By Rick Steves
So much to see, so little time. How to choose? To help you get started, I've listed my top picks for where to go in Scandinavia, my plan for your best three-week trip, and tips on when to go.
Depending on the length of your trip, and taking geographical proximity into account, here are my recommended priorities:
- 4 days: Copenhagen, Stockholm (connected by a 5.5-hour express train)
- 6 days, add: Oslo
- 8 days, add: Norway in a Nutshell fjord trip, Bergen
- 10 days, add: Overnight cruise from Stockholm to Helsinki
- 14 days, add: Ærø, Odense, Roskilde, Frederiksborg (all in Denmark)
- 17 days, add: Aarhus (Denmark), Kalmar (Sweden)
- 21 days, add: Tallinn (Estonia) and more time in capitals
- 24 days, add: More Norwegian countryside or Stockholm's archipelago
Scandinavia's Best Three-Week Trip (by Train and Boat)
Day 1: Arrive in Copenhagen (sleep in Copenhagen)
Day 2: Copenhagen (sleep in Copenhagen)
Day 3: Copenhagen (sleep in Copenhagen)
Day 4: Roskilde, Odense, Ærø (sleep in Ærøskøbing)
Day 5: Ærø (sleep in Ærøskøbing)
Day 6: Ærø to Kalmar (sleep in Kalmar)
Day 7: Kalmar (sleep in Kalmar)
Day 8: Kalmar, early train to Stockholm (sleep in Stockholm)
Day 9: Stockholm (sleep in Stockholm)
Day 10: Stockholm, night boat to Helsinki (sleep on boat)
Day 11: Helsinki (sleep in Helsinki)
Day 12: Helsinki, afternoon boat to Tallinn (sleep in Tallinn)
Day 13: Tallinn, night boat to Stockholm (sleep on boat)
Day 14: Stockholm, afternoon train to Oslo (sleep in Oslo)
Day 15: Oslo (sleep in Oslo)
Day 16: Oslo (sleep in Oslo)
Day 17: Train and boat to Aurland (sleep in Aurland)
Day 18: Aurland to Bergen via fjord cruise (sleep in Bergen)
Day 19: Bergen (sleep in Bergen)
Day 20: Free day: more fjords, resting, or whatever
Day 21: Trip over
If you want to see Legoland (near Billund) and the "bog man" (in Aarhus), visit these from Odense (closer) or Copenhagen. You could save lots of time by flying from Tallinn to Oslo.
When to Go
Summer is a great time to go. Scandinavia bustles and glistens under the July and August sun; it's the height of the tourist season, when all the sightseeing attractions are open and in full swing. In many cases, things don't kick into gear until midsummer — about June 20 — when Scandinavian schools let out. Most local industries take July off, and the British and southern Europeans tend to visit Scandinavia in August. You'll notice crowds during these times, but up here "crowds" mean fun and action rather than congestion. At these northern latitudes, the days are long — on June 21 the sun comes up around 4:00 in Oslo and sets around 23:00. Things really quiet down when the local kids go back to school, around August 20.
"Shoulder-season" travel — in late May, early June, and September — lacks the vitality of summer but offers occasional good weather and minimal crowds. Norway in particular can be good from late May to mid-June, when the days are long but the tourist lines are short.
Winter is a bad time to explore Scandinavia unless winter sports are high on your agenda. Like a bear, Scandinavia's metabolism slows down, and many sights and accommodations are closed or open on a limited schedule (especially in remote fjord towns). Business travelers drive hotel prices way up. Winter weather can be cold and dreary. Days are short, and nighttime will draw the shades on your sightseeing well before dinner. Christmastime activities (such as colorful markets and Copenhagen's festively decorated Tivoli Gardens) offer a brief interlude of warmth at this chilly time of year.