Scandinavian summer: The best places to visit in Scandinavia in summer
Scandinavian summer is amazing – here’s why!
There’s a special time of year when the grim slog of February begins winding down and we start to see a glimmer of what spring might actually look like. We peek out of our dank burrows, blinking in the daylight-like mole-people, sniffing the air, puzzling over whatever that bright shiny disc in the sky might be.
We also remember that the Scandinavian summer isn’t all that far off. Many of us start killing idle time at work by daydreaming over summer vacation destinations, imagining ourselves in the sand, surrounded by other beautiful people, sipping on fruity frozen drinks as the surf crashes nearby.
But one place that probably flies under radar for lots of people when they’re thinking about possible summer vacation hot spots is Scandinavia.
While most people imagine exotic equatorial locales for the summer break, the long daylight hours of Scandinavian summer and the natural beauty of the larger Nordic world hold dozens of under-appreciated destinations.
While it’s true that ice and snow and Vikings and fjords are all a part of this unique cultural and geographical ecosystem near the top of the European continent, so are stunning beaches, surfing, boating, camping, hiking and much more.
While the masses flock every summer to Spain, Greece and Italy, Scandinavian summer awaits for those in the know.
Here are a few of the top destinations for holidays this summer in Scandinavia that will create unique memories that last a lifetime!
Best places to visit in Scandinavia in summer: Denmark
Lots of first-time visitors to Denmark are surprised to learn that one of the most popular Danish summer holiday destinations is staying close to home, right in the capital of Copenhagen.
Danish people who prefer a ‘staycation’ in Copenhagen appreciate how much the city has to offer in summer, not least of which is a more laid-back vibe without the frantic tourist onslaught you find in Southern European summer destinations.
You’re also not trapped in some smaller, strictly tourist-oriented town with overcrowded beaches, absurdly jacked-up prices, low-quality food, obnoxiously touristic clubs and bars and so forth.
In Copenhagen you’ve got beaches and waterfront activities, but also all manner of world-class entertainment, restaurants, nightlife, and cultural attractions available to keep you busy.
And if you do encounter a rainy day, you can take the kids to a museum as part of their Scandinavian summer holiday rather than being trapped in a hotel room or under the mildewed canvas of that creepy carnival on the outskirts of town.
When it’s sunny, however, the beaches around Copenhagen will certainly not be empty, as the weather there in summer is a treat. Copenhagen as a Scandinavian summer holiday destination is especially great for delicate, pasty types who tend to melt or go lobster-red straightaway when they hit the tropics.
Temperatures average in the high 60s and low 70s ºF (19 to 23 ºC) with record highs getting up into the low 90s (up to 33 ºC) in July and August.
And there are beaches a-plenty in and around Copenhagen for enjoying a classic summer in Scandinavia, starting with the iconic Amager Strandpark — Amager Beach Park in English.
This 2 km spit of land on the edge of Copenhagen is home to a total of 4.9 km of pristine beachfront where you can enjoy swimming, sunbathing, kayaking, snorkeling, and windsurfing just a short walk away from the city center.
Another great draw of doing a Danish summer holiday right in Copenhagen is you get to take advantage of Copenhagen’s blue-rated harbor while enjoying the system of four Copenhagen Harbor Baths.
These unique, well-designed, and architecturally arresting sites are a popular draw for both tourists and locals, where you can swim, dive and just hang out on the deck and enjoy the outdoors.
2. Bornholm Island
There’s one in Islands Brygge that boasts five pools that are up to seven meters of depth in places, and springboards of three and five meters for diving.
If you’re the type that prefers a quieter, more off-the-beaten track type of holiday, you might want to consider Bornholm Island for your next Nordic summer holiday.
This gorgeous Danish summer holiday destination is located far from the mainland, off in the Baltic Sea due south of Sweden and just north of the very furthest western bit of Poland.
But while that geographic description may not inspire confidence when it comes to thinking about possible summer holidays in Scandinavia, you might be surprised to hear about the summer fun on offer on Bornholm.
For starters, Bornholm Island has tremendous beaches, the most famous of which is Dueodde Beach on the island’s southern tip. It’s an expansive stretch of white sand beach that stretches uninterrupted for nearly 30 kilometers (19 mi).
The beach has some of the finest sand of any in the world, and is several hundred meters wide at some points, giving way to scrub pine and spruce.
