A Night of Bonfires and Song: Celebrating Valborgmässoafton (Walpurgis Eve) in Sweden

In the Swedish calendar, the last day of April is known as Valborgmässoafton (Valborg for short), or Walpurgis Eve. Throughout the country people gather around bonfires to celebrate spring and herald the coming of summer.

Some Valborg celebrations begin in the afternoon with picnics and other gatherings, but things really get going as the sun starts to go down. That’s when the crowds gather, the bonfires are lit, and fireworks are set off. Swedes love to sing, and a big part of Valborg celebrations is the singing of traditional songs of spring around the fire.




Crossing the Heart of Sweden on a Göta Canal Cruise

For a leisurely, scenic way to experience 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.







Magical Light and Shifting Sands: Skagen and Its Artists

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.







Moose and Beavers and Bears, Oh My! Swedish Safari Tourism on the Rise

Wildlife-loving travelers dream of going on safari Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Botswana…and Sweden? Yes, that’s right, Sweden. It may not have the elephants, lions, and giraffes, but if you forego the African animals in favor of Nordic species such as bear, elk, beaver, and seal, you’ll find that Sweden has a great deal to offer in the way of wildlife tourism.







Midsummer in Sweden: Origins and Traditions

Given Scandinavia’s long, dark winters, it’s not surprising that the arrival of summer is a big deal throughout the Nordic countries. In Sweden, Midsummer’s Eve is one of the most important days of the year, rivaling Christmas with its festive spirit and traditions.







Syttende Mai: The Most Norwegian Day of the Year

Syttende Mai (May 17) is Norway’s national holiday, the day the Norwegian Constitution was signed at Eidsvoll in 1814, declaring Norway to be an independent nation after more than 400 years under Danish rule. However, a brief war between Norway and Sweden in the following months led to a loose union between the two countries, with Sweden the dominant partner. Full Norwegian independence did not come until the dissolution of the union in 1905, but it is still May 17 that is celebrated as the country’s official national day.







Half-timbered house in Ystad

From Medieval Monks to Henning Mankell: Exploring Ystad’s History and Mystery

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.







Runestones: Words from the Viking Age

Remnants of Scandinavia’s Viking past are scattered throughout the countryside of Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. Among the most intriguing are the stones covered in Viking runes that give a glimpse of the culture and society of the era.







Frederiksborg Castle: Denmark’s Renaissance Masterpiece

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.







Constitutional Monarchs: The Royal Families of Scandinavia

The Scandinavian countries are all constitutional monarchies with a king or queen whose role as head of state is mostly symbolic. In addition to serving in ceremonial capacities at home, the monarch – along with other members of the royal family – represents the country internationally, while actual political decisionmaking is in the hands of an elected legislature (which in all three Scandinavian countries is unicameral) and a government headed by a prime minister.







Drottningholm: The Swedish Versailles

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.







Intimate Sculpture on a Grand Scale: Oslo’s Vigeland Museum and Park

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.







Exploring Bergen’s Seven Mountains

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.







Go Crazy for Glass in Sweden’s Kingdom of Crystal

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.







World’s Longest Viking Warship Goes on Display in Copenhagen This Summer

The remains of the longest Viking ship in the world will take center stage in a special exhibition at Denmark’s National Museum in Copenhagen from June 22 through November 17, 2013. The exhibition, entitled simply VIKING, is the museum’s largest exhibit about the Vikings in two decades and will touch on a variety of themes related to Viking warfare, trade, society, and beliefs.







Copenhagen Canals: The Water Route through Denmark’s Capital

Copenhagen is a great walking city – after all, it’s home to Strøget, the longest pedestrian shopping area in Europe, as well as countless squares, parks, and other places to wander. But you’ll be missing out if you keep your feet on solid ground for your whole visit. One of the best ways to get a feel for this dynamic city is to take a cruise along Copenhagen’s canals.







Roskilde Cathedral: Denmark’s Royal Burial Church

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.







Follow the Trail of Danish Author Hans Christian Andersen

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.







The Churches of Stockholm, Part 2: Södermalm

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.







Gränna: Sweden’s Candyland

If you’ve got a sweet tooth, then the small town of Gränna, Sweden, may be your idea of heaven. Tucked away on the eastern shore of Vättern, the country’s second-largest lake, Gränna (population approximately 2,600) is known primarily for one thing: the polkagris, a striped candy cane (or peppermint stick) that has been made here for more than 150 years.







Stockholm’s Market Halls

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.