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Epic expanses of wild nature, vast amounts of pure air, spectacular coastline, Norwegian fjords and unspoiled forests – all of this makes Scandinavia one of the most attractive regions in Northern Europe. Hundreds of tourists, hitch-hikers, cyclists, eco-travelers visit Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland, seeking for adventurous things, like, Northern nights and Aurora Borealis, Norwegian fjords, cycling tours through Gotland and a reindeer rides along snowy woods. There is no particular season of visiting Scandinavia, as at any month of the year, whether its sunny July or cold January, you will definitely find what to do and where to go. Winter, spring, summer or autumn, any season fits to go outside for a trip and find the best activities to do while visiting Northern Europe.
December to April is quite a busy time of the season due to winter sports in Norway and Sweden. Cool things to do while visiting Scandinavia in that period of time are skiing, dog sledding or signing up for a snow safari and rock climbing. But beside these activities, you definitely should not miss one of the most unique things which most of the Northern Europe visitors do – witnessing Aurora Borealis – or Northern lights, in other words – particles from the sun entering the earth’s atmosphere. It is a key feature of the Arctic Circle where a large part of Norway is located. If you are looking forward to Aurora Borealis, you definitely will enjoy the Midnight Sun. This is a natural phenomenon, which happens every year around the summer solstice when the sun never sets and creates a permanent daytime. You can explore this natural miracle in Finland, Norway, as well as in Sweden. While exploring Norway, what you definitely must do, is visit one of the most unusual things of Modern architecture – the Arctic Cathedral. The Arctic Cathedral is a work of a Norwegian architect called Jan Inge Hovig and dates from 1965. In winter, the cathedral is lit up from the outside, the structure is meant to look like large blocks of ice and you will find sparkling mosaics inside, as well as the iconic facade which is made of glass and marked with a large crucifix.
In Finland, you may want to enjoy some cool things during the winter period of time, when the sun disappears for months. This time is called “kaamos”. However, the complete darkness is not the most accurate definition: “kaamos, as bright snow, the moon and the stars put some light on the outskirts”. Apparently, the best things to do during such an extreme period is to sleep in a glass igloo or cottage, surrounded by nature and enjoy traditional Scandinavian dishes. Also, while being in Finland, you definitely should not miss visiting Lapland in a period from December to February and visit Santa’s official office, which is situated in the city of Rovaniemi on the mysterious Arctic Circle. In that place, people of all ages can enjoy conversation with Santa and feel the real spirit of Christmas miracle. Everybody knows that one of the best things to do while being in Scandinavia, especially in Finland is to go to a sauna. There are over three million saunas in Finland and around 188 000 lakes, so nothing stops Finns from jumping into a cold lake after sauna. Finnish people love swimming in icy waters, and if there is no lake around, they just roll in snow when they get out of a sauna. What else are the top things to do while there is still winter and cold around, and the calendar shows everything except April, March, May, June, July or August? The answer is to be wrapped tightly under a reindeer hide in a sled, pulled by a pack of huskies or Santa’s number one choice of transport – Rudolph the Reindeer. Both husky and reindeer rides are usually available from late October till late spring, even in the early summer.
In the spring and autumn seasons, when it is not warm enough to take cycling trip or go hiking and it is not enough cold and snowy to go skiing, time could be dedicated to visit museums and take some long walks in cozy cities. While being in Oslo, you might be interested in The Kon-Tiki Museum or the museum of one of the most famous Norwegians – the Edvard Munch Museum. If you have decided to go to Sweden’s capital, you might be interested in visiting the Vasa museum in Stockholm or walking in Gamlastan, searching for the narrowest street in Europe. Famous Oslo Vigeland Sculpture Park is dedicated to the work of Gustav Vigeland, a famous Norwegian sculptor. Here you will find over 200 pieces made from bronze and granite and this is also the biggest sculpture park of its kind that shows off the work of an individual artist. There are several sections to the park including the Main Gate, the Children’s Playground, the Wheel Life, and the Bridge. If you are a big fan of the famous TV-series “Vikings”, you might be interested in visiting the Viking Ship Museum which is one of the best-loved museums in Norway and showcases a range of artifacts from the Viking period. This includes items found in local graves and real Viking ships in all their glory. Three of the longboats showcased here date from the ninth century and are amazingly well intact, having been partially preserved in peatlands. Located on Oslo Fjord is the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History. Here you can find out all about the rich culture of this country dating back to 1500.
The village of Geiranger is set on craggy, dramatic cliffs and is encircled by forests and waterways. Located on the coast, Geiranger is postcard pretty and is known for its colorful houses painted in different hues. There is also a delightful fishing harbor where you can watch locals pull in their catch and the landscapes here are said to have inspired the film Frozen. In the warmer months, you can go kayaking or canoeing, enjoy a range of outdoor activities such as rock climbing and hike along the mountain trails that fan out from the center of the village.
