What are the Nordic countries?
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WHY VISIT THE NORDIC COUNTRIES
Nature is among the biggest attractions across the entire Nordic region, with visitors from all corners of the planet drawn to the dramatic fjords, scenic islands, volcanoes, lush forests, lakes, waterfalls and idyllic farmlands. The Nordic countries offer everything from rugged adventures in Arctic wilderness to royal palaces and world-class culinary experiences in centuries-old cities.
Besides the magical scenery and natural phenomena like the midnight sun in the summer and the northern lights in the winter, the cultural buzz of the major cities is equally alluring to travellers. The capital cities of Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Iceland are well known as hubs of cutting-edge designs as well as innovative cuisine, art and music.
DESTINATIONS WITHIN THE NORDIC REGION
Scandinavia is sometimes used as a synonym for all the Nordic countries (often excluding Greenland), but that term more properly refers to the countries on the Scandinavian peninsula of Northern Europe—Denmark, Norway and Sweden.
And although Finland is not technically considered part of Scandinavia due to its ties to the Baltic countries, it nonetheless shares many of the geographical, cultural and historical characteristics as the Scandinavian countries, particularly its neighbour Sweden.
Overall, this region of Europe is well known for its sophisticated, design-savvy capitals, but its Viking relics and medieval historical sites as well as its extremely diverse nature—from Norway’s famous fjords to Finland’s lush forests—offer something for all travellers.
We offer a great variety of holidays that combine destinations in Scandinavia as it is generally very easy to travel between the cities in this region by train, car or ferry/cruise ship. Our tours that combine the capital cities of Oslo, Copenhagen, Stockholm and Helsinki are especially popular.
The small archipelago of the Faroe Islands and Iceland—a volcanic island roughly the same size of Portugal—are geographically very different from Scandinavia but are considered part of the Nordic countries due to their strong historical and cultural ties. These countries also have far smaller populations than their Scandinavian counterparts, offering active travellers and nature lovers an abundance of natural attractions to explore.
Bird watching, sailing and hiking are particularly popular in the Faroes, while Iceland day tours can feature just about any outdoor adventure you could imagine—from snorkelling and glacier hiking to lava-caving and horse riding.
The associated territories of Greenland and Svalbard and the Lapland region of northern Scandinavia are destinations that offer unique cultural and natural experiences for travellers that want something a little different from the usual European holiday. Whereas the Nordic countries overall have a reputation for being very modern, these places allow guests to experience the simpler life and enjoy the thrills of Arctic activities like dog-sledding, multi-day snowmobile trips and other adventures in the snow or ice. Both Greenland and Lapland also offer a chance to learn about the traditions and daily life of the native Inuit and Sami people.
HOW TO GET TO THE NORDIC COUNTRIES
The capital cities (Helsinki, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Oslo and Reykjavik) are typically the first arrival destinations for our travellers, especially those coming from outside Europe.
The following are major international airports in the Nordic capitals:
- Finland: Helsinki-Vantaa Airport
- Sweden: Stockholm-Arlanda Airport
- Denmark: Copenhagen-Kastrup Airport
- Norway: Olso-Gardermoen Airport
- Iceland: Keflavik Airport
These airports are served by many international airlines, which you can see in further detail at the airports’ websites.
GETTING AROUND IN THE NORDIC COUNTRIES
The Nordic countries varied landscapes offer wonderful scenery for any journey, no matter by land or sea. Of course, how you choose to travel will depend on where you go and what time of year you visit.
Some of the most popular options are listed below:
By rental car: A road trip is an ideal way to discover the charms beyond the capital cities at your own pace. Our self-drive tours in Scandinavia run between May and September, when you have the most daylight hours and best weather conditions. (Please note, however, that rental cars need to be picked up and returned in the same country.) Our self-drive tours in Iceland are available year-round, though we do recommend a 4x4 vehicle type for winter driving.
