Hidden Scandinavian gems?
January 25, 2015 2:37 PM   Subscribe

Wife and I are planning a Scandinavia trip, mostly wanting to see Sweden & Norway, but wouldn't mind working in Denmark and Finland, time permitting (12 days). We want to see some of the cities (Stockholm, Oslo, Copenhagen) but also really want to see some of the way-out stuff up north, the hidden gems. Any recs on companies to work with, places we simply cannot miss, any kind of cool day cruises (boats!) and maybe most importantly, some real out of the way stuff that shines?
posted by xmutex to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
FWIW we had a great experience in Iceland with Nordic Visitor, based in Reykjavík. Can't speak towards their other Scandinavian tours though.
posted by reptile at 2:43 PM on January 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

Hej! What type of activities do you tend to enjoy most?

I have been to Scandinavia a few times and have always had a blast. I wrote some tips here that you might useful. Please let me know if you have any follow up questions after reading that: I'm no expert but I have been in your shoes. Trevlig resa!
posted by smorgasbord at 2:50 PM on January 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm exactly of your mindset. Prefer to transcend the obvious and cut to the unsung. So I'd feel compelled to plan my trip this way, as well, if I were you.

But rural and small town Scandinavia isn't as "gemmy" as their counterparts elsewhere. I've had some experience, but I have (trusted) friends with much more, and they say it can get really super provincial and homogeneous once you're outside the cities (if you're into hardcore trekking or camping or nordic sports or stuff like that, of course, that's different, but you don't seem to lean toward that, if I read you correctly).

And the cities....sigh....the cities. Beauty and vibes aside, Stockholm, for example, will produce the disorienting feeling that you're (finally) experiencing the "First World". Tech seems better, everything seems more modern and competent and friendly and ergonomic. Stuff actually works. And the cultural scene is great, too.

Again, I understand that in most places, everyone (including many natives) over-recommends urban centers and undervalues more far-flung, less shiny options. I applaud your instinct to work against this bias. But while you can surely find good stuff to do for 12 days in the boonies, this is one of the few (perhaps even only) regions where the cities really are the highlights.

Spain? Japan? Brazil? Morocco? Great cities, but get out of them ASAP to experience the real undiluted good stuff. But Scandinavia's different.
posted by Quisp Lover at 2:58 PM on January 25, 2015 [5 favorites]

In Norway, the ferry from Bergen to Flam is great. You can then ride the train to Oslo. Related: http://www.metafilter.com/87708/Bergen-to-Oslo-from-your-armchair
posted by erikgrande at 3:21 PM on January 25, 2015 [3 favorites]

I spent about a month in arctic Sweden in August/September. It was divine, and probably my all-time favorite trip. But I was hiking the Kungsleden, Padjelantaleden, and in Sarek national park. My favorite aspects of the experience (the wild camping, the solitude, the aimless wandering) can't really be captured in a day trip. There are a handful of really delightful lodges along this route (Abisko, Saltoluokta, Kvikjokk) where you could hang out, enjoy amazing local food and go on some great day hikes while sleeping in comfort, but other than Abisko (which is on a major train line) they're not particularly accessible-- you don't want to waste time on a twelve day trip trying to catch a bus that runs only once a day! The towns up there aren't worth a trip-- Jokkmokk is quite pleasant if you're in the area, Kiruna not so much.

I haven't been, but of course Lofoten (Norway) is a great option if you want to go up north. If you're short on time though, I think it would make more sense to explore nature somewhere like the Stockholm archipelago.
posted by acidic at 3:22 PM on January 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

Stockholm is a lovely city and the archipelago around it is beautiful, but travelling across Sweden can be pretty dull in places unless you really like trees. Norway for me has the much more striking landscapes. Oslo is a nice enough city but not super interesting so its better to head to the fjords (maybe jump off from Bergen) or go up to the Lofotens, the fjords are touristy by Norwegian standards but not bad at all compared to the touristy parts of the alps say.

Do bear in mind how long it takes to get up and down Norway and right across from the western fjords to Stockholm. These are big distances and you might not want too many of them in a 12 day holiday. Oslo to Bodo (where the ferry from the Lofotens connects goes) is a 18-20 hour train journey. Try Norwegian for some reasonable flights to cut this right back. Some train journeys are worthwhile however.
posted by biffa at 3:33 PM on January 25, 2015 [3 favorites]

Seconding that Norway is more spectacular per square inch than Sweden. North Sweden is landscape-wise greatest along the Norwegian border, and that's almost always difficult to reach.

Røros is a hidden gem, and it's on the way to Trondheim, which is also pretty awesome.

Much of Scandinavia is, well, long, be smart calculating travel times. If you like train trips, that's cool, of course; take a Stockholm-Östersund-Trondheim ticket, just for example.

