In my most recent family holiday, we got to visit two Scandinavian cities. In my personal opinion, spring is the best time to visit! Finding yourself in between the end of winter, with the snow on the ground and covering the mountains... yet with the beautiful sunny weather of summer was the best feeling. Visiting Stockholm (Sweden) and Bergen (Norway) in April 2016, it was quite possibly the best way I could spend my Spring Break.
Our first stop in our Scandinavian voyage was Stockholm. We found a cute little hotel in the heart of the old town, Gamla Stan, which was literally about 5 minutes walk from the Swedish Royal Palace. Lady Luck was on our side as we spent almost our entire holiday traipsing about in the sun. I'm not gonna lie though - beware of the very, very chilly winds!
We had absolutely nothing planned and decided to wing the entire trip with a pack of brochures in one hand and trusty mobile in the other (at the time, I had not yet invested in my Olympus Pen but I made it work). I fell in love with the charming, cobble stoned streets of Gamla Stan and even found the Swedish version of a Starbucks! Espresso House also offers amazing coffee frappuccinos and a similar cozy atmosphere with ambient lighting.
The added flexibility that comes with having your hotel right in the middle of the city should always be taken good advantage of. We made sure to head over to the Swedish Royal Palace as we were staying right next door. The building itself is amazing, being the King's official residence as well as the setting for most of the monarchy's official receptions, and gave off very "Versailles" vibes when we entered certain rooms. In fact, we then got to visit Stockholm's very own "Hall of Mirrors" inside the Stockholm City Hall. In this very same building, we also stood inside the famous Golden Hall, where the guests of honour during the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony would dance the night away.
Following the glamour, we then decided to spend a day at a couple of museums. I definitely recommend Skansen and the Vasamuseet, otherwise known as the Vasa Museum. Skansen is the first open-air museum and zoo in Sweden and is also the world's oldest open-air museum (founded in 1891). As for the Vasamuseet, well you don't need to be a history buff to be able to appreciate the sheer work and effort that has been put into salvaging the Vasa ship that capsized and sank in Stockholm in the 1600s. After 333 years on the sea bed, the museum houses one of the world's best preserved ships and of which, 95% of the salvaged ship is from the original!
Following Stockholm, we had chosen to visit the World Heritage City of Bergen instead of the capital. It was definitely the best choice as you cannot visit Scandinavia without seeing the fjords in person. We were definitely spoilt during our stay, with clear blue skies and absolutely awe-inspiring views. Although it was admittedly still a bit chilly (especially during our day trip through the fjords - duh), this did not stop us from fully enjoying our stay in this beautiful city.
We spent our first day in Bryggen exploring the town and finding out what we could visit during our stay. Leaving our hotel with several recommendations for restaurants nearby, we decided to have our first meal at the Asian Corner, located in the town centre and a few minutes' walk to the harbour. The food was amazing and the restaurant had a picture-perfect view of a row of Bergen's cute and colourful buildings that are an architect's dream come true. I will advise that it is much easier to look-up everything online rather than queuing at the tourism office because damn. Nevertheless, we got out of there with a handful of brochures and a myriad of ideas on what to do during our 4-day stay.
Taking the funicular up to Mount Fløyen takes just 8 minutes and gives you a magnificent view of Bergen. As one of the more popular attractions, it definitely ranks as one of my favourites. Breathe in the fresh air, appreciate its amazing views and take some well-deserved time off to hike and enjoy the numerous opportunities for mountain walks.
- Choose the Norway in a nutshell® tour
If you're going to visit Bergen or even Norway in general, you cannot leave without visiting the fjords! This particular tour package is touted as Norway's most popular fjord tour and for good reason. Whilst it may seem pricey at first (approx. 1400 NOK for adults), the entire experience is well worth it. The tour itself has no guide so you basically have a well-organised schedule that allows you the freedom of exploring at each of the four stops on the tour.
Starting off on the Bergen Railway, the highest altitude railway in Northern Europe, we left Bergen heading to Voss through wild mountain terrain.
From Voss, we then took the "Norway in a nutshell®" Bus to get to Gudvangen in the Naerøyfjord. We got time to get something to eat and browse the packed souvenir shop before embarking on the boat that would take us through the amazing fjords to Flam. The Naerøyfjord is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List and is surrounded by soaring mountains and quaint villages in between bends.
Once we reached Flam, the trip continued on the Flam Railway, one of the steepest normal gauge railways in the world. The platform was easy to find and the 20-km-long train ride offered wonderfully panoramic views of some of Norway's wildest and most magnificent mountain scenery, including a short stop at the famous Kjosfossen waterfall. Even in spring the frozen waterfall was a truly impressive sight.
The final leg of the trip arrived after a change back onto the Bergen Railway at Myrdal station. Located high up, we got to see proper, thick-layered-and-not-about-to-melt snow! A beautifully quiet mountain village, Myrdal offered breathtaking views of snow-topped mountains and valleys for our journey back to Bergen.
I absolutely loved every minute of our family holiday in Stockholm and Bergen! The food was great, the hotels were just right and we got to discover the beauty of Northern Europe thanks to Scandinavia. Some people might think that travelling in Europe as a young adult with your parents in tow, a bit limiting and in a way, sure. But it does create lasting memories and wonderful experiences that you wouldn't otherwise have thought of. When I think about my past travelling experiences, I can remember the vast majority of it being with my family. In fact, it has only been recently during my time in France that I've had the chance to truly travel with a group of friends. Both are great for making awesome memories so either way, and besides, travelling is always a good idea!
(I'll have to try travelling solo at least once while I'm still here, lol)