All the best places to visit in the Scandinavian capital cities

Dreaming of fairytale streets, stunning wilderness, rich art and history, and delicious cuisine? You’ll find it all and more in the Scandinavian capital cities. Although the Scandinavian region is usually defined as the tip of Norway, Sweden and Denmark, it also stretches to include the Nordic countries including Iceland and Finland, giving travellers a wonderful bunch of capital cities to explore. From the legendary Viking history of Oslo and the medieval Old Town of Stockholm, to the charming canals of Copenhagen, here are all the best places to visit in each Scandinavian capital city.

Copenhagen, Denmark

aerial view of canals boats houses Copenhagen city Denmark

You’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a fairytale when you touch down in Copenhagen, the magical Danish capital that inspired Hans Christian Andersen’s famous tales of queens, mermaids, emperors and ugly ducklings.

Lying on the islands of Zeeland and Amager, the city is one of the most beautiful Scandinavian capital cities. It’s famed for its charming canals, green parks, impressive galleries, trendy cafes, and even the longest shopping street in Europe. You’ll immediately want to embrace the Danish philosophy of hygge found throughout Copenhagen – but what to do first? 

Best places to visit in Copenhagen

See the iconic sights on a Copenhagen tour including the Amalienborg Palace, the home of Denmark’s beloved royal family. Admire the beautiful 18th-century façades and the statue of King Frederik V astride his horse. Then head to the unique dragon-tail spire of the 17th-century Børsen (Stock Exchange). There’s also the Christiansborg Palace, the magnificent seat of Danish Parliament, and the Copenhagen Cathedral, a neoclassical masterpiece.

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Be sure to visit the Little Mermaid, who watches over the Langelinie Promenade from her rock. You can also embrace your inner child at the Tivoli Gardens, the oldest amusement park in Europe. For more scenic treasures, take a cruise along the gorgeous canals or visit the enchanting village of Dragor to see traditional thatched cottages and the pretty harbour. 

colourful houses lining the canals of Copenhagen Denmark

Venture just outside the city, and you’ll discover the North Zealand Riviera, a stunning region of ancient fishing villages, modern marinas, and magnificent castles. Stop by the Fredensborg Palace, the summer residence of the Royal family, and the 17th-century Frederiksborg Castle, where you can see the State Apartments and the Coronation Chapel.

If you’re looking to relax, you can’t go wrong with the lively Nyhavn waterfront. You’ll meet lots of friendly locals as you enjoy a cold øl overlooking the colourful facades. 

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Stockholm, Sweden

aerial view over Stockholm palace water forests Sweden

This Scandinavian capital city is known by locals as the ‘Beauty on Water’ and you’ll quickly see why. Located in the southeast of Sweden, on an archipelago of hundreds of little islands, Stockholm is endlessly scenic and sophisticated.

It’s the largest city in Scandinavia, home to a blend of ancient castles, medieval streets, lush parks, and one of the largest collections of museums in the world. There’s plenty of things to see and do, so be sure to embrace the Swedish philosophy of lagom, and get the right balance!

Best places to visit in Stockholm

The first stop for most visitors is the fairytale cobblestone lanes of Gamla Stan, the city’s old town. Filled with medieval history and beauty, Gamla Stam has changed little since the 16th and 17th centuries. It’s a great place to grab a steaming Swedish cinnamon roll in Stortorget, the oldest square in Stockholm, or try out some traditional Swedish cuisine in a local restaurant.

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You also can’t miss the medieval Storkyrkan, the historic mother church of Stockholm, the Riddarholm Church, and the waterside City Hall. There’s also the beautiful Royal Palace at the heart of Gamla Stan, and the best views over Stockholm in the working-class heritage area of Södermalm.

 
 
 
 
 
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Be sure to check out the vibrant art and museum scene, including the Modern Museet, featuring works by Salvador Dalí and Andy Warhol. There’s also the Vasamuseet, a fascinating maritime museum that displays the royal warship ‘Vasa’, the only almost fully intact 17th-century ship that has ever been recovered.

Since around 30% of the city is designated green space, you can’t miss getting into Stockholm’s great outdoors. One of the best ways is with a scenic cruise across Lake Malaren to see elegant homes and charming red cottages scattered around the archipelago. If you’re keen to check out Stockholm’s buzzing nightlife, start with a visit to the world’s first Ice Bar. Here you can have a drink in glasses made from pure river ice!

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Oslo, Norway

 
 
 
 
 
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Oslo is one of the most down-to-earth of the Scandinavian capital cities, and you’ll, quite literally, feel connected with nature as you explore the sparkling waterfront promenades and flower-filled boulevards.

