Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm, Helsinki and Reykjavik are collectively known as the Nordic Capitals. The one thing they all have in common is water and lots of it.
At the end of fjords, on peninsulas and the islands of archipelagos, each one has, because of trade, defense or exploration, a close connection with the sea.
The following lists highlight what to do in each of the Nordic capitals.
Apart from its historic maritime connection, the Danish capital is a real hit with families and foodies.
- For a ‘Toy Town’ feel, watch the changing of the guard at the Amalienborg Palace followed by a stroll to see the Hans Christian Anderson character, the Little Mermaid. End the day with a visit to the Tivoli Gardens, a 19th-century amusement park close to the city centre.
- Foodies will love Nyhavn, a 17th-century waterfront of brightly coloured period houses along a canal full of cafes, bars and restaurants where some of Copenhagen’s most exciting foodie destinations can be found.
- The Danish København roughly translates to ‘Merchant’s Harbour’ indicating a strong maritime connection. One of the best ways to see the city is to take a boat tour, or if you prefer, a kayak tour of the canals and harbour.
At the head of Oslofjord, the capital of Norway is noted for its parks, forests and other green spaces.
- Visit Bygdøy Peninsula, home to three interesting museums. The Fram Museum examines Norwegian polar exploration including Captain Scott’s nemesis Roald Amundsen. The Kon Tiki Museum houses the boats of the adventurer Thor Heyerdahl. The Viking museum showcases three Viking burial ships.
- Also on the Bygdøy Peninsula is the Norsk Folkemuseum, an open-air museum with a collection of buildings from across Norway.
- Frogner Park showcases the work of sculptor Gustav Vigeland. There’s a museum and an area of the park set aside for 212 of his bronze and granite statues depicting the circle of life.
Sweden’s capital is built on a Baltic archipelago of 14 islands connected by over 50 bridges and numerous ferries. For this reason, it is often referred to as ‘Venice of the North’.
- Stroll around Gamla Stan, the old town of Stockholm. It is full of cobbled streets, colourful 17th and 18th-century buildings, a cathedral and the Royal Palace. Gamla Stan is also the place to find the city’s chic bistros, restaurants and cocktail bars.
- On the island of Djurgården is the Vasa Museum which houses the most complete 17th-century warship ever salvaged. The ship sank on her maiden voyage and, a couple of centuries later was discovered, raised and a museum built around her.
- Among the many museums in Stockholm are two renowned Swedish icons. The Nobel Museum focuses Alfred Noble and Nobel Prize laureates and the interactive ABBA The Museum celebrates the Swedish pop group of the 1970s and ‘80s.
The Finnish capital is best approached from the sea, past the islands that served as sea defences. There’s a daily market in the square beside the harbor, where fresh seafood is available daily.
- Enjoy the architectural styles of Helsinki’s churches. Seen from the sea, the white neo-classical Lutheran Cathedral is most visible, appearing almost to float above the city. The more ornate and lavishly decorated Upenski Cathedral of the Orthodox Church of Finland is on the waterfront. Chopped from the bedrock, The Temppeliaukio Church or Rock Church reflects modern Finnish design.
- To get a feel for Finnish design and art visit Sibelius Park and the modernistic Sibelius Monument, the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Design Museum.
- Take the ferry from Market Square to the island of Suomenlinna. The island as a sea fortress, nature reserve and a 1930s submarine to explore.
Reykjavik means Smoky Bay a reference to the steam rising from geothermal activity around the bay. It was the Vikings who gave it its name. The city is famed for its nightlife and as a base for touring the west of Iceland.
- Visit the Saga and Viking Museums to trace the history of Iceland’s Viking past.
- Visit the Sun Voyager metal sculpture in the style of a Viking longship. It’s the most visited site in Reykjavik because of the views, and is one of the best places to see the Northern Lights.
- Take a walking tour to see some of the capital’s historic buildings and its vibrant urban street art.
Gordon Lethbridge is a travel writer and blogger who has visit each of the Nordic capitals, sometimes more than once. You can read more of his writing at www.travelunpacked.co.uk