The sand forms dunes in places that reach 12 meters (39 feet) in height, and there are extensive boardwalks and paths as well, alongside water that remains calm and shallow out to about 100 meters (328 feet) from the shore.
But in addition to Dueodde Beach and the dozens of other, smaller and often secret beaches that dot the coast of Bornholm, there are plenty of other outdoor activities available for visitors looking for Scandinavian summer adventures.
The north coast of the island gives Bornholm one of its nicknames, Rock Island, and it is a hiker’s and climber’s delight.
Granite cliff faces and rocky outcrops plunge into the sea, offering unbeatable Instagram opportunities, while the interior of the island is made up of sprawling forests and meadows ready to be explored, as well as a glacial lake called Hammersø.
It might seem weird to head north to find a suitable Scandinavian summer holiday, but the town of Skagen on the very northernmost tip of Denmark’s Jutland Peninsula has long been a destination of choice for Danes and foreign visitors alike to take in the Scandinavian summer rays.
Founded as a fishing village in the 12th century, Skagen charts a record-setting 233 monthly hours of sunshine in July — even more than in Bornholm Island’s famously sunny Østerlars village.
The town was made famous in the late 1800s by a group of Impressionist painters who reveled in the unique and long-lasting daylight that lingers over the water on summer evenings, and King Christian X and Queen Alexandrine entertained European monarchy there at their summer residence Klitgaarden, which was completed in 1914.
Today, visitors looking to experience a Danish summer holiday can enjoy visiting the northernmost terminus of Denmark at the spit of land that narrows to a point called Grenen.
Here you can take in the clash of two oceans coming together, Kattegat (part of the Baltic Sea) and Skagerrak (an arm of the North Sea).
It’s also a great place to see marine life of all kinds, including common seals who rest on the sand as well as porpoises plying the water.
You’ll also want to visit the Råbjerg Mile, Europe’s largest moving sand dune, a stretch of sand that is a kilometer long by a kilometer wide, and about 40 meters or 131 feet high.
Each year the dune migrates about 15 meters (50 feet) toward Grenen, and is expected to cover the road to Skagen in the next century or two.
Best places to visit in Scandinavia in summer: Sweden
Just across the Øresund Bridge from Copenhagen lies one of Sweden’s jewels for summertime fun, Malmö, a city that is always high on the list of favorite Scandinavian summer holiday spots.
Malmö is the third-largest city in Sweden, featuring cosmopolitan style and activities, but is nonetheless full of small-town charm and boasts a rocking outdoor-oriented scene.
The waterfront bursts into life every spring and summer as hordes of young Swedes descend on the city’s five beach areas to enjoy long days of sunshine and temperatures averaging in the high 60s to mid-70s ºF (19 — 23 ºC) during the summer months, sometimes reaching as high as 93 ºF (34 ºC).
You’ll want to check out Ribersoborg Beach, which is often referred to as the ‘Scandinavian Copacabana.’ This 2.5 kilometer-long (1.5 mi) beach is just a 20-minute walk from the city center, and has shallow, warm water fronted by fine white sand, perfect for a Swedish summer holiday.
Also a must-see is the Ribersborgs Kallbadhus, an open-air sea bathing facility dating back to 1898. The baths feature two separate sea bathing pools, one for men and one for women, and they are clothing-optional.
You can also catch a massage, take a sauna, or enjoy fine dining right there on the waterfront.
But keep in mind, you’ll need to be clothed to enter the restaurant. Just saying.
Malmö, much like Copenhagen but on a smaller scale, is also not simply a limited beach destination when you’re considering a Scandinavian summer holiday.
There is plenty to do in Malmö even after the sun goes down, including a vibrant nightlife in the recently redeveloped Västra Hamnen waterfront area, where you can see the iconic architectural wonder of the Turning Torso building.
There’s also a charming old world city center with a myriad of Renaissance buildings, as well as the famous Malmöhus Castle overlooking the city, first built in 1434 and now home to an aquarium, several museums, and an outdoor complex where you could easily spend an entire day.
Just an hour’s train ride south of Stockholm you’ll find Nynäshamn, the southernmost point on Stockholm’s archipelago.
The area offers vacationers interested in the genuine Nordic summer trip a oceanfront camping, kayaking, canoeing, bicycling, backpacking — as well as swimming and sunbathing of course.
