Scandinavia trip planning
Finland,  Iceland,  Norway,  Sweden,  We12inspire

Scandinavia trip planning: which country should you go to?

If you have been to We12travel before, you may know that nordic destinations are my favorite places to travel. The definition of nordic destinations is of course quite broad, but with ‘nordic’ I mean the outer ends of this planet. In other words, Scandinavia, Canada and Alaska, but also Patagonia and New Zealand, which are not located in the north, but resemble northern destinations in nature. I’m not necessarily interested in the mountains (because you also have those in the Alps and Nepal, for example), but it’s more about the feeling that you get while there. The relaxed atmosphere, the wooden houses, the roughness of the landscape and the mostly cool temperatures. People who recognize it probably know what I mean.
 
Although the northern countries in Scandinavia may not be at the top of your bucket list, they are all definitely worth a visit. Each destination has its own charm and landscapes. In this article I list the countries of Scandinavia for you. If you are interested in going north, this article will certainly help you make your Scandinavia trip planning much easier.
 

What are the Scandinavian countries?

A frequently heard term is Scandinavia, but what exactly is Scandinavia? According to Wikipedia, there is no exact definition of Scandinavia, but rather an area in the northern part of Europe. In addition, Wikipedia indicates three different ways in which Scandinavia can be interpreted. For this blog, I defined Scandinavia as Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland and Denmark.
   
I will tell you more about what you can expect from each country, what the highlights are and what the best travel period is. I have been to Scandinavia more than 30 times over the past decade and can tell you a lot about it. Enjoy reading!
 

Scandinavië IJsland reis
The amazing mountains of Landmannalaugar in Iceland
 

Your first time in Scandinavia: what to expect

First of all I will give you some general travel tips for Scandinavia that actually apply to all countries. Of course there are exceptions per country, but in general the following applies to all destinations.
 
– Take into account the midsummer night sun when traveling in the summer. The further north you go, the more daylight you will experience in the summer. From roughly the south of Norway to everything above, you’ll be in the light almost 24 hours a day in the summer. It’s definitely something to keep in mind if you have trouble sleeping.
 
– The Scandinvavians are incredibly friendly and helpful. Even the older generation speaks English quite well and often restaurants have menus available in English. You won’t have to worry about a language barrier in Scandinavia!
 
– Driving is slow when you are on a road trip in Scandinavia. Around the big cities you will find four-lane highways, but most main roads in Scandinavia are two-lane roads with a speed limit of 80 to a maximum of 100 kilometers per hour. If you are unlucky you will be stuck behind a motorhome that refuses to divert and that may cause a lot of delay. So plan your driving times well, in Scandinavia you always take more time than planned for driving. The traffic fines are also extremely high compared to other countries in Europe, so make sure that you do not commit a violation.
 
– Pack warm clotes, even in the summer. For all countries goes it can be relatively cool, even in the middle of summer. Last summer I went to Sweden and Norway, and unfortunately I just regularly wore a fleece sweater and jeans, rather than shorts and t-shirts.
 
– With the exception of Finland, you pay everywhere with the crown (Kronur). Each country has its own Crown, which in terms of value are not really related to each other. Incidentally, it is completely normal that you pay with a credit card, so you’ll need cash in very few places.
 
– The Every Man’s Right (freedom camping) applies to campers in Norway, Sweden and Finland. In Finland and Sweden I have never really had trouble finding a suitable camping spot, in Norway I have had more difficulty with it, especially due to the increasing number of campervans. Many places that used to be available for camping are now marked with a ‘no camping’ sign. I have even heard that it is being considered to substantially decrease or even abandon the Every Man’s Right in in Norway, whether or not just for campervans.
 
– The price level in all countries is relatively high, especially in terms of food and overnight stays. For example, gasoline is everywhere (just a little) cheaper than in the rest of Europe, but eating out and doing healthy shopping is often more expensive than we are used to. The Scandinavian countries are certainly not a budget destination!
 

