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Anyone done Best of Scandinavia?

Hi, we're thinking about the Best of Scandinavia in 14 days for 2017 and would appreciate feedback from those who have taken the tour. We've done several Rick Steves tours so we're on board with the concepts of "back door" traveling. We've also read the tour evaluations and plan to get a RS guidebook for the area.

  • How does this tour rate in relation to other RS tours you have taken?
  • This tour is a bit more expensive than some of the other tours. Did you find that spending on your own time was also more expensive, i.e. food, transportation, admission fees?
  • Weather-wise, what is the best time of year to take this tour?
  • What type of accommodations did you have on the overnight ferry to Oslo?

Any other info would be appreciated. Thank you!

Posted by
3469 posts

I took this tour in 2011 as my 6th RS tour. It was great, almost the best RS tour I ever took. The guide was very good, the tour members skewed younger than a lot of the other RS tours I have been on, group meals were some of the most generous and tastiest, hotels tended to be higher rated than those I had experienced on other RS tours up to then.

Yes, it is more expensive than some of the other tours. But Scandinavia is just more expensive. Like $20 for a McDonalds happy meal! Alcohol is way off the charts expensive, but that is due to government taxes (same with tobacco products). I was able to find more reasonably priced dining opportunities especially in Norway by going way off the beaten track and eating at very locals only places. Enjoyed them all. I can't say about admission fees because I did not pay for any that were not already included in the tour price. Taxi to and from the airport was the only other transportation I paid for and the price was reasonable for the length of the drive and comparable to most other large cities I have been to.

I took the tour in mid July. Temperatures were nice and comfortable even when we drove over the mountains in Norway where it got chilly but not so much I needed a coat. It rained on us only one day during the entire tour. That was in Copenhagen and wow did it ever rain! The rain came down so hard it went through my gore tex jacket. Even the local guide was asking if we could postpone the tour until later in the day. We didn't.

The overnight ferry is like a cruise ship where you can take your car with you. We all had similar accommodations -- inside cabins (no windows). Meals were included but we were on our own as to when we wanted to eat. Dinner was at the buffet (I think there were other options, but at an additional cost) as was breakfast (no other options). WiFi was free and worked fine.

Posted by
11270 posts

I haven't done this tour, but I have been to Scandinavia, so I can answer some of the questions.

"This tour is a bit more expensive than some of the other tours. Did you find that spending on your own time was also more expensive, i.e. food, transportation, admission fees?"

Yes! Scandinavia is expensive, and that why this tour costs more than some others; you will also see this as soon as you try to buy a newspaper, coffee, sandwich, etc. Rick's Scandinavia book has great money-saving tips. The one I remember is that many Stockholm restaurants have lunch specials; the meal is on the small side, but for about USD 10 you can't beat the value (for a place that might cost USD 40-50 at dinner).

You'll see that Sweden is more expensive than Denmark, and Norway is more expensive than Sweden. Norway is definitely the only country where some of my dinners were hot dogs from the local equivalent of 7-11 - for no other reason than to try to save some money! I didn't get to supermarkets in these places, so I don't know how those prices are. Supermarkets were a real budget-saver in Switzerland, another pricey country, and someone else posted that supermarkets in Scandinavia are not much pricier than in other parts of Europe.

Admission fees and transportation need not be expensive. I see your tour includes an Oslo Card, so those items are covered there. If you want or need taxis, those are very expensive, but the public transportation is excellent and not expensive at all. And any admissions you do have to pay are not high. Food and sundries are where the real sticker shock comes in (for instance, I'd hate to see what a tube of toothpaste or can of shaving cream costs in Oslo).

"Weather-wise, what is the best time of year to take this tour?"

Summer - long days and it never really gets hot, but is nicely warm and dry(er). But be aware that in this part of the world, that means June, July, and early August. By mid- or late-August, they're already transitioning to autumn (still nice, of course, but not really summer any more). And May is still spring - can be nice, can be rainy.

You'll see that this tour is offered only from mid-May through mid-September - that's not an accident. Any of these times can be fine, and of course there are no guarantees, but going in the middle of these dates (in other words, the tours leaving early June thorugh mid-July) would be my choice - particularly, as you said, at Scandinavian prices.

Posted by
1173 posts

Hi, from another person that has been on several Rick Steve tours, 14 to be exact. And no I have not been on this tour, but would love to go on this tour. I have been to Norway for two weeks and stayed with a childhood friend at her father's house. They were Norwegian and he had a house in the USA and Norway. We went the last two weeks in July. My friend said ( she had been going to Norway for years to visit relatives) that this was the best time to go and it could still be chilly and rainy. Any later than the beginning of August it gets colder. Layer and bring a rain jacket is what is needed. Norway is an expensive country but one that is surely beautiful. She said Norwegians do not eat out often as it is expensive and so is liquor. They tend to drink at home than in bars.

