We kept our time in the Scandinavian countries short because they’re incredibly expensive to travel through. In fact, we did Norway, Sweden, and Denmark in a span of five days. It was chaotic, but worthwhile. Since our travel through that area was so quick, I decided to group them together in one blog. And as we headed to our first Scandinavian stop, Andi and decided to pretty much limit our sightseeing to things that are free — otherwise, it can get really expensive really fast.
We caught a late flight out of Dublin and arrived in Oslo a little past midnight, about an hour later than we were supposed to. We had planned to take the train to our airbnb, but there was only one last train leaving the airport and it was going to the city center. So we hopped on that and, at the instruction of one of the guys at the airport, we bought a bus ticket to the neighborhood we were supposed to go to. We got on our bus, but the bus driver misinformed us and told us to get on another one. This added about 30 minutes to our travel time. We finally ended up on the right bus and arrived at the bus stop in Haugenstua at 2:30 am — right as the sun was beginning to rise. We were sweaty, exhausted, and confused, but luckily our airbnb host, Arita, picked us up from our bus stop and it was just after 3 am by the time we were finally able to crash.
Understandably, we woke up late the next morning and hopped on a train into the city (after doing some grocery shopping, of course). This was our first country where English wasn’t really spoken, so we were both a little anxious to get started, but had very little trouble finding our way around. We started off by walking through the Barcode Project, which shows off Oslo’s modern architecture. Next, we went to the Opera House, which in some ways reminded me of Kansas City’s Kauffman Center. Ninety percent of it was made of marble and the roof was slanted, inviting pedestrians to walk to the top of it for a nice view of the city.
After that, we went by city hall, which is known for its art. Though it was closed by the time we made it there, there were a lot of pieces of artwork on the outside of it. Right around the corner was the Parliament Building, which is beautiful on the outside and situated right in the center of a town square. During our wandering, we came across a music festival and listened to it for a bit. From there, we made about a 45-minute walk to Frogner Park, which is famous for naked sculptures that encouraged Norwegians to be more comfortable in the nude. Arita told us the sculptures and their message are a large part of Norwegian culture.
After a long day of walking (again), we hopped on a train back to Arita’s. While we cooked our dinner that night, we visited with her and learned that she’s Latvian but moved to Norway about a decade ago. She loves meeting new people as an airbnb host and is one of the sweetest people we have met thus far in our travels. The next morning, we got a little too caught up visiting with her and missed our train into the city to catch our connecting train out of town. We got to the train stop right as it was pulling away, so we booked it back to Arita’s (backpack and all) but we didn’t have they key into her apartment anymore. I hopped the fence into her patio and frantically knocked on the window until she answered.
“We missed our train. Is there a bus we can take?” I asked quickly.
“You won’t make it in time,” she said. “I can drive you.”
So the three of us ran through the pouring rain to her car and she dropped us off at the train station in just enough time to find our platform and get in our seats. A few minutes after we sat down, our train started moving — and we breathed a sigh of relief, relaxing for the next five hours on our way to Stockholm.
Our train arrived in Stockholm around 4 pm, and after a quick 15-minute walk to our hostel, we were settled in. Since we’d been on a train for most of the day, we hadn’t moved around much. Now, understand — we’re used to walking about six to thirteen miles each day. If we walk any less than that, we just feel off and have a bit of trouble falling asleep. So we decided to take a stroll, one without direction or destination. We walked through the main streets, passing shops and cute cafes and tourists and locals. We crossed over the river and walked through a dock full of old boats that fascinated us. We found an amusement park and a lovely path along the water. We walked past the Pippi Longstocking Museum. And after about two hours of getting to know the city, we were in for the night.
The next morning, we woke up and decided to try and catch a free walking tour. Unfortunately for both of us, I’m not my best self before my morning coffee and accidentally took us to the wrong meeting point. Luckily, we’ve become quite adaptable. We found a map and decided to let ourselves wander around the Old Town — Gamla Stan — for a while. We found the Palace and the square (Stortorget) and the German Church and some lovely shops and cafes. And we also found ourselves very close to some museums that were free to enter, namely the money museum, which we both found fascinating. After treating ourselves to a Belgian Waffle for lunch, we joined a free walking tour and got to know some of the history of the city. What we’ve discovered — both by staying in inexpensive lodging and by Pinteresting the places we go — is that most European cities have high quality free walking tours. We’ve really enjoyed them so far.
That night, we gathered our belongings and prepared to attack the next beast: An overnight bus to Copenhagen.
Considering we slept on a crowded bus with angry bus drivers, we both felt fairly rested as we walked into Copenhagen Central Station. Many European cities have left luggage opportunities, so we found some lockers to store our stuff for the day while we explored. And we wanted to get going, because we had a total of eight hours to kill in Copenhagen — just about a day. We decided to splurge on a hop on hop off bus because we figured that would be the easiest way for us to see as much as possible in our short time. And we loved it!
We started by going to the Palace and seeing the changing of the guard. It’s been interesting to see how Palaces and security differ from place to place. One thing that stood out in Copenhagen was that the guards seemed a little more relaxed — they could scratch their nose or adjust their hat after getting into position. From the palace, we went and saw the Little Mermaid, which like a lot of other things, is simply worth stopping by for the photo. Nevertheless, we enjoyed it. Next, we stopped at Rosenborg Castle and explored the grounds for a while. It was surrounded by this cute little moat, full of ducks and fish that we sat by for a while, enjoying the sunny day. And to finish off our day, we stopped by the National History Museum, which is much bigger than we expected. We only were able to spend an hour there and in that time we only made it to two exhibits. It was very extensive and interesting (well worth stopping by!), and even though we could’ve stayed for several more hours exploring the exhibits, we had to catch a train back to the airport.
It was a hectic five days, but looking back, we feel like we really gained an understanding of the countries and their culture. And of course, we want to return and explore them even more someday.
Things I’ve Learned
- Always get to the bus/train station at least an hour before you’re supposed to leave. Early is on time!
- Sometimes the hurry up and wait is half the fun.
- Hop on hop off buses are a fun way to explore and learn more about a new city. Doing ours in Copenhagen was my first experience and I loved it!
- How to read a map…. because wifi isn’t always available and we’ve had to do it the old-fashioned way.
- Night bus rides aren’t as bad as you think if you go in with an open mind and low expectations.
Tips for travel in these places
- Public transportation is fairly easy to use but can be expensive. Be aware of this.
- To build on that, look up the time of trains ahead of time so you can be on schedule. This was our downfall in getting out of town. (Luckily it all worked out for us.)
- The main cities are fairly compact so walking is doable.
- Airbnbs are probably cheaper than hostels in most cases.
- It rains a lot. And it’s cold. Be prepared. Wear layers.
- Lefsa isn’t a thing anymore, so if you have a hankering for it (like Andi did) then you probably won’t find it.
- When I Return: In all of these places, the main things I want to do are explore rural or more northern cities to do some hiking and get to know the culture outside the big cities. More specifically, in Norway, go to Bergen and Stavanger and visit the Viking Museum. In Sweden, eat Elk and find cool hiking in the North. And in Denmark, spend more time traveling through the whole country.