Experience Scandinavia in a week – Touring Finland, Sweden and Norway.
Is it possible to visit three capitals and three countries in one week and feel like you have seen the main sights? It sure is! The previous year we took a trip through the Baltic States and caught a great impression of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. This time it should be a bigger trip so we took one week to travel to Finland, Sweden and Norway visiting their capitals Helsinki, Stockholm and Oslo. To do such a trip you need two things – endurance and a plan. Endurance you have to bring along. The plan will be provided in the following article.
Helsinki – The northern calmness.
On May 28, 2018 we started our tour and we were about to experience the greatest weather that we could have hoped for. After we landed in Helsinki we took the train from the airport to the main train station. The ride was only 30 minutes long and only cost 5 € per person. First stop on our list was the tourist information or visitor center, however you want to call it. Our intention was not to get input for activities but rather get a more detailed city map. Yes, we know about digitalization – but sometimes you just have to be retro.
After we held our map in hand we walked to our accommodation Citykoti. This accommodation was surely a surprise. When going on a city trip, the things that matter most are location and price. If the accommodation offers comfort on top of that, like Citykoti did, we are even more happy. The inside looked a lot nicer than what you would have expected from looking at it from the outside. This fully equipped apartment offers everything you need for a city trip and was therefore a great choice. We strongly recommend this place.
The first sight on our plan was the Temppeliaukio church, not far from the apartment. What makes this church unique is visible from the outside rather than the inside. This church is built into a rock. Entrance to this modern piece of construction is 3 €. An alternative to exploring this building on the inside is to enjoy a sunbath on the rock – basically on the roof of this house of God.
We walked towards the harbor through the streets of Helsinki. Before reaching the harbor, you walk through the Esplanadi-Park. A very nice public green space to stay and rest. Here, you will not just find tourists. The locals meet up here after work. At the latest when entering this park you will notice the enjoyable calmness that encompasses the whole town.
Before reaching the harbor, we turned left and went north to go to the Helsinki Senate Square and look at the impressive Helsinki cathedral. This majestic protestant church characterizes Helsinki like no other building in town. Visiting the cathedral and the Senate Square is a must when visiting Helsinki.
The second day started with a self-catered breakfast in our accommodation. We wanted to start our second and last day well strengthened because we had a lot of things planned for that day. First thing, we walked to the harbor to catch the ferry that took us to Suomenlinna – a sea fortress on eight islands, southeast of Helsinki.
You should plan half a day for visiting this sea fortress that was built in 1748 on multiple islands to be able to enjoy this cultural treasure of Finland. The ferry-ride from Helsinki takes about 15 minutes. Just to not leave anything out – the seafortress is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was built when Finland was still part of Sweden and the canons that point to the west testify to the Russian sovereignty in the 19th century.
I will not cite the brochure now but just recommend visiting Suomenlinna. As a visitor you can choose between a guided tour or you can individually explore the paths of history. We chose the second option and were pretty happy with that. Equipped with the clear and free brochure we started our walk across the islands.
The islands offer many different things to do. There are museums, restaurants, cafés, shopping possibilities, art exhibitions and many more things to do and see, not to forget the beautiful nature there. Everything seems very authentic and even though it is built for tourists it does not lack charm and love for details. There are even little bays where you can swim in the Baltic see but also take a sun-bath on the little beaches.
When we came back to town we had lunch on the market at the harbor. There we could witness a great spectacle staring humans and seagulls. The smells and the colorful hustle and bustle on the market fired up our appetite and so we enjoyed a delicious freshly prepared lunch. From the ocean directly to our plates. Definitely be aware of the seagulls though. They are mean little beasts that know exactly how to get to the freshly prepared fish. Don’t forget to cover you plate when looking for a table.
Next to the market you will find the old market hall – Vanha kauppahalli. Walking through the hall with its little shops is very enjoyable. If you are still hungry after the market you will definitely find some nice treats here. Chocolates, baked goods or bear meat – you will find it all and there is something for everyone’s taste.
