I must say that some years ago I was not a real fan of the Nordic countries. I always considered them as too cold, too expansive and too boring for me and I thought also the Nordic people are quite difficult to get close to them. However I must say I was so totally wrong with that. Due to my job I started to deal with the Scandinavian countries and then also traveled on a regular basis up north and with each trip I fell more and more in love with this region. Yes winters are cold and dark there, but also have their fascination with a peaceful landscape covered all over in white snow and if you have the chance to see the Northern Lights you are just stunned from that fascinating magic of nature. Summers are beautiful up north with a lush green environment, fresh air and long day light. And the people - well, yes maybe it takes a bit of time to break their ice, but then they will be your friends for a life time - I just love the North and my Vikings!
Main highlight of Norway are for sure the stunning Fjords that are stretching over the whole coastline. They are best to be explored from the seaside and a trip with a cruise ship would be a great way to do so. Nowadays all the big international cruise liners have Norway in their programs, but these big ships often can't enter the smaller and real beautiful Fjords. I would therefore rather recommend a trip with one of the Hurtigruten boats. They used to be small ships delivering the daily mail and other necessary products to the cities and small villages along the coast. Nowadays they still deliver all type of cargo items, however are also carrying passengers and have put their standard ups to normal cruise liners. As these boats are smaller you come to see more of the narrow Fjords and you have more stops in not so well known places. They have a wide variety of routings to choose from and on board you can book your shore excursions for all the longer stops as well. The classic route goes from the south up north until the North Cape and vice versa www.hurtigruten.com
Here are some impressions from a trip that we took in 2015 with the Hurtigruten.
Winter is of course a complete different scenario up north, when it gets freezing cold and dark. But with the right cloth also this time of the year is worth a visit when you can do fun activities like reindeer or dog sledge riding, snow scooter, ice fishing, skiing and of course see the world famous Northern Lights. A nice place to do all that is the city of Tromso and its surroundings (www.visittromso.no) or Alta which is further up north (www.visitalta.no). If you want to take it to the extreme level then you take the flight all up to the ultimate north of Svalbard - that is basically just before the North Pole - and you will descend in total dark. But through the reflection of the snow in some hours of the day you can experience a slight dawn and still all that fun activities are taking place here - even without natural light. I have been there and it is really a total different world, but more than fascinating and one of the greatest experiences I ever did (www.visitsvalbard.com). For all accommodation bookings and activities in Svalbard I can recommend the local company Spitsbergen Travel (www.spitsbergentravel.com).
Of course all the cities of the northern countries might not be the mega metropolis like some of their European counterparts - however each of them has its own charm and they are anyway the gateways to the nature experiences, so it is worth to dedicate some time also for them.
24 hours in Oslo
If you are only for one day in Oslo I would recommend a city tour in the morning. Oslo is very compact so the main highlights like the Viegeland Sculpture Park, the skijump of Holmenkollen and the Kontiki museum are all included in that tour. There are various operators for this as well as the easy going Hop-on Hop-off busses in summer.
Lunch I would suggest at the newly built Aker Brygge - which has a prime seafront location and is consisting of different complexes of super expansive apartment buildings, shops and lots of restaurants some of them are located in old renovated warehouses and some are on reclaimed land from the sea. A place that I always like there is the Italian restaurant Olivia (www.oliviarestauranter.no) for some high end Norwegian cuisine the stylish Tjuvholmen Sjomagasin (www.sjomagasinet.no) is always a good choice or the Lofoten Fiskerestaurant (www.lofoten-fiskerestaurant.no).
So if you are in Oslo in summer time, then it would be time now for a nice cruise on the Fjord of Oslo as an afternoon activity. At the port in front of Aker Brygge you will find various operators with different cruises and type of boats from RIP boats to cool pirate style sailing boats.
