My wife and I traveled to Scandinavia in late August 2019. The trip combined visits to Copenhagen, Oslo, Bergen and Norwegian fjords. We flew direct from Washington, Dulles to Copenhagen, where we spend five days. We took an overnight ferry from Copenhagen to Oslo, where we spent four days. We used trains and ferries to visit Sognefjord and Naeroyfjord, spending one night in Flam and one night in Balestrand. We then took a ferry from Balestrand to Bergen, where we spent one day and two nights before connecting with a flight in Copenhagen back to DC.
We were very impressed with Scandinavia. Clean, well planned cities with less income stratification and homelessness than you find in the U.S. The fjords are very picturesque and easy to visit with the Norway in a Nutshell route. Temperatures ranged from the mid-50s to low 70s, with very little rain, less than typical for late summer. It was already past the solstice but it was still light until after 9 pm in late August.
Like a number of our recent trips, we had our travel agent work with a local tour company to plan a trip just for us, with tour guides and outings scheduled throughout the trip but also free time for us to do as we liked on our own schedule. We stayed at very good hotels and enjoyed some excellent meals.
Copenhagen is a city of 600,000, where a third of the residents reportedly bike to work. Flat terrain, abundant dedicated bike lanes and bikes everywhere make that figure believable. The city is located on a body of water connecting the North and Baltic Seas, covers several islands and has a number of canals. It is connected to Sweden by a bridge/tunnel and, together with Malmo, Sweden across the bridge, is part of the largest metropolitan region in Scandinavia – the Oresund.
We arrived in Copenhagen on Monday morning, August 19, 2019 and had a boat tour of the city on our first day, which is an easy and pleasant way to get an overview of the City. A number of castles and important institutions, such as the opera house and national theatre, are located on the water.
On our first full day in Copenhagen we took a guided walking tour that brought us to a number of historic sites. Our hotel, the Skt Petri (Saint Peter) was centrally located in the historic core of Copenhagen, convenient to pedestrian shopping streets, a transit hub and many historic sites.
On our second full day in Denmark we met a guide/driver to take us to the Fredensborg Castle, the largest Renaissance residence in Scandinavia when it was built, and the Louisiana Art Museum, which are both located north of Copenhagen. Fredensborg is impressive, despite having been sacked on at least one occasion, and has very attractive grounds. The private Louisiana Museum has a great setting overlooking the straight to Sweden and a large permanent collection and interesting temporary exhibits of modern art.
For our remaining time in Copenhagen we were on our own, equipped by our tour company with the Copenhagen Card that provides free train and transit travel and free admission to most attractions. Over our remaining three days we visited the Great Synagogue, the Jewish Museum designed by Daniel Lebeskind, took a day trip to Roskilde to see the Viking Ship Museum and Roskilde Cathedral, and explored the city, its parks and museums.
We enjoyed both the upscale and everyday food scene in Copenhagen with some of our favorites being Restaurant Barr by the famous Noma operators, Kodbyens Fiskebar in the now trendy meatpacking district and the modest Cafe Halvvejen located near our hotel.
We were unable to book one of the large staterooms on the overnight DFDS ferry from Copenhagen to Oslo but our cabin had two lower berths with a window and we managed to fit in us and our luggage. Our Oslo city tour guide met us at the pier, helped us get a cab to our hotel and waited while we checked in and freshened up before beginning our tour. Because we arrived in Oslo Sunday morning, the city was quiet and some attractions were closed. Rather than take us to some of the major museums and tourist sites, our guide showed us parts of the city we might not have seen on our own including the increasingly trendy Gruner Lokka neighborhood. She also showed us a nice sweater shop, one of the few stores open Sunday.
Our hotel in Oslo was the Continental, was very nice and in a great location near City Hall, the National Theatre, Royal Palace, a major transit up and Aker Brygge, a portion of the harbor with many restaurants and tour boat docks. The tour company provided us with an Oslo pass providing free transit access and admission to many museums and tourist sites. We also discovered that the Apple Maps App connects to the City’s transit system and provides information on which bus, tram and metro routes to take to reach specific locations including arrival times for metro trains and trams. This makes using the transit system in Oslo a breeze.
We planned our touring in Oslo around museum schedules, since some are closed on Monday. We visited the Holocaust Center and Norwegian Folk Museum, Munch Museum, Botanical Garden and City Hall, Vigeland Park and Museum and explored parts of downtown and the waterfront. Oslo is hillier than Copenhagen so using transit is easier than walking or biking.
Out tour guide directed us to some traditional Norwegian restaurants in Oslo. The Stortorvets Gjaestgiveri near the Catholic Cathedral had good food and is in an historic building with an interior courtyard.
Norway in Nutshell is a group of rail and ferry connections that allow visits to Sognefjord and other fjords ranging from a day trip to multi-day stays out of Bergen or Oslo. We opted for a train from Oslo to Myrdal for a connection to the Flamsbana train that descends steeply into the Sognefjord at Flam, a private boat tour of Sognefjord and Naeroyfjord out of Flam, a ferry from Flam to Balestrand and a ferry from Balestrand to Bergen. We stayed one night in Flam at the Fretheim Hotel and one night in Balestrand at the Kviknes Hotel. This allowed us time for a more extensive exploration of the fjords via our boat tour and multiple ferry trips and a chance to explore both Flam and Balestrand to get a feel for village life on the fjords. The Fretheim and Kviknes are both interesting old hotels but truthfully there is little to see or do in Flam and Balestrand other than look at the fjord.
Bergen has less than half the population of Copenhagen and Oslo and is located on steep slopes on a North Sea fjord with water on three sides. It has been an important trading center since the 15th century when it was part of the Germanic Hanseatic League and has some remaining buildings dating from this period. Due to its location near the north sea and the surrounding mountains it gets the most rain of any city we visited on we experienced everything from heavy showers to bright sunshine during our one full day in the city.
In Bergen we stayed at the Opus XVI hotel, which is in an attractive former bank building close to the harbor. The hotel was redeveloped by the family of composer Edvard Greig.