Welcome to my Backpacking Scandinavia travel guide! Scandinavia is one of the most idyllic regions of the world. Blessed with fantastic mountains, jaw-dropping fjords, wild rivers, beautiful coastline, super-efficient cities, postcard-worthy farmland, and friendly locals, it is no wonder that backpacking Scandinavia is high on any traveler’s list.
There is truly so much on offer in Scandinavia that it blows my mind more backpackers don’t take advantage of it. Scandinavia is, however, notoriously expensive.
For many travelers, the thought of backpacking Scandinavia for more than a couple days is a bank account draining fantasy. So how does one navigate the steep costs associated with backpacking Scandinavia? Is it even possible to travel to Sweden on a budget?
In this Scandinavia travel guide, you will get all the tips and tricks you need to travel to Scandinavia on a budget. Get Scandinavia travel itineraries, in-depth tips on backpacking in Sweden, Norway, and Finland, and Denmark, top things to do in Scandinavia, where to go, where to stay, and much more.
By the end of this Scandinavia travel guide, you will fear the high prices in this part of the world no longer (well maybe a little bit). Plus, once you get to know what’s on offer in Scandinavia you will probably start preparing your backpack right away…
Let’s get right to it…
Why Go Backpacking in Scandinavia?
A journey backpacking in Scandinavia will take you through the beating heart of Northern Europe’s iconic cities, mind-blowing landscapes, and fascinating cultures.
One of the reasons I love Europe and Scandinavia, in particular, is because there are more stunning natural landscapes, history, and culture than one can possibly take in a single backpacking trip. Backpacking in Scandinavia is the journey that keeps on giving.
Explore the misty fjords of Norway. Hike the King’s Trail (Kungsleden) through the wilds of Sweden. Discover the amazing food culture in Denmark. Become enchanted by the Northern Lights in Finland. Go on a road trip in Iceland.
Whether you love nature photography, excellent cuisine, hiking, learning about history, exploring tiny villages, or getting lost in big cities, Scandinavia has all of those things on offer and in abundance.
Backpacking Scandinavia is obviously NOT as cheap as backpacking in Southeast Asia though in welcome contrast things generally are more organized in Scandinavia. Like a lot more organized.
If you thrive on a bit of order, access to efficient transportation, and open doors to a bit of spontaneity, you are going to love traveling here! Now let’s take a look at some of the best Scandinavia backpacking routes that I have assembled below.
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Best Travel Itineraries for Backpacking Scandinavia
Here are several Backpacking Scandinavia travel itineraries to get your ideas flowing. The backpacking routes can easily be combined or customized!
Backpacking Scandinavia 1 Week Itinerary #1: The Main Cities
Only have 1 week to visit Scandinavia? No problem.
Stockholm -> Copenhagen -> Gothenburg -> Oslo -> Bergen -> Oslo
To be realistic though a 1 week Scandinavia itinerary is not that much time to work with. That said, you can certainly get a taste of what Scandinavia is about in just 7 days.
This 7-day itinerary has you starting off in Stockholm, Sweden, though it can easily be done in reverse as well (starting in Oslo). This itinerary omits Finland, as you simply don’t have enough time to combine four countries in 7 days.
Buying a Europe train pass is a great way to hit all of the cities on my list for the best price.
Part 1: Sweden and Denmark
Begin your journey by staying in Stockholm. It must be said that no trip backpacking in Sweden would be complete without a thorough exploration of the capital, Stockholm. It’s gorgeous!
If you love museums you have come to the right place. With no less than 100 to choose from, there is a museum in Stockholm to suit the taste of every traveler.
The legendary old town, Gamla Stan is one of the most-preserved old districts of any major European capital. Wind your way through the cobblestone streets taking in the tiny shops, cafes, before visiting the Stockholm’s Royal Palace.
After a day and a half in Stockholm, it’s time to move. The trains make it a breeze. Next stop: Copenhagen, Denmark.
Take in the sights of the stunning Danish capital before your Scandinavian backpacking adventure comes to an end. A stroll along the Nyhavn (the old harbor) and a visit to the top of the Round Tower are must-dos.
Now it is time to cross back into Sweden. The next place on the list is Gothenburg, Sweden (if Batman were Swedish, he’d be from here).
Big things are happening in Gothenburg and a visit to the 2nd largest city in Sweden is bound to be a delight. After taking a pastry and coffee from one of the numerous cafes in the hip Haga district, head to the harbor to check out the famous fish market.
You can opt for a boat tour that takes you on a journey around some of the neighboring islands, or you can just spend the day getting to grips with many of the city’s hidden gems.
Part 2: Norway
Next up on your journey is Oslo, Norway. Museums, churches, art galleries, and badass Scandinavian architecture all come together to make Oslo a jewel in the Scandinavian crown. Be sure to visit the medieval Akershus Fortress (built in 1299!).
A few hours’ train ride will bring you to your next destination: Bergen, Norway. I love Bergen for a variety of reasons. A picture-perfect waterfront combined with the fact that Bergen is the gateway to some very impressive Norweigian fjords might be part of the reason I love it here. Bergen is beautiful. You may never want to leave.
Circle back to Oslo to end your epic week-long adventure in Scandinavia! You’ll be back for more soon I hope.
Backpacking Scandinavia 10 Day Itinerary #2: Sweden
Stockholm -> Kalmar / Öland -> Skane to Malmö -> Gothenburg -> Örebro -> Uppsala -> Stockholm.
This itinerary takes you through the heart of what backpacking in Sweden is all about. Cities, castles, tiny fishing villages, national parks… you name it. There are so many side trips, variations, hikes, and places to explore over the course of this route that the opportunities to get off the beaten path are endless.
Here is an example itinerary for 7-10 days backpacking in Sweden:
Discover thriving urban life in Stockholm. Get to know the fairy-tale landscapes, churches, and castles of Kalmar. Pass through the green forests and towns on the drive from Skane to Malmo. Get a feel for the real Sweden in Göteborg. Spend a day exploring Stadsträdgården National Park near Örebro. Get to grips with Uppsala, Sweden’s former capital.
Around Skane, you do have the option to pop over to Copenhagen for a day or two as well. For a quick Swedish road trip of the southern coast, it doesn’t get any more idyllic than this. More about each of these places later in the guide.
Backpacking Scandinavia 10 Day Itinerary #3: Norway
Like backpacking in Sweden, a backpacking trip to Norway is bound to be one of the most beautiful and fascinating adventures of your life. Norway really is almost too pretty to be real.
In 10 days, you can hit plenty of top sights in Norway without feeling like you are rushing around like a crazy person. Norway is famous for its jaw-dropping natural landscapes. Its awe-inspiring beauty is, in essence, Norway in a nutshell.
If you love nature, you are sure to fall in love with the scenery during your backpacking Norway experience.
Here is an example itinerary of what you can discover with 10 days in Norway:
Oslo -> Stavanger -> Kjeragbolten -> Lysevegen Road -> Bergen -> Eidfjord-> Odda/Trolltunga -> Balestrand -> Geiranger -> Alesund
This whirlwind tour of Norway is the best of both worlds: you make an epic Norwegian road trip, do plenty of hiking, and experience a wide variety of different landscapes, towns, and cities.
Ever wonder where those epic photographs of people standing on cliffs in Norway with an amazing view of the mountains and fjords perfectly positioned in the backdrop were taken? The answer: most definitely somewhere along this backpacking route. Though, I can say with certainty that Pulpit Rock and Trolltunga are likely the images of Norway you have in your mind’s eye.