By cruise (ferry or boat): Overnight cruises between major cities are available in many of our Combination Tours. Not only do you get to see beautiful maritime scenery but you also save in time on travelling while you sleep. Amenities onboard vary by vessel but generally include restaurants, cafes, nightclubs and tax-free shops. Our packages include lodgings in private, comfortable cabins with en suite WC. The following cities are connected by overnight cruises:
We also recommend the shorter ferry rides between following destinations:
Another popular option among our clients is the Hurtigruten Coastal Voyage, which offers a comfortable way to enjoy Norway’s famous natural beauty and historic port cities. Ships sail year-round between Kirkenes in the Arctic north and medieval Bergen in the fjord lands, with many opportunities for shore excursions along the route. These cruises are also ideal for bird or whale watching and for experiencing the northern lights in winter.
By train: Sweden and Norway both have highly efficient rail networks linking to other major Scandinavian destinations. This is a great way to take in the scenic countryside in comfort on some of Europe’s most modern trains. (Please note that the sparsely populated destinations of Iceland, Greenland, Svalbard and Faroe Islands have no trains, and we do not recommend taking the train to our Lapland destinations.)
The following cities are easily connected by train:
Hint: To find out which modes of travel are included in each tour, look for the small “travel by” icons in the package details.
WHEN TO VISIT & WEATHER
There's never a bad time to visit the Nordic countries! When you should visit will depend on which types of activities or natural phenomena interest you most.
June, July and August are the busiest months for travelling to the Nordic countries. This is when you can expect the warmest weather, longest daylight hours and best availability of outdoor activities and open attractions.
During May and September, some of the activities and attractions in the countryside have more limited opening hours, but these months are still ideal for city breaks or self drive tours.
In June and July you can also experience the magical midnight sun phenomenon at its peak in the far northern destinations, like Lapland, Greenland, Svalbard and Iceland.
Lapland is one of our most popular destinations in winter, as it offers fun for all ages. December to March is the best time to visit that region, with the peak season over Christmas and New Year’s, when you can normally expect a lot of snow and possible sightings of the northern lights. This is also the time when the ICEHOTEL is open and many snowmobile and husky tours are operated daily. February and March are ideal months if you wish to avoid the largest crowds.
As for the capital cities in Iceland and Scandinavia, most attractions such as museums in the capital cities are open all year round, which makes city breaks perfect any time of the year. Iceland is also a fantastic destination for New Year’s Eve and destinations like Greenland and Svalbard are ideal places for more off-the-beaten-track winter adventures.
Spring and autumn: From October to November and in March and April it is still well worth to visit the capitals and the other major towns. Iceland also offers a wide selection of activities that are available all year round.
What to pack? Regardless of when you travel, or which destination(s) you visit, the one common feature all Nordic countries share is unpredictable weather. You'll want to bring versatile clothing that can handle all types of conditions and occasions. For warm layers and high-quality outerwear that's also stylish enough for city sightseeing, we highly recommend Icelandic brand 66°North.
TOP ATTRACTIONS IN THE NORDIC COUNTRIES
It would be impossible for us to list all the spectacular highlights of the Nordic region here, but these are among our travellers’ favourites:
- Major cities: Helsinki, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Oslo, Bergen, Reykjavik
- Norwegian Fjords: Sognefjord, Geirangerfjord, Hardangerfjord, Lysefjorden
- Waterfalls: Gullfoss, Dettifoss and Seljalandsfoss in Iceland; Voringsfossen and Seven Sisters in Geirangerfjord, Norway
- Other natural attractions: glaciers, volcanoes, geysers and hot springs in Iceland; archipelagos in Sweden; glaciers and icebergs in Greenland and Svalbard; boreal forests in Lapland; bird cliffs in Faroe Islands
- Seasonal phenomena: midnight sun (summer) and northern lights (winter) in Arctic destinations
- Scenic drives: Adventure Road, Trollstigen and Eagle Road in Norway; The Golden Circle and Ring Road in Iceland; around Lake Vänern and Dalarna province in Sweden
- Railways: Norway in a Nutshell and Flåm Railway in Norway, Stockholm to Gothenburg in Sweden
- Cruises: Overnight ferries from Stockholm to Helsinki and Copenhagen to Oslo; coastal cruises in Greenland; Hurtigruten coastal voyages in Norway
- Historical sites and landmarks: Temppeliaukio Church in Helsinki, Royal Palace in Stockholm, Akershus Fortress in Oslo, Amalienborg Palace and The Little Mermaid in Copenhagen
- Museums: Vasa Museum in Stockholm, National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen, Kon-Tiki Museum in Oslo, Settlement Exhibition in Reykjavik
Of course, the list doesn’t stop there! The Nordic region is full of discoveries, so we provide all of our customers with helpful information before arrival about top attractions in the area and other practical travel advice.