If you are here in winter then either you can opt for a relaxed afternoon at the Spa of the Thief Hotel, which is also located in Aker Brygge and one of the best hotels in town (www.thethief.com) or you go on some discovery tour through the hipp neighborhood of Gruenerlokka with its street art, stylish bars, in-cafes, galleries and indie boutiques selling design items and vintage fashion. Street markets are very popular in this area during weekends.
For dinner I have lately discovered a very indie Japanese place Izakaya - you really feel like in some backstreet of Tokyo. They do not serve proper dinner here, it is more different kind of tapas bites - but they are all creative and veryyyyy delicious. And of course you can try out some Japanese beer and even Japanese whiskey, but I would also recommend to taste one of their innovative cocktail creations with Sake - so yummy (www.izakayaoslo.com).
For a classy drink afterwards the rooftop bar of the Radisson Blu Scandinavia Hotel (www.radissonblu.com) is always a good choice - offering nice views of the evening skyline of Oslo - also a great place for a sundowner in summer. If you are up for a more laid back and cosy cocktail bar then the Fuglen (www.fuglen.no) is an option for you - during the day this place is a popular coffee and espresso bar and turns at night in one of the best places for a pre-clubbing drink .
Oslo holds of course also something for all the night owls among you from dusty rock clubs, over hip techno clubs until stylish dance bars - you will find them all. And the Norwegian Vikings are a good party crowd! Well for me I always end up in the same place and most of my clients and friends can't believe I am going there - only the very inner circle knows all about the legendary nights at John's (www.johnsbar.no) and the also legend shuffleboard battles before :-) for all who wonder what a shuffleboard is: that is something that I only have found in some pubs and bars in Oslo - a fun game where you push a kind of disk over a long table and ideally get it stopped in the place with he highest score....and the main rule here more beer, more fun.
Denmark is actually the country where I always spent the least time and I am mainly using Copenhagen only as a hub to the other northern cities. Compared to its neighbors Denmark has a much milder climate and not so severe winters. During summer time you can find amazing beaches with endless unspoiled sandy and shallow shores which makes it an excellent family destination. As Denmark is completely flat it is also a perfect destination for a cycling trip if you are from the lazy kind - although you might have to conquer the wind while cycling.
24 hrs in Copenhagen
If you are on a day visit in Copenhagen I would also recommend here to tick the main sights first and to go on a hop-on hop-off bus tour. One of the most well-known highlights on that tour is for sure the statue of the Little Mermaid - sitting peacefully on her stone observing the sea. During summer time instead of the bus tour you can maybe take the more sportive alternative and go for a cycling tour.
Once you have fulfilled your tourist duties I would recommend to head down to the picturesque harbor of Nyhavn with its colorful old warehouses and the wooden sailing boats docking within the canal. In summertime you can sit outside in one of the many restaurants around - but also in winter it is worth the visit as all the eateries have cosy indoor dining options. Of course best option would be here to eat some fresh fish.
For the afternoon I would say it's time for shopping! Copenhagen has a large pedestrian area in the middle of the center with an extansive choice of shops and department stores. A bit off that area but worth the walk down there is the cosy Cafe Mormors (Bredgarde 45) for a coffee break. You feel like in your grandmothers living room there and you can taste delicious home made cakes and other traditional sweet treats.
For the evening I can recommend a visit to the so called Old Meat Packing district - here you can find in former slaughterhouses trendy new restaurants, bars and clubs in an industrial ambiance - very cool and very urban! The area is divided in different clusters according to the color of the buildings. From the food side there is a wide range from burgers over a steakhouse, fast food and fine dining. I visited on a quiet Monday night and opted to try the Kodbyens Fiskebar (www.fiskebaren.dk) - as the name reveals it is all about fish and seafood here. I read a lot of good comments about that place and I must say it was really excellent - nice food creations with a twist and beautifully presented. From the ambiance it is a rough industrial chic and you can still see many features of the former slaughterhouse - only the Aquarium tank they have added here. They also feature an excellent wine list and the service is very friendly. During summer time you can sit outside enjoying the sun and on summer weekends I was told they are also having a kind of market outside. Food is not cheap here, but the quality is high.
