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Northern Europe is one of the most fascinating regions in the world. Perhaps best known as the place to see the Northern Lights, it also offers vast, raw landscapes and amazing architecture in addition to sophisticated cities.
With many areas still untouched by tourism, Northern Europe lends itself to the traveler who’s looking for a little solitude and a respite from the rest of the continent.
What to expect
Expect efficient transport, stunning cityscapes both ancient and modern, unique cuisine, and amicable people, almost all of whom speak English.
While living costs in Northern Europe are among the highest worldwide, the historical and natural wonders make roughing it out part of the experience and well worth it. In fact, many of the attractions and museums are free. Don’t write off this region simply because you heard how expensive it is – there are ways to cut costs and enjoy your time in Northern Europe.
Planning your trip to Northern Europe
A lot goes into planning your trip to Northern Europe – how to get there, how to get around once you are there, best time of the year to go, which vaccinations you need, and what the visa situations are.
- Air: Norwegian Air Shuttle is the main budget airline in the region, offering cheap flights from major European cities. SAS also offers youth fares for flights in Europe.
- Bus: While intercity and inter-country buses are available, routes and prices lose out to the extensive rail network.
- Train: Trains run to almost all cities in Scandinavia and Finland, all clean and comfortable. High-speed trains and night trains are very popular, so make sure you reserve in advance.
- Boat: Various ferry lines offer routes from Denmark to Iceland and Norway, as well as from Sweden to Finland. These are pricey but scenic (especially those crossing the Baltic Sea and along Norway’s western coast).
The Nordic countries are known for being expensive, but plenty of cost-cutting options exist. In fact, it’s possible to get by on US$70 a day if you really scrimp.
Free accommodation can be found in the way of couchsurfing or camping.
In Denmark there are official camping grounds, while Sweden, Norway, and Finland practice “Every Man’s Right”, the freedom to hike across or camp on uncultivated land (including private property). Hence, the best time to visit on a budget is during summer. If you need to stay indoors, consider hostels or rentals outside the city center. These are much cheaper and still convenient as the region boasts some of the most efficient public transport systems in the world.
Eating out will burn a hole in your pocket, so you may want to find a place where you can cook your own meals. A meal at a restaurant will set you back about $40USD, while a sandwich and coffee will cost around $10. Expensive as it is, food anywhere is almost always of excellent quality and freshness. Tap water in the Nordic countries is drinkable.
According to the CDC, your routine vaccinations of MMR (measles, mumps, rubella), DPT (diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus), and polio should be up to date, but they aren’t required. Hepatitis A and B are also highly recommended. Rabies vaccination is also advisable if you’ll be coming in contact with wildlife.
To find more in depth information about vaccinations, check out these articles:
Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, and Finland are members of the Schengen Area, which means that Americans and citizens of most other countries can travel visa-free for 90 days in the region, including Greenland and the Faroe Islands. Travelers who require a visa only have to apply for a single visa for the Schengen Area, but will need to apply for a separate visa to visit Greenland and the Faroe Islands.
Where to go
Denmark, Sweden, and Norway make up Scandinavia and will be the countries covered in this article While all these countries share close ties and a Viking heritage, you’ll know when you’ve traveled into a different country – they are all more culturally unique than you’d expect.
The region changes drastically from summer to winter, with enough activities to occupy travelers for at least a month. If you’re on a tight budget, don’t worry – seeing the highlights doesn’t cost much.
When it comes to Denmark, most travelers focus on the capital city of Copenhagen for good reason – it’s where you can experience everything that Denmark is famous for, from design and architecture to beer. However, the country also offers notable world heritage sites, spectacular beaches particularly favored by their German neighbors, and legendary amusement parks for the young at heart.
To read more about Denmark, check out the following articles and resources:
Forests, lakes, nightlife, food, and fashion – Sweden has something for everyone. In Stockholm alone you’ll find tranquil lakes and forests just a stone’s throw from the nightclubs hiding in the basements of centuries-old buildings, while the Swedish Lapland promises diverse wildlife, alpine sports, and glimpses of the Northern Lights. More urbane than their neighbors, the Swedes still preserve an appreciation for simple joys – just look to traditions like fika and Pea Soup Thursday for proof.
To read more about Sweden, check out the following articles and resources:
Extending far into the Arctic Circle, Norway is perfect for adventure seekers with its majestic fjords, towering mountains, and weeks of midnight sun. That said, don’t let the fact that it’s so far north fool you – winter in much of Norway is more comfortable than in England or Montana, and cities like Bergen are slowly gaining prominence for their underground contemporary arts and music scene.
To read more about Norway, check out the following articles and resources:
- Norway Indie Travel Guide
- Oslo Indie Travel Guide
- 5 of the World’s Most Expensive Countries and How to Visit Them on the Cheap
Adding Scandinavia to your RTW trip
If you are planning a longer, round the world type of trip and want to include Scandinavia on it, check out the following trip on Indie, BootsnAll’s flight booking tool. To customize the trip and make it your own, click on Price this trip to change any dates and destinations (including the departure city).
Planning a trip in Northern Europe is a dream for many travelers due to cost, but as with all places it can be much cheaper than you expect. More importantly, Northern Europe lives up to the reputation that’s been built by those who have been there. Save up and go – you won’t regret it.