Among Norway’s most striking historical buildings from the Middle Ages are its wooden stave churches. Erected at a time when other parts of Europe were raising great cathedrals in stone, they are, in the words of UNESCO, “one of the most elaborate and technologically advanced types of wooden construction that existed in North-Western Europe during the Middle Ages.”…
You’ve heard of D-Day, but have you ever heard of Dagen H (Swedish for H Day)? H stands for Högertrafikomläggningen, or the Right-Hand Traffic Diversion. On Sunday, September 3, 1967, Sweden changed from driving on the left-hand side of the road to driving on the right. As you might imagine, this switch was anything but easy.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.