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Scandavia trip itinerary planning for May 2024

Hello and thank you in advance for your help.
I am taking my first 3 week family trip with my husband and two boys (21 & 19) in May to Scandinavia after a quick 3 day stop in Iceland. We are all healthy and enjoy a mix of activities. On previous trips we have found we don't allow for much down time. I am hoping with the sauna culture we will find some unique opportunities along the way that will help insert some relaxation to our trip. I am wondering if I am trying to cram too much in. I would like to nail down our itinerary so I can book our stays and then will go back work on what we are actually doing?
We really enjoy good food (not Michelin, just authentic and fresh) and will walk the extra mile to find a good place. Therefore we would like to stay near where we can access good food. We don't mind big cities, knowing is easier to navigate to the sights. However, we also enjoy getting away from all the tourist and experiencing culture in a smaller town with some fun activities. We like to walk, bike or take public transportation. We are also open to renting a car for parts.

Questions: (Starter itinerary below)
• How would you get from Copenhagen to Stockholm? Would you take your time and stay along the way? if so where? Would you drive or take a train?
• For our time in Stockholm would you recommend a ferry to Helsinki or Visby? If you do Visby do you stay the night there?
• If you were to drive from Oslo to Bergen what route would you take? Where would you stay along the way that would offer some off the beaten path experiences?
• Obviously it is never enough time, but would you recommend more or less in any city, other cities, or leaving something off?
• Am I crazy to try to plan this much in this amount of time? My hope is to get a good taste and come back for deeper exploration some day.

You can see my itinerary is very much still in the planning phase. I am reading a lot of forums and excited to move to the next phase of what we are doing.

Day 4: 5/16 Arrive in Copenhagen (sleep in Copenhagen)
Day 5: 5/17 Copenhagen (sleep in Copenhagen)
Day 6: 5/18 Copenhagen (sleep in Copenhagen)
Day 7: 5/19 Flexible for more time in Copenhagen or take our time and drive to Stockholm staying somewhere along the way
Day 8: 5/20
Day 9: 5/21 Arrive in Stockholm (sleep in Stockholm)
Day 10: 5/22 Stockholm (sleep in Stockholm)
Day 11: 5/23 Stockholm, night boat to Helsinki (sleep on boat) or Visby?
Day 12: 5/24 Helsinki, night boat back to Stockholm (sleep on boat) Visby?
Day 13: 5/25 Train to Oslo (sleep in Oslo)
Day 14: 5/26 Oslo (sleep in Oslo)
Day 15: 5/27 Oslo (sleep in Oslo)
Day 16: 5/28 Rent a car and head towards Bergen. Would like to stay somewhere and do hiking, trams....
Day 17: 5/29
Day 18: 5/30 Arrive in Bergen
Day 19: 5/31 Sognejord, Norway in a Nutshell back to Oslo?
Day 20: 6/1 Depart from Copenhagen 2pm, need quick flight from Oslo or Bergen
Thank you!

Posted by
27419 posts

I have some scattered comments.

I'd want to be in Copenhagen on the night of 5/31. It's too risky to count on flying in from Oslo or Bergen before what I assume is a transatlantic flight.

Visby's a 3-1/4 ferry ride from Nynashamn, which is not particularly close to central Stockholm. I haven't been to that port and am not up on how much extra time you'd need to get there from the city. Others here will know.

I went to Visby last year and managed to walk every street of the charming medieval area with just one night on the island, but I had no time to leave that town and see the rest of Gotland (nor did I have a car). I was traveling from and back to a different port, Oskarshamn, and was able to take an early ferry to Visby one day and a fairly late-afternoon ferry back the next day. The Destination Gotland website doesn't show ferry schedules past mid-April, so I'm not sure how many options you'll have in mid-May, but it's clear the round-trip ferry will chew up quite a lot of daylight hours.

As you know, there are overnight ferries to Helsinki, which would mean more actual sightseeing hours at the destination. In addition, that ferry route takes you through the Stockholm Archipelago, which is beautiful.

Visby and Helsinki don't have a lot in common, but they are both attractive destinations. I wouldn't argue for one or the other, because it's a matter of personal preference--museum-rich capital city vs. medieval town. You may not want to have a third option, but there is one: Tallinn, Estonia. It takes longer to get there than to Helsinki, but Tallinn is stunning. It has an atmospheric medieval center (which Helsinki lacks) and, being the capital, a lot of good museums, especially interesting for folks interested in Cold War history. Unless there's a big event going on, Tallinn would be a lot cheaper than Helsinki. (I'm not sure about May in Visby, but the town is extremely expensive later in the summer.)

I don't mean to discourage going to Visby or Helsinki. I liked them both a lot; I've been to Helsinki twice in in the last two years, for a total of 12 days, but I was there in the summer and can't comment on the weather in May. Also, I'm nuts for Art Nouveau architecture, which Helsinki is full of. I think for a more typical visitor, Tallinn has more zing than Helsinki.

