7 Unique Things Switz blog

7 Things You Can’t Miss in Scandinavia

Alex Shaked
by Alex Shaked

May 12, 2023

7 minute read

Gnome lore and the pop band ABBA are two of my favourite things, so it stands to reason that Scandinavia is on the top of my personal travel bucket list. This is a destination where people steer into the quirkiness of life and enjoy it; what a freeing place to be. (I learned in my Easter blog that Swedish children dress up as witches for the holiday. Absolutely love this for them.)

But there is a veritable smorgasbord of reasons that this region may be appealing to you: Vibrant cities, otherworldly natural beauty, rich history, and a culture fueled by folklore and a dedication to wellness, to name a few.

For your consideration, here are seven Scandinavian bucket list items. (And to honour my beloved ABBA, each entry will be accompanied by a tune to guide you along the way.)

1. ABBA Track: Voulez-Vous ♪

The Fjords

With three long, narrow countries standing side by side, an abundance of long, narrow, saltwater inlets just makes sense in this part of the world. Nestled between snow-covered peaks and surrounded by waterfalls and lush green vegetation, these waterways offer some stunning scenery unlike anywhere else.

A trip to Norway would be incomplete without a cruise down Geirangerfjord, one of the planet's most majestic fjords. The crystal waters, deep rock basins, and forests are distinguished as Protected Landscapes by UNESCO. And you simply must go there and see why for yourself.

2. ABBA Track: Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!♪

Regional Cuisine

There is something to be said about the simplicity of Köttbullar — Swedish meatballs — a cream-based gravy, tangy lingonberry sauce, and smooth mashed potatoes. But there is way more to Scandinavian cuisine than this iconic dish.

When it comes to food, Scandinavians have historically focused on accessibility and necessity. And those staples are still present today! Locally sourced, fresh food is a large part of this foodie culture still, which is why you’re likely to see reindeer as a protein source on a menu. The preservation methods dating back to Viking times like salting, smoking, pickling, and fermenting are still at play, because pickled herring and dried cod never go out of style in this region.

(One of our travellers, Barbara W., wrote about her experience getting to know Norse cod culture with us. Get a taste of that on her blog here!)

3. ABBA Track: Another Town, Another Train ♪

The Flam Railway

All aboard for one of the world's steepest and most beautiful train trips. Travellers overwhelmingly report that the views of nature are their favourite part of this tour, and the views from the Flam Railway can’t be beat.

Mountains, waterfalls, the ethereal fjord landscapes from a dreamy vintage train car feels a bit like a fairy tale. Just watching footage from my desk gave me a visceral reaction. (The town of Flam itself is a treat, too. It’s hundreds of years old, with a population of less than 400!)

4. ABBA Track: I Have A Dream ♪

Manghold Farm

This farm is a true gem in Denmark, and visiting is a great way to discover the Danish countryside. The family-run farm Manghold Farm is owned by Tine Hage, and this is a place dedicated to cultural heritage and sustainable practices.

Learn about their work conserving ancient grains and the old Danish livestock breeds before enjoying some homemade treats at the organic farm. Depending on the season, you may catch a glimpse of some sweet sheep and ducks waddling about while you explore the grounds.

5. ABBA Track: Little Things ♪

Sauna Culture & Coffee Culture

Sauna culture in Finland is on UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage items, in the company of cultural powerhouses like the Mediterranean diet and the French baguette, to name a few. The sauna is a real marker of the Scandinavian dedication to wellness. Because a trip to the sauna is just as much dedicated to cleansing the mind as the body. There is no rush when it comes to using a sauna: it’s slow, intentional, and almost sacred. And, of course, there’s some sauna folklore. Sauna owners find protection from saunatonttu, the sauna elf — who may just burn your sauna down if you misbehave.

Swedish coffee culture is equally as revered with fika. This is a dedication, often daily, to setting aside time to take a break with friends for coffee and a sweet treat. Coffee is an important piece of this, but socializing and taking time to relax is king when it comes to a fika. This coffee culture is a contributing factor to Sweden, Finland, and Denmark being the biggest coffee consumers in the world.

6. ABBA Track: The Winner Takes It All ♪

Rich History

Scandinavia is a popular spot for travellers to trace their roots. There was a large wave of emigration from Scandinavia to the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand in the late 19th century; 2 million Scandinavians moved to the U.S. between 1820 and 1920 alone.

Taking a step further back, though, you have to consider the exciting Viking Age. Scandinavia’s seafaring warriors left their mark across Europe. The 9th century introduced newly discovered routes along the water, which led to trading, raiding, and conquests across the continent. Fun fact: The Norse word for bay, vik, became the root word for vikingr, which means pirate!

7. ABBA Track: Take a Chance on Me ♪

Clean Cities

A dedication to environmental initiatives in this part of the world is a leading contributor to the cleanliness of these countries, even in their capitols. Public transportation and lower emissions, clean water supplies, and a deeply ingrained social opposition to litter is a part of the culture of Scandinavia.

Copenhagen is Denmark’s coastal capital, and Denmark is routinely named the cleanest country in the world. Some tips for diving into the capital city: Explore Nyhavn, the picturesque harbour lined with colourful facades and charming cafes, as well as Amalienborg Palace, the residence of the Danish royal family. And be sure to catch a glimpse of the iconic Little Mermaid Statue, a 1913 sculpture honouring Hans Christian Andersen’s famous fictional character!

In Stockholm, take in the city’s greatest vistas and attractions, including Gamla Stan (Old Town), Riddarholm Church, the Royal Palace, and the Parliament. You should also pop into Stockholm’s stunning City Hall, which displays towering brick walls paired with an opulent interior.

As Norway’s capital since 1814, Oslo is the centre of the country’s government and the home to the royal family. Here, you’ll find a vibrant, cosmopolitan hub with an abundance of world-class museums, restaurants, and art. Our must-sees? The remarkable Fram Museum, dedicated to telling the story of Norwegian polar exploration, the Royal Palace, city hall, and Vigeland Park — home to the collection of statues and sculptures that comprise Gustav Vigeland's life’s work.

Bonus:

ABBA Track: The Visitors ♪

Not Your Average Museums

A carefully curated art museum is a classic visit when you’re visiting a new place, but a museum with a little extra spice is a real treat. Sweden, however, has a couple of options for folks to dive into another side of history. Will you trek to the Vasa Ship Museum, which displays an ornately-decorated wooden warship? Or boogie to the ABBA Museum, an interactive exhibition about the Swedish pop sensation?

(I bet you can guess which I will choose …)

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