This is an action-packed itinerary with plenty of those “wow” moments occurring on a daily basis.
If you have slightly longer than two days, I suggest going on a few longer hikes, going on a sea-kayaking overnight trip through the fjords, camping in a national park or two, and getting to know the tiny villages scattered along the way.
Backpacking Scandinavia 2 Week Itinerary #4: Epic Scandinavia Road Trip
2 Weeks in Scandinavia is plenty of time to really cover some ground. For this itinerary, I recommend starting your trip in Finland (otherwise you might not make it there!).
I haven’t covered Finland much yet, but that is absolutely not to say that backpacking Finland is not without its charm, and this is the ultimate Finland to Sweden road trip. Note: if you have slightly more time you can do this trip with a combination of hitchhiking and buses. Finland has great hiking too.
Helsinki -> Tampere -> Linnansaari National Park -> Koli National Park -> Turku -> Stockholm -> Göteborg -> Malmö -> Copenhagen
This road trip itinerary is for the high energy backpacker. Some of the distances are quite huge, especially from Koli National Park to Turku, where you loop back across Finland before catching the ferry to Stockholm. I believe in you though!
Certainly, the effort will be worth the rewards. After experiencing Helsinki you will be on your way to exploring Finland’s wild side. Soak in wood-fired saunas lakeside. Spot moose, bear, and caribou. Camp next to crystal clear lakes in one of the most remote parts of Europe. Sound good? That is what backpacking in Finland is all about.
After you have seen Eastern Finland, it is time to return to the coast. Catch the ferry to Stockholm from Turku. At this point, you will probably have five or six days remaining.
Rest up in Stockholm before heading to Göteborg and Malmö. Spend your final days enjoying Copenhagen before setting off on your next adventure.
Keep in mind that the variations of this road trip are endless. I left a lot of room for you to be spontaneous, so you can focus on what you want to do!
Backpacking Scandinavia 2 Week Winter Itinerary #5: Finish Lapland
A Scandinavia winter itinerary? Huh, really? Really.
Do you want to get to the Arctic Circle? Well, my friends, this is your chance. Think reindeer sledding, igloo hotels, snowmobiling, wildlife, wood saunas, great food, and of course the Northern Lights.
Lapland is Finland’s northernmost region, a sparsely populated area bordering Sweden, Norway, Russia and the Baltic Sea. Sweden also has it own Lapland region. And it’s beautiful during the winter!
I’ll be honest with you, it is not easy to travel to the Laplands on a budget. Tourism is one of the biggest (if not the biggest) industries in this sub-arctic wilderness. People come from across the globe to go sledding and witness the majesty of the Northern Lights.
It is possible, just difficult to travel here on the cheap. Now that you know what you’re up against, you can consider taking on the trip of a lifetime.
Here is a sample Lapland itinerary:
Helsinki -> Rovaniemi -> Luosto -> ?
Basically, once you fly from Helsinki to Rovaniemi you can base yourself almost entirely here with a few exceptions.
Rovaniemi is your one-stop-shop for all things adventure in Lapland. I’d say in the winter, it is pretty much impossible to operate independently in the wilderness areas unless you are an extremely badass, prepared, experienced backcountry individual.
Even with those skills in your pocket, you probably don’t want to come all the way out here just to camp out in sub-zero temperatures. Most likely you will need to book a tour of some kind. It is just what you do in Lapland.
There are plenty of tour operators in Rovaniemi. Based on your budget and interests you are bound to find one to cover your needs.A real highlight will be a snowmobile ride to a backcountry lodge. Here you can witness the true power of seeing the Northern Lights and soak in a sauna or two under a sky exploding with stars.
Scandinavia Travel Guide: Country Breakdowns
Scandinavia is full of adventure potential. Where ever you choose to spend your time backpacking here, you can be sure that you will leave with your eyes wide and your travel heart full.
The Scandinavian countries do share many things: natural beauty, friendly locals, clean cities, to name a few.
They also are very distinct and unique from one another: different languages, cultures, history, food, ETC.
Getting the opportunity to experience all of Scandinavia in one backpacking trip will take you on a journey of a lifetime.
No matter what you have heard or seen regarding Scandinavia, leave your expectations at the door. What awaits is a region full of wonder, surprises, and a definite highlight of your backpacking career.
Let us take a look at the countries that make backpacking in Scandinavia so damn special…
Backpacking in Sweden might just be the most interesting country in your Scandinavia adventure. The cities are beautiful, public transportation is relatively inexpensive, the food is tasty, and you can hike and camp across the whole damn country!
Stockholm gets most of the attention and for good reason: it’s gorgeous. With winding canals, rainbow buildings, and an air of regality, Stockholm is probably the most popular city in Scandinavia. The remarkably preserved Old Town should not be missed nor a trip to the nearby archipelago.
There is plenty more to see and do in Sweden though. Gothenburg is the top competitor for the title of “coolest city” in the country and backpackers could easily stay here just as long as Stockholm. Uppsala is the student capital of Sweden, which means the nightlife is great.
We haven’t even touched upon the north of Sweden either. Here, you’ll find remote coastal towns, superlative treks – like Kungsleden – and endless woods. If you make it as far north as Lapland, you’ll have the chance to meet hidden Sami communities and maybe even the Aurora.
Many travelers will be surprised to find that English is widely spoken in Sweden. That is lucky for us because Swedish is a complicated language to learn. Interestingly, teaching English in Sweden is actually quite common.
Sweden can certainly be expensive, and if staying in high-end places is your thing, be prepared to pay a high price for the pleasure. That said, with some effort backpacking Sweden need not be overly expensive. It is reasonably priced relative to the rest of Scandinavia.
What to Know Before Visiting Sweden
- Don’t miss out on…visiting the Vasa Museum while visiting Stockholm. This is hands-down one of the coolest museums you’ll ever visit.
- Keep an eye out for…the Sami people of the north. They’re culturally and ethnically separate from the Swedes, Finns, and Norwegians.
- The coolest hostel is…STF AF Chapman Skeppsholmen – maybe one of the most unique hostels you’ll ever see: it’s is literally an old warship. Kitchy but we don’t care. Avast maties!
- The best food is found in…Gothenburg. This city is making a lot of noise in the culinary world for its forward-thinking and super accessible dining.
Norway is home to some of the most dramatic landscapes to be found anywhere on earth. Jagged cliffs jut out of the sea through an endless array of mighty glacier-carved fjords. Coastal villages frame post-card perfect scenes of human settlement. Waterfalls dazzle with a perpetual rainbow glint.
This is backpacking in Norway.
Norway is one of my favorite countries in the world. It is stunningly beautiful, easy to travel in, and has some of the best outdoor adventure sports opportunities in all of Europe. It is no surprise that Norway has firmly cemented itself in the hearts of every kind of traveler who visits it.
Locations like Senja, Romsdalen, the Lofoten Islands, and Eidfjord are like the stuff of legends. If you’ve ever fantasized about tramping around Scandinavia like a Viking or Norse epic warrior, these are the places to live it.
The Norwegian cities, most of which are located in the south, are also worth seeing. Oslo, home to a pretty thriving cafe scene and Edward Munch’s legendary painting “The Scream” (which has to be seen in person), is worth spending time in. Bergen is the gateway to the fjords.