Not far from the market you will find the Uspenski Cathedral. This orthodox church is located on a hill that offers a beautiful view over the city. Next to the cathedral, there is the Allas Sea Pool. A nice pool-and-sauna facility directly situated at the Baltic sea with a good view on the ocean and the harbor. The patio, or back deck, is a nice place to relax, enjoy the sun and get some refreshments – even without going to the pool-and-sauna area. Unfortunately, the sauna was reserved for a private event that day, so we had to re-plan. Thinking back on it, we were fortunate because that way we got to go to the Löyly Sauna-Restaurant-Bar. It took us about 20 minutes to Löyly from the harbor using public transportation. Löyly is located south of the city center.
Entrance to the sauna is 19 € per person and you get to stay for 2 hours. Included are two saunas and access to the Baltic sea for cooldown. We were a little lucky because it was not fully booked. If there are more people it could get a little crowded because the facility is not very large.
It is important to know that the sauna-culture in Finland differs from the sauna-culture in other countries, like Germany. Going to the sauna in Finland is like going to a bar– you talk about the day, talk business or discuss other things that happen in life. A Finish sauna is not a quiet place. After the sauna we stayed in Löyly and had dinner in the restaurant at the sea. This was a great ending to our time in Helsinki.
Stockholm – The northern sparkle.
Our plane to Stockholm, Sweden’s beautiful capital, left the next morning. After arrival we took a bus from the airport to the city center of Stockholm which cost 10 € per person. The transfer took about 45 minutes and went effortless.
The bus stop in Stockholm was at the main train station. From there our first stop was again the visitor center, not far from the train station. Equipped with brochures and maps we walked east towards the chic boardwalk Strandvägen. Here the rich and beautiful (and those who aim to be) gather up. No question, visitors get a marvelous impression of Stockholm there.
At the end of the boardwalk is a bridge leading to the Vasa Museum – our next stop. For 13 € entrance you get to explore the outside of the restored former battleship Vasa from the 17th century on multiple levels. You can expect a stunning view on this ship and should plan at least two hours for the museum (plus 25 minutes if you also want to see the short movie, which you should). The museum offers a lively exhibition on the history and the destiny of this magnificent battleship, that sank on its maiden voyage. It was a great visit and should be a must-see when you are planning to visit Stockholm.
After we got our first impressions we went to our accommodation. Since Scandinavia, and especially Sweden, is not made for saving money it was exceptionally difficult to find an affordable hotel there. However, with a little willingness to compromise you can find a place to stay in Sweden’s capital. The place we chose was the STF Gärdet Hotell & Vandrarhem. The price was okay for what you got I would say.
Not far from our hotel was the grown lonely TV tower Kaknästornet that has a viewing platform, a restaurant and a bar. Entrance was 7 € per person. Those who look for some quiet time and solitude in nature – you found your place.
We took the bus back to the imposing city hall located in the bay Riddarfjärden. From here we walked to the old town – to be more specific to Riddarholmen. These little islands west of the old city center Gamla Stan have impressive buildings from 17th century. It almost feels like you are traveling back in time when you enter Riddarholmen via the bridge.
You leave Riddarholmen the way you entered – over a bridge and we proceeded into Södermalm. Here we had dinner at Magnolia – an Asian restaurant with great food in a great location. Just a hint on the side: In Stockholm you usually pay with card and some places won’t even accept cash. So, you never really need to ask whether they take cards or cash.
We enjoyed the end of the day at Monteliusvägen. People gather here at this little path above and along the shore to watch the sunset, relax and hang out. You just go there, find a free spot with a great view on the town and have a relaxing end of the day.
The next day we started with breakfast at the Grand Café directly on the pier where our boattour was about to take off. The sun was shining and the sky showed off its nicest blue colors. We chose the Royal Canal Tour (20 € per peron; 50 minutes) and listened to the information through the provided headphones. It was absolutely worth it.
After the boat tour we explored the old city center Gamla Stan, the Stockholm Palace and Stortorget, a square in the heart of the city center that you will find on almost every postcard from Stockholm. There is a lot of hustle and bustle in the old city center but there are also many small, more quiet side-streets where you can enjoy coffee, beer or ice cream.