IJslands eten
Skyr: typical Scandinavian yoghurt
 

Travel in Norway

Norway, together with Iceland, is probably the country that appeals most to those who wish to travel to Scandinavia. Fjords, waterfalls, trolls and vikings are typical Norwegian things you will encounter on your trip. From a landscape point of view, Norway is one of the most diverse countries I have ever been to. Although the fjords are best known, in the interior you will find beautiful high plains such as the Hardangervidda, glaciers, high mountains and deep valleys. Above the Arctic Circle you can spot whales as well as the Northern Lights and admire the very crowded Lofoten Islands.
   
I have been to Norway several times in the summer in the past years and it is very busy there. The best travel season in Norway is relatively short (June to August), which means that it can be quite busy at tourist spots in the summer. There are also many cruise ships along the fjord coast, which can turn a small fjord village into a tourist crowd in an instant.
 
This does not mean that you can’t easily avoid the crowds in Norway, provided that you look for unknown places such as Senja, the Åkrafjord and the vast hills towards the Swedish border east of Hamar for example.
 

Akrafjorden
The quite and unknown Åkrafjord in Norway
 

Norway highlights:

Below you’ll find some of the highlights of Norway. Very personal and certainly not complete, but useful if you are interested in a Norway trip:
 
– Fjord Norway (in particular the Nærøyfjord and Geirangerfjord when there are no cruise ships)
– The Hardangervidda plateau
– City trip in Bergen (possibly with a visit to the fjords)
– The northern islands of Lofoten, Vesterålen and possibly Senja Island
– The glaciers of Jostedalsbreen National Park and Folgefonna National Park
 

Why Norway?

Stunning nature, delicious food, freedom camping (to a certain extent), whales and Northern Lights. Disappointments in Norway are the North Cape (very busy, I have heard of it because never bothered to go there) and the often rainy weather. I also found the Hardangerfjord less beautiful than expected. In addition, Norway really is the worst when it comes to high prices and is therefore not exactly a destination for budget travelers.
 

My Norwegian favorites:

– Salmon. Salmon. Salmon. And again salmon.
– The thrillers by author Jo Nesbø
– Het Every Man’s Right (with restrictions)
– The fjords
– The most beautiful glaciers in Europe accessible over land
 
Want to read more? These are my favorite Norway blogs:
A summer vacation in Åkrafjorden, Norway
Biking in Norway: an amazing ride from fjord to fjell
The most amazing viewpoints in Fjord Norway
 
Or read all my Norway blogs and articles here.
 

Book your Norway trip

Depending on when you are visiting, you should definitely book your trip well in advance in the high season. Accommodation is easily booked on Booking.com and go here to check the best rental car options.
 

biking in Norway
Biking through Fjord Norway
 
Møsevassbreen glacier in Folgefonna NP
Møsevassbreen in Blådålen
 
Bergbotn
Bergbotn viewpoint on Senja island
 

Travel in sweden

Although Sweden is not the most stunning Scandinavian country in terms of landscapes, it has captured a special place in my heart. So special that my partner (who has been to Sweden 25+ times ever since he was a little boy) and I have decided to buy a cottage here within a few years. It’s generally a lot more quiet with tourists in Sweden than in neighboring Norway, which makes it the ideal destination for a relaxed road trip in Scandinavia. In addition, as far as I’m concerned, Sweden is definitely a favorite when it comes to hiking. You can make beautiful multi-day hikes without running into many people.
 
My love for Sweden started with a city trip to Stockholm and gradually spread further and further across the country. I have now been to Sweden 10 times and I still can’t get enough of it. I literally traversed the country from south (Malmö) to north (Kiruna) by car, visited almost all provinces and learned some Swedish along the way.
 
In the south you will find mainly forests and lakes and a relatively flat landscape, from mid-Sweden the landscape becomes more hilly and eventually even mountainous in the far north and on the border with Norway. The coastline is also beautiful and I have been a huge Gothenburg fan for several years now, a worthy alternative to busy Stockholm.
 