Whilst traveling (better yet road tripping) in Norway is relatively easy, it is by no means cheap. Norway may be the most expensive country you’ll visit in Scandinavia. If you want to backpack PROPERLY here, you’ll need to use every trick in the trade.
What to Know Before Visiting Norway
- Don’t miss out on…visiting Senja and the Lofoten Islands. The landscape around here is just epic with towering granite walls, fjords, and surprisingly) pristine beaches that almost look tropical.
- You know what’s overrated…drinking in Norway. I don’t care how amazing the beer might be; $12 is steep.
- The coolest hostel is…Anker Hostel Oslo – Great prices and good vibes.
- The best food is found in…the convenience stores. With a usual restaurant meal costing at least $20, you’ll need to resort to fast food. That being said, the food is tasty and usually healthy.
Wood-fired Saunas, dazzling Northern Lights, wild animals like moose, wolves, and bears, remote wilderness, and booming cities. These are some of the things that make backpacking in Finland so special.
The Finnish capital in Helsinki is another fine example of a prospering Scandinavian city. The city has got it all in many respects. There is awesome food, fun nightlife, a picturesque waterfront, cafe culture, museums galore, and plenty of budget accommodation to keep backpackers happy.
One almost doesn’t feel like you are visiting a big city when you step foot in Helsinki. It has a calmness and order to it that I haven’t seen or experienced in many other cities in the world.
Finland’s beautiful lakeside city of Tampere certainly merits a visit. Here you can enjoy great beer, tasty food, activities on the lake, and plenty of relaxing Finnish sauna time.
Tampere is an important place to visit as it gives travelers a glimpse into another side of Finland. Helsinki is awesome, but capitals are often not the complete picture of a country by any means.
Up for a sub-arctic adventure are you? Lapland is Finland’s northernmost region, a sparsely populated area bordering Sweden, Norway, Russia, and the Baltic Sea. It’s known for its vast subarctic wilderness, ski resorts, and natural phenomena including the midnight sun and the northern lights.
Finland is a truly beautiful country blessed with immense off the beaten track potential. With everywhere in Europe being so damn crowded these days, backpacking in Finland is a breath of fresh air in that regard.
What to Know Before Visiting Finland
- Don’t miss out on…spending the day in a Finnish sauna. The older it looks and the deeper in the woods it is, the better.
- Keep an eye out for…sleep cycles. Seriously, the strange hours of the days in the far north can really mess with your rhythm. This goes for most Scandinavian countries actually.
- The coolest hostel is…The Yard Helsinki – Voted the best hostel in Finland for three years in a row. Great location and better vibes.
- The best food is found in…Turku. These guys take food very seriously. You can even purchase a “Turku Food Walk Card,” which will allow you to tour the town and sample the wares!
Good news backpackers! Denmark is another stunningly beautiful Scandinavian country blessed with gorgeous cities, superb wild coastline, and numerous hiking and biking trails for the outdoor-loving backpacker.
Denmark is also rich in its cultural heritage, with a number of important Viking-era archeological sights to discover. Any backpacker will immediately fall in love with Copenhagen, Denmark’s eclectic focal point.
Few cities in Europe are more pleasurable to stay in a few days than Copenhagen. It rivals Stockholm in terms of excitement and is arguably one of the best cities to visit in Scandinavia.
There is more to Denmark than just Copenhagen though. Chronically laidback Odense evades most tourists’ attention while Aarhus, the second-largest city in the country, is a great base for exploring Northern Denmark’s coastline — and there are great hiking opportunities here.
When you go backpacking in various countries in the world, the gaps between social classes are striking. Even in places like America, the UK, and other parts of Europe, the gulf between the have’s and have-nots is obvious.
Denmark seems to be on a relatively even playing field in that regard. The result is a generally positive and high quality of life for most Danish citizens. I love that a majority of the population has access to the arts, good food, sports, culture, education, and opportunities. The rest of the world should be more like Denmark. We’d all be happier.
What to Know Before Visiting Denmark
- Don’t miss out on…riding a bike in Copenhagen. This about the most Danish thing you can do while visiting.
- Keep an eye out for…weird rules in the Christiania district. This neighborhood is actually an autonomous region, separate from the EU. Weed is legal within its borders but the moment you cross back into Denmark, nope.
- The coolest hostel is…Danhostel Copenhagen City – a 5-star hostel located just a few minutes walk from Copenhagen’s top attractions. There’s even music, a bar, and food available.
- The best food is found in…the cafes. Danes love their pastries in the morning and a good cup of coffee to go with them.
For outdoor maniacs like myself, Iceland is as good as it gets in that realm. The volcanic island of Iceland is an unbelievably stunning land, blessed with glaciers, ice fields, dramatic coastline, unique plant species, waterfalls, and thermal hot pools.
A week-long journey down Iceland’s Ring Road is one of the best road trips to be had anywhere on earth. If you’re up for a real adventure though, you could also cut through the middle of the country and drive through the otherworldly highlands (you’ll need a 4×4 for this).
Due to its remoteness in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, Iceland is not a destination you just stumble upon. You will certainly need to plan your way through a backpacking trip here.
If Iceland is on your radar and you love trekking, photography, and cooler temperatures, this is the place for you to go backpacking amigos! Just bear in mind that whilst Iceland is very, very beautiful, it is also very, very expensive. It isn’t getting any cheaper with each passing day either.
More and more people are heading to Iceland to go backpacking so it is important to feel a sense of urgency with regards to getting your ass there for a trip! Even if you end up in Reykjavik for a short layover, you can explore a bit of Iceland.
What to Know Before Visiting Iceland
- Don’t miss out on…the small, local hot springs in the winter. With good company, a bottle of Brennevin, and the Northern Lights overhead, they’re magic.
- You know what’s overrated…the Blue Lagoon. This place is a tourist trap, overpriced, and overcrowded. It’s not even a NATURAL spring!
- The coolest hostel is…Kex Hostel Reykjavik. Great location in central Reykjavik with a cool on-site cafe and interior design.
- The best food is found in…Reykjavik. There’s actually a startlingly good foodie scene in this city. Think New Nordic. Slippbarinn is a great spot to try first.
Backpacking the Faroe Islands
Hot on the heels of Iceland is the next most popular destination in the east Atlantic: enter the Faroe Islands. This tiny tiny island chain located only 200 miles from Scotland is quickly becoming the next big Scandinavian adventure.
Backpacking in the Faroe Islands can seem a lot like Iceland as both feature similar landscapes and cultures. The Faroes do offer some pretty unique experiences though.
For one thing, the coast of the Faroe Islands is indescribable. Rugged, sheer, harrowing; everywhere you look there is some massive cliff or crooked spire rising out and falling out the ocean. Places like Múlafossur, Sørvágsvatn, and Kalsoy seem to defy the rules of nature and have to be seen to be believed.
Like Iceland, the Faroe Islands are also remarkably green. Everything, from the slopes of the hills to the tops of the houses, is covered in a lush moss that makes the old area feel like a verdant dreamscape.
It should be noted that technically the Faroe Islands are a part of Denmark. In order to arrive in the Faroe Islands, you will most likely have to fly from Copenhagen or Edinburgh in Scotland.
But the Faroe Islands have enough to offer to make them their own backpacking destination. If you should find yourself here – perhaps because you want to try something new – you will not be disappointed.
