The Nordic countries have grown in popularity in recent years. With their progressive societies and socialist welfare states, folk philosophies like hygge and lagom, or indeed simply as the beautiful destinations they are to visit, there is certainly no question as to why! While they are not the cheapest of countries to vacation in they can be done on a budget, and they are well worth the money. But to save you some time in planning, here is a list of our top attraction in each of the Nordic states.
For any Canadians thinking of a trip to Scandinavia, Denmark is a good first stop. Whether your end destination is Sweden or Norway, chances are your flight will set down in Copenhagen first – so why not take a few days to explore?
While Denmark is a beautiful country with many diverse sites worth visiting, for the first-time visitor (or those with limited time), Copenhagen is the natural choice for getting the most out of your visit to the Danes. With an overwhelming number of amazing museums, a world-class university, palaces, cafés, theatres, opera houses and an amusement park, not to mention a self-proclaimed autonomous anarchist district in the middle of the city, Copenhagen is a city that weeks would not do justice to. For that very reason it ranks as our top attraction in Denmark.
From Denmark, Sweden is the next logical stop on our Nordic tour. From Copenhagen it’s a ride by plane, train, boat or bus to the Swedish capital of Stockholm. For any fans of the series The Bridge, you might like to consider going by road or rail, as it will take you over the iconic Öresund Bridge. Admittedly, the route takes longer, but you’ll see more of the beautiful Swedish countryside, and that’s a journey worth taking in our books.
While Sweden, as big as it is, has arguably even more to see than in Denmark (the island of Gotland in particular made the shortlist), we must again bow to the same logic we used when settling on Copenhagen. For the first-time visitor to the country, Stockholm should be your top choice. Known as the Venice of the North, the city is situated on an archipelago of fourteen islands at the point where Lake Mälaren, Sweden’s third largest lake, flows into the Baltic Sea.
There is a charm to Stockholm in any season, but particularly in the summertime the city comes alive. With its palaces and museums, enchanting old town (Gamla Stan), lovely neighbourhoods, outdoor swimming, and a metro system (tunnelbana) slated as the world’s largest art exhibit, the Swedish capital has plenty to keep you occupied during the long summer days.
From Stockholm, it is only natural that we visit Finland next. You can certainly fly, but ferries between the two capitals run regularly as well, so why not squeeze in a small tour of the Baltic?
Once more, it is the capital city that takes the top pick! While we certainly recommend any visitors to Finland to take the time to visit outside the main city (Lapland and the Finnish Lake Country are especially worth seeing!), as this article is written with the first-time visitor in mind, there really is no avoiding a trip to Helsinki – nor should it! – when Finland is on your itinerary.
Helsinki only became the capital of Finland in 1812, after Finland was won from Sweden by the Russians. If visitors to the city find it looks awfully similar to St. Petersburg (if on a smaller scale), that’s because the Russian authorities rebuilt it that way – desiring to make Helsinki into a stylish modern capital. Today we can’t complain! With a plenitude of magnificent cathedrals and public buildings, Helsinki is a fine looking city to be in. Despite all the grandeur however, and this is perhaps why we love Helsinki the most, it still manages to have a very laid-back vibe. We’ll give the Finns full credit for that.
From Finland, we’ll jump back over Sweden and into Norway. Here, however, we’ll stop not in the capital of Oslo but continue on west. Oslo is a lovely city in and of itself, and absolutely worthy of a visit, but our top attraction for Norway must be the fjords.
The west coast of Norway is incredibly long and beautiful, and while there are many areas worth seeing along it, it is the Sognefjord, Norway’s longest and deepest fjord, that wins our vote. The fjord and its offshoots boasts some of the most spectacular attractions the country has to offer (Nærøyfjorden, Flåmsbane, Aurlandsfjorden, Stegastein) and for this reason Sognefjord is our must-see destination on any trip to Norway.
From Norway our next stop is Iceland. It makes only sense, for Iceland was originally settled from there! With so much to see and do, choosing only one attraction for this country has been incredibly difficult, but with the highest concentration of these sites within relatively easy reach of Reykjavík, the south coast must be our number one pick.
The South Coast
While if truly pressed our top attraction might have to be Jökulsárlón, or the Glacial Lagoon, the fact that this particular attraction is located at the very eastern end of the south coast means that a great deal of other sites can be squeezed in as well. Skaftafell / Vatnajökull National Park, Reynisfjara, Skógafoss and the Golden Circle, if time is short it can all be done in a day! So rent a car at the airport or in Reykjavík, or sign up for a bus tour. Just remember to be conscientious! Iceland is a small country and has faced challenges in coping with the vast popularity it has enjoyed among tourists in recent years. Be sure to tour responsibly so that others can continue to enjoy these places for many years to come!
6. The Faroe Islands
Geographically and demographically the smallest on our list, the Faroes Islands are our next stop. If you are making the trip to this somewhat remote nation in the North Atlantic we highly recommend seeing and doing as much as you can during your time there. Our pick for the Faroes’ top attraction however has to be the Mulafossur Waterfall (before you go we’ll save you the trouble and tell you that the Waterfall part is redundant, foss, or fossur, means waterfall in Faroese!).
An 18 minute drive from the Vágar airport and you’ll find yourself in the village of Gásadalur. The village is located in a lush green valley, at the foot of some stunning mountains, and it is adjacent to this settlement that Mulafossur, or the Mulafossur Waterfall, can be found. Plunging off the edge of a cliff straight into the sea 600 metres below, the waterfall is beautiful at the worst of times, but catch a view of it at sunset or, if you’re lucky, under the aurora borealis, and it becomes an other-worldly experience!
Greenland, like the Faroes, is an autonomous nation within the greater Kingdom of Denmark. It is our final destination on this list. Although there are plenty of incredible things to see and experience here, it is the Ilulissat Icefjord that takes the cake.
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004, the Ilulissat Icefjord is the site from which ice breaks off from the Jakobshavn Isbræ glacier and turns to icebergs in the sea. Around 20 million tonnes of icebergs are calved off and pass out of the fjord every year, making Jakobshavn Isbræ the most productive glacier in the world. Just to sit and observe this natural process taking place is a once in a lifetime experience, and it is for that reason that we have selected it as our top Greenland attraction.
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