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Denmark-Sweden-Helsinki-Norway doable in 14 days?

I'm planning a 14-day trip (exclude 2-day travel) to Scandinavia with hubby and our 7 years old son next summer. This will be our inaugural trip to this region. I've traveled to other parts of Europe numerous times, but am completely unfamiliar with Scandinavia (language, culture, food, etc), except that these countries have high standards of living and are more expensive than other European countries. I am excited about the trip and I have lots of questions. Seeking advice on all or any of the following -

First, a bit about us - prefer a mixture of cultural and natural sightseeings. Love the outdoors, but not hardcore.

1) Tentative schedule - is this doable? did I allocate reasonable amount of time to cover these cities? do I need to cut or add or change cities?
Copenhagen 4 nights/4 days (including one day to Odense and Aero).
Stockholm 3 nights/3.5 days, night ferry to Helsinki.
Helsinki 1 day with same evening flight into Oslo.
Oslo 3 nights/2 days.
Norway in a Nutshell 2 days.
Bergen 2 nights/ 1 day.

2) Do I need to book all major transportation (e.g. train/ferry rides) in advance? if so, how early for summer travels?

3) I put down flying from Helsinki to Oslo to save time, but can change this to train. If flying, which regional airlines to look?

4) Is it still easy to take direct train from one country to another with the current border controls? Or is it better to fly instead?

5) How early do I need to book Norway in a Nutshell? And how does it work exactly? From what I've read it sounds like a series of transportation that will get you from Oslo to Bergen (or vice versa) and along the way there are amazing views. I'd like to stay overnight in Flam, I've read about two-day NiN, but not sure how it works.

6) What is the best way to handle currencies between these countries? I think only Finland uses Euro. Do I just do ATM cash and then convert the leftover in next country?

7) Does anyone know if Uber made its way to Scandinavia yet?

Thank you for your time and advice.

Lily

Posted by
2729 posts

I've only been to Sweden so I'll only address Stockholm.
Krona: Sweden is very much a cashless society. Don't go to the ATM, just use a chip CC all the time...for even the smallest purchases.
Stockholm: I would think Stockholm would be a 7 year old's heaven...Gröna Lund, Skansen, bikes on Djurgården, ferries on the harbor, Vikings, Gamla Stan... You have less than 3 days...3 nights is just two full days and then the partial day before the ferry.

Personally, I'd drop Helsinki and save it for another trip. Instead, I'd stay another night in Stockholm OR with your 7 year old, I'd look into going to Vimmerby for Pippi Longstocking fun (haven't been there so research, but if I had a 7-9 yearly, that's likely what I'd do. They're really into Pippi.) And your son gets some fun books to read this winter.

I make long distance or unusual transport ahead of time vs on the spot; i.e., train from Copenhagen, ferry to Helsinki, and any flight. However, that's just how I do it. I did not find Sweden expensive so don't believe the hype until you look into the figures as Stockholm is much less expensive than London, Paris, etc., IMO.

Sounds like a great trip! Wray

Posted by
11263 posts

Do you have Rick Steves Scandinavia? If not, get it. It will not only have answers to many of your questions, but also all kinds of money-saving tips. Using his tips, the only place I found real sticker shock was Norway, and even then he has good ways to reduce costs there (to a point).

The one part of your itinerary I question is going all the way to Helsinki for less than a day. I wasn't that impressed with Helsinki, and a single day is enough to see the highlights. But travel is tiring, and getting into a city and running around, only to have to head out to the airport 12 hours or so later, is even more tiring.

You will want to book transit ahead. Summer is high season in Scandinavia and things can sell out. You will also want to take advantage of the advance-purchase discounts.

Rick's book has all the details about Norway in a Nutshell (far more than can be put in a post here). He has one chapter on how to do it in a day, and a second chapter on overnights to extend it. If you take away your Helsinki detour, that's where I'd put that extra time.

For flight options, look at Skyscanner: http://www.skyscanner.com/ Just remember to do a dummy booking (up to the point where you put in your credit card) to see all the fees and rules. On these routes, Norwegian Air is a major carrier, and they are a budget airline, meaning they charge extra for all kinds of things, and have strict rules.