What to Know Before Visiting the Faroe Islands
- Don’t miss out on…Kalkoy Island, which hosts arguably the most dramatic vistas in the Faroe Islands.
- Keep an eye out for…sheep crossing the road. Did we mention that these guys outnumber their human masters? The sheep act like they own the place for God’s sake sometimes!
- The coolest hostel is…sorry backpackers – there are little to zero hostels here. You’ll need to find somewhere else to stay on the Faroes.
- The best food is found…at the local fish markets. Buy it fresh and then prepare it back at the lodge or with some good ol wilderness cooking.
One of adventure travel’s best-kept secrets, Svalbard is a Norwegian territory situated some 500km north of the mainland sitting inside the arctic circle.
The island archipelago feels like humanity’s final frontier, think the rebel base from Empire Strikes Back meets Game of Thrones’ Northern Wall. It is the northernmost civilized point on earth and home to more polar bears than people. It’s a haunted, melancholic landscape where winter never quite leaves, not even during the summer’s midnight sun. Svalbard remains pitch black during the winter and then the sun don’t never set during the summer!
It is home to an international cast of some 2,000 transient residents made up of scientists, researchers, and hospitality staff and it welcomes a few thousand curious travelers each year. Although it is Norwegian territory, it has a decidedly international feel and English serves as the default language.
Svalbard offers excellent opportunities for hiking, snow sledding, husky dogs and you may even catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights. Whilst not a cheap place to visit, the memories of Svalbard will remain with you for life.
Svalbard isn’t exactly a party destination in the classical sense but you can still have a lot of fun. My personal pick of the bars is Svalbard, but the Karlsberger Pub is also worth a visit in order to check out Europe’s largest whisky collection, as well as a bust of Lenin.
There is a weekly disco which a local friend described as “the world’s most northernmost meat market where the locals congregate to kop a feel”. Be warned, presentable visitors may find themselves VERY popular with randy long-termers who have grown tired of looking at the same few faces week after week.
What to Know Before Visiting Svalbard
- Don’t miss out on…The chance to ride a snow sled! This is about as close to the north pole you’re going to get so live a little.
- Keep an eye out for…polar bears. Despite their cute appearance, these animals big, hungry, and the most aggressive of the ursine species. Don’t go outside the compound without a guide and proper protection.
- The coolest hostel is…Gjestehuset 102. The cheapest option in the territory. Feel free to check out some of these other places to stay on Svalbard.
- The best food is found in…the Spitsbergen, which does wholesome, warming pub grub.
BONUS: Backpacking Greenland
Admittedly, Greenland is probably marginally considered Scandinavia. Geographically, it closer to North American than Europe and culturally it’s much more its own. In fact, the country is crying for more autonomy from its protectorate Denmark and may actually be a full-fledged independent nation one day.
One doesn’t really go “backpacking” in Greenland either; at least not in a certain sense. Yes, you’ll be exploring wildernesses with your backpack and all but that’s about as far as it goes; there will be no hostel parties, no tour buses, and no historical sites to see. In fact, most people visit Greenland on some sort of organized tour.
If you’ve made this far and are still interested in visiting Greenland, good on ya!
The mountains and fjords of Greenland are RIDICULOUS; possibly even more dramatic than those in Norway (see Tasermiut). The chance to sail around glaciers and icebergs is completely one-of-a-kind. Considering how the fight against global warming is going (not well), seeing these icy behemoths may not even be possible soon.
Greenland hosts some last frontiers on the planet (at least until Antarctica melts). And although the infrastructure is pretty basic compared to the rest of Scandinavia, it’s good enough to allow travelers to explore the best of the island. Considering the polar conditions, it’s actually impressive.
If you’re ready to get off the beaten path and want to do something completely out of the norm, visit Greenland. This is a place most backpackers have only dreamed of seeing and visiting here would be a great accomplishment.
What to Know Before Visiting Greenland
- Don’t miss out on…exploring the Tasermiut Fjord. This place is home to some of the most astounding peaks anywhere on Earth. Kayaking trips are commonly organized.
- You know what’s overrated…roads – there are almost none in Greenland and most people get around by boat or plane. Who needs cars anyway!?
- The coolest hostel is…Nuka Hostel Ilulissat – More like a guesthouse with shared communal spaces. Expensive but hey that’s Greenland for ya.
- The best food is found in…whatever the camp cook is preparing for the night. What’s that? Top ramen? Sound delish.
Scandinavia off the Beaten Path
Once you leave the heavily populated urban centers, a whole other world of explorations opportunity awaits in Scandinavia. Sometimes the distances between towns are great, leaving plenty of wide open space to wander.
Parts of Norway, Finland, and Sweden are very remote. They are also quite difficult to access. The combination of those two factors leave the path wide open for backpackers with a little motivation for adventure. Each country in Scandinavia has its popular spots, like any country.
Unlike the rest of Europe, however, many parts of Scandinavia are often overlooked or simply too far out of the way for backpackers to bother with. Getting out into the mountains, forests, lakes, valleys, and small villages of Scandinavia will bring you in touch with a side of Scandinavia that few get to see.
Northern Sweden and Finland in particular are very wild. For those with ample time to dig into their Scandinavia backpacking adventure, the possibilities to get off the beaten path are endless.
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Top Things to Do in Scandinavia
Below I have listed the 10 best things to do in Scandinavia:
1. Explore Lapland
Get off the beaten path in one of Europe’s most wild regions.
2. Do the Kungsleden Trek in Sweden
Kungsleden is one of the finest long-distance hikes in the world. Probably one of the best things you can do with your time backpacking Sweden is this hike. You won’t be sorry you did.
3. Experience the fjords in Norway
Fjords are awesome, and Norway has some of the best Fjordian (is that a word??) landscapes on earth.
4. Hike the Trolltunga Trek
Backpacking Norway is never dull, but the beauty along the Trolltunga Trek is on another level. Get out there and do it!
5. Get to know the capital cities of Scandinavia
Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm, and Helsinki: They are all amazing places to explore, but be careful because you may never leave.
6. Try weird Scandinavian food
Think every variation of dried, salted, fermented, and just plain rotten seafood. Well, that is just scratching the surface of Scandinavian culinary tradition.
7. Witness the Northern Lights
You can almost certainly see the Northern Lights in every Scandinavian country. The farther north you go, the better the views. Lapland is particularly excellent when it comes to viewing the Northern Lights.
8. Stay in Bergen, Norway
Bergen is one of the most beautiful towns in the whole world. The surrounding mountains, fjords, and sea passages are equally as stunning. Here, you can check out my list of the best hostels in Bergen.
9. Go to a Sauna in Finland
The Finns are famous for their legendary sauna traditions. After a long hike, nothing feels better for your muscles than a nice, hot sauna.
10. Spend time in the fishing villages along the Scandinavian Coast
See what life is like in some of Scandinavia’s least populated (but most beautiful) regions.
Backpacker Accommodation in Scandinavia
Aside from dreamy Swedish mountain huts, your awesome tent, and a stranger’s couch, sometimes one needs to take a deep breath and book a hostel.
Hostels are the most affordable budget travel accommodation option for backpackers in Scandinavia. When you just need a place to lay your head or a spot to meet fellow ramblers like yourself, hostels are clearly where it’s at…
To get to grips with where to stay in each capital city in Scandinavia, check out these super in-depth hostel guides:
Backpacking Scandinavia Costs
I’ll be honest with you, backpacking in Scandinavia can be a pricey experience if you are not careful, but you probably already knew that. Nevertheless, just because backpacking in Scandinavia isn’t as cheap as backpacking in Southeast Asia you shouldn’t feel discouraged or intimidated to come here.
