When you hear Scandinavia, do you think of snow, Santa, killer healthcare, and a bunch of tall, ridiculously attractive blonde guys? Yea? Me too, or at least I used to. Back in 2015 when I was studying abroad in Berlin, I decided to take my very first backpacking trip to the Nordics.
I made the decision for a variety of reasons. First, I was scared to backpack and doing it solo the very first go-around was extra scary. I wanted to pick the safest and nicest location humanly possible to break the ice and so of course the Scandinavian countries were top of the list.
Secondly, I didn’t know at the time if I would ever leave the USA again. I hadn’t even thought about doing my Masters abroad and figured that my time in Berlin was all I would get, at least for a long time. I chose to study in Germany because of my ancestry (two of my 3 grandfathers are German) and so I decided that Finland was a must-see because of my grandmother’s strong ties. Between the two countries I could cover over half of my DNA (the other half I don’t know for sure).
When I made my plans, the last thing on my mind was that it was off-season for tourisms. Once I arrived, it was very clear with many empty streets and closed shops. However, rather than being disappointing, it was actually really nice. I was able to see the real charm of the cities and the actual culture without the tourist front. Accommodations were often cheeper, the weather was beautiful (I went early in July if I remember correctly), and I got to book activities the day-of rather than being on week-long waiting lists, letting me be a lot more free and flexible with my schedule.
So, just like my Berlin post, the rest of this post is a bit of a story time of what I did, saw and my scheduling that I had initially written for a Christmas card insert back in 2015. As always, if you have any questions, leave them in the comment section below, otherwise, I hope you enjoy and I’ll see you next time.
I began with two days in Stockholm, Sweden. I ended up going to the Nobel Prize Museum, Vasa Ship Museum, historical downtown, Skansen open-air cultural museum, zoo, took a boat tour, and got lost in a forest. Stockholm is very beautiful and friendly and an excellent tourist city if you can get past how expensive everything is.
Next I went to Helsinki, Finland. The first day there I was so tired I only ended up taking a boat tour, visited the downtown market and admired some architecture before checking into my splurge hotel for the trip and going to bed. Helsinki isn’t very large and the second day I managed to walk the majority of the city. I saw some of the many churches as well as the observatory, old market building, and rock church.
I also took a ferry out to the old Sea Fortress which is the main tourist attraction for Helsinki. I stumbled upon my favorite place from the entire summer out near my hotel. There was a creepy abandoned hospital which had been converted into a sort of park. Behind the buildings was shoreline with huge sloping boulders. I sat there for a good hour watching the water and climbing the rocks. It was so tranquil and will forever hold a very special place in my heart.
I spent the second night on a train up to Rovaniemi, the capital of Lapland (Artic Finland). It is a small city/large town and was very empty because I visited in their off-season. I’m glad I got to see Rovaniemi that way because it gave such great insight to the true, lazy countryside culture of Finland. In Rovaniemi I visited the artic cultural museum, Santa’s Village and crossed the artic circle. I also spent a long time relaxing and walking by the river admiring the beautiful nature and feeling very at home somewhere deep in my bones.
My second day, after a night in a very nice hostel, I booked a boat tour to a reindeer farm. At the ranch we all huddled into a traditional Sami teepee to hear the story of the Four Winds and our storyteller went one by one and “cut” the bad spirits from our bodies.
He also performed a traditional Sami ritual by marking our foreheads with dots of charcoal. That way, if/when we are reincarnated, we will return to Earth as reindeer (the dots representing where our horns will grow in). We had to leave the dots for 6 hours otherwise the evil spirits could reenter through the horns. It was probably the coolest experience of my life, and I was very sure to leave the marks on for the full 6 hours and then some just to be sure!
I returned on another overnight train to Helsinki where I spent the day at the northernmost traditional zoo in the world. That evening I caught a plane to Oslo and went straight to my Airbnb.
The next day, I went to the Viking Ship Museum which was my main reason for visiting Norway. I had taken a course at WSU on Viking culture and literature so it was very cool to see in person something I had studied so in-depth in class. The rest of the day I spent exploring old fortress ruins, downtown, the Royal Palace and a cultural museum. I wish I had had more time in Oslo since it is a very beautiful city with amazing architecture, flowers everywhere and lots of “touristy” things to do. It’s definitely the place I would most like to return to from this trip.