On that note, when I flew SAS from the US to Scandinavia, they had a program where you could add flights within Scandinavia for not much per segment. If using SAS could work for you, see if they still offer this.

As for money, by all reports here places in Sweden and Denmark will take credit cards for almost all purchases (even very small ones). So, you may not need much cash, particularly if you're using a Stockholm Card or Copenhagen Card and your local transit is covered. Yes, if you do need cash, you will get it out of ATM's, then convert upon leaving. Take out small amounts, and try to put any leftover cash on your hotel bill, to avoid having to convert too much.

I don't know about Uber, but regular taxis in these countries are very reliable, and very expensive. You would only take them in special situations (unless you're loaded), as mass transit in these places is excellent, and much of what you want to see is walkable. For Oslo, Stockholm, and Copenhagen, look at the respective Cards, which are great deals, and cover city transit. I spent about $50 for a 3 day Oslo Card, but got about $75 worth of use from it. The Copenhagen Card doesn't just cover the city, but also areas as far away as Roskilde and Helsingor (as well as transit to them). And I was struck by how many of the Stockholm Card users were Swedes - I assume, visitors to the capital from other parts of the country - who knew what a good deal it was.

For Stockholm I actually didn't use the Stockholm Card, but an alternate promotion which was then called Stockholm a la Carte. You get a hotel and card (which was only missing a few items covered by the Stockholm Card) for a great price. It's good weekends year round, and every day in summer. The current name is Destination Stockholm. Again, details are in Rick's book, and here's the website: http://www.destination-stockholm.com/

Posted by
5654 posts

I've traveled in Copenhagen, Norway and Finland but not Sweden. Spoken language is not a problem as most Scandinavians can speak English. Knowing written phrases is helpful with respect to signs etc.

I would book transportation ahead for two reasons. Scandinavians are affluent and travel during peak periods (eg. Easter, Norway's Fellesferie July holiday period etc). Advance bookings on trains offer discounts. The NSB minipris fares are capacity driven so earlier advanced bookings a cheaper that later.

Credit cards, even signature chip cards are not a problem (at staffed locations) but cash may be needed for local transit and public toilets. Airport and intercity coaches accept credit cards. By the way, four countries = four currencies with only Finland being a Euro country, the others having their own but not interchangeable Kroner.

Multi-day NIN just means that you break the journey into several days with overnight stops. The early NIN concept was doing the journey out and back in 24 hours taking the train boat bus train journey from Oslo to Bergen during the daylight hours and returning to Oslo via the overnight train.

Four countries in 14 days is a Scandinavia in a nutshell kind of trip, sampling not immersing.

Posted by
308 posts

You don't have time for Helsinki with just two weeks. I did this trip earlier this year and had a very busy three weeks. I flew into Helsinki, spent three nights there, then two nights in Tallinn, Estonia before taking the overnight ferry to Stockholm to spend two weeks in Sweden, Denmark, and Norway before flying out of Bergen.

I loved Helsinki and highly recommend going there, but you should save it for another time.

Posted by
12 posts

Wow, awesome tips, thank you all! Based on what everyone is saying, I'll drop Helsinki and either add a day to Stockholm (I didn't realize there are so much great stuff for young kids - thanks Wray! One challenge about our travels has been balancing activities for us and our son so everyone has fun and we enjoy it as a family), or do more time for NiN. I just purchased Rick Steves 2015 edition (I don't think he has a 2016 version), and it sounds amazing and deserves more time.

Thanks again.

Lily

Posted by
12 posts

Oh, if anyone has recent experience with the border control situation I'd like to know the details. I've heard that traveling between these countries is not as smooth as it used to be due to extra border checks, so I just want to know what to expect in terms of process and time. Thanks!

Posted by
11263 posts

Remember that you are traveling 8 months or so from now, so even if you know the border situation now, it is very likely to change by then.

Posted by
5654 posts

RE Scandinavian border crossings.

