Hopefully you’ve had the chance to check out Part 1 of our ultimate Scandinavia Travel Guide, so now you’re ready for some more great ideas to fill your Scandinavia travel itinerary. Ripe with more exhilarating cultural experiences, you can prepare to immerse yourself in pop culture history, while taking in some awe-inspiring sites that only mother nature can provide you. The region offers the settings for some popular literary giant’s series and novels and is the birthplace of icons such as Pippi Longstocking and ABBA.
If your interests are more geared around the outdoors, you’ll probably be happy to realize that Part 2 of our travel guide covers some more great opportunities for vacationing in Scandinavia, no matter the time of year. From volcanic hot spots to glaciers, waterfalls, natural saunas and thermal baths, finding a relaxing way to experience what the area has to offer won’t be difficult. We’ll cover some more of the bucket list type hotspots that Sweden, Finland and Iceland have to offer.
Sweden – Where Pop Culture and History Meet
Old meets modern Stockholm – A great place to start your trip
You’ll most likely want to start your adventure in Stockholm, Sweden’s capital. Travel options to explore are varied and it’s a great place to kick off your trip to visit this culturally rich country. If the city life calls to you, you’ll have plenty to see in Sweden, but nowhere is more vibrant than Stockholm. Take a stroll through
Skansen, the world’s oldest open-air museum. You can catch a glimpse of historic Swedish lifestyle, a true throwback to Sweden’s roots and day to day life. Guided tours of historic traditional households and businesses, everything is on display so you can get a real taste for how life was way back when.
Not far from Skansen, the Vasa Museum is home to the recovered Vasa Ship restored wreckage of 1628. You wouldn’t even believe it sat on the ocean floor for 333 years! Experience the cafes, bars, eateries and shops that sprinkle throughout the city, while falling in love with its mixture of quaint modern architecture surrounded by true, classic and original buildings. If you want a real throwback, be sure to head to Gamelstan, Stockholm’s old city. You can also partake in cultural bliss by experiencing Sweden’s booming culinary scene, but don’t worry – traditional eats and treats are plentiful pretty much anywhere your feet will take you. Don’t forget, Stockholm brought ABBA to our ears, and you really haven’t experienced the nation’s capital if you haven’t stopped in at the ABBA museum. After visiting the museum, you may hear Dancing Queen in your sleep for weeks.
Pop Culture – Travel Sweden to digest its crime fiction and children’s literature history
During World War II, Sweden remained neutral – a pretty amazing feat given the state of the world around them. This helped them maintain their infrastructure, and it allowed the country to maintain important cultural and natural wonders. Venturing outside Stockholm is definitely advised, and if the rolling hills, northern lights, islands (that’s right, some beautiful, breathtaking islands are just a hop and skip away!) and outdoor adventures that await you can’t lure you out of the city, we aren’t sure what will.
Rest assured, leaving Stockholm doesn’t mean you’re ditching the more modern interests of the big city. Malmö and Gothenburg are Sweden’s second and third largest cities. Both are easily accessible by car or train, and you can fit in a lot of natural beauty in between stops. If you’re familiar with the author Henning Mankell, you can find the setting for his Kurt Wallander series in Ystad near Malmö (which is just over a bridge from Copenhagen, Denmark). The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo fans might be delighted to know they can visit Öresund Bridge, a pretty prominent location for the filming of the series. While we’re at it, let’s not forget about everyone’s quirky, happy and eclectic childhood friend, Pippi Longstocking. The world's strongest girl also calls Sweden home.
Point A to point B – hitting the big cities and everywhere in between
Ducking out of any of the bigger cities is easy and the travel is light via train or plane. A bit south, just off the southern coast, is Fotevikens, another traditional outdoor museum. This one sends you right back to the time of the Vikings. At the end of the day, you’ll find camping options nearby that will show off Sweden’s beauty, hiking and other summer adventures along every inch of Sweden’s territory. On the literal opposite side of Sweden, you can check out the internationally acclaimed Ice Hotel in Jukkasjärvi, in Sweden's far north. With both cold and warm rooms, you can choose between the unique experience of staying in a "frozen" room or a more traditional room.
If winter sports are your thing? Sweden is the place to be. You can view ice hockey games across the country and enjoy both downhill and cross country skiing, and even see ski jumping.
Plan it so your tour of Sweden lands you right back in Stockholm. You can hop aboard the Silje line ferry to make your way to Helsinki or Turku to continue your Scandinavian travel planning in your next location: Finland.
