By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert
Scandinavia, the land of the midnight sun in summer, instantly brings to me images of fjords, castles, marauding Vikings and beautiful blond Nordic women. It is a land of spectacular sights. During the summer, Scandinavia is a great place to visit. These northern European countries have splendid weather for about 3 months or so, and there is almost always some type of festival during the summer months in each of these capital cities.
The Scandinavia region, however, is not clearly defined by all geographers. Some include only Denmark, Norway and Sweden. Others add Iceland and Finland and define these 5 countries as the Nordic countries. A lot of the confusion is over Finland, as large portions were once part of Sweden and Russia, and this also has influenced its culture. The island nation of Iceland also has some of the traits of Scandinavia but is more isolated from the rest of the Nordic countries.
Despite these geographic differences, I will include Finland in my Scandinavia blog, as its culture best fits in with the Scandinavia region in my mind and omit Iceland—it is just so physically distant from the other four countries, I have a hard time including it as part of Scandinavia. All four countries included in my definition of Scandinavia, speak a language based on a northern Germanic dialect, have great seagoing traditions and have adapted well to their cold climates. While distinct countries, they share more similarities than differences, in my opinion.
I would be remiss if I didn’t let you know that we have written guides to all these capital cities. Just go to our website at this link and we will send you the guides you request. Here is the link on our Northern Europe page of our website: https://www.dreamdestinations.com/northern-europe/ . The guides are free and there is no obligation, it is just a service we provide to help you have better travels when visiting this region (this is only part of the 50 cities guides we have for key European cities.)
So, let’s learn more about the capital cities of Denmark, Finland (technically a Nordic country), Norway and Sweden.
Located on the Jutland Peninsula, Copenhagen is a city of just over 750,000 people. The city is built on two main islands and connected by many drawbridges. Danes are famous for being seafaring people—the Vikings used to raid from here. The Danes are considered to have one of the highest qualities of life in the world.
Copenhagen is sometimes known as the city of spires.
Among some of the great sites to visit in this city, are the City Hall Square and City Hall (Radhuspladsen), Tivoli Gardens (Europe’s oldest amusement park), the Stronget shopping street area (Europe’s first pedestrian street that goes through the old merchants’ (koben) harbor (havn), Amalienborg Palace and Square (the monarchs palace) and the National Museum, complete with Viking displays to include a Viking longship—I really enjoyed a visit to this museum in 2008.
Helsinki grew up around its harbor. Helsinki and Finland also have one of the world’s highest standards of living. Key sites are the market square harbor, the Esplanade (a great pedestrian walkway and boulevard), and the Senate Square. We have visited twice and really like Helsinki—our favorites are the waterfront market square area and the Esplanade.
Helsinki is rated as the capital city with the 8th cleanest air in the world by the World Health Organization. A huge emphasis on public transportation, may be one reason, Helsinki makes the list. This city wants to make cars obsolete by developing an on-demand-public transportation system. The current diverse public transportation system consists of trams, commuter rail, bus lines, 2 ferry lines, and some on-demand minibuses. There is also a big emphasis on bikes and developing bike paths. One third of the city is green spaces.
The port city of Oslo is a fun place to visit. It is located on the northeast part of the Oslo Fjord. We sailed into Oslo on an ocean cruise ship and it was a delightful experience.
Some of the key sights of Oslo are located right on the harbor. These include the 700 year old Akerhus Castle fort complex, the city hall and the Nobel Peace Museum.
A few streets in from the harbor, Karls Johans Gate, is the main shopping street of Oslo. On this street, there is the Royal Palace at one end of Karls Johans Gate, along with the National Theater, the National Gallery, Oslo Cathedral and ending at the Parliament—all contained within about a mile or so distance. On the Bygdoy Peninsula area of Oslo (about a mile from the harbor area), the Viking Ship Museum has 3 Viking boats over a 1000 years old and other Viking artifacts. Bygdoy also has 3 other maritime museums. The Fram museum is about polar explorations, Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki raft museum is also here and their maritime museum that explains Norway’s long history with the sea. Also located in the Bygdoy Peninsula, is the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History—an outdoor museum that has an old wooden stave church from around the year 1200. There are 160 buildings reassembled and brought in from all over Norway. For art lovers, Fronger Park (on the outskirts of Oslo) holds the sculptures of Gustav Vigeland and the Edward Munich Museum has all his art work (his most famous painting is the scream).
Stockholm is built on a series of 14 islands connected by bridges. This is a town of great old sites and really new modern places. The old town is really good and one of my favorite sites to explore on foot. The Gamla Stan (old city) was a part of the Hanseatic League trade network and the resulting trade helped the city grow and prosper. You will enjoy wandering in the old town.
Very near the old town area is the very large Royal Palace, complete with uniformed guards and a colorful changing of the guard ceremony at noon. Also in this area is the Parliament building.
On Deer Island (Djurgarden), there is an amusement park, an outdoor museum of reassembled buildings from all over Sweden and the Vasa museum, the 17th century warship that sank during its maiden voyage. It also has the ABBA music experience for you pop culture music fans.
In the more modern part of town, we even went to an ice bar for a drink—pretty cool to say the least!
Stockholm is also on the list of the ten capital cities with the cleanest air (according to the World Health Organization), coming in at number 1. It was the 2010 Green Capital of the World, and Stockholm wants to be fossil fuel free by 2050. During the 1990s, Stockholm was able to reduce carbon emissions by 25%, so you can see they are serious about cleaning up the air they breathe. Development is strictly monitored—even cars must pay a tax to enter the city. It also has an extensive public transportation system. 85% of the population work in service industries and there are hardly any heavy industrial factories, so this is one reason Stockholm has such clean air. 30% of Stockholm’s area is green spaces; and it has over 1,000 parks.
My Final Thoughts
Scandinavia, if you have not visited this region, should be on your list of places to visit in Europe. Go in the summer months—many sights are closed during the winter months, especially the amusement parks and the outdoor reassembled buildings. The other great advantage are the long days—the sun sets very late at night in these four capital cities which helps inspires their many festivals. Solid reasons to visit this region in my mind.
We can help you plan and book a trip to Scandinavia—to any or all these four great countries. We are travel experts, ocean and river cruise experts, and Europe destination experts. We have first-hand knowledge of almost anywhere you want to visit in Europe. We know our products and the vendors who sell them to you. We have designed special tours for dozens of clients, led several and will continue to find just the right vacation that will exceed your expectations.
When you are spending your hard earned money for a vacation, you want an advisor who can match you with the right trip. You want someone who will understand your expectations and fuel your anticipation (or excitement) to get you the best possible trip experience. And, you want someone who can help you with the decision making process. We think we have all these qualities.
Whatever your Dream Destinations are, we are here to help you get the best possible vacation based on what is important to you! We will provide you high quality, expertly planned travel. Please give me a call 713-397-0188 (Hank) or email me at email@example.com. We want to help you: Savor life…make memories…Visit Dream Destinations! Your journey begins here!
HANK is a certified Western European Destination Specialist (DS) who has been traveling to Europe for 45 years. He is also an Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC), conferred by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA). This recognized expert in cruise and leisure travel is a retired Army Officer, and taught World Geography for 8 years. He is a `71 graduate of West Point and has earned 2 master’s degrees. His other Certifications:
- AmaWaterways River Cruise Specialist
- Viking River Cruise Specialist
- Scenic River Cruise Specialist
- Emerald Waterways Specialist
- Avalon Waterways Specialist
- Brit Agent