No fences or gates separated Finland and Norway. We skied across the frozen Tana River near Nuorgam that forms the boarder between Finland and Norway without sign of any boarder guards. On our return from Kirkenes into Finish Lapland the highway border crossing was not guarded.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Finland%E2%80%93Norway_border

The Finland–Norway border is open as both countries are part of the
Schengen Area. It is legal to cross the border anywhere if no customs
declaration or passport check is needed. There is an 8-meter (26 ft)
wide clear-cut zone along the land border. Almost half of the border
follows the rivers Anarjohka and Tana.

http://www.raja.fi/guidelines/border_crossing

The internal borders of Schengen countries can be crossed anywhere,
provided that you are not carrying goods that must be declared.
Therefore you can cross the border from Finland to Sweden or Norway
anywhere you wish.

On the other hand, our Lonely Planet guidebook had strict warnings about crossing over from Finland into Russia.

Posted by
971 posts

Are you thinking of doing Odense and Ærø as a day trip from Copenhagen?

Ærø is almost 4 hours of travel time, by public transport or car, from Copenhagen, so not really suited as a day trip.
Odense has direct intercity train connections from Copenhagen, but it is still a bit of a stretch for a day trip, especially considering that the usual day trips from Copenhagen (Roskilde with its viking ships and cathedral, Hillerød for Frederiksborg Castle and Helsingør for Kronborg Castle, the maritime museum and the old town) are nicer, closer and the public transport and most museum entrances are covered by the Copenhagen Card.
Use www.rejseplanen.dk as a trip planner for all public transport in Denmark.

Regarding border controls it is really only an issue when entering Sweden, since they have put up 'temporary' border checks after the refugee crisis. At the moment the direct trains from Copenhagen to Stockholm are not running, since you have top go trough border control before entering Sweden. So you have to take a train to Copenhagen Airport (the last stop before Sweden) and exit for passport control. Then you board a new train to Malmø Central from where you can change to the high speed train for Stockholm.
At 5 hours the direct train used to be competitive with flights (flying will take about 4-4,5 hours including getting to and from the airports, security, baggage reclaim etc.), since it's city centre to city centre hassle free. With the border control, the flight seems more like the best option.
Still the border control is a bit of a non issue, since it's pretty fast and effective. It has only been made an issue, since it's a step down from the usual situation, where there are no passport controls at all within the Nordic Passport Union. Also since it's a temporary control it might not be in place next summer, though no one really knows.

Regarding Uber, they are still in a legal grey area that has yet to be resolved. And as stated, you can go just about anywhere with public transport.

Posted by
12 posts

Hi Morten, Thanks for the detailed reply. I find the train vs. flight analysis super helpful. WRT Odense/Aero... so I got the Rick Steves book, and as I read thru this chapter I'm thinking doing a 2day trip from Copenhagen to Roskilde to Odense to Aero with an overnight stay in Aero. Is that doable? or should I add another overnight in Odense?

Posing a new question to the masses on Norway in a Nutshell - I plan to do 2day with an overnight in Balestrand. The two activities I really want to squeeze in are Hopperstad and Glacier excursion. The Hopperstad trip is from 7:50 - 11:50, and Glacier is 11:55-16:50, then I need to make it to Flam to take the 18:00 train to continue the rest of NiN to Bergen. Are these activities connected so I can actually make both and get to Flam on time? Since I'm heading to Bergen that same evening, I need to take my luggages with me, is there storage at the train station?

Posted by
971 posts

You're welcome.
WRT Odense, Ærø and Roskilde I would do Roskilde as a day trip from Copenhagen, even though it is on the route to Odense and Ærø. All 3 would be a very long day and Roskilde i's only 20 min from Copenhagen by train and the trains run all the time.
I would not bother with a night in Odense, but you can see it on your way to Ærø.
Personally I think Odense is overrated. It's the birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen and the city have been milking that fact dry. The museum in his birthplace is quite nice, but apart from that I find little of interest there. If I had to choose I would pick Roskilde, Helsingør and Frederiksborg Castle over Odense any day (others may disagree).

Posted by
353 posts

Hi cchocolately,

To add to the already good information you've received from the others I'll add a few suggestions. If you only plan on spending 1 night in the fjord, I suggest either Aurland or Flåm. I wouldn't stay in Balestrand for just one night. It's too far out of the way and I don't think there's time to see both the Stave church and the glacier. If these are things you really want to see, I'd add a night or even better, two nights to Balestrand.

If you can, add a night to Ærø. It's one of my favorite places in Scandinavia and well worth a day and a half. The train from Copenhagen to Svendborg stops in Odense, so you can always spend a few hours walking around, but I agree with Morten and think it's a bit overrated.

