The Swedish Chef Would Answer This In Two Shakes
August 27, 2008 12:52 PM   Subscribe

Which Nordic country should I visit?

I would like to visit a Nordic country (Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, or Finland). They interest me equally. Which one do you recommend for: (1) Americans; (2) traveling with a three-year-old; (3) with no significant knowledge of the local languages; and (4) who will spend most but not all of their time in that country's largest city?
posted by A Long and Troublesome Lameness to Travel & Transportation (19 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: In my experience, the metropolitan areas of both Norway and Sweden are incredibly English-friendly - I think the only person I met on my trip to Scandinavia who didn't speak English was a Spanish expatriate.

For what it's worth, I found Stockholm to be utterly charming in every way. It's a relatively small city, so it doesn't take long to get from place to place, and it's full of young families so there are lots of city parks, etc. I think a three-year old would get a kick out of the Vasa Museum and Skansen. There are also half-day boat cruises through the archipelago that leave from the Stockholm harbor.

That said, my travelling companion spent a week each in Norway and Sweden. It's very easy to travel between the two countries, so depending on the length of your visit I don't see why that's not an option. According to my friend, Norway's fjords are hard to beat, but Oslo was not as nice as Stockholm.
posted by muddgirl at 1:18 PM on August 27, 2008

I'm Finnish and this is effectively treason, but I'd say Stockholm. It's a great place with plenty of culture, sights and sounds for the entire family and you can get by with English easily. I can't speak for Oslo, Copenhagen or Reykjavik as I've not been to those three countries for extended periods of time. Helsinki is fun too, but Stockholm is better if you can only do one.
posted by slimepuppy at 1:21 PM on August 27, 2008

They're all pretty English friendly, but I'd recommend the more obscure but still pretty Nordic country, Estonia (whose language is similar to Finnish.) It's beautiful, you can see almost all of the amazing but small country - the woods and rural areas, the "big cities" of Tallinn and Tartu and the interesting culture. The home of a lot of high-tech telecommunication / internet industries now, Estonia is changing rapidly, but you'll still see something reminiscent of old-style living. It's a lot less familiar than the countries you mention, without being tough to visit. They love kids, too.

Recently, this film came out, which (I think) would intrigue any potential traveler. It's called The Singing Revolution and speaks to what makes Estonia so cool and fascinating.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 1:33 PM on August 27, 2008

Thirding Stockholm, though Copenhagen is a good second choice, and they're not too far from each other (5-hour train ride).
posted by Succa at 1:57 PM on August 27, 2008

If you fly Icelandair you can do a free stopover in Iceland (generally 2 nights) so you could get Iceland and another nordic country.
posted by Kattullus at 2:06 PM on August 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Thirding Stockholm, though Copenhagen is a good second choice, and they're not too far from each other (5-hour train ride).

I'm quite bias since my father's family is all Swedish, but this is what I would suggest as well. Plus there are ferries between they two if you'd like to see some of the Baltic.
posted by Nelsormensch at 2:13 PM on August 27, 2008

Stockholm. No question, with your conditions. Awesome city. But Kattullus also has a great idea re. the Iceland stopover if you can swing it with Icelandicair.
posted by webhund at 2:32 PM on August 27, 2008

You can see pretty much the whole city of Reykjavík in two days, easy peasy. Everyone in the city speaks English. I'm an American and I managed to live in Iceland without being able to ever correctly pronounce anything in Icelandic. (I did develop mad eavesdropping and subtitle reading skillz though.)

The only other Nordic country I've been to is Denmark. I love, love, LOVED Copenhagen when I was 10. The charging of the guard at the palace... the Little Mermaid statue... and THE ZOO. I have vivid memories of the glee I experienced at the Copenhagen Zoo. So, for entertaining a kid, I would definitely recommend it.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 2:37 PM on August 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Tourists seem to appreciate Stockholm so I nth it f your insisting on staying in a city, but should you have the chance I recommend Iceland (lived there for a year) - getting out into the country is easy enough from Reykjavik and it's well worth it. Beautiful place.