On my second night in the city I came across a very nice modern Indian restaurant that was just beside my hotel - Guru (www.guru.dk). Very modern ambiance and also the food is away from that heavy gravey sauces that you usually find in these places. The meals are light and they even have a super healthy Ayurvedic menu on offer. Naan bread is made freshly in the taandori oven in the middle of the restaurant.
Coming now to the last country of my Nordic trip. Finland is like Norway a land of vast landscape, endless forests, lakes and pure nature. Maybe it is a bit rougher in some ways than the other Nordic countries, but bordering with Russia that might not be a big surprise. Winters can get really crazy cold here and also the Fins are a folk on its own - but same like the Norwegian Vikings - once you break the ice with them they will become your friends forever - maybe a bit crazy friends, but reliable and grounded ones. In a previous block I wrote already about the extraordianry Glass Igloo hotel up north as well as the ice hotel and a ride on the icebreaker Sampo (see my Ice Ice Baby Blog post for that). So for sure that will be the must do activities for a winter visit and of course to visit Santa at his home in the Santa Village in Rovaniemi at the Arctic Cirlce (www.santaclausvillage.info)
In summer you can rent a traditional countryside cottage at one of the lakes and just enjoy the nature and maybe do some fishing, hikes and bonfires at night. A rustic holiday away from the civilization.
24 hrs in Helsinki
Also for Helsinki the morning is dedicated to the main touristic sights of the city like the Helsinki Cathedral or the famous Rock Church - all of them reachable by foot or tram. A walk down the wide Esplanade Street will bring you to the Old Market Hall which is an excellent stop for lunch. You can try a wide range of authentic traditional dishes over here.
Then for the afternoon a Finland must do: a visit to a traditional Sauna. For me the best place for this is Loyly (www.loylyhelsinki.fi) - which is a nice wooden structure at the sea side. You have a choice of two different saunas here and a relax area - to cool down after the Sauna you can jump right into the sea here - and YES folks I did that in January!!! I thought I will freeze to death, but the feeling afterwards was outstanding! The place is popular and can get crowded in peak times, so better to make your reservation online before. They will provide you with a towel and sitting linen for the Sauna, but you have to bring your swimming cloth with you - no nudity allowed :-) beside the Sauna is a restaurant with a beautiful terrace for summer days. A new swimming and sauna place directly in the center is Allas Sea Pool (www.allasseapool.fi) - also here you can take a swim either in the sea water or warm water pool and you can choose between a variety of saunas.
Helsinki has a big choice of excellent restaurants, but if you are here only for one day I would recommend the touristic option and try an authentic Lappland restaurant. Yes it is a bit kitsch with all the decor and furs around, but the food is very good and you can get a try on specialties like reindeer or elche which is served on wooden platters, cast iron pots and dessert is brought to the table in an iced mug - Saaga Restaurant (www.ravintolasaaga.fi). The same owner family is also running other restaurants in and around the city like the traditional Finnish restaurant Savotta (www.ravintolasavotta.fi) or a Russian restaurant called Saslik (www.ravintolasaslik.fi). In summer times you can eat lunch at an old log house on an island called Savu (www.ravintolasavu.fi) or at the seaside restaurant Saari that serves archipelago delicacies like crayfish (www.ravintolasaari.fi) or at an Art Nouveau styled villa on Klippan Island - Saaristo (www.ravintolasaaristo.fi).
A stylish night drink afterwards should be taken at the new rooftop bar of the Clarion Helsinki Hotel (www.nordicchoicehotels.fi) that offers excellent views over the whole city combined with relaxed DJ vibes and good cocktails.
This time I actually haven't been in my favorite city of the north Stockholm - so watch out for further posts on Stockholm and other Nordic activities that I did like a weekend in the Norwegian mountains with horseback riding on Icelandic horses at Kvistli (www.kvistli.no) - more to follow!