If you haven't already purchased your international flight, here's my suggested itinerary:
Fly into Copenhagen, spend 3 nights with a possible day trip to Roskilde
Train to Svendborg, ferry to Ærø, spend 2 nights
ferry/train back to Copenhagen, afternoon flight to Bergen, spend 2 nights
Norway-in-a-Nutshell from Bergen to Aurland, spend 1 night
2nd half of the Nutshell from Aurland to Oslo, spend 3 nights
train or flight to Stockholm, spend 3 nights
Fly home from Stockholm
If you can stay longer than 14 days, then adding more days to Copenhagen, Balestrand (if you want to see both the Stave Church and Glacier) and Stockholm would be ideal.

I suggest booking the flights, trains and the Nutshell trip ahead to get the best price.
Flights - www.skyscanner.com
Norway-in-a-Nutshell - www.fjordtours.no
Oslo-Stockholm train - www.sj.se
Danish trains and the ferry to Ærø can be purchased locally.

hope that helps!

Posted by
1 posts

Lots of good input already provided but here are few more thoughts on the matter.
- If you really want to include Helsinki, start your trip there, spend one night in a hotel and take the overnight ferry to Stockholm the next night. This gives you your arrival day and most of the next day to tour Helsinki, one less night in a hotel, and eliminates a flight. After Sweden, tour Denmark and take the Copenhagen to Oslo overnight ferry.
- Ærø Island is truly lovely but there's not much there for your son. It's a quiet and quaint place and a nice break in the middle of a busy trip -- if you stay overnight.
- The Viking Museum in Roskilde is superb with some kid-oriented displays and activities.
- Book overnight ferries well in advance. The dinner buffets are huge and good but not inexpensive.
- Two full days (i.e., not travel days) should be sufficient to cover Stockholm, Copenhagen, and Oslo.
- Check out the itinerary for the Rick Steves Scandinavia tour (which I took) at https://www.ricksteves.com/tours/scandinavia-russia-baltics/scandinavia and modify it to suit your desires. For example, if you skip Kalmar and Ærø Island, add a night in Copenhagen to take a day trip to Roskilde, and modify the Norway portion, you might have time to include Helsinki.

Posted by
12 posts

Thank you, thank you all for your wonderful advice and insights. Roskilde is definitely in as my Lego-loving son builds "ships" from bricks all the times and my engineering-minded husband adores all things of technological marvel. Odense - now that's me time :) I grew up reading Hans Christian Andersen, this cannot be missed!

I need to rethink the NiN schedule as one-night Balestrand with multiple activities now seems too ambitious. I thought about Flam, but reading Rick Steves, Flam sounds like a tourists layover town and still need to travel some distance to see the sights vs. Balestrand is the sight. Did I have the wrong takeaway? Also, how easy is it to get around Balestrand from the ferry station? That might be a deciding factor too.

Posted by
353 posts

Balestrand is small, so everything in town is walking distance from the ferry dock. With one night, you won't have time to see much. One day day trip to either the Stave church or glacier, but not enough time for both. It's a nice little town, but the main site in the area is the Sognefjord itself, especially the 2 southern arms, the Aurlandsfjord and Nærøyfjord, between Flåm and Gudvangen. If you only have 1 night and are doing the official Nutshell route, Aurland or Flåm is a much easier overnight. Of the two, I prefer Aurland.

Posted by
971 posts

If you husband is into engineering and your son is into ships, you might want to check out the new Maritime Museum in Helsingør: http://mfs.dk/en/ It's housed in an old dry dock in a architectural showpiece of a building. Also it's right next to the impressive Kronborg Castle, which also served as Elsinore castle in Shakespeare's Hamlet.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kronborg

Posted by
12 posts

Hi Rich, If I read the information in RS correctly, there's an express boat between Flam and Balestrand, about 15min? if we arrive in Flam (from Oslo) around 1:30PM, we could probably do some local sightseeing (or even take the Sognefjord Tour of FjordSafari-Naerofjord, 3hrs) before hoping on the express to Balestrand to spend the night. Next day to Hopperstad Stave Church (7:50-11:30), and then express boat back to Flam to continue the rest of NiN at 15:30'ish. Destination Bergen, no return. We'll travel in early June and NiN will probably be crowded with tourists, so I thought maybe doing the Flam-Gudvangen lag twice is worthwhile? I've looked at some of the NiN booking sites, they all want me to book a hotel w/ the train/bus/boat rides. I prefer to get hotel somewhere else. Is it possible to book NiN as independent rides vs. the entire series? The dates are set, but can the time of the train/bus/boat ride be flexible?