Östergötland
A lonely road in Östergötland
 

Sweden highlights

– Stockholm and Gothenburg
– The Sånfjället and Fulufjället National Parks
– Reindeer, moose and possibly bears
– Arctic Sweden around Jokkmokk and Kvikkjokk
– The islands off the coast near Stockholm and Gothenburg
 

Why Sweden?

Sweden is super relaxed. It certainly does not have as many tourists as Norway and Iceland. It’s less busy, there’s fewer rules and less densely populated areas. Whereas in Norway you’ll always see a (holiday) cottage on almost every square kilometer, you can really drive for miles in Sweden without encountering anything. In addition, Sweden is easily accessible by car, via the bridge between Copenhagen and Malmö. The places that disappointed me in Sweden were Skåne (too many meadows), Kiruna and the busy spots in Stockholm in recent years.
 

My Swedish favorites

– Swedish tv crime series (especially The Killing, Midnight Sun and Arne Dahl)
– Swedish thrillers (especially Camilla Läckberg, Lars Kepler, Henning Mankell)
– Daim chocolate
– Cinnamon buns and fika (coffee with something tasty)
– The Every Man’s Right
– Drive on the E45 – the road to the north
– A winter holiday in Sweden
– Hiking the Kungsleden (King’s Trail)
 
Want to read more? These are my favorite Sweden blogs:
Hiking the Kungsleden Trail: a true Nordic adventure
Hiking and camping in the Swedish wilderness
5 Really cool outdoor things to do in Småland
 
Or read all my Sweden articles here.
 

Book your Sweden trip

Depending on when you are visiting, you should definitely book your trip well in advance in the high season. Accommodation is easily booked on Booking.com and go here to check the best rental car options.
 

kungsleden hike
On the Kungsleden in Arctic Sweden
 
Canoeing on one of the many lakes in Sweden
 
citytrip göteborg
Citytrip Göteborg
 

Travel in Finland

Finland is a destination that I prefer to visit in the winter. It is the best destination within Europe to go on dog sledding adventure in the winter, view the Northern Lights and immerse yourself in a total ‘winter wonderland’. I have now visited Finland four times (summer, autumn, winter) and although I like forests, I did not find the Finnish landscape very varied for a summer trip. After a few days of driving through forests and past lakes I’d seen enough.
 
I truly think Helsinki, the capital of Finland, is a wonderful city. There is plenty to see and do, but it is still relatively quiet compared to Oslo or Stockholm for example. In addition, Finland is of course a prime destination for going to the sauna. For me, a trip without a sauna is not a complete Finland trip.
 

Huskies in winters Finland
Huskies in winters Finland
 

Finland highlights

– Finnish Lappland in winter
– Huskies, snowmobiling, Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis)
– Helsinki (and I liked Tampere too, by the way)
 

Why Finland?

As I said, I would really only recommend Finland as a winter destination. In the summer, for example, Sweden and Norway have much more to offer in terms of natural beauty. However, if you are crazy about forests, lakes and mosquitoes then Finland in the summer is really something for. You can also see bears in the far north, but they are usually attracted with food. Since I am really opposed to that, I would never opt for such an experience myself. Wildlife just has to stay wild and should not be fed. Santa Clause Village near Rovaniemi is also really terribly touristy and you’d better skip it!
 

My Finnish favorites

– Sauna’s
– Helsinki
– Huskies
– Jari Litmanen (thinking back of my youth)
– Finnish metal music
– Sunset near one of the many lakes
 
Want to read more? Go here to read all my Finland articles.
 

Book your Finland trip

Depending on when you are visiting, you should definitely book your trip well in advance in the high season. Accommodation is easily booked at Booking.com and go here to check the best rental car options for Finland.
 

linnansaari
Linnansaari National Park in Finland
Een huskytocht in Finland
Land of the thousand lakes
Een huskytocht in Finland
On a dogsled ride in Finland
 

Travel in Iceland

If you ask me which of the Scandinavian countries is my favorite, I find it a difficult choice between Sweden and Iceland. From a landscape point of view, however, Iceland is by far the most stunning destination we have in Europe. You will find geysers, glaciers, huge waterfalls and iceberg lakes. I have been to Iceland 10 times now and I just can’t get enough. You can do some amazing hieks (think of the Laugavegur, for example) but you can also make a great road trip in Iceland, both in summer and in winter.
   
