Glacial lakes, expansive forests, serrated mountain peaks, and the sheer slopes of glittering fjords are routine sights in Norway, where staggering beauty is your eternal companion. From tiny Arctic towns on the top of the world, to the cosmopolitan streets of Oslo, nature is an intrinsic part of Norwegian identity. Perched on the edge of the waters of Oslofjord in southern Norway, Oslo is a growing economic and cultural center in Europe, brimming with innovative restaurants, historical sites, and convivial coffee shops. Get your fill of Oslo’s electric nightlife and Bergen’s historic yet youthful vibes and then head north to the unfettered wild of the Arctic. If you don’t have the time to travel north, don’t despair because there are magical landscapes wherever you roam; the area around Oslo is an outdoor paradise by any standards. With thousands of miles of rippling coastline, craggy mountains, and almost innumerable islands, immersing yourself in Norway’s incomparable outdoors is a soul-stirring experience.
Tucked into hundreds of square miles of forested hills and sitting in the crook of Oslofjord, Oslo is a hip city of delicious food and cultural flair. Downtown is the cultural center of Oslo, filled with open green spaces, it sits right on the waterfront and is a delightful area to explore on foot or by bicycle. Hit some of the highlights like the Oslo Opera House, the Fram Museum of polar exploration, and the Norsk Folkemuseum that depicts life in Norway for the past 600 years. For a real treat, check out the Vikingskipshuset that has ships from the 10th century. A city with a growing reputation for trendy and imaginative cuisine, you will find traditional foods and international fusion. Oslo is an urban-outdoors playground and has more than 1,500 miles of hiking and skiing trails in and around the city.
Combining cosmopolitan and the splendid scenery of the fjords, the picturesque shoreline of Bergen is an enjoyable stop when traveling along Norway’s western fjords. The city’s highlight is Bryggen, the 1000 year old Hanseatic wharf made up of vibrantly colored wooden townhouses along the waterfront. The town center is also filled with museums, gardens, and event venues which make the city a bustling destination in summer months. Climb the beautiful hillside of Mount Fløyen, or ride the funicular to the top for great views over the fjord. Continue traveling to the north, and you will arrive at the Sognefjord, one of Norway’s most iconic fjords.
The rugged terrain of the Lofoten Islands is splashed across the Norwegian Sea, sticking out like a claw from the northwestern coast. The largest of the Islands, Austvågøy, Vestvågøy, Flakstadøy and Moskenesøy are connected by bridges and tunnels to the mainland, but there are many small islands in this archipelago that are reachable only by boat or are completely unpopulated. With a more temperate climate compared to other regions at the same latitude due to the warm Gulf Stream, the Lofoten Islands are an enthralling anomaly. Drive the winding roads into every cove and inlet, kayak between islands, or enjoy incredible fishing. A region of tiny fishing villages, craggy peaks, pristine coastline, the midnight sun in summer, and skies dancing with the northern lights in winter, visiting the Lofoten Islands is an idyllic Arctic experience.
The Lyngen Alps are imbued with imposing and staggering beauty; here mountains erupt straight from the sea, towering over the steel blue water of the fjords, and glaciers unfurl from their peaks. This is a region that will stir your sense of adventure whether you dream of skiing powdery snow down into a fjord, snowshoeing or cross-country skiing under the northern lights, or hiking along secluded valleys. Tromsø is the northern gateway city to the outdoors and is a cultural gem in its own right with centuries old wooden houses in the historic center, engaging museums, and great restaurants and nightlife. Go dog sledding, whale watching, or simply relax and breathe in the serenity of the Lyngen Alps.
A majestic archipelago perched halfway between the northern curl of Norway and the North Pole, a trip to Svalbard is an experience of a lifetime. Home to a few thousand polar bears and only a few thousand people, the unique ecosystem of these Arctic islands is a fine balance of tradition and preservation. Whaling, trapping, and mining were historically important activities, but a contemporary focus on sustainable management is helping to preserve one of the world’s most magnificent wilderness areas. Fly or cruise into Longyearbyen, home to two-thirds of the archipelago’s population, and you will be pleasantly surprised by its rough charm. There are an array of exciting restaurants and the town puts on a constant stream of concerts, festivals, and shows. Beyond the glow of the town, this is a rugged wonderland of powdery blue icebergs, glaciers, dramatic snow-coated peaks, and sweeping valleys. Visiting Svalbard is an incredible opportunity to see reindeer and polar bears, and experience the pulse of the wild Arctic.