I went on the Ireland tour and a couple who had been on the RS Scandinavia tour, when I asked how was this tour, their first response was it was expensive! But later the wife said to me, it really was a wonderful tour. She said they went mainly to grocery stores for food and not to restaurants on their own as it was so expensive. I would think that your free time, food and transportation will be expensive but that is because all three countries are expensive. However, if you have the funds, know it will be expensive, prepared to eat out or prepared to picnic more than usual, as all three countries are worthwhile seeing. I hope to do this tour in the future myself.

Posted by
6570 posts

We are especially budget minded, and we found Scandinavia to be deathly expensive.
We found a Baltic Cruise from Copenhagen to Warnemunde, Germany, Tallin, Estonia, St. Petersburg, Russia, Helsinki, Finland, Stockholm, Sweden and back to Copenhagen to be extremely reasonable in price--especially with food off the ship so high. We flew to Oslo and took the Norway in a Nutshell train/ferry trip to Bergen, Norway. St. Petersburg was the highlight of our trip.
Cruises are different experiences from ground tours, but our trip would be a "trip of a lifetime" for most people.
As for weather, the best months are June, July & August. That far north, September sees cold temperatures and a lot of rain.
We flew from Copenhagen to Oslo on Norwegian Air Shuttle for $77, and it took an hour. It was much more pleasurable than a ferry.

Posted by
2525 posts

It's amusing when folks whine about the cost of travel in Scandinavia but just shrug their shoulders in acceptance about the high cost of travel in Switzerland. So yes, it's expensive...but oh so worth it. You are encouraged to do much research, including reading Rick's book on Scandinavia. Public transit is very good and reasonably priced. Signs, language no problem. Also, there are ways to save money...such as stuffing yourself at included breakfasts and assembling meals from grocery stores. The tour would be great, but have confidence you could go on your own.

Posted by
1624 posts

Thanks to everyone who responded.

We just returned from the RS Switzerland tour a few days ago so I understand what you mean about expensive meals and such. We paid $13 Swiss Francs (about $15 USD) for a McDonald's "Royale with Cheese" (Quarter Pounder with Cheese), fries, and a coke. We also ate some meals on our own at the cafes connected to the supermarkets like Migros and Coop. Switzerland was expensive (more so than I remembered from my last visit in 2010…), but we loved the scenery and cultural diversity (Germany, Italy, and France all rolled into one country!).

We started kicking around some ideas for next year and are considering My Way Alpine Europe and the Scandinavian tour. We haven’t been to any of the Scandinavian countries but the photos on the RS website and brochure are just beautiful.

Thanks for taking the time to share your info and advice with us!

Posted by
308 posts

I went on the RS Best of Scandinavia in May 2016 with my husband. We both had a fantastic time and thought it was worth every penny. The tour guide and bus driver seemed to genuinely enjoy their jobs. Aero Island was my personal favorite, although the entire trip was amazing. The hotel in Copenhagen wasn't very popular with the group, but the hotel did have free wine at happy hour so I really enjoyed that. All other accommodations were very good, with outstanding Scandinavian buffet breakfasts.

We tend to be low-key for our non-group meals so we did save some money that way. We like to grab sandwiches from grocery stores. But yes, Scandinavia is more expensive. But after traveling to places like London and New York, I wasn't too shocked (except for the beer prices in Norway).

The room on the overnight ferry was small with no window. The room is a little bigger than what you would get an overnight train. We were comfortable. The ferry experience in itself was fun, though.

Posted by
91 posts

Did the tour in August 2014. Good time of the year for us, because it got us away from hot and humid Arkansas! Wife and I have done several RS tours and enjoyed this one as much as any other. Great guide and bus driver. 3 larger cities and smaller/rural stops that were scenic and very relaxing. Aero Island and cruising through the fjords were highlights.

As already noted by others, Scandinavia is just generally expensive. However using the book, and suggestions from the guide ( one reason we like RS tours) we ate well for a reasonable price ( lunch specials!) and knew we were splurging for a glass of wine. Make a reservation for supper at a restaurant early in the day on Aero Island, since there are not many eating places (at least in August.) Group meals were all very good as best I recall.

Would suggest arriving in Stockholm a couple of days early if you can. A lot of things there to see (we like museums, botanical gardens, palaces) and for a few days in August Stockholm hosts a cultural festival with venues throughout the city for concerts, dance and other arts that we enjoyed. The Stockholm Card can be bought for varing time periods and covers all public transportation and entry to 70+ attractions. Do not know if it still works, but we bought a 3 day pass for the price of a 2 day pass by typing IKEA into the discount code when we ordered over the Internet. It more than paid for itself because it overlapped with the start of the tour and we were able to still use it during our free time.

Overnight boat to Oslo was OK, nothing special, wide variety of food at the buffet, but again nothing special. In Oslo your tour fee already buys the Oslo Pass, which your guide will already have for you and covers all transportation and sights there. Everywhere else on the tour stops we walked. Enjoyed a morning hike in the Jotunheimen Mountains.

