Say hello to Scandinavia; home of the pickled herring, sensible jumpers and a helluva lot of snow. You may think you know this northern European hub (ABBA and IKEA right?), but if you dig a little deeper, you’ll discover so much more.
Scandinavia is your portal to bold, natural landscapes and the stylish cities of Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland. Stunning scenery, artful imaginings and peculiar festivals await you. Here’s our pick of the coolest things to squeeze in.
#1 Trip out to the northern lights
From September through to April, catch the psychedelic Aurora Borealis dance across the sky. Science alert: The northern lights appear when large numbers of electrons hit air particles along the Earth’s magnetic field. This causes the air to light up. Just like a glow stick. Northern Norway, Sweden and Iceland are the best places for viewing the lights. Add this to your bucket list now.
#2 Ride the Korketrekkeren
Oslo has the meanest toboggan run on offer. Shaped like a corkscrew, this ex-Olympic bobsled run spans two kilometres and takes ten minutes to reach the bottom. Once complete, you’ll need to hop on a train to get back up to the top again. Hire a sled for the day and stay as long as you want, just make sure you stick around for the night tobogganing. Gates close at 9pm Monday to Saturday.
#3 Detour to Twin Peaks
If you land in Copenhagen hungry, you’re in luck. This city is brimming with new Nordic cuisine earning rave reviews around the globe. If you can’t afford a fancy meal, you can still fill up in the city’s coolest, laidback cafes. If you’re a fan of cult TV show Twin Peaks, one eating spot you can’t miss is The Log Lady.
This teeny venue is a shrine to David Lynch, decked out with moody velvet curtains and tree stump tables. The living room café serves inventive organic food, strong coffee, and of course a hearty slice of cherry pie. Stay on with the setting sun for live music on Fridays and Saturdays.
#4 Skip through a rainbow
Artist Olafur Eliasson has constructed Your Rainbow Panorama, a permanent interactive sculpture, atop Århus Art Museum in Denmark. This circular walkway lights up visitors in crayon colours as they navigate through the “floating” tunnel. It’s like a giant pair of Technicolor sunnies, and one of the most beautiful ways to view the city below.
Like every good rainbow there’s a jackpot at the end. The Århus Art Museum is a gem of a discovery with the country’s largest collection of Danish modernist masterpieces, and a special exhibition space reserved for international light, video and installation art. Night viewings and music shows are on most weeks.
#5 Get lost in the Geirangerfjord
Snow covered mountains and raw, unspoiled forests surround this icy blue fjord in Norway. Home to bears, moose and wolves, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a major tourist hotspot and every nature lovers dream. If you’ve got a thing for waterfalls, don’t miss it. Kayaking and hiking is available for the adventurous and muscly, or just soak up the sweet lookouts and feel stoked on life.
#6 Try A Smorgasbord, Then A Fika
Fish makes up a large portion of Nordic meals, with slippery, pickled herrings one of the most famous dishes. Chances are you’ll be presented with some, in a gut busting smorgasbord, stacked with meatballs, pickled beetroots, fried potatoes and aged dried fish (Lutefisk). Want to construct your own smorgasbord whilst you’re in town? Stock up on goodies at Stockholm’s Östermalms Saluhall food markets.
On the flipside, indulge in a modest Fika, which pretty much translates to “kicking back with a buddy over a coffee”. Danes drink between four to five coffees a day so they know how to percolate. Try a cuppa at micro roaster The Coffee Collective in Jægersborggade, and pair your brew with a traditional cinnamon bun.
#7 Run With A Local
Work off those carbs with a running tour of Stockholm. This is an awesome way to explore the real backstreets of a city with a fit and friendly local. The hour-long tour is totally flexible and customised for your fitness levels. You tell your new coach what you’d like to see and where you’d like to stop. It’s a laidback trek that lets you swap stories with a new, sweaty friend.
#8 See A Man Attacked By Babies
The weird and wonderful Vigeland Sculpture Park in Oslo, has over 200 statues created by Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland. This was a man obsessed with the human condition. Some sculptures took over 14 years to carve, and the park stretches over 80 acres. Grab a picnic and explore whacky depictions of giant crying babies, men being attacked by cherubs and a 14-metre-high totem pole, weaved together with 121 intertwined human figures. Creepy but fascinating.
#9 Sleep In An Abandoned Jumbo Jet
If Finland’s heated igloos aren’t your bag, what about a jumbo jet? This giant ex-functioning 747 plane has kept all its 70s charm, with sleek, minimal interiors and pops of acid orange fittings. The Jumbo Stay hostel in Stockholm sleeps 76 people in a range of rooms, including the deluxe cockpit suite. Yes captain.
If quirky accommodation is your passion, you can pair your Jumbo Stay with other experiential beds. They’ve created packages with a UFO tree house and an underground silver mine suite. Have they not thought of everything?
# 10 Attend A Silly Festival
Swamp soccer. Mosquito squashing. Mobile phone throwing. Air guitar. These are all actual festivals in Finland, a country that prides itself on its silliness and sense of humour. There’s an event for the inner nerd in everyone. Check them all out here.
If you prefer your festivals packed with music legends, book your Scandi trip around Roskildeto to mingle with 130,000 punters over a four-day bonanza.
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Scandinavia is one of those places you have to see before you die. Filled with stunning scenery, gorgeous fjords and glaciers – it’s too beautiful for words. Make your way to Scandinavia with Contiki and explore the capital cities of Stockholm, Oslo and Copenhagen. Experience all the cool things that makes Scandinavia one-of-a-kind! Find out more here.