Always is the best time to visit Scandinavia: from the Little Mermaid Copenhagen to the Norway fjords

As warm and clear in summer as it is brittle and white in winter, Scandinavia is a world of contrasts where melted glaciers feed into Baltic seas and jagged ice-topped mountains sink into dense forests. Such a dramatic climate lends the region some of the world’s most spectacular scenery and natural phenomena, from the magical aurora borealis in Arctic Norway to the vast glaciers and fjords flecking the landscapes of Denmark, Sweden and beyond. Picture perfect and beautifully preserved, Scandinavia offers a glimpse of how the rest of the world could be. Once Europe’s most blood-thirsty civilisation has become a progressive society of peace and acceptance, welcoming intrepid visitors of all walks for seasonal adventures of hiking, boating, skiing, shopping and more. Discover the best bits of the region with our 10 day Scandinavia itinerary.

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Bergen, Norway | Photo: Robert Bye

LGBT situation

The Nordic countries are frontrunners in many areas, both culturally and environmentally with a strong history of LGBTQ acceptance. Thousands of years of Viking rule turns out to have had a calming effect on the region where now the populations of Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Finland all live in relative harmony pushing for gender parity and inclusion in government. This cluster of countries now leads the world in clean energy and education paving the way for peaceful coexistence among diverse communities and therefore the ultimate travel destination for queer travellers.

Photo: Oliver Ragfelt

Photo: Linus Mimietz

Best time of the year to visit

If snow boots and earmuffs aren’t your idea of holiday attire, plan your Scandinavian trip in summer to coincide with thawing ice and t-shirt weather. July and August are the most popular months for tourists, the time when the sunshine seemingly lasts forever and the streets throng with action. Solid infrastructure and urban design mean big cities like Stockholm and Copenhagen rarely get congested but to avoid the tourist rush, consider the shoulder season starting late May and pushing into September. While the weather might not be quite as reliable as in peak season, you may get lucky with bursts of sunshine and fewer crowds.

Unless you’re into skiing and snow sports, visiting Scandinavia in winter is chilly business. Shorter, colder days mean that you’ll have less time to sightsee and may find that many sights and accommodations have gone into hibernation, particularly in smaller fjord towns. Those tough travellers who brave the winter weather, however, will be rewarded during the Christmas period with twinkling markets serving festivity and a heart-warming amount of glögg (mulled wine).

Photo: Marcus Lofvenberg

Days 1 & 2: Copenhagen

Fly into Copenhagen (or commandeer a train, bus or ferry) to be met in simple Scandi style with efficient travel options and blonde, long-legged locals. Copenhagen Airport lies close to the city centre and visitors can choose between metro, train or taxi. Taking the metro in Denmark’s capital is as easy as it can be, with the option of the City Pass or Copenhagen Card for unlimited public transport (the latter offering free admission to a number of attractions)

Once in the city proper, walking and biking become the top two options… at least in summer! Cycle around Copenhagen’s pristine streets taking in the medieval architecture, lake views and harbour-side atmosphere before hopping off to appreciate the quirky boutiques and menswear shops on Købmagergade and Pilestræde, the hipster vibe of Vesterbro’s Sønder Boulevard and the cosy café hub of Larsbjørnstræde. Another option is to take a boat tour along Sydhavnen marvelling at the city’s unique architecture and monuments to Danish royalty, as well as The Little Mermaid sculpture dedicated to storyteller H.C Andersen. As for where to stay, Copenhagen caters to all kinds of traveller, with everything from budget B&Bs to luxury lodgings. Our favourites tend towards the high end, with boutique chain Brøchner Hotels and the Latin Quarter’s Hotel Alexandra in a league of their own.

Day two gives us a chance to venture further into Copenhagen’s distinct neighbourhoods, with Nørrebro on the top of our agenda for some of the best coffee in Copenhagen, top-notch dining, and – in Spring – a bustling flea market. For a bit of touristic fun, try Tivoli Gardens, a 175-year-old amusement park in the city centre. Bulk up your Copenhagen itinerary with more sights, nightlife offerings and things to do listed in our full Copenhagen travel guide.

Photo: Toni Hukkanen

Copenhagen | Photo: Peter Ivey Hansen

Day 3: Stavanger and the Pulpit Rock hike

Hitch a connection from Copenhagen Airport to the Norwegian city of Stavanger, home of the spectacular Lysefjord fjord and overhanging Pulpit Rock. Never far from Norway’s natural scenery, every angle in Stavanger features dramatic mountain views foregrounded by quaint wooden residences and Old Town charm. Eat well and sleep early because a new day in Stavanger brings adventure. The city acts as a convenient base for three of Norway’s most iconic hikes; Flørli 4444 Steps, Kjerabolten and Pulpit Rock (Preikestolen). With time just for one, we take the Lysefjord ferry to the trailhead of Pulpit Rock and ascend towards one of the best views in the whole of Norway. After a full day of wonderment and clean air, relax in comfort around the harbour, with a slow stroll through Gamle Stavanger before finishing up with modern continental cuisine and local cheeses in any of the town’s award-winning restaurants.

Day 4: Bergen

No less impressive, day four takes us on a scenic journey (by plane, express bus or Fjordline ferry) to the historic city of Bergen for more fjords, more natural beauty and more insight into Norway’s Viking past. One of the rainiest places in the region, Bergen is a dewy gem with plenty of great indoor museums – including the KODE Art Museums – all in proximity to cosy coffee houses, perfect for escaping the drizzle. Don’t let the rain stop you exploring Bergen’s outdoor attractions, however, because much of the city – specifically the Bryggen Hanseatic Wharf – is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site where preserved wooden houses, hilly alleys and an intriguing history await discovery.