Each country in Scandinavia requires a different budget and travel strategy. Prices can be similar for some things I would say, but not always. For example, Copenhagen is only moderately expensive when compared to Stockholm or Oslo.
Staying in hostels EVERY evening, booking trains last minute, going to the bar night after night, and eating out for every meal adds up before you can say Realisationsvinstbeskattning (Swedish). In order to properly prepare yourself for the expenses that lie in wait, you need an honest and realistic idea of what travel costs are in Scandinavia.
Booze is also very VERY expensive. One beer might cost you $9-11 USD. If you are traveling in Scandinavia for a couple of weeks and have one beer a day, well, you do the math. It’s a lot of money.
And ordering mixed drinks whilst backpacking in Sweden for example? You’re looking at $15-20 a pop, especially in clubs (which also charge entry).
Maybe take a break from drinking whilst backpacking in Scandinavia, and put the money towards renting a car, trying tasty food, or going to a museum. If you really want to save money and travel Scandinavia on a budget, cut out the booze.
Daily Budget for Backpacking Scandinavia
I have broken down the average daily travel costs you can expect in order to help you get to grips with your own Scandinavia backpacking budget:
|Country||Dorm Bed (when available)||Local Meal||Train Ride (3 hours or less)||Currency||Average Daily Budget|
|Norway||$30- 60||$30-50||$50-80||Norwegian Krone||$70-110+|
*This is actually the price of renting a car per day. Trains aren’t used in Iceland.
Scandinavia Budget Travel Hacks
The lion’s share of your budget for traveling Scandinavia will be spent between expensive hostels and pricey restaurants (and booze). Below are my tips for how to avoid these expenses.
- Camp: With plenty of awesome mountains, forests, stunning countryside, and far-flung coastal stretches, camping whilst backpacking Scandinavia is an essential budget hack. Sometimes you need to book a hostel. Fair enough. But when there are no hostels available – outside of major cities – you need to manifest a budget option. That option – the free option – is camping, which will take you to beautiful places and get you off of the beaten path.
- Cook your own food: Travel with a portable backpacking stove and cook your own food to save some serious cash whilst backpacking across Scandinavia. If you are on a tight budget, you MUST have a backpacking stove. Having the ability to cook whilst camping or on the road gives you independence and freedom. Few things are better in life than sipping a hot cup of coffee as you are watching the sun spill its shade over a beautiful mountain.
- Couchsurf: The Fins, Danes, Swedes, and the Norwegians — they are all awesome folks. Get to know some! Check out Couchsurfing to make some real friendships and see a country from the perspective of locals. When using Couchsurfing, be sure to send personalized messages to your potential host. A generic copy and paste message are much more likely to get turned down. Make yourself stand out.
- Don’t drink much whilst backpacking Scandinavia: I know it can be hard to give up on drinking whilst you are on a backpacking adventure. I’ll admit, I have spent a fortune over the years on drinking alcohol. But in Scandinavia, the prices are INSANE.
- To learn how to travel the world on $10 a day, check out the backpacker’s bible.
- Pack a travel water bottle and save money (and the planet) every day! Stop buying plastic water bottles! Enough said.
Why Should You Travel to Scandinavia with a Water Bottle?
Whilst there’s a lot that we can do when it comes to traveling responsibly, reducing your plastic consumption is one of the easiest and most impactful things you can do. Don’t buy one-use water bottles, don’t take plastic shopping bags, and forget straws. All of this just ends up in landfill or in the ocean.
If you’d like some more tips on how to save the world, be sure to watch the video below.
Best Time to Visit Scandinavia
Scandinavia is open for business year round, though what you can enjoy doing depends on the season. Winters are cold. Really cold. Winter is certainly the low season, though the various ski regions of Sweden, Norway, and Finland get rolling in the winter months.
Summer is arguably the most beautiful. Trees are blooming. Wildflowers are showing off their colorful petals. Hiking in the mountains is very comfortable. With the good weather come the crowds. Norway will almost certainly be the most crowded with foreign visitors.
All capital cities will be busy at their peak season in July and August. Many tourists arrive by the cruise ship load along the Baltic Sea coast.
Spring and Summer are also excellent times to come backpacking in Scandinavia. If you come to early or visit to late though, expect cold temperatures.
Scandinavia really has four distinct seasons. Each has something special to offer.
Keep in mind that if you visit in the winter the days are short. As you get closer to the Arctic circle, the daylight in the winter is minimal. The reverse is true in the summer.
Best Festivals in Scandinavia
- Distortion/May-June/Copenhagen: Distortion has been producing some of the biggest music-related street parties in Europe for the last 20 years. It is a pretty wild scene and bound to be one hell of a massive party.
- Roskilde Festival/Summer/Roskilde: Northern Europe’s biggest music festival. Internationally-renowned artists like Bob Marley, Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, Kanye West, Metallica, Prince, Radiohead, Rihanna and U2 have all played Roskilde in previous years and the festival is THE place to experience both established bands as well as new acts at their best.
- Stella Polaris/Summer/Different Locations: Stella Polaris is deemed the world’s largest free electronic music festival. Stella Polaris is a one-day festival that was established in 1997 by Kalle Bremer and Nicka Kirstejn. The festival takes places every summer and is the largest picnic festival with an emphasis on the electronic music genre.
- Gladmat/ July/Stavanger: Hundreds of thousands of foodies from around the globe converge together in July for a truly impressive culinary event.
- Øya Festival/August/Oslo: This 4-day music fest is kind of like the Coachella of Norway. Some pretty big names in music are featured every year.
- Ice Music Festival/Winter/ Finse: Exactly what it sounds like. The stage and instruments are made of ice! I like the idea, I just feel like I’d be insanely cold the whole time.
- Walpurgisnacht/ Spring /Gothenburg: An epic spring pagan festival deeply rooted in Nordic culture.
- Peace and Love Festival/ Summer/ Borlange: A truly unique festival where the main agenda is promoting general human peace, empathy, and kindness. Maybe the entire world should attend.
- Kaustinen Folk Music Festival/Summer/Kaustinen: The biggest folk music and dance festival in the Nordic countries, Kaustinen Folk Music Festival hosts national and international artists from across the globe for a week in the town of Kaustinen.
What to Pack for Scandinavia
On every adventure, there are six things I never go traveling without:
Active Roots Money Belt
This is a regular looking belt with a concealed pocket on the inside – you can hide up to twenty notes inside and wear it through airport scanners without it setting them off.
GRAYL Geopress Filtered Bottle
Having a filtered water bottle means you can drink from just about any source. The GRAYL Geopress is hands-down the most effective one we’ve ever used as well!
Active Roots Microfiber Towel
Hostel towels are scummy and take forever to dry. Microfibre towels dry quickly, are compact, lightweight, and can be used as a blanket or yoga mat if need be.
Petzl Actik Core Headlamp
A decent head torch could save your life. If you want to explore caves, unlit temples, or simply find your way to the bathroom during a blackout, a headtorch is a must.
Active Roots Camping Hammock
Taking a tent backpacking is not always practical but hammocks are lightweight, cheap, strong, sexy (chicks dig hammocks), and allow you to pitch up for the night pretty much anywhere.
