The Northern Lights are something that you just have to see at least once in a lifetime. It is a fascinating experience that will make you feel like the time has stopped and you’re in a completely different world, under a completely different sky. It is in that moment that you will realize you have entered an unfamiliar, yet magical land that will stay forever in your mind.
For Sami, the indigenous people living in the Northern Scandinavia, the aurora borealis is part of their lives, something they are quite familiar with, as it also happens in the case of vast lands covered in snow, reindeers, fishing, and stories about supernatural forces. In times of yore, their ancestors thought that the Northern Lights were, in fact, spirits and that a magic fox was creating the aurora borealis. Therefore, it’s a must that you visit Lapland at least once in a lifetime to discover its magic and to enjoy the “white night” experience.
For all these and not only, the Northern countries are already waiting for you. Whether you choose Stockholm, Copenhagen, Oslo or Helsinki, you’ll be amazed by the rich cultural life and the rich history of the Scandinavian countries. Also, all of them can be a starting point for a journey in Scandinavia.
There are tens of museums and tourist cultural attractions that you can enjoy in Stockholm. In the Old Town, on a small island called Gamla Stan, there is the Royal Palace and the Nobel Museum, which will take you to a place and time in history that will astonish you. You’ll know more about the well-known Nobel prize and about the big personalities that received it throughout time. The Vasa Museum hosts the only warship dating back to the 17th century and the Skansen open-air museum will present you how the Swedish used to live decades ago.
Close to Stockholm, you’ll find the greatest archipelago in Sweden and the scenery will definitely take your breath away. On some of the islands you’ll find a variety of species of birds, you’ll be able to rent kayaks and even go hiking, whereas on other islands, you can have dinner at some of the fanciest restaurants and enjoy some delicious meals.
From Stockholm, you can easily get to the Djurgården island or to Sigtuna, the oldest city in Sweden, dating to the age of the Vikings.
The Swedish people have a term that defines the habit of enjoying a good cup of coffee and a cake next to it – “fika” – and all of them embrace this habit. The coffee shops are excellent here and they are the perfect place for “fika” after visiting the bohemian island Södermalm or wandering the streets of the Vasastan neighborhood. You have various types of meals to choose from at lunchtime and the recommended ones are köttbullar, some sort of meatballs cooked after a local recipe, and Janssons frestelse, which contains potatoes and anchovies.
One of the best places to see the aurora borealis is Abisko National Park, and the best time to come here to see it is anytime between November and March.
If you want to learn more about the culture and history of Vikings, then the National Museum in Copenhagen is the right place to go. You’ll discover numerous, interesting artefacts from that period and not only. The biggest art museum is National Art Gallery, home to important works of art belonging to famous artists, such as Rubens, Matisse – a highly appreciated collection – Munch, as well as numerous Danish contemporary works of art. While in Copenhagen, don’t forget to visit Christiansborg Palace, the home of the Danish Parliament.
Less than two hours away from Copenhagen, there is Møns Klint, a place with a view that will leave you mesmerized, with white chalk cliffs. The Møn Island is a UNESCO biosphere reserve and it’s definitely one of the places worth visiting. One hour and a half away from Copenhagen, there’s another island you should add on your “to visit” list – Lolland – and it’s the perfect place to explore on the bike.
One interesting way to spend your day, especially if you’re travelling with children, is to go in search for giants hidden in the forests outside the Danish capital. In order to encourage the locals to spend more time in nature, the Danish artist Thomas Dambo created six sculptures made of recycled wood and created in the shape of giants. In order to find them, the visitors have to follow a map. The giants even have names: Teddy, Oscar, Louis, Tilde, Thomas and Trine and they are waiting to be discovered by tourists.
Nyhavn is one of the most beautiful areas in Copenhagen, where you’ll find plenty of coffee shops and restaurants. The place is full of colour and energy, thus creating the perfect space for taking great photos. In the evening, walk along the Nyhavn port and stop by one of the bars in the area. The Strøget area is dedicated to shopping lovers, whereas Christiania will definitely offer you a unique experience.
Christiania is home to a bohemian community located right in the middle of the Danish capital, where around 1000 people live by their own rules, but, of course, within certain limitations.
As far as gastronomy culture is concerned, you must try smorrebrod, a slice of rye bread with butter and cheese, meat or fish on top, depending on your preferences.
Bygdøy is a peninsula in the Western part of Oslo that hosts five museums where you’ll learn more about the history of the adventurous, Northern population: Kon-Tiki Museum, The Norwegian Museum of Cultural History, The Viking Ship Museum, the Norwegian Maritime Museum and Fram Museum. For art lovers, we recommend Astrup Fearnley and Henie-Onstad Museum. You should also add Nasjonalgalleriet on your “to visit” list, where you’ll find the greatest collection of modern art in Norway, including works of art of Gauguin, Claudel, Picasso or El Greco, as well as numerous paintings of Edvard Munch.
The Oslo Fiord has some spectacular views and offers you the possibility to explore the area in a kayak, to go fishing or to go scuba-diving. If you go on the Hovedøya island, you’ll have a great view of the city while enjoying the day at the beach.
If you’re interested in seeing the famous and impressive statues of the great artist Gustav Vigeland, then the Vigeland Park is definitely a place you should not miss.
Holmenkollen Ski Museum is the oldest museum dedicated to one of the most popular winter sports – skiing – and was opened in 1923. Before entering the museum, you will definitely notice the ski slope, where there’s a popular festival organized every year. The competitors have to go to the top of the ski slope using an elevator, which is used by tourists during the rest o the year as well, when they want to view the city from above.
You just can’t leave Oslo without trying one of the many delicacies of their traditional cuisine. Some examples are fårikål, a recipe based on lamb meat and cabbage, lapskaus, a delicious stew, or other specialities containing fish, especially cod, reindeer or deer meat.
To see the aurora borealis, you have to go Northwards, and one of the best locations is the city Tromsø. Besides this, you can also enjoy various trips to the arctic area and the chance to see the whales. Other great locations to see the aurora borealis are Bodø, the Lofoten Islands, the Lyngenfjord region, Narvik and Senja.
Helsinki is a magnificent city. The lifestyle in the second Northernmost capital in the world is full of contrasts, offering a wide range of activities to do and things to try, as well as the chance to meet great people.
Two very good options are the Contemporary Art Museum Kiasma and the Art Museum Ateneum. You’ll discover here Finnish artists and interesting exhibitions. Also, you should visit the Finnish Architecture Museum and the Design Museum located in the so-called “design neighbourhood”, which covers areas such as Punavuori, Kaartinkaupunki, Kamppi and Ullanlinna.
The archipelago that surrounds Helsinkiis made of hundreds of small islands and represents a joyful and amazing place for cruises. The city center has numerous parks, with Esplanade among the most popular ones. Additionally, the forests in the region offer an amazing scenery and make a great place for quiet and relaxing walks in nature. One hour away from Helsinki, you’ll get to the National Park Nuuksio, where you’ll find numerous lakes. In fact, Finland is also known as the “land of a thousand lakes”, which is actually a modest estimate, considering the real number of lakes in the region: 188 000.
In order to get the most out of this amazing country, you should try one of the over two million saunas here. This habit is in fact part of the local tradition and you can find a sauna even in the House of Parliament!
As far as local cuisine is considered, you should try the Finnish pies, which come in a wide variety, including karjalanpiirakka, kalakukko, filled with vegetables or fish, or mustikkapiirakka, covered in blueberries, in case you’re looking for something sweeter.
If you want to see the northern lights, you should get to Lapland between September and March.