It’s no surprise that Scandinavia, a land of fine design, stunning landscapes and vibrant cities, consistently tops travel bucket lists. But, whether it’s a Norway holiday under the Northern Lights or a trip out to Finnish Lakeland’s postcard-perfect spread of blue-fringed islands, there’s a lot to choose from. That’s why we’ve compiled this list of the ultimate Scandinavian getaways for a first-time visitor. We’ve even got a Copenhagen Christmas market hidden in a 16th-century castle...
For hundreds of years, the only real way to reach Norway’s wild, Arctic remotes was by sail. And today, along with their precious freight, the post ships now carry passengers on exploratory cruises. This is your chance to gain a unique appreciation of Norway’s coastal beauty, dipping in and out of cragged fjords to reach historic frontier towns and enjoy a whole host of wintery activities, from husky sledding to snowmobiling. It’s all made that bit more special by the regular appearance of the Northern Lights overhead – that great ethereal lights show.
With a long history as an explorer’s base – something evidenced by its small-but-considered collection of museums – Norway’s Arctic Capital is the ideal launchpad for trips into the country’s winter playground. Set between mountains and fjords, you’ll be entertained by everything from whale-watching cruises and cross-country skiing to spectacular hikes reached only by cable-car rides. And, it just so happens to be one of the world’s best places to spot the Northern Lights. But, at day’s end, you’ll return to the city’s lively energy; Tromso is famous for its delectable seafood restaurants and having the most pubs per capita of any city in Norway.
There’s something quintessentially festive about a Christmas market. Steaming glasses of mulled wine are dolled out, pastries are piled high on stalls and glittering decorations are strung out across entire streets. And, featuring nine different offerings, nowhere does Christmas markets quite like Copenhagen. Choose between the yuletide extravaganza at Tivoli Gardens, bohemian Christiania’s Oriental bazaar and even a Renaissance-themed spectacular held at UNESCO-listed Kronborg Castle. It’s also the chance to explore one of the region’s greatest cities, where modernist Scandi chic is played out against a regal backdrop, evidenced by 17th-century fortifications and royal palaces.
Volcanoes, giant glaciers and crashing waterfalls – this is the kind of scenery that will backdrop and Icelandic road trip. Our 10-day recommended route will see you map the country’s circumference, taking in the northwest’s glaciers, clifftop bird colonies and seal-dotted beaches before sweeping around, via the thundering Goðafoss Waterfall, to the lava fields and geothermal exuberance of the northeast. Then, it’s down past quaint fishing villages and the dramatic mountain scenery of the Eastfjords to the towering icebergs of the Vatnajökull National Park. Looping back, you’ll end with explosive geysers, geothermal hot springs and yet more stunning waterfalls before a final night back in buzzy Reykjavik.
Finnish Lakeland is a destination of immense natural beauty. Its thousands-strong collection of watery eponyms are dotted with innumerable tiny islands and ringed by old-growth forests and sandy beaches. Take yourself off to pretty lakeside cabins, returning from days spent cycling, swimming and fishing to the likes of open-air hot tubs and that famous Finnish tradition – the sauna. The canoeing is a particular highlight, offering the chance to explore channels hidden between time-forgotten islets. The towns, too, hold their appeal, with Savonlinna’s 15th-century castle especially notable and Helsinki’s cutting-edge design just a three hours’ drive away.