Whether Stockholm, Copenhagen and Oslo or Helsinki, Reykjavík and Tórshavn – Scandinavia has some cool and relaxed places to offer: tips for the most beautiful city trips in the north.
Scandinavia is a popular travel destination, and the diverse nature, in particular, attracts many visitors to the far north. But the Scandinavian capitals are also definitely worth the trip – and that doesn’t just apply to the well-known highlights of Stockholm, Copenhagen and Oslo. Tórshavn, the capital of the Faroe Islands, is certainly only a few on the screen, but the remote islands are a real highlight. And Reykjavík is also an essential part of a trip to Iceland. Not forgetting Finland’s capital, Helsinki, where you can enjoy the sea-view sauna even in summer.
By the way, did you know that the Scandinavian peninsula actually only includes Norway and Sweden, as well as the northwest of Finland? Culturally, however, Denmark is also one of them – and in a broader sense, also Iceland and the Faroe Islands. So here’s the complete overview of the Scandinavian capitals – with many tips and further information.
Stockholm: The Historical
Together with Copenhagen, Stockholm is certainly one of the most popular capitals in Scandinavia, if not in all of Europe. And with around 950,000 inhabitants, it is definitely the largest city in the far north. Stockholm offers a great mix of royal elegance and old-town charm, Swedish nonchalance and Scandinavian design. The heart is the old town Gamla Stan with the Stortorget and its colorful houses. The Royal Castle and the Nobel Prize Museum are also located in Gamla Stan – and the colorful streets with the medieval atmosphere are wonderful for strolling through.
Like all Scandinavian capitals, Stockholm is right on the water. One of the numerous boat tours is a good way to explore the city and, ideally, to go on a trip to the skerries, the offshore islands, directly afterwards. In Stockholm, you can also walk in the footsteps of Astrid Lindgren and ABBA or marvel at a centuries-old ship that sank in the harbour at the Vasa Museum. And then there’s the trendy district of Södermalm, the colorful art in the subway and the numerous museums. When you finally get tired of sightseeing, it’s best to find one of the cool cafés and take a fika, the Swedish coffee break.
Copenhagen: The Cozy One
With just over 600,000 inhabitants, Copenhagen is significantly smaller than Stockholm – and yet or perhaps because of this, Denmark’s capital is one of the most popular destinations in Scandinavia. Copenhagen is pure coziness. The most famous Copenhagener is the little mermaid. The Lille Havfrue sits on her rock in the harbor – and even if she’s a little unassuming, she’s an essential part of a visit to the Danish capital. Also popular is Nyhavn, where you can sit on the harbor promenade, especially in summer. From there, it is also not far from the royal palace Amalienborg and the opera, one of the chic new buildings in Copenhagen.
The roof of the Amager Bakke waste incineration plant was laid out as a dry ski slope and attracts numerous visitors as CopenHill. In Copenhagen, you can also stroll through one of the largest pedestrian zones in Europe or take a trip to Tivoli, the oldest amusement park in the world. Foodies should also plan a trip to the Torvehallerne market halls and the former butchers’ quarter “Kødbyen”.
Oslo: The Green
Even if Oslo glitters in blue in front of the opera as the city’s modern landmark, Norway’s capital is really green. Located directly on the fjord, Oslo is surrounded by deep green forests, a popular local recreation destination for residents. In Ekelandpark, green is even combined with art – and you will also find a lot of street art and interesting sculptures in the city. The most important sights in the centre are the Royal Castle, the Cathedral, the Parliament Storting and the City Hall, where the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded every year in December.
With almost 700,000 inhabitants, Oslo is the second largest city in Scandinavia – and yet it doesn’t feel like it. You can, for example, start directly from the port district of Aker Brygge to the islands in the Oslofjord and switch off completely. On the Bygdoy peninsula, you will also find numerous interesting museums, such as the Vikingskipshuset or the Kon-Tiki Museum. And things get alternative and creative in the trendy Grünerlokka district and around Oslo’s Mathallen market hall.
Helsinki: The Youngest
Although Helsinki was founded in 1550, it was an insignificant city for a long time. Only since 1917 has it been the capital of an independent Finland. Today, with 635,000 inhabitants, Helsinki is the third largest city in Scandinavia after Stockholm and Oslo. The city is totally relaxed, which can be partly due to the numerous saunas, which are simply part of the way of life for Finns.
But Helsinki’s landmark is the cathedral, which rises completely white over the city. The Finnish capital has even more churches worth seeing: from the Russian-Orthodox-style Uspenski Cathedral to the Chapel of Silence to the rock church Temppeliaukio Kirkko. And for foodies, the Vanha Kauppahalli market hall and the Teurastamo slaughterhouse district are the perfect destinations. The sea and the islands are not far in Helsinki either, and they definitely belong on the to-do list, especially in summer.
Reykjavík: The Colorful One
When you think of Scandinavian capitals, Reykjavík is certainly not the first thing that springs to mind. And yet the town with its 120,000 inhabitants is worth a visit. The northernmost capital in the world is a mix of colourful houses, Scandinavian design and friendly people. The residents are not deterred by the cool temperatures, even in summer, but rather meet up to relax in one of the hot springs and enjoy what feels like endlessly long days.
In addition to the Hallgrímskirkja as a landmark and the futuristic Harpa concert hall, a stroll through the colorful shopping street Laugavegur is a must on the to-do list for Reykjavík. You’ll find some cool street art here and throughout the city. And for foodies, a detour towards the Alter Hafen and the Grandi district, with its food hall and the chocolate factory is a must.
Tórshavn: The Hidden One
With just over 20,000 inhabitants, the most important and largest city in the Faroe Islands is one of the smallest capitals in the world. Tórshavn is the economic and cultural center and is an essential part of a visit to the archipelago in the middle of the North Atlantic. When you stroll through the small alleys in the historic center, you quickly get the feeling that you have landed somewhere in a village and not in the capital. The little houses with turf roofs, so typical of the islands, are too cute.
On the Tinganes peninsula, right by the small eastern harbor, you will find the Løgting, one of the oldest still existing parliaments in the world. And right next door, you can ring the Prime Minister’s bell directly. In addition to a few museums, you will also find nice restaurants and cafes in the capital and a small shopping street. Last but not least, Tórshavn is also a perfect starting point to discover these spectacular islands.
Our Final Word
Kati and I always love to travel to Scandanavia. The people and the vibe are intoxicating. They just seem to get it. And it shows. From great art and museums to incredible outdoor activities, Scandanavia has it all. Out of the top 7 happiest countries in the world, 5 are from Scandanavia and way outscore countries like the USA and Germany. I think it shows that warm weather and lower tax rates do not bring people happiness rather caring for one another in terms of healthcare and healthy life expectancy along with the freedom to make key life decisions make Scandanavia a model of society for the rest of us.