Whether it’s the volcanic landscapes of Iceland, the fjords of Norway, the beaches of Denmark or the lakes and forests of Sweden and Finland, Nordic travel is so often defined by outdoor experiences. However, the capitals of the five main Nordic countries offer a fantastic mix of culture, history, food and family fun to serve as a great base for any Nordic holiday.
Functional public transport systems help visitors navigate the cities in all weathers to enjoy the best of Nordic design, historic sites and Scandinavian café culture.
Regardless of whether you are interested in the status of the Northern region as a so-called the happiest place on earthWhether you’re interested in Viking history or just looking for a nice city break, the northern capitals offer something for everyone.
Known as the house of hyggeCopenhagen is crowded attractions for family vacations, castles and gardens, and a thriving restaurant. The latter especially attracts foreign visitors, as the city is home to an astonishing 15 Michelin-starred restaurants.
For your own exploration of the Scandinavian way of life, grab a table at one of the many sidewalk cafes or restaurants. There are many of them, because although Copenhagen is not a place with warm weather, the weather here is the mildest of all the northern capitals.
For families, Tivoli Gardens is a must-see. Generations of Danes have spent the day here, exploring the thrills of the rides or simply strolling through the gardens.
Copenhagen’s historic highlights include the baroque residence and stately gardens of Frederiksberg Palace, Rosenborg Castle and the National Museum with its legendary Viking ship Roskill 6.
While the city itself is relatively compact, almost half of Finland’s 5.5 million people live in and around the Helsinki metropolitan area.
Famed for Nordic design classics such as Iittala glassware, Marimekko prints and fabrics, Finland is a top destination for anyone interested in art and design. to do Helsinki Design Museum your first stop to give context to your adventures in the city’s vibrant design district.
Modern architecture is also a feature of any city break in Helsinki, whether you visit the buildings on purpose or just admire them as you wander past on the road elsewhere. The spectacular wooden facade of the Oodi Library and the spectacular Temple of Temppeliaukio, better known as the Rock Church, are particular highlights.
With Icelandair direct flights from 14 airports in the US and Canada, as well as four more routes offered by budget airline Play, most North American travelers can get to Reykjavík with relative ease.
Inspired by the steam rising from the hot springs, early settlers are said to have named the bay Reykjavikwhat does that mean Smoky Bay in Old Norse. This is very appropriate given the recent volcanic eruptions that have occurred very close to the metropolitan region.
Despite Iceland’s reputation as a visually stunning place to visit, many of the capital’s buildings value function over form.
There are some exceptions, in particular the high church of Galgrimskirkja. Although the church is actively used as a place of worship, it is open daily to tourists who can visit the observation deck, which offers an unrivaled view of downtown Reykjavík.
Elsewhere, the attractive modern architecture of the waterfront Harpa Concert Hall looks fantastic when lit up during evening events. Nearby is a sculpture Solar traveler remembers the Vikings who settled Iceland more than 1000 years ago.
Over the past 20 years, the capital of Norway has undergone dramatic changes. The waterfront district has slowly transformed from an industrial eyesore to a cultural capital, including a waterfront, a modern library, an Opera House, a museum dedicated to the artist Edvard Munch, and a colossal new National Museum.
However, it is Vigeland Sculpture Park which remains the city’s main tourist attraction and one of the best free activities in all of Scandinavia. More than 200 sculptures represent the life work of sculptor Gustav Vigeland, located in a vast park in the west of Oslo.
Vigeland’s sculptures are far from the only outdoor attraction in the Norwegian capital. From the peaceful islands of the inner Oslo Fjord to the forest that envelops the city, Oslo is surrounded by nature’s playground.
Choose between a boat trip to Havedøya, a charming island with historic sites, nature trails and rocky beaches, or exploring the hiking trails of the vast Nordmarkt forest with amazing views of the city and fjord below.
Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, built on several islands, is crowded historical and cultural attractions.
Start by exploring the narrow lanes, boutiques and public squares of Gamla Stan Island’s old town. Delve into the stories hidden in the streets Stockholm exhibition the nearby City Museum is a must-see.
In many cities, public transportation is simply a way to get from one part of the city to another. In Stockholm, the entire subway network serves as an art gallery. Almost all of the network’s stations are decorated with sculptures, mosaics, paintings or other art installations by more than 150 different artists.
Elsewhere in the city, the ABBA Museum and the Vasa Warship Museum are very popular places to visit. If you prefer to take it easy, consider joining one of the many passenger ferries that depart for the many islands of the Stockholm archipelago.
Other popular Scandinavian cities
Apart from the five capitals, there are many Scandinavian cities worth including in the travel itinerary. Sweden’s Gothenburg and Norway’s Bergen still offer plenty of natural and cultural attractions if you prefer to explore smaller towns.
Reykjavík is a popular winter spot for Northern Lights hunters, but you might also want to consider Tromsø in Northern Norway. Tromsø is also a hotspot for aurora viewing, but offers many other attractions from the arctic-alpine botanical garden to the cable car and mountain trails.
Other Scandinavian cities outside the five main countries include Tórshavn in the Faroe Islands and Nuuk in Greenland. Both are home to less than 20,000 people, but with capital status in their respective island nations—both are part of the Kingdom of Denmark—they have a lot more to do than you might expect.