There are plenty of family-style camping resorts (some might say ‘glamping,’ as many these ‘campgrounds’ are hardly rustic) where you can enjoy the comforts of home as well as a forested, seaside adventure.
Popular camping resorts like First Camp Nickstabadet-Nynäshamn—which, in fairness, do feature accommodations ranging from simple tent sites to caravan parking to cabins—also feature waterslides, organized activities for kids, and all kinds of other bells and whistles.
But one great thing about Scandinavian summer holidays in general and camping in Sweden in particular is that the country adheres to the code of ‘everyman’s right,’ the notion that anywhere that isn’t built up, inhabited, or cultivated is fair game for hikers and campers.
Just outside of Nynäshamn there are nature preserves and tons of open areas for camping and hiking, and you could wander pretty far to find yourself a tranquil spot far from the madding crowd.
Nynäshamn also is the doorway to a number of destinations even further afield. If you want to take a ferry to Latvia or even Poland, more adventures await as you push the boundaries of your Swedish summer holiday to encompass parts of other nearby nations.
You can’t really talk about Swedish summer holidays or even the larger world of Nordic summer holidays without mentioning Gotland, Sweden’s largest island.
A ferry ride over from the mainland (Nynäshamn is one of the many places you can set out from) will get you to one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Scandinavian world.
In 2012 some 1.5 million people took a ferry to Gotland from Sweden, while over 350,000 flew there for their Scandinavian summer vacation.
If you take the ferry, you’ll arrive at Visby, a charming Medieval town surrounded by 13th-century walls with winding cobblestone streets taking you past well-preserved period houses and buildings including St. Mary’s Cathedral and St. Nicholas’ Church, both also dating to the 13th century.
The 3.5 km walk to circumnavigate the walls yields stunning views of the town and the sea as well.
Visitors can also enjoy the long Sudersand Beach of fine white sand on Faro, a smaller island just off the northern tip of Gotland.
But, be aware that this beach in particular is so majestic and spectacular that it is often thought to be the most popular beach destination not only for Scandinavian summer holiday makers, but in the entire Baltic region.
Alternatively, check out pretty much anywhere along Gotland’s east coast between Sjaustrehammaren and Ljugarn where the pine forest backs right up against the sand for gorgeous beaches that aren’t quite so overrun.
Although those with delicate sensibilities be warned: just north of Ljugarn there is also a nude beach area. We all know those Scandinavians love to get naked…
Best places to visit in Scandinavia in summer: Norway
Okay, so not every Scandinavian summer holiday absolutely needs to involve sun and sand and nudity, right? Here’s a Norwegian summer holidays destination that is not only off the beaten track, but will give you stories for a lifetime.
The Svalbard archipelago is about as far north into Norway as one can go, as it’s a group of islands about halfway between the Norwegian mainland and the North Pole. It’s admittedly not a typical summer holiday-maker’s type of destination…
… But, for the outdoor adventurer who loves seeing wildlife in its natural habitat, as well as rugged, epic landscapes and seascapes, Svalbard could prove a once-in-a-lifetime Scandinavian summer tourist destination.
You’ll get the opportunity to spend some time outdoors in the balmy summer temperatures averaging between 39 and 43 ºF (4 to 6 ºC) observing an unmatched array of wildlife that stop off here on their migratory routes.
The animals you can observe range from a variety of whale species, dolphins, walruses, seals, and almost uncountable bird types.
Other residents of the islands include the arctic fox, the Svalbard reindeer and polar bears, which are a huge tourist draw for passing cruise ships and are closely protected, but which make for a uniquely Norwegian summer holiday.
And if you get tired of living the wildlife life, there is also the university town of Longyearbyen which has a reputation for being a fun place to visit as well. Keep in mind that since it’s outside the Schengen area, Svalbard is a great place to buy duty-free goods as well!
From the extreme north of Norway, let’s shake off the cold and head to the extreme south, the town of Mandal. This town, the southernmost town in the entire country, is a favorite of Norwegian holiday makers.
Norwegian families flock to the cabins the line the Mandal River every summer, and enjoy the seaside, forests, and the quaint, charming town of Mandal.
You’ll find great beaches here as well, including but not limited to the massive Sjosanden Beach, a broad and lengthy yellow-sand beach that’s just a short walk outside the city center, where you’ll find dunes, tons of space, and unbeatable views of the light over the water.