It is best to visit Iceland in the summer or in the winter. The summers are short and cool, the winters long and dark. Yet it is not always the case that there is a huge amount of snow in Iceland in the winter. The last time I was there in winter (February 2019) there was no snow. In the summer it is relatively busy and you have to take into account that there are many tourists everywhere.
 

IJsland Fjallsarlon
Icebergs in Fjallsárlón
 

Iceland highlights

– The Snæfellsnes peninsula
– The interior (only accessible with a 4WD)
– Jökülsárlón and Fjallsárlón iceberg lakes
– The Golden Circle
– Hiking between the hot springs
 

Why Iceland?

You cannot compare Iceland to any other country. The quirky but very friendly Icelanders do everything to make you happy. You can see northern lights in the winter, whales all year round and cross the interior highlands with a 4WD in the summer. You can also make super amazing hikes, walk to an abandoned aircraft wreck and visit various volcanoes. The Blue Lagoon is a real tourist trap that is also super expensive. You better visit one of the (free) alternatives to the Blue Lagoon.
 

My favorites

– The Westman Islands
– Jökülsárlón
– Landmannalaugar
– A glacier hike on the Sólheimajökul
– Puffins
– Eating a burger at Hamborgarafabrikkan
– The clothing of 66 North and Cintamani
 
Want to read more? These are my favorite Iceland blogs:
The best places to stay in Reykjavík for any budget
Fjallsárlón or Jökulsárlón: which glacier lagoon should you visit?
What to pack for Iceland in winter: a complete packing list
 
Or read all my Iceland articles here.
 

Book your Iceland trip

Depending on when you are visiting, you should definitely book your trip well in advance in the high season. Accommodation is quickly booked at Booking.com and go here to check the best rental car options for Iceland.
 

sunny cars
Driving a rental car to Jökülsárlón
Sun Voyager Reykjavík
The ‘Sun Voyager’ in the Icelandic midnightsun
reykjadalur wandelen
Reykjadalur hot springs in Iceland
 

Travel in Denmark

And last but not least there’s Denmark. To be honest, it is my least favorite country in Scandinavia. I have been there on a few occasions on holiday (in a house near Esbjerg) but I cannot remember that I found it very impressive as a nature lover. This does not change the fact that there is plenty to see and do, but a little less for nature lovers than the other Scandinavian countries. Because it has been years since I was on vacation, I don’t have any blogs about it.
 

Denmark highlights

– A citytrip Copenhagen
– The rocks near Møns Klint
– Walking along the endless coast line
 

Why Denmark?

I don’t have any children of my own, but I was told that Denmark is a great place to go with your family. There are numerous amusement parks, many holiday homes and everywhere there are good facilities for kids. In addition, it is not too far from the Netherlands. Copenhagen is perfect for a city trip, although it is a relatively expensive city compared to other Scandinavian cities.
 

My favorites

– The Bridge (series and to drive across)
– Walking along the windy coast
– Legoland
 

Book your Denmark trip

Depending on when you are visiting, you should definitely book your trip well in advance in the high season, which is in the summer. Accommodation is easily booked on Booking.com and go here to check the best rental car options.
 

The Bridge
The bridge between Copenhagen and Malmö
 

Conclusion and disclaimer of Scandinavia trip planning

Hopefully you found this article about Scandinavia trip planning useful and will it help you make a choice for which country to choose when you first go north. Although I clearly have my favorite destinations, I have tried to stay as objective as possible. However, as a blogger, I see it as my job to also name less pleasant places / things (such as feeding bears and the Blue Lagoon) and to be honest about them when I know a destination less well.
 
In this article you will find affiliate links. If you make a reservation or make a purchase through such a link, I may receive a modest commission, without extra costs for you.

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