Finland – Harmony between age old tradition and natural wonders
Finland isn’t formally a Scandinavian nation. Traditionally, it’s grouped up with our other Scandinavian countries because of its deep cultural ties; even about 5% of the population boast Swedish as their native language. Helsinki is Finland’s capital, and it’s the ideal place to kick off your tour of the country. Finland is comparable in size to Sweden, so if you want to kick start your trip, great history and culture located in a quaint and warm tourist city, Helsinki offers a lot for new visitors to explore. Finnish is a non-Indo-European language, so when you hear people speaking you might find the words have unusual intonations, and some words can be very long. While in the rest of Scandinavia you may catch a few words if you took German (or even French) in school, Finnish won't remind you of other languages.
If you are interested in treating your ears, Finland offers great places to hear lovely sounds. Make sure to include Temppeliaukion kirkko ("the Church of the Rock") in your plans. This gorgeous historic church is built into the rock that surrounds it, and offers acoustics that simply must be experienced to believe.
Music – Festivals for every background
If you can time it so your trip lands in the first few weeks of August, you can count yourself lucky. Of all the Nordic countries, Finland hosts the one of the oldest theater festivals, the Tampere Theater Festival. What began in the 60’s as a bit of a dream, the festival celebrates theater, actors and writers of all different backgrounds. If theater and entertainment catch your interest, you won’t want to miss this array of talent. The Savonlinna Opera Festival is also another great annual event, and it’s only a few hours from Helsinki, easily accessible by train. Olavinlinna Castle is the setting for these spectacular shows, and you won’t be disappointed. Who wouldn’t want to see an opera inside a castle?
Treat yourself – Finland’s famous saunas and relaxation treatments
With rough estimates in number of around 2 million, Finland is very well known for its saunas. Being available to almost everyone, you won’t have experienced Finland unless you venture into one of its most famous national pastimes. Make sure you ditch your glasses and hearing aids, and prepare to steam it out. Don't be afraid to embrace the Finnish sauna norms: heading into a sauna in your birthday suit as well as opening your pores by slapping your skin with a birch branch. Needless to say the sauna culture is real and very alive, across the entire country. The sound of water hitting the hot rocks? That’s called “löyly”, and until you hear and feel it firsthand you won’t quite understand its appeal. Known as “the land of 10,000 lakes”, it’s also popular to jump into a lake when you feel yourself getting overheated. This happens year-round. Finns actually drill holes in frozen lakes near saunas and run in (and back into the sauna) after a good sweat.
Adventure potential is endless – Finland has more to see
Visit the real Santa Clause in Rovaniemi (called joulupukki), scavenge for berries and nuts in the forests near Helsinki, try dog sledding, hiking, camping, winter sports and everything in between. Finland has plenty to offer anyone with an adventurous spirit.
Visiting Iceland – green, lush, culturally rich and full of history
Another nation that isn’t formally Scandinavian but gets lumped into the group, Iceland is the least populated country in the world. Don't let it's name scare you; Iceland is temperate in climate and very pleasant most of the year. Their primary language hails from its nation’s primary ancestors. Vikings settled here first, so not surprisingly, the old Norse language has left a prevalent impact on their current culture. In fact, some traditions still hold. When a child is born their last name is made from the name of their father (or, more recently, mother) plus "son" or "daughter." If you’re headed to Iceland, know that it’s not a booming and bustling nation with busy city life. You’re more likely in store for deep cultural experiences, outdoor adventures and amazing scenery.
Reykjavik – The center of a nation
As of 2018, Iceland’s population was roughly around 350,000 people. The more intriguing fact about this nation’s people is that about 60% of the entire country's population live in its capital city, Reykjavik. The remainder of its populous are spread across the country in small urban communities where there are, on average, only 200 residents or so per town. Another quirky surprise that may interest travelers who appreciate fine dining, is despite it's small footprint, Reykjavik is home to a Michelin Star restaurant, Dill. Close to the water’s edge, praises of their menu’s features include sourcing many of their ingredients from fresh local farmers and business owners.
Iceland’s outdoors – Urban life and the nation’s landscape
Outdoor adventures are really a highlight of Iceland. Take a tour on the back of an Icelandic pony, scope out another great chance to see the northern lights, glaciers and volcanic hotspots, even city dwellers will be tempted to push their boundaries in Iceland. Be sure you make room for Gullfoss Waterfall. It stands out sharply against the landscape along the southward flowing Hvítá river. Thingvellir National Park is another must see. It embodies Icelandic culture while educating visitors to some amazing scientific and biological wonders. You’ll experience firsthand just how amazing nature can be, even in the far north.
Odd food – experiencing traditional Icelandic eats
If you’re ready for adventure for your taste buds, Iceland is known for its unique and culturally distinct culinary experiences. Make sure you give its traditional dishes a chance while visiting. Be sure to try foods like skyr, a dairy product similar to yogurt, but also to cheese. Adventurous eaters can also sample a taste of puffin, fermented shark, sheep’s head, plokkfiskur (fish stew), and dried fish jerky. You’re visiting for the tradition and the scenery, so you should definitely dive right in!
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