For more specific things to see and do by destination, as well as practical local information, see our other travel guides:
Our itineraries are designed to be flexible, allowing you to add optional activities and day tours, either at the time of your booking or on location during your stay. Your dedicated travel consultant will be able to advise you about available activities.
If you would like to include more activities into your holiday, we recommend booking a package that includes more time at each overnight location (e.g. two or more nights at the same accommodation).
We have Combination Tours ranging from four days covering two counties to 32 days covering several Nordic destinations. To help you make the most of your time, see our itinerary ideas below.
1 – 4 days
Stockholm – Helsinki: Fly in to Stockholm, join a sightseeing tour around the city and then take the overnight cruise to Helsinki from where you eventually fly home. For example, see our tour Capitals of Scandinavia & Finland Cruise
Copenhagen –Stockholm: Fly in to Copenhagen, join a sightseeing tour around the city and then take the train to Stockholm from where you eventually fly home.
Stockholm – Stockholm: Start in Stockholm and continue by train to Copenhagen, from where you will take the overnight cruise to Oslo before travelling back to Stockholm by train. For example, see our tour Capitals of Scandinavia
Helsinki – Bergen: Start in Helsinki before you take the overnight cruise to Stockholm, from where you will continue by train to Oslo and then to Bergen via the Norway in a Nutshell rail route. For example, see our tour Capitals of Scandinavia & Finland Cruise
8 – 14 days
Helsinki – Bergen: Start in Helsinki and take the overnight ferry to Stockholm and then travel to Copenhagen by train. Board the ferry heading to Oslo, from where you will continue by train on the Norway in a Nutshell® route to Bergen, which includes a trip on the famous Flåm Railway to Flåm. For example, see our tour Best of Scandinavia Classic
Helsinki – Reykjavik: Start in Helsinki. Take the overnight ferry to Stockholm and then take the train to Copenhagen. Board the ferry heading to Oslo, from where you will fly to Iceland for a short break based in Reykjavik. For example, see our tour Best of Scandinavia & Iceland
14 day – 20 days
Helsinki – Bergen: Start in Helsinki. Take the ferry to Tallinn and then board the overnight cruise to Stockholm. From there you can relax on the train to Copenhagen, where you will board a cruise to Oslo. From Oslo you will continue by train on the Norway in a Nutshell route to Bergen, which includes a trip on the famous Flåm Railway to Flåm.
21 days or more
Helsinki – Reykjavik: Start in Helsinki. Take the ferry to Tallinn, from where you will take an overnight cruise to Stockholm. Then you can relax on the train to Copenhagen, where you will board a cruise to Oslo. From Oslo you will continue by train on the Norway in a Nutshell route, including a trip on the famous Flåm Railway to Flåm, where you will spend the night before taking the ferry to Bergen the next day. From Bergen you will embark on the popular Hurtigruten Coastal Voyage to the Arctic town of Kirkenes. Then fly to Reykjavik and take a detour to Greenland before flying home from Iceland. For example, see our tour Best of Scandinavia - Norway Cruise and Iceland or The Nordic Countries Complete
We offer a wide selection of Combination Tours, featuring the best of the Nordic region’s unique cultural, historical and natural attractions. We can also customise any itinerary based on your needs and interests. Of course, it is also possible to combine any of the packages found under each country by simply adding a flight, cruise or train between the destinations.
For more detailed information about some of our destinations, please visit: