If renting a car abroad is something that scares you, you’re not alone. I haven’t sat behind the wheel of a car since moving to Norway and I don’t intend to change that anytime soon (I’m SUCH a nervous driver!). Luckily for you and me, you don’t necessarily need a car to explore Norway, Sweden and Denmark as Scandinavia can easily be visited by train!
In this article, I’ll present you with my favourite itinerary to Scandinavia, as well as further information on travel in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, so that all you need to do is book that ticket and go!
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This was actually my first proper train journey through Scandinavia and it’s still my favourite itinerary that I recommend to anyone who wants to explore Scandinavia in a nutshell and on a time constraint!
Scandinavia in a nutshell:
Copenhagen - Malmö - Gothenburg - Oslo
Definitely summer! Try to avoid the main tourist season as best as you can, though.
June and late August/early September are perfect.
Approx. 7 days.
You don’t need more than a week to make your way from Denmark to Norway via Sweden and could even manage to cram this into a long weekend if you only want to explore Copenhagen and Oslo.
I’d definitely recommend you to do the entire length of the journey, though, as Malmö and Gothenburg are gorgeous cities that are often overlooked!
Fly into Copenhagen in the morning and explore the city after checking into your hotel!
Copenhagen is super walkable and you can easily manage to visit the most important sights in one afternoon: Head to Christiansborg Palace to climb the tower and admire Copenhagen from above, before heading over to Nyhavn to go on a boat sightseeing cruise; afterwards you should walk to Amalienborg Castle before continuing on to see the Little Mermaid up close and take a stroll in Kastellet Park.
Take the train to Malmö (duration: 40 minutes) and explore the city (leave your luggage at the train station): head over to the old town for a stroll among the old houses, then continue your stroll to Malmöhus Castle and the adjoining park, before making your way to Ribersborg Beach for a picnic and maybe a dip in the ocean if you like.
Afterwards, head back to the old town for an early dinner before hopping on the train to Gothenburg (duration: 2 1/2 to 3 hours)!
Day 3 and 4:
I recommend staying in Gothenburg for 3 nights, meaning you have 2 full days in the area. I’d use one day to explore the city of Gothenburg itself: Start with a canal sightseeing cruise through the old town and the harbour of the city, then head to Haga - a very picturesque neighbourhood of the olden days with lots of cute alleyways filled with shops and cafes.
Afterwards, head to the harbour to visit the Maritime Museum. Granted, these kinds of museums aren’t for everyone but this one is special: the entire museum is built on ships that are docked next to each other and they even have a U-boat!
In the late afternoon, you could either head to the amusement park Liseberg, visit the Museum of World Culture or the science museum Universeum, or head to the fish market at the so-called “fish church” (Feskekörka) to indulge in a seafood platter for dinner!
On day 4, you should head out to the west coast archipelago of Sweden - especially if the weather is nice! I visited the tiny town (and island) of Marstrand and had an amazing time going for a hike to the top of the island, sunbathing and swimming at the local beach, as well as browsing the shops and indulging in fish and chips down at the pier!
There’s a bus from Gothenburg to Marstrand called “Marstrand Express” and the journey only takes an hour. In order to actually get to the island, though, you need to hop on the ferry right by the bus stop. The ride takes approx. 5 minutes.
There are countless of other islands in the archipelago you can visit, so for more information on getting around in the west coast archipelago of Sweden, head here.
It’s time to head to Oslo! Catch the train early in the morning (duration 3 1/2 to 4 hours) and check into your hotel (or at least leave your bags there), before exploring the city!
Oslo is a very walkable city, so you can easily explore the most important sights in the afternoon and evening (the long daylight hours of a Scandinavian summer surely help).
I’d start by walking up Karl Johans gate, Oslo’s main shopping street, to the Royal Palace. Go for a stroll in the gardens there or simply bring lunch and have a picnic on the lawn in front of the palace. Afterwards, it’s time to see another castle: Akershus Fortress! You can walk past Aker Brygge to get there, so that you’ll also get to see the town hall of Oslo.
Once you’re at the fortress, you’ll have a lovely view of Aker Brygge and the entire Oslofjord - a view that gets even better at the next stop: the rooftop of the Opera House! You might want to stop by the city centre to have dinner first, as the rooftop of the opera is the perfect location to end the day with some snacks while watching the sun illuminate the city even though it’s way past your bedtime ;)
Day 6 and 7:
You should start the day early to head to the peninsula Bygdøy where you find some of Oslo’s best museums! Start off with a visit to Norsk Folkemuseum where you get to experience what life in Norway was like back in the day. You’ll find buildings from Oslo, as well as the more rural areas at the museum, all from the 18th and 19th century - and even an old stave church!