Hanging Toiletry Bag
I always travel with a hanging toiletry bag as it’s a super-efficient way to organize your bathroom stuff. Well worth having as it helps to have quick access to all your stuff.
Safety in Scandinavia
Recent years have brought on a string of terrorist attacks in Europe. While these events are rare, they do receive a lot of attention and negative press. Justifiably so to a degree, though I would argue that Europe is still just as safe as it ever was to go traveling in.
This especially rings true for Scandinavia. Crime rates are some of the lowest in the world all across Scandinavia.
Yes, attacks happen. I do feel like the media (not all) in Europe and the US really portrays Muslims living here in a negative light. There are plenty of other groups committing acts of violence, though attacks carried out by Muslim folks receive the most coverage.
This has led to a string of pro-nationalist anti-Muslim rhetoric across Europe, unfairly blaming the Muslim populations for a wide swath of internal problems. Luckily, the Scandinavian countries have yet to elect a total right-wing xenophobic douche bag to power, with the exception maybe of Sweden.
In this day and age (the threat of) violence is a fact that we live with. An extremist individual or a person with mental illness could strike anywhere at any moment, anywhere in the world. If you lived your life in fear of this shit you might never leave the house.
Point being, be aware that violence is an everyday part of the world sadly. The possibilities of something bad happening to you on your journey backpacking Scandinavia is slim to say the least.
On a slightly lighter note, I strongly recommend traveling with a headlamp whilst in Scandinavia (or anywhere really – every backpacker should have a good headtorch!), especially if you’re camping.
Whenever you are out backpacking in the mountains always plan ahead and be prepared. In northern Sweden and Finland there are large predators like wolves and bears. Even moose can be deadly if they charge you. If you plan on visiting remote wilderness area, always check with local sources regarding large animals and safety.
Always use proper technique when crossing strong flowing rivers.
Sex, Drugs, and Rock n’ Roll in Scandinavia
Scandinavia has a pretty happening party scene that recalls their viking roots of merry making in beer halls. From Copenhagen to Helsinki, Noridc bars and pubs are warm, inviting and serve some truly delicious beer.
However, drinking in the region is seriously pricey and a proper night on the tiles rarely costs less than $100. Note that Denmark is substantially cheaper than Sweden and many Swedes even cross the border in order to save a few kroner on booze – Fins often take the ferry to Tallinn in Estonia for a proper knees up.
There is also a lively club scene across the region. Sweden offers some of the best “progressive” electronic music in the world and during summer there are multiple forest festivals. Drugs are available in Scandinavia but prices are significantly higher than elsewhere in Europe.
In the faraway land of Svalbard, whilst the locals are technically on an alcohol ration, this antiquated by-law is not enforced in the bars and taverns and they are a great place to drink a few delicious Spitsbergen beers and chat with the residents. Drugs are pretty much non-existent here though. The Norwegian authorities work very hard to keep them out of the archipelago as an abundance of firearms, polar bears, and camp fever probably wouldn’t really mix too well with mind altering substances.
Finally, let’s get down to business. Scandinavian people are widely regarded as amongst the most classically beautiful in the world which may well be a result of the Vikings’ selective kidnapping policies. What’s more, the society is very forward-thinking and progressive, and natives are quite welcoming to locals.
Travel Insurance for Scandinavia
Traveling without insurance would be risky so do consider getting good backpacker insurance sorted before you head off on an adventure.
I have been using World Nomads for some time now and made a few claims over the years. They’re easy to use, professional and relatively affordable. They may also let you buy or extend a policy once you’ve started your trip and are already abroad which is super handy.
If there’s one insurance company I trust, it’s World Nomads. To find out why I use World Nomads, check out my World Nomads Insurance review.
A message from Will, the OG Broke Backpacker
“Once upon a time, I almost lost my leg in a sweltering jungle…
I battled a seriously nasty infection that snaked up past my knee and by the time I made it to a local hospital they wanted to amputate. I was delirious, unable to walk, and in a lot of pain but I managed to call my insurance provider – they moved me to a much better private hospital where the doctors were able to save my leg.
I wracked up $15,000 in hospital bills, but these were completely covered by my travel insurance. Luckily, I still have my leg today, and whilst it is permanently damaged, I’m grateful every day it’s still attached!
Moral of the story: consider getting travel insurance before you head out into the wilds, people!“
Getting into Scandinavia
To start your Scandinavia backpacking adventure, all of the major cities are viable candidates depending on your Scandinavia travel itinerary. If you plan on spending a majority of your time backpacking Sweden for example, start in Stockholm.
Whilst looking for plane tickets to your chosen backpacking destination, I advise that you look at multiple cities and book the cheapest flight even if that city isn’t in your targeted country. You can easily fly between capitals in Europe on the cheap.
For example, you might find it cheaper to fly into Paris or London first. You can then book a second flight to your intended destination.
To reach more distant regions like Svalbard, the Faroe Islands, and Greenland, you will have to fly from a regional hub within Scandinavia first. For Svalbard, you will have to fly from Tromso, Norway. For the Faroes, either Copenhagen or Edinburgh (the latter is the only exception). For Greenland, again Copenhagen or Keflavik, Iceland.
If you are already traveling in Europe before coming to Scandinavia, try to end your trip in the city with the cheapest flights north. I know it’s common sense but it bears repeating.
Scandinavia Entry Requirements
EU citizens will only need their passport to enter Scandinavian countries. Citizens of Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, and the US, and a handful of other countries do not need to re-apply for a visa; their valid passport will be stamped on arrival. Other nationalities will need to apply for a Schengen Visa beforehand to visit all Schengen zoned countries.
As a non-European traveler, you can only stay in the Schengen zone countries for three months out of every six months. Once six months have passed from your original arrival date, the visa resets.
Now what is the Schengen Zone you might be asking?
The Schengen visa can be a bit confusing because not all European countries are part of Schengen zone. Greece, Germany, Spain, Portugal, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Scandinavian countries, Hungary, Czech Republic, etc. are part of the Schengen zone.
A few other countries – namely Switzerland, Finland, Denmark, Iceland, and Norway – are not technically associated with the EU, but they are part of the Schengen zone.
Whereas, the UK, Ireland, and most Eastern European and Baltic countries, are not part of the Schengen zone, even though they are part of the EU (with the UK leaving the EU soon).
Theoretically, you can visit Scandinavia for three months, and then hop over to a non-Schengen country – like Croatia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina – for three months, and then travel back to Scandinavia with a fresh three-month visa. A lot of long-term travelers plan their travels around the Schengen visa accordingly.
For more information, and the official Schengen country list, check out this website.
Traveling to Scandinavia During COVID Times
Each Scandinavian country imposes its own rules and regulations regarding COVID-19. Residents of the Schengen Zone will have an easier time traveling to the region but, that being said, even they are not guaranteed entry.
Here is a brief overview of the entry requirements for each country as of November 2020:
- Norway: Those traveling to Norway from a country deemed high-risk will be required to provide a negative COVID test taken no later than 72 hours before departure.
- Sweden: All non-Schengen countries are banned from entering.
- Finland: The same as Norway except travelers will need to quarantine for an additional 72 hours while they take/wait for a second COVID test. Upon passing, they are allowed to travel freely.
- Denmark: Residents from any region on this list will be barred entry, regardless if they’re from the Schengen or not. Citizens of Scandinavian countries are allowed free entry.
