Denmark | Sweden | Finland: 19 July – 8 August 2017
We had no idea what to expect from Scandinavia; or to be more precise Finland, Denmark and Sweden.
As Norway is not in the EU, we decided to give it a miss – at ten euros a pint it was certain to break our already stretched-to-breaking-point budget and we still have six countries and Berlin to go!
Scotland has been somewhat obsessed by Scandinavia in recent years: from TV shows like The Killing and Borgen, to the so-called Nordic miracle where all citizens pay upwards of 60 percent tax on their salary in exchange for the best public services, anywhere, ever.
Some commentators – particularly those in favour of Scotland breaking away from the rest of the UK – get very excited by Scandinavia, painting it as a social democratic nirvana, where the sun never sets and everyone is happy.
If only Scotland could be a Nordic miracle too, they opine.
My favourite country is Finland because once you get to a certain point, you can drive for hours without seeing a single person. I love peace and quiet – something I don’t get very often. Christopher Lee
Our whistle stop tour – three countries in three weeks – meant that we could only explore the south of Sweden and Finland, but we did travel across Denmark and made it to all three capitals as well as some very interesting – and historic – smaller cities and towns.
And we accidentally chose a great year to go – 2017 is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation and the centenary of Finland’s independence from Russia.
The Reformation is of great significance to Scandinavian society.
It adopted Luther’s doctrine almost as soon as he had written it, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church has been one of the main influences on how Denmark, Sweden and Finland’s societies have developed over the last five centuries.
And while Finland has been an independent state since 1917, Russia and Sweden still cast a large shadow over the country.
So what did we find?
Lots of lakes and stunning coastlines, rugged with inlets.
Hard lands, hewn from granite and limestone.
And trees. Billions of trees. Finland alone has 22 billion.
Public services, from tourist information centres and public libraries to roads and bridges, were impressive.
People were generally helpful and friendly.
Prices were at the premium end of the market, particularly for alcohol, which in Finland and Sweden can only be bought in government off-licences. No supermarket dash for litre bottles of own-brand vodka in Helsinki or Stockholm.
A friend had helpfully pointed us to Michael Booth’s book The Almost Nearly Perfect People which gave us a few interesting insights.
Our own (very personal) verdict:
- Denmark is very middle class, and just a little smug and boring.
- Sweden is a bit more sophisticated and diverse. Full of very beautiful blonde women of all ages.
- And Finland? We loved Finland.
Its people could hail from Yorkshire – our favourite English region. They are not showy, a bit blunt and very welcoming.
Helsinki is a solid city, with the sea at its heart and home to some of the best designers in the world.
And the trees, all 22 billion of them, make the country seem like one big, magical woodland.
This is where we will return, to Finland.
To see the Northern Lights, to drink ice-cold vodka with gravadlax and to properly explore Helsinki.
We may even have a sauna.
Look out for our forthcoming posts about each country, including our tour round the Danish Parliament, our special Swedish breakfast and our visit to one of the world’s few remaining museums dedicated to Lenin.
- The travel writer Michael Booth is married to a Danish woman, so his book is a quite gentle, but pointed look at life in Scandinavia. Well worth a read even if you’re not planning a visit.
- There is much more to Denmark than pastries and hygge. The Lonely Planet guide is here.
- According to the Lonely Planet guide, Sweden is healthy and wholesome.
- Check out the natural wonderland of Finland here.
- Interested in Reformation 500? Find out more here.