Scandinavia is more than just woolly jumpers, flat packs and thrilling plotlines, and although lots of tourists make their way to the main cities of Copenhagen, Stockholm and Oslo each year, there are plenty of spots of sheer natural beauty hiding in plain sight across Scandinavia. From the greenery and flat landscapes of Denmark and southern Sweden, via the rocky fjords and vast forests of Norway and Sweden, to the snow-capped mountains, frozen sea and jaw-dropping Northern Lights of the Arctic north, this is a corner of the world adorned with gems of natural magnificence. Here are five of these that can be found across Southern Scandinavia.
The Wadden Sea, Denmark
Known locally as the Western Coast, the Wadden Sea has been listed as a UNESCO Heritage Site due to its unique landscape and wildlife. A famous holiday spot for locals, you’ll find plenty of cosy little villages and resorts along the coast line that runs from the north of the Netherlands to the very tip of the Jutland Peninsula, known as Skagen. Here you can literally watch as the North Sea and the Baltic Sea clash against each other, as well as observe the special light that has attracted some of Denmark’s most famous painters for centuries. Further south on the coast you can lounge in the delightful seaside-town of Blaavand, experience absolute tranquillity on the islands of Fanø and Mandø and then visit the old Viking capital of Ribe. Still an important town in the area, the 18th century houses around the magnificent cathedral have been beautifully preserved and give you the impression that you have travelled back in time.
Nearest Airport: Billund
The island that every Danish person knows, loves and will sing you a song about if your press them. Catch an overnight ferry from Copenhagen to this outpost of cliffs in the middle of the Baltic Sea. The island is small enough for you to cycle a rented bike around in a couple of days, and here you will find a serene landscape with small cobble-stoned villages. On the north tip of the island you can visit the old fortification of Hammershus, which houses several legends that guides will happily indulge you with. On Bornholm you can also visit the Echo Valley and the small villages on the east coast, and during summer, you should stop by the coastal town of Gudhjem, where visitors flock to try the local dish known as ‘Sun over Gudhjem’, which consists of smoked herring, rye bread and a raw egg (it tastes better than it sounds).
Nearest Airport: Copenhagen
Elsinore/Helsingborg, Denmark and Sweden
Situated just north of Copenhagen, the city of Elsinore (or Helsingør in Danish), is arguably most famous for being the setting of Shakespeare’s tour de force Hamlet. The castle in the play is still an imposing feature in the town and to Danes it is also the home of the national legend of the old king Holger Danske, who will awake on the eve of peril and save Denmark. The town of Elsinore, which sprawls below the castle walls, is a charming old merchant town, where brightly coloured houses and cobbled streets makes the city appear almost as it would have two or three centuries ago. Elsinore is strategically placed on the narrowest point of the Øresund Strait and together with its Swedish sibling on the other side, Helsingborg, this used to be an important toll point where ships from the North and Baltic Sea could be stop, checked and taxed. Today there is a regular ferry service that sails between the two cities and Helsingborg is a city that is as least as charming as its seaside neighbour. Visit the imposing Kärnan Tower before indulging in a bit of shopping along the adorable Stortorget shopping street. Whilst in the area, it’s worth it to make a trip to the Louisiana Art Museum in Humlebæk, just between Elsinore and Copenhagen.
Nearest airport: Copenhagen
Sweden’s second-largest city, Gothenburg is a romantic metropolis perched on the mouth of the Gota River leading into the Skagerrak Sea. Likened to Amsterdam for its charming canal-system, the harbour-front of the city is the perfect place to embark on your exploration of the city. Once a place of industry and ship-building the centre of Gothenburg is today a vibrant hub with an abundance of museums, shops and cafés. Enjoy a traditional Swedish Fika at the latter, which is coffee and delicious cakes served with typical Swedish friendliness. Stroll along the canals and make sure you visit the Gothenburg Museum of Art and the largest shopping centre in Scandinavia in Nordstan. Gaze across the city from the magnificent Skansen Kronan, explore the nearby islands via boat tours, or if you’re seeking more thrill-packed adventures, then head to the biggest amusement park in Scandinavia, Liseberg. In Gothenburg you can combine the smorgasbord of things to do in the city with the splendid scenes of nature that abounds in southern Sweden.
Nearest Airports: Gothenburg Landvetter and Gothenburg City.
While the north of Sweden is a pine-covered, often mountainous landscape, the southern tip of this surprisingly vast country, is a green and milder scenery with small villages of painted wooden houses, mixed perfectly with stretches of pristine forest and the trendy hubs of Malmo, Helsingborg and Lund.
A short journey from the metropolis of Copenhagen, Malmo has grown to become a sizeable city in its own right. Wander along the quaint streets and explore the squares of Stortorget and Lillatorget before heading to the remodelled seafront where Scandinavia’s tallest building the Turning Torso rises, twisting itself against the water below. In the distance, you’ll also be able to see the Øresund Bridge –which features heavily in the Swedish/Danish crime drama The Bridge. On the opposite side of the region, you’ll find the setting of a very different kind of entertainment. Astrid Lindgren based most of her famous children’s books in Skåne, and in the village of Vimmerby children and adults alike can explore all her novels in the Astrid Lindgren World, where among other characters, you’ll find Pippi Longstocking getting into mischief.
Nearest airports: Malmo, Kristianstad and Copenhagen