- Iceland: Visitors must go through two COVID screenings within five days of one another and stay in quarantine until the results of both tests are known. A 14-day quarantine will be required otherwise. Iceland follows the same list of banned countries as the Schengen Zone.
With COVID-19, the situation is always subject to change. ALWAYS, double-check current rules and travel restrictions before traveling.
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Book your transport on Bookaway now to guarantee your seat and for the right price.
How to Get Around Scandinavia
Okay, there are many great ways to get around Scandinavia! If you plan on hitting up multiple countries in Scandinavia, the Eurorail Pass is the way to go. You can buy a rail pass for one country or for all of Europe.
Buying train tickets individually adds up fast, so in the end, buying a pass it totally worth it – check out our in-depth post on traveling Europe by rail.
Long-distance buses are probably the cheapest option, though they tend to be the most time consuming as well. A 9-hour journey with a company like Flixbus is likely to cost you between 25-50 Euros, depending on when you book.
For the most part trains are the best form of public transit, but I like Flixbus because if plans change, you can cancel for a small fee and rebook when you’re ready. You can score long-distance buses for as little as 15 dollars if you’re really on it too.
Whilst you are backpacking the cities in Scandinavia, use the metro and local buses to get across town. Got a couple of days in a capital city? Buy your metro tickets in bulk and save a few bucks.
Renting a Car in Scandinavia
Renting a car at some point on your Scandinavia backpacking adventure will give you freedom to roam. There is nothing better than moving about at your own pace. Having wheels gives you that. Plus, who doesn’t want to make the ultimate Scandinavian road trip at least once, right?
You can sort your car rental here in just a few minutes. Booking in advance is the best way to ensure you score the lowest price and your choice of vehicle. Often, you can find the best car rental prices when you pick up the rental from the airport.
Sort your car rental by country here:
Campervanning in Scandinavia
By far the best way to get around Scandinavia independently is by campervan.
Campervans are great because you are traveling with a mobile shelter and kitchen that is capable of parking just about anywhere for the night.
Whilst campervan rentals in Scandinavia are not cheap, you do end up saving money on accommodation and cooking for yourself. The biggest win for going the campervan route is the unprecedented freedom you have.
Really enjoy a place you went for a day hike and want to sleep there? Easy. Interested in parking super close to a popular attraction so that you can be the first one to arrive in the morning? Sorted.
Want to snuggle up with your lover, sip tea, and read whilst it is pouring rain outside? No problem. Curious to know if a castle is really haunted at night so you need to park close to it? Bam. Do it.
The list of benefits to renting a campervan in Scandinavia goes on and on.
Keep in mind that campervan rentals in Scandinavia are seasonal. The rental prices are at their highest in the summer.
When booking a campervan, the details matter. Does your rental come with sheets, blankets, a stove, and electricity outlets? Be sure to ask. Go for the campervan with the best price point vs all of the gear and gadgets. You can simply pack all the gear you need to have a successful campervanning adventure in Scandinavia!
Hitchhiking in Scandinavia
I did not personally hitchhike in Scandinavia, but I have been told by friends that they had a fair bit of success. Scandinavian people are super friendly, so that doesn’t surprise me.
With so many cars (and campervans) on the road, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find a ride. Bear in mind that two people traveling together with fully loaded backpacks will have a harder time. I have found that the sight of two people with massive backpacks in tow is a harder sell for people with small cars or lots of gear already themselves.
I would NOT try to hitchhike in or around major cities. When accepting a ride ALWAYS have your spidey senses firing. If a person sketches you out, fuck em. You have time. Be polite, don’t say fuck em out loud, but turn the ride down all the same. Better to wait for a ride that makes you feel 100% comfortable.
For people backpacking in Sweden, Iceland, or Norway for a couple of months, hitchhiking is a great option because you are in no real rush. Big smiles and the right hitchhiking spot will go a long way towards your ultimate success (or failure).
Generally speaking, Scandinavia has the reputation of being one of the safest places in Europe.
Hitchhiking on a boat or some kind of fishing vessel may be possible too. Scandinavia is surrounded by coastline and there are always plenty of ships coming and going. I have never officially hitched a ride on a boat, though I have been damn close a few times.
Check out a few website like Crewbay.com which helps travelers connect with boats and vice versa.
Onwards Travel from Scandinavia
Scandinavia is home to five major global traveling hubs and international airports. This means you can get anywhere in the world with relative ease. If you are on a grand European or world tour, heading south to Eastern Europe and making your way into Turkey and beyond is a straightforward affair.
Again, check prices of flights from other parts of Europe before booking a long distance flight. Also, due to the awesome European train network, you can travel across the continent and beyond via train.
If you were unable to hitch a ride on a private boat (we all wish we’d been able to do), there are still plenty of public ferries plying the seas as well. These all travel to Germany, the Baltics, Poland, and more.
Working and Staying Connected in Scandinavia
Though Scandinavia ticks many of the boxes digital nomads look for in a potential landing place – good standard living, fast Wifi, a thriving startup scene – the region is not much of a haven for them.
For one thing, prices here can be REALLY discouraging. Cost of living, dining out, and travel are all very high in Scandinavia, which makes the region hard to break into. Granted, countries like Sweden and Finland are a tad cheaper, but not enough to really turn heads. Either way, you’ll need a good, high-paying job to survive in these parts.
Regardless of whether you’re passing through or living in Scandinavia, internet will be a non-issue. It’s found in just about every part of the country, from the big cities to small towns. Lapland will be challenging.
Interestingly, Norway (of all places) actually has a readily available digital nomad visa, and here’s the kicker: it’s good for life. Catch is: it’s only good for living in Svalbard, Norway’s northern outpost. Expenses will be high, winter nights will be long, and you’ll be outnumbered by polar bears. If you’ve ever dreamed of tending bar on the edge of the world though, this might be up your alley.
Keen to live the digital nomad dream while traveling the world? Who the hell isn’t?
Teaching English online is a great way to earn a consistent income on the road. Depending on your qualifications, you can work remotely from your laptop and make a positive impact on the world! It’s a win-win!
Check out this detailed article for everything you need to know to start teaching English online.
Volunteer in Scandinavia
Volunteering abroad is an amazing way to experience a culture whilst giving something back. There are loads of different volunteer projects in Scandinavia ranging from teaching, to animal care, to agriculture to pretty much everything!
There’s a huge variety of volunteering opportunities all over Scandinavia. From language exchanges in Finland and hospitality in Denmark to farming and working on eco-resorts in Sweden, there are plenty of opportunities for backpackers to give back to communities. Most travelers will need to apply for a residence permit to volunteer in Scandinavia, whatever country they choose.
Want to find some awesome volunteering opportunities in Scandinavia? Then signup for Worldpackers, a platform that connects local hosts with volunteer travelers. As a Broke Backpacker reader, you’ll also get a special discount of $10. Just use the discount code BROKEBACKPACKER and your membership is discounted from $49 a year to only $39.
Programs run through reputable work exchange programs, like Worldpackers, are generally very well-managed and highly reputable. However, whenever you are volunteering do stay vigilant especially when working with animals or children.
Worldpackers: connecting travellers with meaningful travel experiences.
What to Eat in Scandinavia
Nordic food can seem quite simple at first. It mostly uses hearty vegetables, like potatoes or cabbage, herbs, and a mixture of proteins in the form of fish, pork, or mutton. Preservation (pickling) is also very popular in Scandinavia and not everyone enjoys this.