Known in Norwegian as Botanise Hage, the botanical garden sits some 350 kilometers inside the Arctic Circle and spans almost 2 hectares. Here you will find thousands of species of plants from all over the world, although most of these are of the alpine or arctic variety. Some of the highlights are Arctic poppies as well as Siberian lilies and a range of mosses and herbs that grow between the rocks in the garden. The nature is not limited just to flora and fauna – you can also find ponds, waterfalls, and meandering pathways that let you explore each of the geographical sections of the garden at your leisure.
Lillehammer sits close to the scenic Lake Mjosa and is a top tourist destination for both domestic and international travelers.
The Royal Palace of Oslo was constructed at the beginning of the 19th century and was meant to be the residence of King Charles III who died before the work finished. Nowadays, this is the home of King Harald V and Queen Sonja and in the summer months you can visit and tour some of the rooms here. Some of these include the Bird Room which has over 40 species of birds on display as well as the impressive Mirror Hall and the Great Hall which is resplendent with crystal chandeliers. There is a Changing of the Guard ceremony held every day here at 1.30 pm that features the King’s Guards atop ceremonial horses.
Some of the most famous architectural works in Denmark are modern and incredibly stunning. The new Opera House of Copenhagen, designed by Henning Larsen, is a modern marvel. It is dramatically situated, overlooking the harbor. Before leaving Copenhagen, be sure to visit the world-famous Carlsberg Brewery. This brewery has a history of over 150 years, and visitors can take a guided tour of the famed brewery. Finally, for a close look at the countryside, take a castle tour in North Zealand. Visit the Fredensborg Palace, the summer residence of the Danish Royal Family. Nearby, find other magnificent castles including Frederiksborg Castle. This beautiful area was the setting of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. A perfect way to see the most beautiful sights of Copenhagen is by enjoying one of the boat cruises that explore the sites of the harbor and network of canals that lace Copenhagen. Be sure to stop at the charming statue of The Little Mermaid overlooking the harbor. The statue commemorates one of Hans Christian Anderson’s most famous tales. One of Copenhagen’s most intriguing neighborhoods is Christiania, originally a working-class area, now a hotbed of political activism. Filled with canals, cruises through this area will point out the most interesting sites.
High season for long walks, cycling tours and hitch-hiking starts in summer from June and lasts till August. Norway is known as the land of the midnight sun because certain areas of the country get 24 hours of sunlight for a large part of the summer. Visitors can experience festivals and cruises dedicated to the all-night light.
While hiking in Norway, don’t miss an opportunity to enjoy one of most adventurous things, like seeing the miraculous beauty of Nigardsbreen Glacier, an arm of the largest glacier in continental Europe. After 8 hours of ice hiking and you will be thinking that this was one of the best things you’ve ever experienced. Some of the highlights of Norway include the Bergen Railway which whisks you past the Hardangervidda plateau as well as the Dovre Railway that runs from Oslo to Trondheim. Geirangerfjord is a part of the massive Fjord network in Norway and is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. It stretches across many miles but some of the highlights include Aalesund in the north which is known for its icy Norwegian scenery.
Another highlight of the top things to do list is a journey along the Atlantic Ocean Road in Norway which should not be missed. The route has about 5 miles of rugged spectacular coastline and will take you past the charming fishing villages as well as picturesque sights like ancient churches. There is a set route you can follow, as this is now one of the top attractions in Norway. There are 40 national parks in Finland. They are scattered around the country’s archipelago, lakes, forests and fells. One of the most unique things which could be seen while walking around in the Finnish landscape are lighthouses. Many are possible to visit during a day trip, and you can even spend a night in some of them. Bengtskär on the west coast has majestic sight from it. It is the tallest lighthouse in the Nordic countries. It is situated on a beautiful island that is accessible by boat from the beginning of June to the end of August. For Helsinki day-trippers, the Söderskär lighthouse is a must-see. It is possible to visit Söderskär by boat from Helsinki. The journey takes just over an hour and the visit itself is for two hours – enough to climb the lighthouse and have a cup of coffee in the little lighthouse keeper’s cottage next to it.
To truly experience the Scandinavian way of living and the closeness to nature that the Northern Europe residents have, one should go berry or mushroom picking in the forest. Bilberries, cloudberries and lingonberries are not called “superfood” for no reason. They are uniquely tasty and packed with high levels of vitamins and flavonoids, after ripening under the white summer nights. The best berry-picking season lasts from the end of July until September. Mushrooms can be picked from late summer until the snow comes. Everyman’s right in the country’s forests guarantees that you are allowed to pick almost anything your heart and mouth desires. Forests are everywhere you go. In the Helsinki region, the best place to go berry and mushroom picking is in Nuuksio national park. Nuuksio is less than an hour’s bus journey away. It is hard to believe such places exist so near the capital – you will feel out of this world.
So, it does not matter when and where you go, if Scandinavia is in your plans, you will enjoy it.