You could also do the distance Köpenhamn-Oslo by train and stop a day in Göteborg. Another city, sure, but different from both.
posted by Namlit at 3:41 PM on January 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

I recommend the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark, the Royal Copenhagen Porcelain Factory, the Viking Ship museum in Roskilde, andthe the Nordsee Museum. I also enjoyed being in Narvik, although that was about 15 years ago. It was just supercool being above the Arctic Circle.
posted by bq at 5:44 PM on January 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

I highly recommend my home town "Umeå" in the north, it's sitting on a "älv"-river delta :)
posted by xcasex at 6:22 PM on January 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Did you say Scandinavia? Did you say boats? I have visited the region several times this decade and have two exciting suggestions for you.

First, Hurtigruten offers a range of travel options on the Norway coast. You can do a point-to-point (say, from Bergen to the Lofoten Islands - a SPLENDID trip I have to say!) and take another ship back to Bergen or fly back, what have you.

Or you could take one of Hurtigruten's 13-day ferry tours where you leave Bergen, comfortably and deliciously go up the coast alll the way up (via the Lofotens, of course) to the Russian border far North of the Arctic Circle and return to Bergen. I did the latter in March 2011 and absolutely enjoyed it. And in case you are wondering, no it was not cold. I would say it was about as cold as it gets here in Vancouver in March (so not much). Gulfstream, you know.

My second recommendation is Smyril, which operates a ferry that sails from Denmark to the Faroe Islands and to Iceland (and vice versa). You can fly into Reykjavik/Iceland from Norway, meander for a couple of days in Iceland on the Ring Road until you reach Seydisfjordur in the NE, board the Smyril ship there and then meander on the North Sea with this good ship, make the stops in spectacular Torshavn (capital of the Faroes) and then on to Denmark.

The actual travel time on the Smyril ferry is 36 hours, but you get some nice long layovers in the Faroes (3 days, I believe) which is time superbly well spent. This too is a big well-appointed ferry, and super comfy to travel on. The Faroe Islands have retained their authentic Scandinavian character, they are a colony of Denmark (as is Greenland) and have retained many of their customs. Very little outside influences can be seen there. And there is so much nature, culture (Nordic Museum) to be seen and amazing roads on far-flung fjords to drive. And you are never more than 50 miles from the capital. I strongly recommend you add the Faroes to your itinerary. You want the hidden gems? The Faroes are your hidden gem.
posted by seawallrunner at 7:07 PM on January 25, 2015 [7 favorites]

Depending on when this trip takes place, I would strongly recommend the Ice Hotel. I've been there twice and it is a surreal (in a good way) experience. You won't get this from a lot of Swedes, as Swedes don't go to the Ice Hotel (Swedes go on vacation to warm places, big cities or maybe to places where you can ski downhill). Most of the people who come here come from places that don't get snow, making it even more exotic but even for someone who lives in a cold climate there's something magical about a hotel made of ice. This photo captures part of the Ice Hotel experience for me (there's a few more photos there from our last trip, a couple show the suites with the ice beds)

I'd recommend only staying there one night, especially if you can get a late flight out (and/or early flight in). Apart from the Ice Hotel and the Ice Bar, there are a couple other things worth seeing (the church dating back to the 15th century, the Sami museum).

I've travelled more than the average person, and this is still one of my top 10 places.
posted by kazarnowicz at 2:24 AM on January 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Here is a place I hope to visit soon, but the blogger I've linked to agrees with Quisp Lover (and so do I): read his description of Smörgåstårta Even if you aren't interested in food at all, it sums up what is wrong about Scandinavian small towns.

Trondheim and Bergen are exceptions to this rule, in my view, as are Lund and Uppsala (the latter are almost suburbs to Malmö and Stockholm respectively. Outside of Oslo there is Hamar, with a beautiful museum. Near Copenhagen there is Elsinore - hardly off any track, it's rich in culture ancient and new.

If you like hiking, it's a completely different story, both Norway and Sweden are great for outdoor activities. As everyone says, Norway has the most spectacular scenery. Canoeing on the great Swedish lakes is something too, though. Thinking about canoeing reminding me of the Göta Canal Cruise - another thing on my to-do list. They have a two day cruise as well.
posted by mumimor at 4:05 PM on January 26, 2015

Out of the countries that you mentioned, I've only been to Norway, but an overnight kayak trip with this group was an amazingly beautiful way to see the fjords. I don't know if it is a hidden gem, but we were definitely away from the cruise boats.

We also under-estimated how big the country was and tried to pack too much in. If I did it again, I would have skipped Stavanger and spent more time kayaking and in Bergen, but that's another story. We were particularly underwhelmed by the boat up the coast between Stavanger and Bergen because it was closed in and hard to see out of.
posted by oryelle at 5:45 PM on January 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

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