Posted by
11263 posts

"Is it possible to book NiN as independent rides vs. the entire series?"

Yes - for the parts that need booking. Rick's book has the details. Remember that if you are doing it as sections rather than one marathon, many of the sections will be at times other than the ones required for doing it in a day, and so will be less crowded.

Posted by
353 posts

The express boat between Flåm and Balestrand takes 1.5 hours, not 15 min. It only runs once daily, each direction - departing Flåm for Balestrand at 15:30 and departing Balestrand for Flåm at 11:50. There might be other boats, but I don't know of any. You might contact the Norwegian tourist office and ask if there are other options - www.visitnorway.com.

You can book this journey through Fjord tours as "Sognefjord in a Nutshell". When you leave Balestrand, you have the option of taking an express boat from Balestrand to Bergen (4 hours) or going back to Flåm and continuing with the Nutshell Route to Bergen (most scenic option). You don't have to book hotels as part of the trip, just book the transportation instead and make the hotel reservations on your own. You can call Fjord tours and reserve it over the phone if that's easier for you. I wouldn't do the Flåm-Gudvangen leg twice (you won't have time for this).

While it's easier to book the Sognefjord in-a-Nutshell trip in one place through Fjord Tours, it's cheaper to book the individual legs separately. You can book the trains through the Norwegian Rail website. Many travelers have reported issues buying online with an American credit card, but you can book over the phone at 011-81-50-0888 (press 9 for English). You can book the Flåm-Gudvangen ferry and the Flåm-Balestrand ferry through the Flåm Tourism website. You can't buy the Gudvangen-Voss tickets ahead, just buy it from the driver. I've never heard of anyone not able to get one on the spot.

Posted by
31 posts

Balestrand is beautiful, but I don't think it's worth the time it takes to get to and from there for just one night. I recommend staying 2 nights or with just 1 night, staying in Aurland.

Posted by
1 posts

I was planning a similar trip and wanted to know if going in the first two weeks of May would allow us to see the places noted above.

Or would it be still the slow season and sites would be closed?

Thanks

Posted by
3138 posts

As someone else has said, language is no problem. We were in Scandinavia in 2005 for 4 weeks and never met a person who wasn't fluent in English.

Denmark is very child-friendly. There are lots of open-air museums, where kids can participate in historic activities. This is also true of Sweden. I can't remember specifically which places offered which activities; but we saw children chopping wood for fires, propelling dugout boats, helping with food preparation over open fires, and playing old-time amusements like hoop-rolling and stilt-walking. I think it was the Roskilde Viking Ship Museum that had costumes kids could put on. It was also there that we were able to take a short ride around the harbor in a replica of a Viking ship.
I agree with those who say to cut out Helsinki. Plenty to do in the other countries.
As far as money is concerned, we did as other posters have advised. We used plastic whenever possible. If you have bills of one country, many stores will accept them in another (at an exchange rate they set). They won't accept coins. When you get close to the time for changing countries, just try to spend down as much of your cash as you can.

Posted by
12 posts

Thank you, Rosalyn. Great tips for kids activities. And everyone else that pitched in on advice. It's good to know that we can use credit card even for small transactions. Our trip will start around late May (before Memorial weekend) and end in early June. I'm looking at some of the train sites to get a sense of advanced booking, 90-day prior is when bookings will open but some bloggers noted that booking same week or 30-day in advance may get good deals. Is this the case? In addition to some of the sites noted above, I also found - http://www.snalltaget.se/en/our-tickets-and-our-prices
I'm looking for train rides from Copenhagen to Stockholm. Also looking for DIY Norway in a Nutshell since we'll do 2-day trip. I read that DIY is cheaper than booking thru the tours. Do I just book the segments of the transportation directly from Rail and Cruise websites and piece them together?