception rooms (must-see if you like the ultra luxury lives of royalty). Copenhagen is a 4 day (3 night) city, unless you love to hangout, then I would throw in a couple of extra days. It’s a great city.
So now comes the tough part… if I only had time or money to visit one of the three cities which would it be? Tough call. All three are worth visiting. But if you are going to twist my arm, I would have to pick Stockholm. I just really like the Swedish vibe and I thought there was a ton to see and do, most of it within walking distance of my hotel. Next would be Copenhagen, then Oslo, because it was really expensive. (I would actually choose Bergen over Oslo if I could only visit one city in Norway, because it is so damn colorful and its closer to the best fjords and waterfalls!) Still, take the time and spend the money to see all three of these capital cities in Scandinavia. They are all well worth it!