If you’re lucky enough to find Bergen on a clear day, do not miss the chance to visit the top of Mount Fløyen, accessible via the Fløibanen funicular. While the journey up is an impressive one, the 360° fjord and mountain views from the peak are sure to become imprinted in your memory for life! To avoid the crowds, take the funicular in the morning or late in the day to witness the sky change colour and the city lights turn on.

Photo: Red Hat Factory

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After resting in Gudvangen, we embark on a Norway fjords cruise to Flåm, travelling within the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Aurlandsfjord and Nærøfjord

Day 5: Enjoy the breath-taking beauty of Norway on route to Oslo (Myrdal)

Sometimes the meaning lies in the journey and not the destination, as is the case for day five which takes us on the Bergen Railway to Voss before transferring to a bus for a scenic ride through to the tiny village of Gudvangen. While the winding roads can be a little unnerving, be sure to embrace the stunning views along the journey which spans fjords, snow-topped cliffs and epic waterfalls. After resting in Gudvangen, we embark on a Norway fjords cruise to Flåm, travelling within the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Aurlandsfjord and Nærøfjord. You’ll be set to arrive in Flåm in two hours at which point you can take a tour to the Stegastein viewpoint and around the village before riding the Flåmsbana train through to Myrdal. The train journey to end all train journeys, the Flåmsbana is world-famous for its stunning views as passengers ascend 2,800 feet above sea level towards the elevated waterfalls and lush mountains of Myrdal.

In the morning, adventurers might wish to chase the sunrise with hiking routes accessible from the Vatnahalsen Høyfjellshotell, before hopping aboard the high-speed Bergen Railway and enjoying brunch with a view. The journey from Myrdal to Oslo takes five hours (the entire Oslo to Bergen train journey taking 7 hours in total), passing by waterfalls, glaciers, streams and forests, with the option to stop and stretch your legs at beauty spots along the way.

Norway | Photo: Andreas Wagner

Day 6 & 7: Oslo

More than midway in our Scandinavia itinerary, it’s time to regain some energy in the Norwegian capital, a stylish hub to enjoy fine dining, cultural institutions and the best nightlife so far. Just one day in Oslo is enough to feel the vibe but to enjoy the city’s hidden gems at a more leisurely pace, consider splurging on a boutique hotel for a night or two. As well as being inclusive and welcoming to all, Oslo will wow you with its contemporary art scene backgrounded by icy fjords and mountain scenery. Find distinct neighbourhoods across the city, each hosting their own take on the modern aesthetic with experimental design stores and trendy coffee houses serving beautiful Viking-chic locals.

Same-sex marriage has been legal in Norway since 2009 and now Norwegian society plays with the notion of a post-gay identity. While there are defined queer spaces, most LGBTQ+ locals choose to mingle with the wider community in the city’s parks, cafés, bars and clubs. Tour the city and its green spaces using bikes or public transport, looking in on Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’ at The National Museum on the banks of the crystal waters of Oslofjord. Kill more time with our pick of the top things to do in Norway or learn more about where to stay and where to party with our full Oslo travel guide.

Photo: Savitri Wendt

Norway | Photo: Jarand K Lokeland

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Metropolitan Stockholm is comprised of hundreds of islands each of which offer charming municipalities where you’ll find shopping streets, seasonal markets and stunning architecture both old and new.

Day 8 & 9: Travel to Stockholm

Your Scandinavian vacation ain’t over until we throw the Swedish capital into the mix, home of minimal design, sustainable living and uber-stylish natives. Take a flight or high-speed train from Oslo to Stockholm, passing rural mountain towns and rugged fjord landscapes towards Sweden’s east coast. There are a number of trains running from Arlanda Airport to Stockholm Central Station, as well as taxis serving all corners of central Stockholm. Within the city, public transport is a delight to use, with the metro (Tunnelbana) being the most convenient way to tour the city. Ferries and buses also operate, with the added bonus of majestic views showing Stockholm’s pristine lakes as they flow into the sea. Metropolitan Stockholm is comprised of hundreds of islands each of which offer charming municipalities where you’ll find shopping streets (antiques on Vasastan and second-hand stores on Hornsgaten), seasonal markets (Hornstulls marknad and Längholmen) and stunning architecture both old and new. Spend the morning enjoying a Stockholm walking tour guided by local experts or board one of the popular Stockholm boat tours in summer for a wider perspective on the city’s Baltic archipelago base. Later in the day, break for Fika (coffee and cake) and Nordic wardrobe updates before having a foodie experience at the Michelin-starred Oaxen Krog Culinary Sanctuary or pick up a picnic at the opulent Östermalms saluhall food hall.

As for Gay Stockholm, you’ll find her all over, in the rainbow-lined streets and accepting atmosphere as well as in progressive galleries and community spaces dotted around. In such an inclusive city, gay spaces are not necessarily needed and much like Oslo, the LGBTQ+ community is a part of the mainstream. The hip areas of Södermalm and Gamla Stan (Old Town) do however host queer cafés, eateries and clubs, but exploring the city’s broader nightlife will no doubt satisfy. As always, read more about the Nordic capital – including where to stay and the best nightlife – with our gay guide to Stockholm.

Stockholm

Stockholm | Photo: Raphael Andres

Stockholm | Photo: Oliver Ragfelt

Day 10: Say goodbye to Scandinavia! 

Our Scandinavia itinerary 10 days comes to a close in and around Stockholm, one of the region’s most convenient travel hubs. Take advantage of any spare time with one last excursion into your favourite neighbourhood, taking care of those last-minute souvenirs in the hip independent stores around Östermalm or Kungsholmen with a stop at Grandpa: A Scandinavian Life store to hanker over Scandi homeware, clothing and accessories.

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Bergen | Photo: Michael Fousert

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