It’s all part of the Norwegian philosophy of friluftsliv that describes the importance of connection to nature. Although there’s plenty of outdoor excitement in Oslo, this cosmopolitan hub is also filled with vibrant architecture and seafaring history… so where to begin?

Best places to visit in Oslo

royal palace Oslo Norway Scandinavian capital cities

Start by checking out the medieval fortress of Akershus which overlooks the pretty harbour. Then marvel at the Oslo Opera house which seems to rise up from the water in a glorious display of marble, granite and glass. Stop by the regal 19th-century Royal Palace, and take a stroll through the fascinating Vigeland Sculpture Park. You’ll step into a sculptural wonderland that displays the incredible life’s work of Gustav Vigeland.

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For a dose of Viking history, visit the Viking Ship Museum to see the world’s best-preserved treasures from Viking tombs. You’ll also see original Viking longships including the Oseberg ship, used as a burial ship for high-ranking Viking women. Then stop by the Fram Polar Ship Museum, where you’ll discover the story of Roald Amundsen’s race to the South Pole through films, images and exhibits.

If you need a break, head to the Aker Brygge district for outdoor restaurants, bars and shops along the pier. There’s also the Nobel Peace Centre which tells the story of the famous prize, and the excellent Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art. 

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Helsinki, Finland

helsinki cathedral finland Scandinavian capital cities

The ultra-cool city of Helsinki is one of the most unique Scandinavian capital cities. It regularly delights travellers with its diverse architecture, rich history, Nordic cuisine and seaside landscapes. Best of all, the city is compact enough to explore on foot, so lace up your walking shoes and get out there. 

Best places to visit in Helsinki

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Some of your first stops should be the Olympic Stadium, the Opera House, and the beautiful buildings of Helsinki Senate Square. There’s also the modern marble façades of Finlandia Hall and the abstract Sibelius Monument, built in honour of one of Finland’s beloved composers.

Take a stroll down the Mannerheimintie, the city’s main avenue flanked with institutions like the National Museum that traces Finnish history from the Stone age and the contemporary art museum of Kiasma. Be sure to also check out the gorgeous red-brick Uspenski Cathedral that overlooks the harbour and the Lutheran Cathedral, a giant domed cathedral. 

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If you’re feeling hungry, check out the colourful stalls and local flavours at Kauppatori Market Square. Or if you’re in the mood to relax, why not get in touch with Finland’s sauna culture. The country has the highest number of saunas per capita, with more than one sauna for every two people! Some of the best saunas can be found in the islands all around Helsinki.

One of the most popular is Suomenlinna, where you’ll find plenty of saunas and a bohemian artist community. Or head to the white sandy beaches of Pihlajasaari Island where you can enjoy a steaming sauna and a brisk dip in the Baltic. 

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Reykjavik, Iceland

 
 
 
 
 
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Almost every traveller’s journey into the lava fields and plunging waterfalls of Iceland begin in its quirky capital of Reykjavik. Once you touch down here, you’ll want to spend more than a few days exploring. It’s the northernmost capital of the world, and it’s filled with a vibrant history, colourful architecture and buzzing nightlife.  

Best places to visit in Reykjavik

pretty streets of Reykjavik Iceland Scandinavian capital cities

Begin your Reykjavik tour with the top attractions including the Parliament and the Hallgrímskirkja Church in the heart of Reykjavik. Be sure to stroll around the pretty Old Harbour, and discover Iceland Viking heritage at the Reykjavík Maritime Museum. You can also pay tribute to the sun at The Sun Voyager, a sculpture by Jón Gunnar Árnason, created as an ode to the sun.

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You also can’t miss out on the world-famous Blue Lagoon, located less than an hour from Reykjavik. Visitors from all over the world flock here to soak in the steaming turquoise waters, said to have healing properties. Rub some of the soothing silica-mud on your skin, then kick back and enjoy a sauna with magical lagoon views. 

 
 
 
 
 
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Back in the city, head to the lively Laugavegur, one of the country’s oldest shopping streets. Here, you’ll find buzzing cafes, pubs and clubs, where you can meet the friendly locals. The city also has plenty of concerts, dance halls and festivals to enjoy. The main hub is the Harpa Concert Hall, which hosts everything from symphony orchestras to rock festivals. 

If all that revelry is making you hungry, you have to get a taste of Reykjavik’s restaurant scene. There are all kinds of Icelandic cuisine on offer from puffin or reindeer burgers to the iconic Reykjavik hotdog. 

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Feeling inspired? You can explore the very best of Scandinavia on our Highlights of Scandinavia trip. What are your favourite Scandinavian capital cities? Let us know in the comments below…

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