The mystical beauty, rich Nordic folklore, and maritime past of Scandinavia fascinates me, so much in fact, that I was willing to forego backpacking through much warmer climates in favor of exploring the land of the Vikings at the onset of winter.
Armed with one really warm coat and a new camera lens, I’m ready to experience the culture, cuisine, land, and people of Northern Europe.
In an effort to maintain a relatively organized itinerary, I’ve got a few great tours planned, booked accommodations, and have gotten a few restaurant recommendations, but I’ve allowed plenty of flexibility leaving room for the impromptu and spontaneous adventures as well.
I’m staying about 6 days in Iceland at the KEX hostel, one of the top 100 in the world. To see the landscape and truly get out and explore, I’ll rent a car from SADcars, the cheapest in Iceland, and drive the Golden Circle where I’ll see the Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss Waterfall, and the geothermally active area containing the geysers, Geysir and Strokkur.
I’ll also drive north of Reykjavik to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, known as “Iceland in miniature” and spend one night in the fishing village, Stykkisholmul. On my way back I’ll drive around the Hvalfjord which will add an additional 45 minutes or so, but since I pull over every 10 minutes for pictures, probably much longer for me. I’ll leave early in the morning.
No trip to Iceland is complete without soaking in the unique geothermal spa, The Blue Lagoon or hitting up the town of Reykjevik on a Friday night.
With a few days in Oslo, Norway I’ll have just enough time to see the sights of the city. Since I’m staying with a friend, I’ll save a little cash and get to treat myself to a nice sushi dinner at the famous Alex Sushi or Nodee.
When time is of the essence, there’s no better way to check off the popular destinations than to book a bus tour and let the driver do the navigating. I’m going on a H.M.K. Highlights Sightseeing tour so I can leave the map in my purse and just enjoy the ride while accompanied by a knowledgeable guide. We’ll stop to peruse Vigeland Sculpture Park, Holmenkollen (ski jump), the Viking Ship Museum, and the Opera House—all the must see spots in four hours. Efficient and relaxing.
I’ll also take the time on my own to just walk the city and get some photos of Akersus Castel and Fortress, the Parliament Building, the Royal Palace, and National Theatre. Changing of the guard at the Royal Palace is at 1:30pm. The museum choices are endless: Munch, Kon-Tiki, Fram, Maritime and so many more.
Nightlife in Oslo is really expensive. I think a six-pack at the local convenience store and an evening in with old friends will be my choice.
I’ll book a DFDS ferry from Oslo to Copenhagen and enjoy a nice night cruise with entertainment and a private cabin. It leaves at 5pm sharp and arrives in Copenhagen at 9:30am.
Copenhagen is an incredibly walkable city and around every corner is something beautiful. Armed with my iPod and camera, I’ll take to the streets alone and follow the “walking tour” provided on the city map at any local tourist office.
I’ll make a day of it and see the endless shopping at StrØget, the adorable cafes of Strædet, Christianborg Palace, the wooded ships and colorful buildings in Nyhavn, Amalienborg Castle, and of course, the Little Mermaid statue. I’ll also make time for Tivoli and Christiania while I’m in Copenhagen.
The magnificent castles of Denmark speckle the beautiful countryside, so I’m incredibly excited to take The Castle Tour of North Sealand to not only see them in person, but experience Denmark outside of the borders of Copenhagen. And, as a former English teacher, how can I not see Hamlet’s Castle (Kronborg Castle) in the city of Elsinore?
In a city of so many cafes and restaurants, I’ve been recommended a few: Laundromat Café, Joe & the Juice, Sticks’n’Sushi, and from what I've been told, Noma, claimed "the best restaurant in the world."
My stay in Berlin will be brief; just a couple of days. I’ve always wanted to see the Berlin Wall, so I'll make my way over to the East Side Berlin Gallery to view the art which expresses the social, cultural, and political history of East and West Germany.
With the rest of my time in Berlin, I plan to just rent a bike and ride through Mitte, Friedrichschain, Kreuzberg, and Prenzlauerberg, stopping and meandering wherever I please.
Finally, my journey will conclude in Amsterdam where I’m certain I’ll take full advantage of the freedoms that come with such liberal laws, but I also know Amsterdam has so much more to offer than just good beer, better “coffee shops”, and a notorious red light district.
I want to experience more than just that. Sometimes my favorite travel days are the ones I wander the streets or a museum while listening to my iPod with nowhere else to go and no concern for the time. I will probably make a day of the Van Gogh museum.
I’ll rent a bike and ride to the Albert Cuyp Market, one of the biggest in the city. I’ll also go on a distillery tour at Wynand Fockink (as long as it’s not booked already!)
Because Holland has it’s own unique culture outside of Amsterdam, it would be a shame not to experience the more traditional culture. I’ve booked a Holland Private Day Tour where I’ll have the chance to see the villages outside of Amsterdam and their ways of life. I’m excited to sample some real Dutch cheese, see the magnificent windmills, and of course, buy my mother some authentic Dutch clogs.
Rumor has it Santa will be welcomed into Amsterdam while I’m there! I’ll definitely be joining the festivities as the Sint in Amsterdam parade, even if I’m not entirely sure what that means yet.
But isn’t that what travel is all about: briefly submerging myself into the festivities of the unknown? I will welcome Santa however the Dutch welcome Santa, and I will go home happy I did.
This trip is supported by GetYourGuide