Maybe it’s because I’ve finally started watching Vikings after years of friends pressuring me, or maybe it’s because I’ve been dominating the seas as Denmark in Civilization VI – but Scandinavia has been very much on my mind these last few weeks.
The sweaty balls, stick to the couch heat of the Aussie summer might be a factor too, come to think of it…
Of course, there’s far more to Scandinavia than just its Viking heritage. While Sweden, Denmark, and Norway might share history, they’re each uniquely appealing destinations that have long been on my ever expanding travel to do list.
My Scandinavian Bucket List
There’s so much to see and do across the three diverse countries that make up Scandinavia as it’s traditionally known, but once you also add in the occasionally Scandinavian Finland and Iceland – you’ve got quite a variety to make your way through.
Having never had the pleasure of setting foot on mainland Europe, this is more a pie in the sky bucket list than a hard and fast ‘must see’ list.
Feel free to contribute your own suggestions in the comments below!
#10 – Spend Christmas in Lapland
Having never experienced a White Christmas in my 33 years on this earth, the idea of doing it in a place that boasts being the home of Santa himself sounds pretty amazing to me.
There is no shortage of hotels and tour companies offering the ‘full Christmas experience’ to visitors, from Christmas themed hotels and theme parks to reindeer-drawn sled rides and old-fashioned ice fishing.
To some, it might be a bit too touristy an experience. For a big kid like me who still wakes up every Christmas morning at 6 am to see what’s been left under the tree, it sounds like a perfect once-in-a-lifetime way to spend the festive season.
#9 – Go chasing waterfalls
Google ‘waterfalls in Scandinavia’ and almost every result that comes back is from Norway. This isn’t a big surprise when you realize that nine of the world’s twenty highest waterfalls can be found here.
There are literally websites dedicated to the waterfalls and fjords of Norway. Norway’s waterfalls are every bit as diverse as the landscapes in which they’re found – ranging from towering cascades to picturesque veils draped across stark, black stone.
If hiking or driving from fall to fall seems too much, the world-famous Flam Railway is considered one of the most picturesque train rides on earth. It’s also one of the world’s steepest railways, and it winds its way through some stunning country along the way.
Definitely one for your bucket list!
There are even Norway tours that specialize in covering the stunning landscapes of the country.
#8 – Explore Stockholm
From the wilderness of Norway to the Swedish capital!
Stockholm is truly one of Europe’s most beautiful capitals, and there’s a little something for everybody. From the ABBA Museum and Vasa Museum to historic sites such as the Royal Palace and the Stockholm Cathedral to the stunning Stockholm Metro, this is a city in which your eyes will feast.
A particular highlight, for me, is the Stockholm Metro. Sometimes described as the world’s longest art gallery, this visually stunning underground station is unlike any other station on earth.
#7 – Uncover Viking history in Denmark
As I said in the intro, I’m just a little bit obsessed with Vikings at the moment, and Denmark is the unchallenged capital of all things Viking.
The nation is so steeped in Viking history that the national tourism site even states that wherever you go in the country, you aren’t far from Viking history.
Museums, ruined fortresses, burial sites, themed villages, and even a number of annual events such as the Viking moot make Denmark a must-see for anybody with a passion for Viking history.
#6 – Visit Denmark’s castles
If the history of a different era is more your speed, Denmark also has you covered when it comes to spectacular medieval castles.
The Danish Royal Family has possessed some truly remarkable homes over the centuries, and many of these castles can still be visited. These castles range from traditional defensive castles all the way to more contemporary manors, but all offer an insight into the wealth and power of one of Europe’s last surviving monarchies.
#5 – Explore glaciers in Iceland
I’ve had the pleasure of standing atop a glacier in New Zealand, but images from Iceland’s many glaciers make Franz Josef pale in comparison. With 10% of Iceland being covered by these massive, slow-moving rivers of ice – it’s one of the best places on earth to experience these fading giants.
What makes Iceland’s glaciers so unique is that many of them happen to sit atop volcanoes. The Land of Fire and Ice very much lives up to its name, and nowhere else on earth gives you the chance to stand astride a brooding volcano while also standing across an imperceptibly moving mountain of ice.
Depending on the glacier, hiking, snowmobiling, exploring caves, and even dog-sledding may be available.
Looking for more Iceland inspiration? Check out Every Steph’s brilliant post on how to spend three days in Iceland.
#4 – Scuba Dive the Arctic Circle
Scuba diving has been a passion of mine ever since I had the chance to learn to scuba dive on the Great Barrier Reef. While my diving in the six years since has been somewhat limited, I’ve still had the chance to do some pretty spectacular dives in Fiji, The Philippines, and The Maldives.
While all of these tropical locations are undeniably beautiful, I’ve always wanted to experience diving in a colder climate with its own unique flora and fauna.
Diving in Lofoten, Norway offers the chance to see vast kelp forests, large fish, and even wrecks – all in dry suits to combat the freezing water temperatures. Sounds like an experience to me!
#3 – Stand on the Troll’s Tongue in Hardangerfjord
You’ve probably seen those breathtaking photos of a brave traveler standing on an impossibly thin ‘tongue’ of rock that juts out over a canyon. Trolltunga, or Troll’s Tongue, is the ultimate goal of one of Norway’s most scenic hikes.
Seeming to teeter some 700 metres above Lake Ringedalsvatnet, Trolltunga is the place to take a truly envy-inducing photo. The hike to Trolltunga isn’t an easy one, taking 10-12 hours, but the reward at the end is a photo and an experience that you’ll be annoying your friends with for years to come.
#2 – Relax in the Blue Lagoon
Another one of those oft photographed spots, Iceland’s Blue Lagoon is a world-famous geothermal spa fed by a natural spring some 2,000 metres below the earth. Its iconic blue waters and pleasantly warm temperatures make it a real treat in normally chilly Iceland.
If you’ve ever visited a geothermal spring elsewhere on earth, you’ll know what to expect – but the Blue Lagoon is arguably the most well-known of its kind in the world, and certainly one of the most photogenic.
There are plentiful options to get to the Blue Lagoon and other Icelandic tourist hotspots, including train and car rental.
#1 – See the Northern Lights
No visit to Scandinavia would be complete without sighting the aurora borealis. Perhaps better known as the Northern Lights, the aurora is an annual light show that has fascinated people since time immemorial.
Best viewed from Norway between October and March each year, the spectacular shifting curtain of rainbow lights has become so popular that there are even websites to check the Northern Lights forecast.
Scandinavia is going to be one of those bucket list destinations that sits on my list for a while yet, but planning your own Scandinavian odyssey doesn’t have to be a stressful affair. Companies like Firebird Tours offer tours such as the Scandinavian Capitals & Fjords experience to take all of the hard work off your hands.
Have you ever made it to Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, or Iceland? What were your highlights?
Is Scandinavia on your bucket list? Why?