There’s also a campground adjacent to the beach and nearby forest, and climbing rocks as well.
But you aren’t limited to just the ever-popular Sjosanden Beach, as just to the south you can easily walk to seven more quiet and peaceful oceanfront beaches that are perched on the edge of the natural area, Furundulen.
There is an extensive network of footpaths winding through the trees and along the water, as well as playgrounds, barbecue pits, and more.
The heart of the 15,000-population town of Mandal really comes alive in summertime too, with outdoor concerts every Wednesday evening throughout the summer, where locals mingle with tourists and chat over a beer while enjoying every genre of music imaginable.
You can also catch a 4-day shellfish festival in August and much more, including a small but lively restaurant scene and nightlife.
It would be silly to have a list of possible Norwegian summer holiday trip ideas that didn’t include at least one fjord adventure, and the town of Valldal is a great way to see a whole lot at once.
This small valley punches above its weight in terms of scenery, including wild rivers that drop down from the high mountain peaks into the fjords, stunning cliff and rock faces, lush forests, and more.
It’s famously a favorite destination of kayakers, rafters, hikers, and rock-climbers alike.
Situated just north of the Norddalsfjorden, which is a branch off the massive Storfjorden, lies Valldal, aka Sylte, a charming village that serves as a great jumping-off point for exploring the fjord country.
The village is home to a tourist-favorite church that dates back to pre-1400s, as well as stunning views and a well-developed tourist industry that will help you get out on the water, up on the cliff-sides, or wherever else you want to go outdoor exploring in the immediate area.
Once you’ve had your fill nearby the town, head down the winding Trollstigen or Troll’s Road, part of the Norwegian Scenic Route.
Driving along it you can reach the Geiranger Fjord and from there catch a ferry to the famed Seven Sisters waterfall — another option is to take a ferry directly from Valldal, but each offers its own set of epic vistas.
The Seven Sisters is one of the most-photographed sites in all of fjord country. Legend has it that the seven cascades that make up the falls dance and play while the Suitor Falls across the fjord try to flirt with them.
Best places to visit in Scandinavia in summer: Iceland
But let’s face it: there’s sufficient cultural, geographic and historical similarities to justify adding at least a couple of—strictly speaking—Nordic destinations to our list.
One such spot for a Nordic holiday getaway that should jump to the top of everyone’s list is Iceland’s Blue Lagoon.
It’s a geothermal pool formed by the hot water vented from the ground near a lava flow that is then used to power the geothermal power plant Svartsengi. It in turn powers many of Iceland’s homes and businesses, and then deposits its—clean, chemical-free—used water in pools like Blue Lagoon.
The high mineral content of the water has been enjoyed by millions of visitors, who rub their skin with the silica-heavy white mud that accretes on the bottom. It’s this silica that also gives the water its milky blue hue.
There are various rather pricey hotels along the water that provide private pool areas, but the main pool is accessible to the public for a fee. In addition to the lagoon itself, you can sometimes see the Northern Lights from here, and there are nearby attractions like ATV tours, lava caving trips, hiking and more.
Best of all, the lagoon is on the way from Reykjavik to the airport, so make sure you book your trip there in advance and you’ll also be able to catch a bus directly to catch a very relaxing flight afterward!
Best places to visit in Scandinavia in summer: Finland
It wouldn’t be fair to touch on an Iceland destination for our Nordic summer holiday spots without mentioning one in Finland as well.
Gorgeous Tampere may not be the biggest or most famous city in Finland, but for outdoor adventurers looking for a Scandinavian summer holiday, it’s practically ideal.
It’s perched on a spit of land between two lakes, and since the lakes have a difference of some 59 feet in altitude, a spectacular set of rapids, the Tammerkoski, courses through the middle of the city non-stop.
The city itself is home to a strong working-class tradition, with writers, musicians and modern YouTubers all hailing from there, lending a down-to-earth and eclectic vibe to the culture, restaurants, bars and nightlife.
There is tremendous history and modern culture alike to be discovered in Tampere, and you can easily spend a week just exploring the city.
Nearby you’ll also find plenty of recreation on the lakes, including boating, fishing, kayaking, canoeing and more. You can also catch a boat to Viikinsaari Island for hiking, picnicking and more.
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