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10 Things to Love About Copenhagen, Oslo and Stockholm

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There’s been a recent wave of good deals from the US to the Nordic countries on Norwegian Air, including New York to Stockholm round-trip for $313. If you got in on this fare — or are simply planning a trip to one three of the largest metropolitan areas in Scandinavia — TPG Contributor J. Keith van Straaten is just back with a report on what he loved best. (Except where indicated, all photos are by the writer.)

Know Before You Go: While Norwegian Air has no airline partners, SAS Scandinavian Airlines flies between many cities in the region and can be booked via and/or earn mileage with United MileagePlus. Also, these are already expensive cities, so be sure to use credit cards that don’t charge foreign transaction fees.

Scandinavia is a long way from the US, but happily, three of its capitals are close together. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
Scandinavia is a long way from the US, but happily, three of its capitals are close together. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

There’s so much to love about these three Nordic capitals of Copenhagen, Denmark; Oslo, Norway; and Stockholm, Sweden. In addition to enjoying an arguably higher standard of living than ours in the US, the folks who live here really know how to show travelers a good time.

It was hard to choose just 10 things to single out about these wonderful places, but here are my picks:

Copenhagen. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
Hej (hello), Copenhagen! Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Copenhagen, Denmark

Church of our Saviour. Vor Frelsers Kirke isn’t just a church you look at; it’s a church you look out from. For 35 DKK ($5), it’s the cheapest thrill in town. Start from the inside and take the spiral staircase past the church bells, up the tower and then outside. The stairs get more and more narrow as you circle the copper spire, giving you a 360-degree view of Copenhagen; on a clear day, you can see as far as Sweden.

Höst. While Noma is often regarded as the best restaurant in the world (with prices to match), I loved the more affordable Höst. My party got a same-day reservation and ordering the Signature Evening menu (775 DKK or $90) brought not only the promised three courses and wine pairings, but several bonus dishes. as well (including a second dessert!). Though sometimes bordering on parody of avant-garde dining (did the cheese really have to be served in a hollowed-out rock?), the portions are generous and the flavors sublime.

Louisiana Museum. Just a 50-minute train ride and walk from central Copenhagen sits a little slice of modern-art heaven. The permanent displays in the sculpture garden (including pieces from Calder, Miro and Moore) look out above a seaside cliff. The exhibitions are intelligently laid out and devoid of the usual pretense — and the restaurant isn’t bad either; try the smørrebrød. (Museum entrance is 115 DKK or $17.)

Even without any events, Oslo's Holmenkollen ski jump is a thrill. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
Even without any events, Oslo’s Holmenkollen ski jump is a thrill. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Oslo, Norway

Holmenkollen. I hadn’t realized I was fascinated with ski jumping until I visited Holmenkollen. Even in the summer, when the seats are empty and the slopes are dry, this place is magnificent. From the bottom of the jump, the engineering and the architecture amazes. From the top, indulge the terrifying thought that people slide down and jump off of this thing on purpose. (Free to visit, but tickets to events vary.)

Vigeland Park. While the Munch museum displays the hometown artist the world knows best, Gustav Vigeland gets the last laugh with more than 200 sculptures displayed for the world to see year-round in his own park. The bronze figures speak to all sorts of family dynamics, power struggles and romantic tension. (Free.)

Lorry. “Where can a guy get some good reindeerburgers in this town?” I asked my host. His answer was his favorite local pub. But there’s more to this place than the jokes you’ll make about eating Rudolph. With an eclectic décor (unless you don’t consider a stuffed bear beneath masks of the Marx Brothers eclectic), a huge menu and formidable drinks, Lorry leaves you feeling warm inside — no matter what the temperature outside. (Reindeerburgers with lingonberries, 198 NOK or $23.)

Sail back into the Viking era at Stockholm's amazing Vasa Museum. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
Sail back into the Viking era at Stockholm’s amazing Vasa Museum. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Stockholm, Sweden

Vasa Museum. When I read that a museum with only one focus, a Swedish ship from 1628, is the most visited museum in Scandinavia, I couldn’t imagine why. Then I walked in. That huge ship they have, the one that you walk up seven stories and still aren’t at the top of, the one with all the canons and sculptures, and sails — that’s not a model. That’s the actual ship from 1628 that sank on its maiden voyage and laid underwater for over three hundred years. How it was built, felled, found, salvaged and reconstructed (using more than 95% of its original wood) is a story that’s inspiring as it is incredible. (Museum entrance is 130 SEK or $15.)

Emmaus Vintage & Emmaus Second Hand. I found some great stuff for a great cause at the Emmaus Second Hand shop. While the inventory is a slight notch above the usual well-stocked thrift store, the smaller vintage boutique downstairs offers a curated selection of high-fashion brands.

Blå Porten Cafe. While my travel buddy, Mike, immersed himself in the Abba Museum, I was equally delighted by the restaurant next door. Situated in and around a shady courtyard, the cafe offers a long table of freshly made treats on the way to placing your order at a counter. I had the Swedish meatballs (when in ‘holm …) and didn’t leave behind a morsel (142 SEK or $16). Whether for a full meal or a little snack, Blå Porten is a welcome oasis on Djurgården.

Fotografiska. I’m rarely moved by museum exhibitions of photography, but Fotografiska showed me what almost every other museum showing photographs is doing wrong. The displays here are huge, lush and lit with such care that they practically absorb the viewer within — I’ve never seen such vibrant colors and such subtle grays. The rooms are small enough to feel intimate but big enough to make you feel humbled. Once you’re done looking at the virtual sights, park yourself at the cafe on the top floor, where you’ll find some of the best harbor views around. (Museum entrance is 120 SEK or $14.)

At the ABBA Museum, Doing whatever we can to be a part of Scandinavian culture.
The author (left) and his pal Mike at Stockholm’s ABBA Museum … immersed in Scandinavian culture.

Whether it’s art, food, views, history or shopping, you’ll find plenty of memorable experiences in Copenhagen, Oslo and Stockholm — and you should be sure to take lots of memorable photos!

What are your favorite spots in these Nordic capitals? Please share with us in the comments below. 

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