Northern Exposure: Nine Must-See Sights in the Nordics
Exploring the Culture and History of Europe’s Far North
Consisting of Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden, the Nordic countries make their home on a series of peninsula jutting into the North and Baltic Seas. Known around the world as a hub for innovative and sleek design, enthralling Viking heritage, and astonishing natural beauty stretching from thick forests near the Arctic Circle to sandy beaches of the Jutland peninsula in the south, the Nordics have more sights and points of interest than you could visit in a lifetime.
So, to make a trip to Europe’s far north a little easier for you, we rounded up the top nine attractions in the Nordics. Many might have other opinions (and that’s fine!), but we believe these are nine great places to start.
Christiansborg Palace, Copenhagen, Denmark
Set on its own island, this Danish Royal Palace in Copenhagen served the royal family as their main residence for hundreds of years. Today, this seat of the Danish Parliament offers travelers a glimpse of Danish architecture’s evolution over the centuries with Baroque, Neo-Baroque, and Neo-Classical all on display as a result of a succession of fires. Within the Palace, enjoy exploring the Great Hall, stables, kitchen, the ruins under the palace, and the chapel.
One of the world’s longest pedestrian avenues, Copenhagen’s Strøget is home to hundreds of shops, restaurants, boutiques, activities, and attractions. Stroll this noble street from the city’s Old Town and lose yourself among beautiful stone buildings set on quaint cobbled side streets and alleys. It’s here that you’ll find independent artisans, shops, and other locals offering a true sense of contemporary Danish culture.
Known as the third-oldest operating amusement park in the world, Tivoli Gardens offers travelers an exciting day out in a leafy, shaded setting. Be thrilled by the hills and drops of roller coasters, test your mettle at the bumper cars, or enjoy the view from the soaring Ferris Wheel. For those less impressed with amusement rides, ample entertainment and food options abound.
Where to Stay
Hotel Skt. Petri
Rovaniemi, Finnish Lapland
The Nordic countries are well-known for their simplified, modernist, and distinctly streamlined design sensibilities. Encompassing everything from textiles to furniture and architecture the Design District offers an impressive array of more than 200 stores, galleries, antique shops, and more across 24 streets and multiple neighborhoods. Pick up an official Design District map to plan ahead, otherwise, you might find yourself spending an entire day delving into this vibrant area.
Far to the north of Helsinki in Finnish Lapland is the city of Rovaniemi – the “official” home of Santa Claus – and more realistically, the gateway to the Finnish far north. In fact, you can literally walk across the Arctic Circle in the middle of Santa Claus Village, just a few miles north of the city center. Travelers to Rovaniemi rave about the beautiful aurora lighting up the sky on dark nights.
Where to Stay
Hotel Lilla Roberts
Klaus K Hotel
The Geirangerfjord, Norway
In Oslo, a can’t-miss attraction is the Viking Ship Museum. Housing three Viking-era burial ships, this spectacular museum gives visitors an up-close view of some of the best-preserved Viking ships in the world. Walk fully around each of the three ships and gaze in wonder and admiration at the expert-level boatbuilding skills of medieval craftsmen. As a bonus, your ticket to The Viking Ship Museum is also valid at the nearby Historical Museum for 48 hours.
Generally considered to be the most beautiful fjord in Norway, The Geirangerfjord stretches nine miles inland through a precipitous gorge boasting multiple spectacular waterfalls. The inspiration for several locations in the Disney film Frozen, the Geirangerfjord can be toured via a car ferry with views of jagged mountain peaks, rushing cascades, and breathtaking cataracts.
Where to Stay
Vasa Museum, Stockholm
A pedestrian paradise in the heart of historic Stockholm, Old Town is the top attraction that’s not technically an attraction. Encompassing the original city center and Medieval town, Gamla Stan as it’s known in Swedish, is home to beautiful Baroque buildings, royal palaces, cathedrals, the Nobel Museum, cafés, restaurants, tourist shops, studios, galleries, and much more. Enjoy wandering your way through charming cobblestone streets only to emerge upon park-like squares, before plunging back into the labyrinth of alleys again.
In 1628 on its maiden voyage, the regal, elaborate, and top-heavy warship, the Vasa, sank in Stockholm harbor and was promptly forgotten about for the next 300 years. Re-discovered in the 20th century, it was raised in 1958, and now rests in a state-of-the-art museum where it has come to be known as the best-preserved 17th century ship in the world. It’s here that you’ll learn about the raising and preservation process, the ship’s history, and much more.
Where to Stay
Hotel C Stockholm
Nordic Light Hotel
Planning a trip to a Nordic country? Explore additional great places to stay across each of these four fascinating Northern European nations.