Either Visby or Helsinki (or Tallinn) is worth more than one day.

The Norway in a Nutshell route gets you right into some of Norway's very best scenery, which you experience while traveling on a regular train, a narrow-gauge train, a fjord ferry and a bus. It's hard to beat that experience in a 24-hour period, but you'd need to spend at least one night in the area to have any time at all for hiking or other outdoor activities.

I don't recall any earlier posts from people who combined NiN in one direction with driving the other way. I'd suggest doing some checking on car-rental rates if budget is any concern whatsoever. I imagine there could be a significant drop charge on top of what I understand are high Norwegian rental rates. AutoEurope, Kemwel and Gemut can provide rental-cost estimates, I assume.

Another potential complication is that the NiN transportation links are on the south side of the Sognefjord, whereas it seems (I haven't been there) the loveliest driving routes are on the north side. I know folks have rented cars in one or more small towns north of the Sognefjord (maybe in Balestrand). Normally I'd suggest just breaking the NiN itinerary somewhere along the way and doing a loop drive before continuing with NiN. However, I believe ferries across the Sognefjord are fairly infrequent, and I don't know how much time (if any) you'd actually save by not driving all the way from Oslo to Bergen (with deviations for activities) and then taking the NiN route back to Oslo.

Posted by
6664 posts

Sounds like a nice trip, May is very much low season still but will probably have good weather for most of your trip. But it is very rushed and in my opinion you are trying to cram too much into this trip. But that is a matter of personal preference so if you're fine with that it's certainly doable.

• How would you get from Copenhagen to Stockholm? Would you take your
time and stay along the way? if so where?

By train. You can either take the train direct, or you can make a stop along the way. There are a couple of options. For a smaller charming town, consider Eksjö, an easy stop along the way. But you can also make Visby a stop along the way, especially if you combine it with a night in Kalmar.

• For our time in Stockholm would you recommend a ferry to Helsinki or
Visby? If you do Visby do you stay the night there?

Visby is not really what I would call day trip distance from Stockholm, you should spend at least one night on the island. But it can as mentioned also be done as a stop on the way to Stockholm. If you want to make a trip across the Baltic sea, I'd say that Tallinn is a better choice than Helsinki. And it doesn't take longer to go to Tallinn, the travel time is more or less the same. For a quick visit, Tallinn is the more attractive option in my opinion, it's an older city with a much longer history.

• If you were to drive from Oslo to Bergen what route would you take?

I would go north of Sognefjorden since the NiN takes you back on the southern side.

• Am I crazy to try to plan this much in this amount of time?

In my opinion, yes. But that is just an opinion and this pace might be great for you.

The Norway in a Nutshell route gets you right into some of Norway's
very best scenery, which you experience while traveling on a regular
train, a narrow-gauge train, a fjord ferry and a bus.

No narrow gauge trains on the NiN route if that matters, only standard gauge ones.

Day 16: 5/28 Rent a car and head towards Bergen. Would like to stay
somewhere and do hiking, trams....

Trams?

Day 20: 6/1 Depart from Copenhagen 2pm, need quick flight from Oslo or
Bergen

You can take the overnight ferry back to Copenhagen from Oslo. But since you mentioned a stop in Iceland I assume you're flying Icelandair, in which case you can book an open jaw ticket and fly back from Bergen.

Posted by
4007 posts

• How would you get from Copenhagen to Stockholm? Would you take your time and stay along the way? if so where? Would you drive or take a train?

I'm not sure about rail connections, but I used a car to get around Sweden no problem, the roads are excellent and driving is a fun experience, it also allows you to stop along the way to see things maybe not on your original itinerary.

However, we also enjoy getting away from all the tourist and experiencing culture in a smaller town with some fun activities.

If you are looking for an interesting place to stop for a few days in between Copenhagen and Stockholm I can recommend the little known region of Skaraborg, about halfway between the two capitals. Skaraborg is located in between Europe's two largest lakes the Vanern and Vattern. It is a very historic region with many things to do and see and the best part it is totally undiscovered by foreign tourists, so it is a great way to experience the authentic rural Swedish culture! It's also a haven for nature lovers in the centre of the region you will actually find a limestone mountain range (Billingen) which is densely forested with many hiking trails. I'd suggest baseing yourselves in Skovde, Skara, or Lidkoping.

Here is my trip report of my travels in the region:

Skaraborg daytrip: Sweden's Historic Lake District
This past Sunday was actually sunny weather (although quite windy) here in central Sweden, so I decided to take advantage and make a daytrip with my car to take in the charms of rural Sweden.

Skaraborg is an isthmus located between Sweden's two largest lakes Vättern and Vänern. The landscape of Skaraborg is diverse, featuring a mixture of towering pine forests, deep lakes, limestone mesas, vast moorlands and dotted with picturesque colorful farmsteads painted red/yellow/and white. It's also quite historic because of its strategically important location and has many important castles, churches, and ancient ruins.

