Built on 14 islands at the junction of the Baltic Sea and Lake Mälaren, Stockholm is beautiful no matter how you look at it, but one of the best ways to get a feel for the city’s intricate maze of islands and waterways is to head to one of the viewing towers or scenic viewpoints where you can look down on Stockholm from above. Here are some of the best places to get a bird’s-eye view of the “Venice of the North.”
For a leisurely, scenic way to experience south-central Sweden, a cruise on the Göta Canal is not to be missed. Stretching for 190.5 kilometers (just over 118 miles), the canal route passes through 58 locks and numerous lakes between Mem near Söderköping and Södertorp on Lake Vänern, the largest lake in Sweden.
At the far northern tip of Denmark is a narrow finger of land jutting into the waters of Kattegat and Skagerrak, the two great straits that join the Baltic and North Seas. This is the Skagen Peninsula, a land carved by wind and waves, whose constantly shifting sand dunes have shaped both the landscape and the human life here – so much so that the town’s 14th-century church had to be abandoned in 1795 after it became increasingly difficult for the congregation to dig through the sand to attend services.
Located on Sweden’s southern coast, overlooking the Baltic Sea, the small town of Ystad is an idyllic sort of place, with flower-filled cobblestoned streets and half-timbered houses that reflect its medieval origins. It’s not the sort of place you’d associate with murder and mayhem, but thanks to author Henning Mankell’s bestselling series of crime novels about police detective Kurt Wallander, Ystad is now known as much for mystery as it is for history.
The railway between Norway’s two main cities, Oslo and Bergen, is one of the world’s most scenic train rides, passing through green agricultural valleys and across the country’s “roof,” the barren yet beautiful Hardangervidda plateau.
Water dominates Stockholm, making a boat excursion a great way to get a feel for the city, which has been dubbed the Venice of the North. A wide range of guided boat tours is available both within Stockholm and to places nearby, and there are also countless opportunities to get out on the water for independent exploration.
The largest Renaissance castle in Scandinavia, Frederiksborg Castle is located in the center of Hillerød, north of Copenhagen. It was built during the first decades of the 17th century by King Christian IV with the goal of demonstrating the power and status of the Danish monarchy. Following a fire in 1859 that destroyed large parts of the interior, the castle was reconstructed according to its original design. Since 1878 Frederiksborg has housed the Museum of National History, whose collections include paintings, furniture, and other artifacts representing 500 years of Danish history.
Located on an island in Lake Mälaren west of Stockholm, Drottningholm Palace is a stunning example of a royal residence inspired by the Palace of Versailles in France. Its cultural heritage value is so outstanding that the Royal Domain of Drottningholm – the palace and its associated buildings and grounds – has been included on UNESCO’s World Heritage List since 1991.
Gustav Vigeland (1869-1943) may just be Norway’s most important artist you’ve never heard of. There are very few works by this talented sculptor outside his native country, the result of an arrangement Vigeland made with the Oslo City Council in 1921. Vigeland agreed to bequeath all his works to the city in exchange for the lifetime use of a studio and apartment specially built for him at Frogner. For the last two decades of his life, Vigeland lived and worked in this space; after his death, it became the Vigeland Museum, now one of Oslo’s top attractions along with the adjacent sculpture park.
The number seven seems to be a magic number when it comes to hills. Rome was famously built on seven hills, and many other cities have made similar claims, including San Francisco, Seattle, Melbourne, Barcelona, and Istanbul, to name just a few. In Bergen, Norway, the residents dream even bigger: The city boasts not seven hills but seven mountains surrounding the city center.
Sweden has a world-class reputation for fine crystal and decorative glass, and the place to go to explore this art is a region of Småland known as Glasriket, or the Kingdom of Crystal. The neighboring municipalities of Emmaboda, Lessebo, Nybro, and Uppvidinge are home to more than a dozen glassworks and glass studios where you can watch glass being blown, learn about the traditions of glassmaking, shop to your heart’s content, enjoy a drink in a bar made entirely of glass, and even enjoy hot shop herring (“hyttsill”), a festive herring dinner party right in the hot shop.
A visit to Roskilde Cathedral is a journey through centuries of Danish history. The first church on the site, made of wood, was built in the 900s by King Harald Bluetooth and was replaced in the following century by a stone church. The current brick church was begun in the 1170s and took more than 100 years to finish. The main body of the cathedral was completed in 1280 and is one of Scandinavia’s earliest examples of Gothic brick architecture.
One of Denmark’s most famous writers, Hans Christian Andersen was born into a poor family in Odense, Denmark, on April 2, 1805. Andersen’s classic fairy tales such as “The Little Mermaid,” “The Ugly Duckling,” “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” and “The Princess and the Pea” continue to captivate children and adults nearly 140 years after his death.
Some of Stockholm’s most imposing churches are located on the island of Södermalm south of Gamla Stan. Since much of Södermalm consists of a ridge rising above the rest of Stockholm, these churches are visible from many parts of the city and often command sweeping views.
Stockholm’s three surviving market halls – Hötorgshallen, Östermalms Saluhall, and Söderhallarna – are filled with colorful and enticing foods from around the world. For locals, these markets are popular places to buy the raw materials for home-cooked meals, but visitors can also enjoy a wander through these enticing emporia, where you’ll also find a variety of cafés and restaurants serving up specialty meals and snacks.
Gaze out from any viewpoint overlooking Stockholm, and you’ll notice the spires and cupolas soaring above the surrounding rooftops. Stockholm has a wealth of churches dating from various periods in the city’s history. The oldest of these provide a fascinating journey into the past and are, logically enough, located in the Old Town.
One of Norway’s iconic train experiences, the Flåm Railway covers a distance of just 20.2 kilometers (12.5 miles) but changes 863.meters (2833 feet) in altitude, making for a dramatic ride. One of the steepest normal-gauge railways in the world, the route runs between the small highland station of Myrdal on the Oslo-Bergen line and the village of Flåm on the shores of the Aurlandsfjord, an arm of the world’s longest fjord, the Sognefjord.
If you’ve ever wondered what it feels like to stand at the top of a ski jump, a visit to Holmenkollen is your chance to find out. Located at the top of a hill on the western outskirts of Oslo, the ski jump is the most modern in the world.
Every December the world’s eyes turn to Stockholm for the awarding of the Nobel Prizes, an experience that must surely rank among the highlights of the winners’ professional lives. However, if — like most of us — you’re unlikely ever to win a Nobel Prize of your own, you can still act like a winner and visit the various locations associated with the prizes.