An enthralling blend of Viking saga, medieval cities, and impeccable modern style, Sweden is the perfect place to find European history embedded in pristine wilderness. The country stretches from within shouting distance of Denmark, Poland, and Germany in the south, to the cusp of the Arctic in the north. Sophisticated, cosmopolitan cities like Stockholm and Malmö are great places to find incredible cuisine, historic architecture, and a nightlife buzz before you head off into the quiet of the countryside. A land of lush forests, gushing rivers, cobalt lakes, secluded islands, and sandy beaches, there is no end to possibilities for hiking, cycling, camping, or boating. Traipse across the rolling hills and picturesque farmland as you travel to the southern summer getaway Öland Island, or stop along the picturesque lakes that span the country to the west of Stockholm. With rich history, modern verve, and alluring scenery, you are always somewhere incredible when you are in Sweden.
Spread across the islands and peninsulas of the Stockholm archipelago, Sweden’s capital city and culture hot spot is often called the “Venice of the North.” Each of Stockholm’s 14 islands has its own distinct feel; from the chic cliff-top cafés of Sodermalm to the 17th-century cobbled streets of the Gamla Stan, the Old Town where the royal palace of Kungliga Slottet stands as a historic monument and contemporary seat of the monarchy. Hop over to the trendy shopping districts of Ostermalm, visit the maritime Vasa Museum, or jump into the acclaimed and internationally accented food scene. Stockholm is a historical city that has embraced modern styles and a new influx of culture without sacrificing its traditional flavors.
Kalmar and Öland Island
An historically eminent city guarding the one-time frontier with the Kingdom of Denmark, Kalmar has a picturesque and well-preserved medieval Old Town and is a delightful place to spend an afternoon. The postcard-perfect silhouette of the medieval Kalmar Castle presides over the Kalmar Strait, and its museum collection and rotating exhibits are worth a visit. Kalmar’s historical role has shifted though, from gatekeeper of the country to being a gateway to Öland Island. A nearly four mile long bridge spans the Kalmar Strait to Öland, which is a veritable wonderland of wooden windmills, sandy beaches, and charming seaside towns. Laze in the summer sun along the Baltic beaches or explore sites like Borgholm Castle, the Gettlinge Viking burial ground, or the giant limestone plateau and UNESCO site Stora Alvaret.
At the heart of Sweden’s renowned glass-blowing region, Växjö is a small city laden with historical sites and traditional red-timbered houses. Visit the House of Emigrants to learn about the circumstances that made more than 1,000,000 Swedes journey to the United States between 1850 and 1920; or tour the Swedish Glass Museum and then take a day trip to the Kosta Boda glassworks, one of Sweden’s global producers of glassware dating back to the 18th century. Surrounded by serene lakes and forests, Växjö is an ideal fusion of laid-back urban vibes and an active outdoors scene, with a multitude of trails and parks to explore in and around the city.
A country of understated elegance blending historical legacy and progressive vision, it is no mystery why Denmark is continuously ranked among the best countries to live in. Effortless style and modern flair apply equally to architecture, interior design, plates of food, and locals’ wardrobes. A landscape of long sandy beaches, placid lakes, tiny fishing villages, and dotted with Renaissance castles, Denmark doesn’t have the peaks or fjords of Norway, but it has its own mysterious charm and tranquil beauty. The compact, clean, green cities of Denmark are a joy to explore on foot, or you can join the locals and cycle around town.
From royal palaces to trendy farm to table dining, Copenhagen is the perfect mix of historical grandeur and modern vivacity. An old merchants’ town overlooking the entrance to the Baltic Sea, the winding streets of the picturesque Old Town are a tasteful mixture of historic sites, street cafés, designer shops, and some of the best restaurants in Scandinavia. Copenhagen has a heap of Michelin-starred eateries, which don’t hesitate to challenge convention and blend the tastes of other cultures and countries in their cuisine. One of the world’s greenest cities with a strong focus on sustainable architecture, public green spaces, and defying urban sprawl, Copenhagen is every bit a thriving European capital yet manages to feel welcoming and small.
Set on the Ribe River near the western coast of Denmark, and founded in the 9th century, Ribe is one of the country’s oldest towns. With crooked cobblestone streets and half-timbered houses from the 16th century, Ribe is home to Denmark’s oldest cathedral and a host of other historical monuments, and is a delightful place to glimpse the country’s past. The entire Old Town, with more than 100 buildings, is a designated national preservation area and is filled with cultural jewels.
A serene and romantic landscape of undulating country roads with a scattering of old wooden windmills and thatch-roofed houses, Ærø is a welcoming island that is a perfect out of the way destination. Marstal is the cozy economic center of Ærø, but the little town of Ærøskøbing is the cultural heart. A 17th-century merchant village, Ærøskøbing is made up of brightly-colored buildings that all seem to lean a little off kilter. Charming hotels and quality restaurants make this little town a quiet haven.