English will work fine wherever you go though.
posted by monocultured at 4:01 PM on August 27, 2008

I'm Norwegian, so I'm biased, and possibly bitter (joke), but I feel like people often practically equate "nordic countries" or "scandinavia" with Sweden. So, I kind of think that's the safe and somewhat boring choice. Like the default setting. So to be interesting I would propose my native Oslo, or possibly Helsinki. I think you'll find all of these countries' major cities to be good places to drag kids around, and honestly, you'll probably enjoy yourself no matter which country you choose. Bring a lot of money...
posted by edlundart at 4:20 PM on August 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Be original and go to Greenland.
posted by jozzas at 4:39 PM on August 27, 2008

Best answer: I was in Copenhagen (and a few other spots in Zealand) earlier this year and I really enjoyed my visit. Copenhagen is an incredibly pleasant city. It's verdant, quiet and compact. The weather was terrific while I was there and the canals were lined with people enjoying the weather and a few Tuborgs late into the long summer evenings. I chose to visit Copenhagen partly because of my interest in the bicycle infrastructure and culture. If you're interested at all in cities and how they work, it's a great place to see. There are so many nice public spaces throughout the city which is great whether you're into urban design or not. Oh, and I had a surprisingly good time at Tivoli Gardens.

Malmö, Sweden is immediately across Øresund from Copenhagen and the two cities are connected by a big bridge. I didn't make it to Malmö but I did go to Roskilde for the afternoon. It's very close to Copenhagen (where the station is right in the middle of the city) on the train, 30 or 40 minutes. There is a viking ship museum there and a cathedral full of dead monarchs. I also went to Helsingør. Kronberg Castle is there and it's an impressive fortress. I'm sure there is plenty of other interesting stuff nearby as well but those were the only places I made it to.

So, yeah, Copenhagen. I'm a big fan. But I doubt you'll be disappointed no matter where you choose to go.
posted by GalaxieFiveHundred at 5:18 PM on August 27, 2008

Copenhagen, or Stockholm.
posted by monocot at 6:09 PM on August 27, 2008

My mother used to work for iceland air. I highly reccomend flying there, staying a while, and continuing on to one of the mainland countries. I've only ever been to copenhagen, and I loved it, but can't compare. Iceland is like another planet.
posted by phrontist at 8:23 PM on August 27, 2008

I just spent four days in Copenhagen. Can't speak to any of the others. Copenhagen's got great, public transport, and as mentioned the bicycle culture is strong and some of the public spaces are great. I was especially fond of Frederiksberg.

There's a good pedestrian street extending eastward from town hall square, with lots of tasty old architecture, or just to the east is Tivoli, with a totally impressive array of restaurants (at one of which I had a perfect steak, well-browned outside and at the peak of juiciness within). Beware, east of there you get into the cheap hotel district, which is pretty much coterminous with the red-light district (around Istedgade, west of the train station), and the public spaces around there are ... less awesome. Fewer pleasant squares with fountains, more back corners smelling of wino crap. Better to ride a train up to Nørreport instead, either to enjoy that neighborhood or to catch the metro down to the mile-long sandy beach at Amager Strandpark (access from the yellow line anywhere in zone 3).

If you do go, transport works like this: The buses, S-tog (suburban train), and metro all work on the same fare system. You have to buy a ticket (or clip a pass) at your origin, for as many zones as you will enter or traverse, and it's good for an hour (2- and 3-zone tickets) or longer (tickets for more zones). I got round mostly on 2-zoners, and I'd easily have broken even on a 3-zone pass if I'd bought one. "Voksen" means adult ticket; a child under 12 rides with you free.

OTOH, everything is crazy expensive. But that's unlikely to be any different elsewhere.
posted by eritain at 9:16 PM on August 27, 2008

Haven't been to Iceland, but lived in Oslo for a bit.....horrifically expensive, makes London look cheap. Stolkholm is great, but Copenhagen is my favourite and seems to have more things to see and do and still a bit cheaper than Oslo.
posted by DOUBLE A SIDE at 12:50 AM on August 28, 2008

Would just like to mention that (1) and (3) are very likely to be the same in most of the capitals of Scandinavia (Oslo, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Helsinki). Where you come from doesn't make much of a difference, and most of us speak English.

I'm of course biased towards Copenhagen, they don't call us "the Italians of Northern Europe" for nothing, we have just a little more fun here :-D
posted by bering at 1:49 AM on August 28, 2008

When are you planning on going? I mean, which season? Stockholm is a wonderful town - I've lived in it and around it all my life - but it can be truly annoying come wintertime. I think Stockholm has the worst street maintenance of all Nordic capitals. If it snows and you've got a stroller, you'll walk into trouble. And the constant darkness is an acquired taste, to say the least.

But come summertime, it's all good.

Caveat: I love Oslo, Copenhagen and Helsinki as well. But Oslo is truly crazy expensive, at least from a swedish perspective.
posted by soundofsuburbia at 4:30 AM on August 28, 2008

Grr. When I said 'eastward' I meant 'eastward', but when I said 'east' I meant 'west'. Bleah.
posted by eritain at 6:08 PM on August 30, 2008

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