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.
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.
In a small town on the Sognefjord, expert cheesemakers are continuing a tradition that’s believed to date back more than a thousand years. The village of Vik, population 3,100, is home to the world’s only dairy producing Gamalost – literally “old cheese.”
“Stieg Larsson has transformed Stockholm for many of us,” says Elisabeth Daude, my guide on the Millennium walking tour, an intimate look at Stockholm’s Södermalm district as seen through the eyes of one of Sweden’s biggest cultural sensations of all time.
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.
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 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.
The Nobel Prizes have been awarded every year on December 10 since 1901 and are among the world’s most prestigious honors. Alfred Nobel was a Swedish industrialist who designated most of his estate to establish the prestigious prizes that bear his name.
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.