We definitely recommend this tour. Do it as soon as you can. Prices will likely only go up in the future!

Posted by
87 posts

I've done both the RS Scandinavia and My Way Alpine and they are both excellent tours. For the Scandinavia tour, I'd say go in late July or August; I went in mid-August and our guide said that there had been big snow banks along the Jotunheim road right up until July. There was still ice in the mountain lakes in August. Our only rainy day was in Bergen (they say it always rains in Bergen). The guide on this tour gave us a lot of insight into the Scandinavian way of life, which I appreciated and wouldn't have gotten if traveling only on my own (which I've also done). As others have said, Norway is about as expensive as Switzerland (Denmark and Sweden are not too bad); and right now with the price of oil down, I think the NOK exchange rate is better than it has been in the past. I did not find food in the Norwegian grocery stores or in little shops to be terribly expensive, but food in restaurants is high (I assume because the staff are actually paid living wages). However the buffet on the overnight ferry is way overpriced. I'd take a picnic lunch with me on the boat, or eat in the boat's snack bar.
Definitely go a day or two early to Stockholm if possible; there is a lot to see there (museums; folk park) and it was my favorite big city of the tour. Copenhagen also has some excellent museums. The scenery in Norway is fantastic. Aero is charming.

The Alpine tour is good for an opportunity to compare different parts of the Alps, and I think appeals most to those who want to take lifts and hike into as many high mountains as possible! Emphasis is on the mountains and hiking opportunities; less emphasis on the local cultures than with guided tours; and no big cities or museums on the Alpine tour. Both these tours are definitely worth doing, but their style and emphasis are quite different.

Posted by
1624 posts

Thanks for your help. We're reviewing the RS Scandinavia book and videos. We're already sold on Alpine Europe. Decisions, decisions... !

Posted by
219 posts

I took the Best of Scandinavia tour in 2015 and had a fantastic time. You're right about the expense, but I thought it was well worth it. I also thought it wasn't too difficult to find reasonably-priced dining options and, as other posters have noted, the public transportation is reliable and inexpensive, so you only have to take taxis if you really want to. (This goes for transit from the Stockholm airport to the downtown as well. The airport train is very comfortable and efficient).

Our tour leader, Ylva, and the local guides, were all excellent, as well as good sources of information about local restaurants, etc. Many Scandinavian restaurants offer lunch specials, which are a good value. The hotel in Stockholm, where the tour starts, offers dinner as well as breakfast, which is a nice option. Stopping at the supermarket is also a possibility. For our second night on Aero, about seven of us, headed to the store and had a lovely group dinner on the terrace of one of the guest houses. Though if you, or friends you make on the tour, like a cocktail before dinner, I suggest taking advantage of the duty free shops on the overnight boat from Copenhagen to Oslo. I think I had six drinks in Norway over the course of five days, and I'm pretty sure I could have put a down payment on a house instead.

As for the weather, my tour was late June/early July and we had beautiful weather. I think it was chilly and drizzly one day in Oslo. That said, all the locals I met commented on how that was a bit unusual. I was back in Stockholm a month late and it was cold and wet, and two days after that, 70 and beautiful in Copenhagen. I think Scandinavia is like the UK; prepare for anything.

All in all, yes, Scandinavia is expensive, but it's such a beautiful part of the world and pretty under-appreciated by North American tourists. I definitely plan to go back some day.

Caroline

Posted by
16 posts

Donna,

We took the Scandinavia tour at the beginning of June this year and loved it. Our tour guide Lisa and bus driver Penga(?) were awesome. We had previously taken the BOE 14 tour, which was also great. Aero Island was the highlight of this trip, just a charming and beautiful little island. The scenery in Norway was also beautiful and there was still snow in the mountains. I also loved Stockholm since it is a really clean and beautiful city with so much to do. There also were a lot less tourists at the attractions on the Scandinavia tour compared to the BOE 14. We arrived at the City Hall Tower in Stockholm about 30 minutes before they opened and were first ones in the line. Everyone speaks English in Scandinavia.

Yes, everything is a bit more expensive, however some of the museums in Stockholm and Copenhagen have free admission. You get a Oslo card in Oslo so all the attractions and public transportation is free. We went up 5 days before the tour started and stayed at the tour hotel, besides the free breakfast buffet, they also had a free light dinner buffet with one main entrée that was served from 5 pm to 7 pm. We would just pick up something small for lunch.

The weather was great! Between 60 and 70’s. It only rained when we were leaving Copenhagen to go to Aero. It was overcast in Bergen in day.

Our room and our beds on the overnight ferry to Olso were small. Internet was available only on the main deck area on the ship. We spent the afternoon leaving Copenhagen and the morning entering Oslo watching the scenery from the back of the ship. We ate at the steak restaurant for dinner which was good. The included breakfast buffet the next morning was just okay.

Shaun

Posted by
1624 posts

Hi Caroline and Shaun, thanks very much for your detailed responses. The info you provided was very helpful!