The simplicity of Nordic food comes from the harshness of the land: unlike more southernly European nations, say Italy or France, where produce grows easily, it’s difficult to cultivate anything in Scandinavia. This was one of the reasons the Vikings were always raiding – they were trying to find new and more arable land.
But in its simplicity hides a certain elegance. At its core, Nordic cuisine is all about local production or being farm-to-table. Old techniques, like foraging and smoking, are making a comeback and there is a huge emphasis on using ingredients directly from the source, be that either the catch of the day or whatever the cook found in the forest on their walk.
“New Nordic” cooking is all the rage at the moment. Noma in Copenhagen maybe its flagbearer. If you wanted to try some of the best New Nordic food possible while backpacking Scandinavia you’ll need to plan well in advance and be prepared to pay lots of money. If you should score a table at a respected restaurant though, it may have one of the best meals of your life.
If you’re just looking to try some traditional, high-quality Nordic food regardless if it’s “new” or not, you have lots more options. Good food is still easily found in most of the major cities; here are some of the best dishes to try:
The Best Foods in Scandinavia
- Cinnamon Buns (Sweden) – can’t visit Sweden without having one of these in a cafe.
- Kjøttkaker (Norway) – seasoned, kneaded mincemeat with a variety of ingredients.
- Smörgåsbord (Sweden) – The ultimate classic Swedish buffet feast.
- Köttbullar (Sweden) – Swedish meatballs. Everyone has a different style.
- Bergensk fiskesuppe (Norway) – subtle fish soup of Bergen. Usually made from Pollock and stock, double cream is added for added creaminess.
- Skyr (Iceland) – Rich, creamy yogurt.
- Harofiskur (Iceland) – Wind-dried haddock (like fish jerky)
- Skerpikjøt (Faroe Islands) – Mutton left to dry in the open air for at least a year.
- Karjalanpiirakka (Finland) – a rye bread boat made filled rice porridge.
- Fresh berries (everywhere) – Scandinavians love blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and other berries found in the woods.
The most defining quality of Scandinavia, the thing that separates it from the rest of mainland Europe, is arguably its society. Descendents of Vikings, now hyper-socialists, Scandinavians are very proud and successful people.
Every Scandinavian nation, in some sense, can trace its origins back to Norse expansionism in the late 1st millennia, when the Vikings began to reach out into Europe and the North Atlantic. During this time, the Vikings were a force to be reckoned with and could wipe the floor with just about anyone.
Fast forward another millennium, and the Scandinavians are now some of the most forward-thinking, tolerant, and prosperous people on the planet. This region is a breeding ground for fresh, innovative ideas and a standard of living that is often idolized. Like the Vikings before, with their revolutionary shipbuilding techniques and penchant for trade, the Scandinavians are blazing trails albeit in a more socially progressive way.
Scandinavians are a very open-minded bunch who are accepting of most others. Personality-wise, they can be perceived as a bit cold and even eccentric at times, but with a little work they’ll open up. At the end of the day, Scandinavians still like to have fun like everyone else, be that with a book, a party, a potluck, or traveling.
When you can, make an effort to learn at least a few words of the local language of the country you are backpacking in. Those Scandinavians make it too easy for us Anglophones. It’s a challenge as every country has a different language, but a little effort goes a long way. The world need-not revolve around us native English speakers!
Books to Read while Backpacking Scandinavia
Here are some of my favorite books books set in Scandinavia:
- Norway, The Northern Playground: Fun but dense history of mountain exploration in Norway.
- Fellowship of Ghosts: A Journey Through the Mountains of Norway : Acclaimed writer Paul Watkins describes his spellbinding solo trek through the wilds of Norway’s Rondane and Jutunheimen mountains—grand but harsh landscapes where myth and reality meet.
- The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country: All the reasons why Denmark is awesome basically.
- Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name: A Novel: Alone and adrift, Clarissa travels to mystical Lapland, where she believes she’ll meet her real father. There, at a hotel made of ice, Clarissa is confronted with the truth about her mother’s history, and must make a decision about how—and where—to live the rest of her life.
- Hans Christian Andersen: The Complete Fairy Tales and Stories: Because when you are traveling to the land of fairytale landscapes, you need something to make sense of it all.
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Trekking in Scandinavia
Hiking and trekking is a favorite past time among Scandinavian people. They have a rich tradition of getting out into mountains and wilderness areas.
There is an obvious correlation: Scandinavia is a land blessed with incredible hiking opportunities. Each country has a wide range of day hikes and multi-day treks on offer. Trekking is a great way to get to know any country by experiencing its wild side.
In addition to well-maintained trail systems, many regions in Sweden in particular are home to mountain huts. For a fee one can enjoy these super comfortable and unique fixtures of the Swedish hill country.
For some of the more famous hikes in Scandinavia, refer back to the top of the article in the Places to Visit sections.
Best Hikes in Scandinavia
- Besseggen Ridge/Norway: This 7-hour hike in Jotunheimen National Park is a great introduction to hiking in Norway.
- Dovrefjell /Norway: Want to see musk oxen in the wild set against a back drop of epic mountains? Dovrefjell is the place. There are a multitude of single and multi-day hikes to be had here. Epic.
- Galdhøpiggen /Norway: Galdhøpiggen is the highest mountain in Scandinavia (2,469 meters). Get this: there is a hut at the summit where you can chill out after the big push to reach the top.
- The Jämtland Triangle/ Sweden: This is a truly beautiful 47-km hike blessed with huts, saunas, and places to eat along the way. This is hiking with a purpose: to eat!
- Tarfala/Sweden: A turquoise mountain lake and dramatic peaks that few (foreign) backpackers visit? I am glad I have you attention. There are also a few awesome huts (of course) to stay in along the way.
- Kungsleden/The King’s Trail/ Sweden: You have heard me talk about the Kungsleden trek before. That is because it is one of the best treks around.
- High Coast Trail/Sweden: This 130 km trek is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. There are very few long treks that have the UNESCO status. The paths run through dense forests in Skuleskogen National Park, along with the shores of wonderful bays and past cultural heritage sites. Truly a backpacker’s delight.
- Across the Hardangervidda/Norway: Certainly one of the best treks in Norway, if not the world. And highly under the radar for that distinction. The Hardangervidda Trek will take you about 10-12 days. The journey takes you across the plateau in Jotunheimen National Park, where some of the Star War’s movies were filmed. Enough said.
Final Thoughts on Backpacking Scandinavia
Scandinavia can be one hell of a place to let loose (if you can afford it). Have fun on your Scandinavia backpacking journey! Just remember to take it easy, pace yourself, and not do anything stupid that affects those around you in a negative way.
When visiting historic Viking sights or religious monuments, be respectful. Certainly, do not climb on old ruins or touch priceless paintings. Scandinavia is full of historical treasures. Don’t be that dickhead that contributes to their demise and destruction.
Congratulations! You made it to the end of my Scandinavia travel guide!
I hope the information I have provided will help you navigate the exciting Scandinavian journey you have decided to embark on. Backpacking in Scandinavia will be one of the most fun experiences of your life; I have no doubt about that. Enjoy the hell out of every minute of it! Best of luck!
See you down the road my friends…
Author’s Note: Special thanks to Tony Buttitta for contributing his beautiful photographs to this travel guide. You can see more of his work at Tony Buttitta.com.
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