Summer in Scandinavia

Once again summer has flown by and we’re left with cooler weather, the start of school and lots of great travel memories. Our summer travel time was a bit shorter this year than in some previous years so I was determined to get the most out of the weeks we had. I knew that I wanted a return to Europe, our favourite travel destination, but it wasn’t until I saw some great deals on Iceland Air that the plans really started to come together.

We ended up spending three weeks in Scandinavia, starting in Oslo, moving on to Copenhagen, taking a Baltic cruise, continuing to Stockholm then finishing up with a quick stop in Iceland. Overall it was one of our best trips yet! Scandinavia is an amazing destination for families; drop dead gorgeous, safe, efficient and friendly. English is widely used and we never had any problems getting around. The Scandinavian countries go out of their way to cater to families and everywhere we went had beautiful playgrounds and great children’s activities.

I was also worried about longer travel times and the cost of airplane tickets, but by taking the polar route via Iceland it was actually less flying time from Western Canada than the direct flight to London. Combining a six hour flight with a 2 1/2 hour flight was very easy and clearing customs in Reykjavik made our arrival in Europe quick and easy. And while there were a few crowds in places we found that Scandinavia was much less crowded than places like England or Italy in the busy summer months.

Of course, when I told anyone about our travel plans for summer, the reaction was always the same. “But Scandinavia’s so expensive!’ everyone would immediately exclaim. And yes, there is no denying that it is an expensive destination and we are very fortunate to be able to even consider a family vacation there. But was it as prohibitive as most people think? Not exactly.

Now compared to some vacation destinations the costs are through the roof. I hear about families backpacking through Southeast Asia, eating out three times a day and living like kings for $50-100 per day, or cycling cross country, camping rough at night and buying only groceries and there’s no comparison. But… compared to your average Disney World trip, a stay in a nice resort in Hawaii or a few weeks exploring the UK or other parts of Europe, Scandinavia really isn’t that much more expensive. And for families, we felt that there was a lot of value to be found there.

Overall, Scandinavia was one of our more expensive family trips. I was able to justify it somewhat with the fact that we only had three weeks for the trip and could therefore spend more per day. If we had more time in Europe I may have planned differently. It’s certainly not a place where you can settle in and live cheaply like a local. When I did the math on our expenses, I found that for everything except flights, our costs were around $450 CDN ($375US) per day. That amount covered hotels, food, museums, activities, public transport, long distance trains and ferries as well as the cruise fare and all the cruise expenses. That’s less than the daily price of just the hotel room at many resorts or vacation destinations.

And not only is Scandinavia less expensive than you might think, it really felt like there was a lot of value for your money. We averaged about $220 CDN ($180US) per night for accommodations outside the cruise and the places were all clean, spacious and in great locations. We did six nights in chain hotels and each included a beautiful, fresh buffet breakfast with enough healthy and delicious food to keep us going until the afternoon. Our six hour high speed train ride from Copenhagen to Stockholm cost less than $100 (we booked in advance and the kids were free) while a 16 hour ferry ride from Oslo to Copenhagen, complete with a basic four berth cabin with ensuite and buffet breakfast was 282 Euros.

For families the value is even greater. Many attractions are free for kids along with public transit and intercity trains. Every museum and gallery we visited had kids areas with well thought out activities that kept our kids engaged and active. They made sketches with free materials at the Oslo national gallery, dressed in knight’s armour and hoisted the rigging on a Viking ship in Copenhagen and baked rye bread over an open fire in Stockholm. Beautiful folk villages had English speaking docents who were happy to walk the kids through a school day at turn of the century schoolhouse or how to card wool in a traditional farm cottage.

That’s not to say that we didn’t feel the pinch of the high costs in Scandinavia. Food was probably the most challenging area. I was constantly doing mental math as I walked by chalkboard menus and spent a lot of time muttering to myself in disbelief. $30 for a burger and fries? $18 for the cocktail of the day? Who can afford to eat here? We managed to avoid the worst of the prices by planning ahead and relying on groceries. We filled up on free breakfasts, ate lots of crackers, peanuts and apples for snacks and prepared our own dinners in our hotel rooms. It didn’t hurt that we had a week of “all you can eat” on the cruise right in the middle of our trip though. We definitely got our money’s worth on those days!

So if you’re thinking of taking your family to Europe, or even just going on your own, don’t leave Scandinavia off your itinerary just because it seems too expensive or too far away. I’ll try to write more about each of the countries we visited, along with the great hotels and attractions we found in the next few weeks. As for now, I’m left with great memories of our wonderful Summer in Scandinavia.

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