For the afternoon then, you can choose between staying in Oslo for another night to do more sightseeing and taking the plane home the next day, or catching the ferry to Copenhagen to spend another day there (maybe visiting the amusement park Tivoli?).
If choosing to fly home from Oslo on day 7, this is how you can spend your last afternoon/evening in Oslo:
Choose between heading to the beach for some sunbathing/swimming and a picnic, or visiting more museums - for instance, the Viking Ship Museum, the Maritime Museum or Fram Museum.
If you’re not exactly a fan of museums, though, you could head back to town for a stroll through the old town of Oslo at Damstredet and Telthusbakken, or head to Hovedøya - an island in the fjord with an old monastery. You could also head to Holmenkollen - either for a visit to the ski museum or just for a hike in the woods!
If choosing to head back to Copenhagen, you can take the ferry with DFDS. Check-in is at 3.15 pm and you’ll arrive to Copenhagen after (hopefully) a good night’s sleep at 9.45 am the next day. The views of Oslofjorden when leaving the city are absolutely dreamy and it’s up to you when to head back home - either in the evening of day 7 or the next morning.
What kind of weather to expect
Southern Scandinavia in summer can come with all kinds of weather! Oslo and the west coast of Sweden are generally known for their warm and sunny summers, compared to Western Norway and Northern Sweden, where the chance for rain at that time of year is a lot higher.
Nonetheless, you might find the average June temperatures for the region quite chilly:
That doesn’t mean that it will be this chilly when you’re visiting - when I did this trip, I had sunshine and 20 degrees Celsius all the way (and it felt much hotter when it wasn’t windy) - but you can be quite unlucky and experience rain and 14 degrees in June as well.
What to pack
Therefore, the following items should find space in your luggage:
a high quality wind- and waterproof jacket
comfortable shoes that can get wet (depending on your activities, either sneakers and light hiking boots or sneakers and ballerinas)
a fleece jacket or woolen sweater for those chilly days/evenings
a lighter scarf to protect you from the wind at the coast
sunglasses and sun protection for the sunny days, as well as a bathing suit if you dare a dip in the Baltic Sea
a sleeping mask if you need darkness to sleep (Southern Scandinavia does not experience the Midnight Sun, but the sun goes down around midnight and rises again around 4 am - not the longest night if you need darkness to sleep)
Make sure to dress in layers and bring a backpack with enough space to carry your sweater or jacket in case the weather clears up and it suddenly gets hot.
Where to buy train tickets
If you’re a citizen of a non-EU country, you can get a Eurail Scandinavian Pass that enables you to take the train as often as you want within the time frame of 3, 4, 5 or 8 days within a month. A 5-day pass in second class costs 257€, while an 8-day pass costs 317€.
As a EU-citizen, you can get an Interrail Global Pass instead. A 5-day adult ticket costs 282€, while a 7-day pass costs 335€.
With this particular itinerary, however, you could save a lot of money if you invest the time and energy into buying the train tickets separately. However by doing so, you bind to set your itinerary in stone before you even leave your home country and can’t just take a later train connection because you’d like to sleep in one day.
If that’s what you prefer, though, make sure to buy your tickets approx. 3 months in advance. The Swedish Railway SJ has a budget calendar that allows you to find the cheapest tickets possible and you can book all three tickets (Copenhagen - Malmö, Malmö - Gothenburg, as well as Gothenburg - Oslo) via their website.
At the time of writing this, the total fare of the train journey when booked 3 months in advance is 552 SEK (approx. 53€) - that’s over 250€ saved compared to Interrail/Eurail!
Unfortunately, Scandinavia does not have a shared currency. Denmark uses Danish kroner (DKK), while Sweden uses Swedish kroner (SEK) and Norway uses Norwegian kroner (NOK). You don’t necessarily need to bring cash in all three currencies, though. It’s possible to pay with a debit or credit card in all countries - even if you’re just buying chewing gum. However you might want to keep some small change on you to pay for lockers or restrooms (which you can also pay with card in some places, but unfortunately not everywhere).
No need to bring coins in all currencies - I personally always bring a selection of what I have available (mostly NOK and €) and at least in Denmark, I’ve never had any issues using NOK or € to get a locker…
Tipping isn’t expected in Scandinavia the way it might be in the US. If you pay for a meal at a restaurant, the wage for the staff is already included in the price (which is one of the reasons why you might find Scandinavia quite expensive). If you do want to tip for exceptional service, however, 5-10% will do.
More articles that help you make the most of visiting Scandinavia:
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