Part 1 - Varnhem Abbey
My first stop was only 15 min from Skovde. Founded around 1040 AD by Cistercian monks, Varnhem abbey is one of the oldest churches in Sweden and was a center for the Christianization of Sweden. The christian cemetery is much older, having been used as early as the late 800s AD, including the first Viking Christian burials. Additionally, Varnhem Abbey is the final resting place of several medieval Swedish Kings and a very important fellow called Birger Jarl, the statesman responsible for the founding of Stockholm and the Swedish conquest of Finland.

When I arrived there was maybe 30 tourists in the entire complex all Swedish except for me. The information plaques were only in Swedish too so google translate was a lifesaver! The abbey is surrounded by many picturesque 19th cent farms. When I arrived they were having holy communion and singing very nicely a group of maybe 15 local residents. Outside you can wander the ruins of the old Cistercian abbey and the graveyard which was still in use, several tombstones were from the 1600s. There was also a plaque commemorating the past pastors all the way back to 1352 until the present.

Part 2 - Skara Cathedral
Skara is a small town with a mighty cathedral! Originally in the Romanesque style built in the 10th century, it is the oldest cathedral in the country. Its current appearance in the Gothic style originated in the 13th century. One can enter the medieval crypt and see the Cathedral's original Romanesque foundations. The interior is quite simple and took me maybe 30 minutes to see it all. If I had to pick between the two I choose to see Varnhem Abbey. Though the town is very picturesque with these typical 19th cent wooden villas in pastel colors.

Counited below

Posted by
4007 posts

Part 3 - Spiken and Lunch
Next stop was 1 hr away at the small fishing village of Spiken located on the eastern shore of Lake Vänern, the largest lake in Sweden and the third-largest lake in Europe! It really felt like I was at the seaside more than a lake. Spiken has been an important freshwater fishing town for 400 years, and now is one of the largest freshwater commercial fishing ports in Europe. I had lunch at Restaurang Sjöboden (http://www.sjoboden.se/) a elegant seafood restaurant serving the local catch of the day, I had a creamy seafood chowder with local shrimp, pike, and perch.

Part 4 - Läckö Castle and Dinner
My last stop was Läckö Castle 15 min away from Spiken on the shores of Lake Vänern. Originally built as a fortified bishop's residence in the late 13th century, the castle underwent various transformations and expansions over the years, most notably in the 17th century when it was given its baroque makeover. Count Magnus Gabriel De la Gardie, a prominent Swedish statesman, was responsible for much of the castle's baroque architecture and interior decorations, turning it into a lavish residence filled with intricate carvings, ornate frescoes, and opulent furnishings, all of which survive to this day in a remarkable state of preservation!

My favorite room is the Kings Hall, which is a giant ballroom with frescos of all the major Swedish victories of the 30 Years War, the centerpiece is a painting of the death of Gustavus Adolphus. I had most of the castle to myself except for a group of German pensioners who were on a bus tour. I will admit hearing a deep German voice occasionally echo throughout the vast castle gave me the creeps haha, but I was mostly by myself.

I ate dinner at a next door restaurant called Naturum, serving New Nordic cuisine, the view from the restaurant of the lake was incredible! For starters I had cured herring with micro vegetables grown in the castle garden, and the main course was Zander fish caught that day in the lake with local foraged mushrooms in a delicate blue cheese sauce, very tasty.

Overall an excellent time sightseeing in a totally undiscovered part of Sweden that rivals what you can do in Italy, France, or Spain with hardly any foreign tourists, even in the height of the summer season.

Posted by
6664 posts

I'm not sure about rail connections, but I used a car to get around
Sweden no problem, the roads are excellent and driving is a fun
experience, it also allows you to stop along the way to see things
maybe not on your original itinerary.

But didn't you also mention that you found it partly a bit boring with nothing but forest and more forest to look at for hours? 😀 A car the advantage that you can stop along the way, but for a trip this rushed I'm not sure there is much time for that.

However I agree that Skaraborg is underrated and well worth a visit. But there are many other underrated parts of Sweden that are more or less unknown by Americans.

Posted by
4007 posts

But didn't you also mention that you found it partly a bit boring with nothing but forest and more forest to look at for hours?

Yes it was mainly the Smaland region that was quite boring to drive through. I think someone mentioned that it had been heavily depopulated in the 19th century.

Skaraborg on the other hand was actually pretty fun to drive around, that was at a later date. I think it was mainly the diversity in landscape and as well all the historic landmarks that dot landscape as well.

Posted by
155 posts

If you haven't booked your flights yet, book an open-jaw/multi city ticket instead. Arrive in Copenhagen and depart from Bergen.

Posted by
21 posts

Thank you all for your insight. I am going to work on the plan for a bit and circle back.