Scandinavia’s Capitals in 12 Days

The four Nordic countries topping the European continent should be on every traveler’s bucket list. It’s not a typical destination for the budget conscious, but don’t let that stop you. Just follow this budget guide to two amazing weeks in Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway!

Days 1-3: Helsinki, Finland

Helsinki is a relatively young city, but this seaside metropolis is the pleasing result of neoclassical design meeting 20th century growth. And there’s no shortage of green space: more than 400 parks thrive in the Finnish capital. The city is beautiful in a quiet, modest manner and truly a breath of fresh air for those arriving from more congested cities (ahem, smoggy Los Angeles, I’m looking at you).

While in Helsinki, be sure to set aside half a day for an excursion to Suomenlinna, the island sea fortress and UNESCO World Heritage Site located about a 20 minute ferry ride from the Kauppatori Market Square.

Nearby the departure dock, you’ll also find the Helsinki Cathedral, a neoclassical 19th century landmark of the capital city. Don’t miss the Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral, also in downtown, a beautiful piece of architecture that serves as a reminder of Russia’s historical influence in Finland.

On a warm afternoon or evening, grab some drinks with friends at the Flying Dutch, a boat-turned-bar below the Pitkäsilta bridge.

At night, Kallio is a fun place for cheaper drinks ($10) and a low-key vibe (try Bar Molotow) But we also splurged and spent a night out in downtown Helsinki, beginning with at Ravintola Teatteri on the Esplanadi, a tree-lined park whose surrounding neo-renaissance architecture is just so elegant and the perfect place to while away a warm afternoon.

Staying on a budget: My group opted for this AirBnb apartment in Helsinki’s vibrantly hip Kallio neighborhood just around the corner from Kallio Church.

For cheaper eats: shop groceries at S Market.

Take a day: If you’re planning to stay in Finland for longer, consider a day trip to Tallinn, Estonia. It’s only a two hour ferry from Helsinki. Or, for a closer trip, visit Nuuksio National Park or the nearby town of Porvoo.

Days 4-6: Stockholm, Sweden

In transit: Hop aboard an overnight cruise through the Baltic Sea, leaving from Helsinki on either Viking Line or Tallink Silja Line.

Stockholm is for sweet-toothed travelers! The princess cake from Vete-Katten is like heaven, and you can find amazing soft-serve ice cream down just about any street.

Right now, though, the biggest gastronomic trend in Stockholm is Mexican food! Try La Neta for casual eats.

The easiest way to see and learn as much as possible about Stockholm in just a few days was to join a free walking tour from Free Tour Stockholm.  The royal family even made an appearance during the tour!

Staying on a budget: City Backpackers Hostel was the perfect place.

Days 7-9: Copenhagen, Denmark

In transit: Take the 4-hour SJ bullet train from Stockholm through the Swedish countryside and into Copenhagen.

Beautiful, vibrant Copenhagen is a bike city, so do as the locals do and hop on a city bike! It’s a great way to explore the town. We especially loved cruising along the canals.

Once you’ve worked up an appetite, pedal your way toward a refreshing reward at Mikkeller, the delicious and innovative industrial-looking microbrewery that’s a favorite in Copenhagen and rapidly gaining popularity outside of Denmark, too. Of course, there’s also the Carlsberg Brewery!

The first day, we decided again to join a Free Walking Tour of the city to learn about its history and get our footing. During the walk, we explored Christiansborg Palace and the Danish Parliament (where you can climb up the tallest tower in Copenhagen), the lively waterfront NyHavn district, and the Marble Church. Our guide, Magnus, was great, and we ended up joining the company’s Pub Crawl later that night.

Set aside an afternoon to tour Tivoli Gardens, home to one of the oldest still-operating wooden rollercoasters and the theme park that inspired Disneyland.

Fans of Hans Christian Andersen might get a kick out of a visit to the Little Mermaid statue, but they can also visit the author himself in his final resting place at Assistens Cemetery (Søren Kierkegaard is also buried here!).

For cheaper eats: Grab a hot dog while strolling the streets–Copenhagen is known for its amazing street dogs.

Staying on a budget:  We stayed in one of the six-bed dorms at Sleep in Heaven Hostel in hip Nørrebro, a neighborhood affectionately known as the ‘Brooklyn’ of Copenhagen.

Days 10-12: Oslo, Norway

In transit: Depart Copenhagen on an afternoon sailing aboard DFDS Crown Seaways. The overnight ferry takes passengers on a scenic sailing through the North Sea, along the west coast of Sweden and into Oslo.

One of the first things you’ll notice upon arriving to port is the incredibly striking Oslo Opera House, its white Italian Carrara marble structure jutting out of the harbor like an iceberg. This is also the only opera house in the world that is designed for people to walk on the roof.

If you’re traveling to Norway in the spring, be sure not to miss the country’s Constitution Day on May 17. Oslo comes alive in celebration, and just about every smiling face watching the Children’s Parade that morning is waving a Norwegian flag. The day always starts early with a glass of champagne, and everyone is donning traditional Norwegian dress–or bunads. The royal family even joins in the fun! You can spot them enjoying the festivities from the balcony of the Royal Palace as you walk down Karl Johans Gate toward Slottsplassen (the square preceding the palace).

For an afternoon drink tucked away from the bustle of downtown Oslo, duck into the courtyard-enclosed Jæger bar. It’s also a great spot for late-night dancing on the weekends.

As far as museums go, be sure not to miss the Viking Ship Museum or the Munch Museum (home to one of the four versions of The Scream–two others are housed in the National Gallery)On a nice day, it’s also fun to check out the sculptures in Frogner Park.

Staying on a budget: Lodging in Norway isn’t cheap, but we enjoyed staying at this beautiful AirBnb apartment.  There’s a supermarket directly behind the building and it’s an easy walk to central Oslo. We also stumbled into nearby  Underwater Pub one night; the kitschy sub-aquatic decor and salty sailor atmosphere made for a fun place to enjoy a drink.

Take a day: Need a few more days in Norway? Hop on board this tourist-approved train trip to Bergen in the western fjords. It’s about an 8-hour ride each way.

Need a little more Nordic in your life? Check out this travel guide to Iceland!

The Wandering Alligator 

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