The Scandinavian countries are not high on most people’s list of vacation spots. They’re cold and dark for most of the year, so if you thought they might be the perfect beach vacation, I’d suggest you look at the Mediterranean Sea instead of the North Sea. But what these countries lack in heat they make up for in personality. In the past month I have been able to visit each of these countries and check them off my bucket list, something I never thought would happen when I arrived in Copenhagen more than 3 months ago.
(And just to clear things up: Scandinavia = Denmark, Sweden, and Norway while Nordic = Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland.)
Living in Denmark and studying the Scandinavian welfare state in one of my classes has helped me appreciate the lifestyle of these people on a personal level. They have to be tough to survive days when the sun only shines for 6 hours (if at all) yet they are also some of the kindest people I have met. In Finland, the woman we rented our Airbnb from bought us fruit and went out of her way to make sure everything we needed was there for our stay. And in Sweden, despite the awful terrorist attack that occurred the weekend I visited, people we met were still incredibly friendly and wanted us to have a wonderful experience.
So here’s a highlight of my favorite moments from these two countries, Finland and Sweden, and all the fun they have to offer!
You know what rocks? A rock church! The Temppeliaukio Church is a Lutheran church that opened in downtown Helsinki in 1969. A competition to design a church in this location started in the 1930’s but was postponed due to WWII so another competition was held in 1961 when the architects Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen won with a design that did not include the current rock structure. They thought the rock design would be too radical, but after more consideration they decided to go for it. Because of the rocks, acoustics in the church are unparalleled and it is frequently used as a concert venue. Visiting this church was amazing because it felt like an escape from the city, more natural than most churches normally feel. I wish I could have been there during a service because I can’t imagine how beautiful it would sound to hear a choir sing there!
Did you know that Stockholm is a city that’s made up of 14 islands connected by 57 different bridges? I certainly didn’t which made going on an archipelago tour of Stockholm and its surrounding archipelagos absolutely amazing! We started in Stockholm’s harbor where we could see the Nordic History Museum, Tivoli (yes, the same amusement park that’s in Copenhagen), and part of the city’s old citadel fortress. Then as we made our way into the archipelago, which is the second largest in the Baltic Sea and houses nearly 30,000 islands, we passed quaint, colorful houses called gingerbread houses, an island named Danmark, and buildings from Sweden’s industrial age which have been turned into expensive apartments. I never knew Stockholm was so close to so much nature which made this tour simply stunning. Plus, our guide Kristoffer was incredibly knowledgeable and told us all about the archipelago and Swedish traditions. He even sang us a drinking song that’s sung during Midsummer Eve celebrations in Sweden when everyone celebrates the longest day of the year!
My other favorite thing to do in Stockholm was walk around Gamla Stan, the old town of Stockholm, where streets are narrow, soldiers parade around, and life seems like the set of a Disney movie.
Bonus city: Uppsala, Sweden
If you ever happen to be stranded at the Stockholm Airport and need somewhere to spend a few hours go to Uppsala! It’s a university town about 40 minutes north of Stockholm which is absolutely picture perfect. There’s a beautiful cathedral and other great streets to explore and if I get the chance, I might try to come back here some day!