With a reputation for being the cool end of Europe (both literally and figuratively), the beauty of Scandinavia lies in its contrasts. From ultra-hip cities full of sleek design and world-class restaurants, to back-to-basics cabin living in some of the most epic natural landscapes in the world. From must-see urban destinations like Stockholm and Copenhagen, to must-be-seen-to-be-believed phenomenon like the Northern Lights and the Midnight Sun.
Made up of Norway, Sweden and Denmark (with Finland a close neighbour), it's no cliché to say this northern European subregion really does have something for everyone. But in case you're not yet convinced, here are our top 10 reasons to visit Scandinavia immediately.
1) Saunter around trendy cities
Scandinavia’s cities are fit to burst with gourmet food, trendy boutiques, genuinely fascinating museums and vibrant art scenes.
Take Norway: in Oslo you’ll find an eclectic mix of old and new architecture and a lively nightlife, while the impossibly picturesque Bergen is known as ‘The City of the Seven Mountains and Seven Fjords’. Need we say more?
Denmark’s small city of Copenhagen in might have started out as a Viking fishing village, but now it’s home to two of the world’s top-five restaurants. Did someone say Noma?
Plus, it’s just a short hop over to Finland’s Helsinki, should you so desire.
2) Admire the impressive design
There’s a reason ‘Scandi design’ brings up 624 million results on Google: no one does minimalism and functionality quite like the Scandinavians. Emerging in the early 20th century, the Scandi design movement influenced everything from furniture, to fashion, to architecture. Why not explore where it all began?
From the fantastical rooms at the Treehotel in Swedish Lapland to the bright Cogwheel in Gothenburg, you don’t have to be a design buff to appreciate the just-so lines and avant garde shapes of this architectural wonderland.
3) Explore the fjords and forests
The perfect way to explore Norway is by sailing along its beautiful fjords. Formed millions of years ago during the Ice Age, the fjords stretch along the coast. Some of the biggest are Sognefjord, Hardangerfjord and Nærøyfjord.
In the winter, the surrounding mountaintops are capped with snow, while in warmer months the valleys are brilliant green. The forests of Lapland are at their most magical during winter when the trees are heavy with snow.
4) See the Northern Lights
We bet seeing the spectacular aurora borealis is on your bucket list. Who wouldn’t want to witness this unfathomable spectacle of beauty in real life?
The good news is, Scandinavia is one of the best places to see the Northern Lights – whether you’re in Norway, Sweden, or neighbouring Finland. In particular, the Lofoten Islands and Norwegian Lapland are excellent spots to catch a glimpse.
To increase your chances, visit Scandinavia in the winter (between October and March), go somewhere remote and wait for a clear, moonless sky.
5) Indulge in some hygge
Having trended outside of Scandinavia in the past couple of years, you might have heard of hygge (which is pronounced ‘hoo-ga’, by the way). If you haven’t, there’s really nothing not to like about this Danish way of life…
Encapsulating a feeling of cosiness, happiness and contentment, hygge is all about making the most of life’s simple pleasures that we so often overlook. Whether it’s spending quality time with a close friend, sipping a steaming cup of hot tea, or losing yourself in a good book, hygge is all about well-being. Now there’s something we can get onboard with.
6) Taste inspired cuisine
Don’t get us wrong, Swedish meatballs and chocolate are delicious. But there’s so much more to Scandinavian food!
As the birthplace of New Nordic Cuisine – a movement founded by a group of chefs in Copenhagen in 2004 that emphasises fresh, local and seasonal produce – Scandinavia’s top restaurants are a testing ground for exciting menus featuring innovative takes on traditional dishes. And we’re quite happy to be a guinea pig.
7) Get stuck into winter sports
If you’re heading to Scandinavia in winter you’ll be spoilt for choice for outdoor activities. Go skiing on the picture-perfect slopes, or strap on snowshoes and explore the boreal forests in Sweden. Climb aboard a snowmobile and go racing across the ice plains in Finnish Lapland, or head out into the wilds on a husky sled to find the Northern Lights.
Many lodges have a variety of activities to keep you warm and entertained during the colder months. Why not try something totally new: ice fishing, anyone?
8) Relax in a sauna (or many)
One of our favourite things about Scandinavians is how much they enjoy a sauna. Whether you choose to wear a towel or your birthday suit, no trip to the region would be complete without an authentic sauna experience to cleanse the body and mind (and warm you up in the chilly weather!).
Finnish saunas feature a vasta or vihta: a bunch of leafy birch to gently beat your skin, relaxing your muscles. You don’t get that at your local gym, do you?
9) Visit the Swedish archipelagos
Sweden has a plethora of archipelagos (large groups of islands sometimes numbering in the thousands), among which are the well-known Stockholm and Gothenburg archipelagos.
You can explore the islands, coves and beaches by boat or ferry. If you’re the outdoor type, why not plan a hike or grab a kayak and discover the scenery from a different angle? But don’t worry if you’re more into observing the scenery from a comfortable spot: foodies will happy to hear there are restaurants on some of the larger islands.
10) Feel safe with your family
While using your common sense is always a good idea when travelling abroad (and at home, come to that!), Scandinavia is generally a safe place to visit. The crime rate is low, and locals are largely friendly and happy to help. As a result, solo travellers are not unusual.
It’s also a great destination for families travelling with children. The cities and towns are clean and safe, and as you head out into the countryside there are a lot of great excursions for visitors of all ages, from snowmobiling and ice fishing to dog sledding.