9 Nordic Destinations You’ve Never Heard Of
There’s something undeniably seductive about the Nordic countries, from clean-lined, understated designs to transporting landscapes that leave you breathless. Beyond Copenhagen, Oslo and Stockholm, these 9 under-the-radar spots serve up all that and more.
Owned by Denmark yet set midway between Norway and Iceland, the 18 mountainous islands that make up this archipelago are a nature lovers dream: think deep turquoise waters, verdant cliffs, puffins (yes, puffins!) at every turn, and nary a human in sight (the population of the entire archipelago is a mere 49,000 people – smaller than Waterloo, Iowa). Make the four hour hike to the top of Villingardalsfjall mountain to see a Nordic settlement founded in 1350, and be sure to stop by the Nordic House, an art gallery-turned-event space filled with sculptures of whimsical sheep by Danish artist Bernhard Lipsoe and paintings by Faroese artist Edward Fuglo.
This waterside town is known for its crystalline lakes, fairytale castles (Olavinlinna Castle broke ground in 1475, and is open for tours today), and an Opera Festival so good it makes us want to break into song. Our favorite thing to do here, however, is unwind at Anttolanhovi spa. You can spend up to three hours in the traditional Finnish smoke sauna – complete with birch whisks and alder smoked salmon to snack on. Or if you go in summer, the new lake spa Järvisydän will have opened. The building itself is hidden under the forest terrain, which means "indoor" access to Lake Saimaa. What's more relaxing than that?
Geiranger Fjord, Norway
Norway is touted as 'The Land of the Midnight Sun,' but we think it deserves to be called 'The Land of the Postcard-Perfect Sights.' Take, for example, Geiranger Fjord, a UNESCO-protected area (nearly eight hours drive from Bergen) where lush green mountains tumble down into a cobalt blue sea. Get your bearings at the Norsk Fjordsenter, a museum that showcases the geological history of the place, then hike to see the jaw-dropping Seven Sisters waterfalls – it's best seen as the snow melts, in early summer.
Mons Klint, Denmark
Chalk cliffs cascade to softly rolling seas in this windswept town, an easy two-hour drive from Copenhagen. At the Geo Center Mons Klint, you can see local flora and fauna –including 18 orchid varieties and peregrine falcons. After your visit there, explore the grounds of the 1792 Liseland palace, where a grand, neoclassical mansion overlooks a meticulously manicured garden.
There is no shortage of charming storybook towns in Sweden. But for our money, Visby is one of the best, with a warren of red-tile-roofed cottages, many dating back to the 13th century. Here, village activities are truly timeless: at the 150-year-old Visby Botanic Garden, you can explore the medieval St. Olaf church and lush grounds filled with all manner of flourishing trees, from Chinese sequoia to magnolia. For lunch, swing by Lilla Bjers, which serves a five-course feast on the organic farm where produce is grown (how's that for locavore dining?); you won't want to miss the water flavored with elderberry juice.
Everyone knows Iceland’s Blue Lagoon, but few know the circa 1891 Secret Lagoon in the village of Fludir, just east of Reykjavik. The natural hot springs remain at a constant 38-40 degrees Celsius, and the site has its own miniature geyser that erupts every five minutes. Go for a float, then check into the nearby Frost og Funi, a hot spring hotel on the banks of the Varmá River that's so dedicated to geothermal warmth you can cook your own carrot cake for dessert by lowering it into a steaming hole.
Greenland’s chilly landscape can be off-putting to some, but it’s well-worth your vacation time (and you’re practically guaranteed to have it almost all to yourself). Start with a visit to the Inuit town of Uummannaq, in Northwestern Greenland, with its 1175-meter-high heart-shaped mountain and harbor, where whale watching trips (spot humpbacks, pilot, and minke whales) and dog sledding under the Northern Lights (September through April) are prime local pastimes. To get a bird's eye view of the area, go for a helicopter tour of the Uummannaq Fjord and nearby glaciers. The frosty views are seriously mind-blowing.
Pristine white beaches. Craggy mountains rising from the sea. Sheltered Bays. This under-the-radar archipelago is as dramatic as they come. Go for a guided sea kayaking tour with Lofoten Kajakk and you'll island hop in the company of seals and cormorants (aquatic birds). If you'd rather stick to land, make your way to the reindeer farm Inga Sami Siida, owned by the indigenous Sami family, where you can feed reindeer straight from your extended palm. As for where to stay, we love Anne Gerd's Lofoten Guesthouse, overlooking the crystal-blue lake near Stamsund.
Oulanka National Park, Finland
To us, the entire country of Finland looks like it could be a national park, so the fact that Oulanka National Park–which straddles the border with Russia – was declared an official landmark gives you an idea of just how staggeringly beautiful the area is. There are nine hanging bridges, white-water rapids, birds like white-tailed eagles and grey wagtails... That said, bear in mind that this is rugged backcountry – so in lieu of five-star hotels, get ready to "rough it" in a mountain hut.