A true alternativeto the TV tower Kaknästornet regarding a great view is the restaurant Gondolen that you can visit without eating there. An alternative to the Monteliusvägen is Fjällgatan, from where you have a similar view on Stockholm. Those who are interested in photography should visit the museum Fotografiska which is located below Fjällgatan. For 15 € entrance you can look at different exhibitions of contemporary photography art.
We spent our last evening in Stockholm in proper style in a snack bar called Gärdet Grill, that obviously got renovated since our last stay and is now called Gärdets Grill n Steakhouse. Here we strengthened up for the last part of our Scandinavia-Trip and Jay and Silent Bob could not have enjoyed the end of the day any better.
Oslo – The northern manifoldness.
Friday came and our last destination was on our travel plan. We reached Oslo, the capital of Norway, after a short flight at 10 o’clock in the morning. For 10 € per ticked we reached the main train station from the airport within 20 minutes.We locked our luggage for 5 € in one of the lockers and went to the visitor center, that is located inside the train station.
At the visitor center we bought the Oslo Pass. This pass allows entrance to 30 different museums and includes public transportation (incl. the ferry to the museum island Bygdøy). The Oslo Pass is available for 24, 48 and 72 hours. We bought the 48-hour Pass for 68 € per person. Without this pass we would have not visited the museums we went to, and we would have missed out for sure! But more on that later.
Equipped with our Oslo Passes we went to Akershus Fortress. The fortress is located above the city and the spacious area is great for walking around. On top of that, you have a great view on the harbor from up there – which was our favorite spot in Oslo. We spent our first lunch in Oslo at the harbor. The temperatures were high and the restaurant Lekter’n is located directly on the cool water offering cool drinks.
After lunch we took the ferry to the museum island Bygdøy and went to the Fram Museum while the locals enjoyed the cool outdoor pool next door. You should plan 2 hours for this museum. The exhibition is about Norwegian polar research expeditions. That way we did not only get physical refreshment regarding the extraordinary high temperatures outside. The center of the exhibition is the polar research ship Fram that can be explored from the inside and outside. This is a must-see museum.
The first day came to an end and we went to the hotel. We planned a little highlight for the evening. Our hotel, the Best Western Kampen Hotell, was located in the east of Oslo. The hotel was nice and maybe the best one we had on our Scandinavia-Trip but the area was not great. However, public transportation to and from the hotel worked awesome.
That evening we had tickets for a theme party at the Cosmopolite called “Swinging at the Ritz”. Swing-dancing lessons started at 19.00 h and the Big Band started at 20.00 h. Everyone was dressed according to the theme – women in dresses and men insuits in “swing-style” from the 1940s. A nice trip to the past. Just the crazy looks from other people on the bus on the way there and back had to be suffered through.
The last day of our trip started with a great breakfast, even though it was 15 € per person. On our way to the next museum we passed the opera and the city hall. We were happy with pictures from the outside and went on the ferry to the open-air museum Norsk Folkemuseum (Norwegian Museum of Cultural History). A nice and illustrative museum that describes the life of Norwegians since medieval times. You should plan 1-2 hours for the visit. It is worth it.
Not far from the open-air museum is the Viking Ship Museum. There are three ships to look at and an interesting movie that gives an insight on the Viking ship history from 9th century on and the traditions of the Vikings. This one is also worth visiting.
Regarding museums, our surprise and personal highlight was the Kon-Tiki-Museum. This museum is about the adventures of Thor Heyerdahl and shows the original boats and rafts he used to cross the Pacific Ocean in 1947. There are further explanations regarding his trips to the Galapagos Islands and Easter Island. As a visitor you get lost in these stories and dive into the life of Thor Heyerdahl.
After the museum we had an original Oslo-Hot-Dog, a coffee and a beer and went on to the Frognerpark to see the Vigelandsanlegget. This is a huge park area with museums and impressive sculptures created by Gustav Vigeland. The most famous ones are the Monoliths and the circle of life. Take some time and walk through this gorgeous park. You will not regret it.
And that is how our exciting and diversified week in the Scandinavian capitals of Finland, Sweden and Norway ends. It was a great trip to get an overview of these countries in such a short time.