Hi Jenna. Over the last couple of years we’ve taken an annual trip. So far we’ve ventured together to the Balkan Sea, Peru, Vietnam, and Thailand. We’re hoping you can help us plan a trip to Scandinavia for next spring. We want to do 3-4 days each in Iceland, Denmark and Norway. We’re thinking we’d do Reykjavik, Copenhagen, and Oslo for our base location in each country unless you recommend a better base city in those countries. We’ll at least have the 2 of us going, but could possibly have more (5-6 people). We can book our own flights since we’re flying from all over the world. So, we’re specifically hoping you can help us research the below topics. 1. Hotels? – We’re past the “hostels/cheap as possible travel” phase in our lives. While we don’t want to pay crazy high prices, we’d like a great location and good quality. We’re willing to pay for a level of comfort, as long as it’s worth it. 2. Sightseeing recommendations? – We like history and cultural experiences. We’re not exactly outdoorsy people, but we did enjoy trekking the Amazon Jungle and a Thailand cave…because they were too cool to pass up. We want to hit the big must-dos, but we’re up for unique, interesting adventures like the Vietnam Traditional Medicine Museum that was an unplanned, but great find on our last trip. Amanda’s also been to the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, which is cool, but different. We also love a good spa, so pretty excited to see what Iceland has to offer with their hot springs. 3. Shopping recommendations? – We love to shop. Both of our houses are filled with cool finds from our travels…African/Japanese paintings, Italian bowls, etc. We also love jewelry, and we both have gold, pearls, and gems from the places we’ve traveled. 4. Best Travel Time? – We’re planning on Spring/early Summer 2017, but is there a specific time you recommend avoiding? Or is there something going on that we should try to catch, like a festival or celebration? Thanks for your help and we look forward to working with you!
Overall Timing: Some things to think about – to avoid both Easter and the summer crowds I would recommend the end of April (after the 18th) until mid-May for your trip.
While there is never any guarantee, Northern Lights in Iceland are visible November through April.
Iceland also celebrates the first day of summer on the first Thursday after 18 April. In 2017 that is 20 April.
Easter in 2017 is on 16 April. You don’t want to catch several days of closures so I would avoid 13-17 April (Maundy Thursday through Easter Monday).
May Day, 1 May is often a fun time to be in a major European city. It might mean one day of closures but it also means street festivals. It sounds like Copenhagen has an especially big festival during that time.
17 May is Norwegian National Independence Day
Copenhagen Roskilde Rock Music Festival is July 2nd through the 5th, while the Jazz Festival runs from the 3rd to the 12th.
Iceland only has a population of 327,000 but they get well over a million tourist (most in the summer and in Reykjavík). You will get less tourists and crowds in April and May than into June. We were there in early April and while it was still cold, it was bearable and there were not many crowds. Business hours start to increase in early May so I imagine the crowds do too.
Apartment K – a 2 bedroom apartment off the main walking street. Sleeps up to 5 people (sofa bed) for $413 a night. They also have a one bedroom option for 3 people. Based on reviews, this isn’t fancy but it is a great location and could be a good affordable option for a larger group. http://www.apartmentk.is/
Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Marina is right on the harbor and has a studio that sleeps 6. It is usually around $450 a night but when looking it up right now there is a sale for $350 a night on booking.com. http://www.icelandairhotels.com/en/hotels/marina
Kvosin Hotel has rooms that accommodate 2-6 people for $200-$500. It is right downtown and the rooms are small apartments but you still have a front desk staff. It was a Trip Advisor 2016 award winner with good reviews. http://kvosinhotel.is/
Holt Hotel is a reasonable option for 2 (or 4 ) people at around $150 a night per room. I have stayed here. It is a comfortable hotel with parking that is a 10-15 minute walk to the harbor or church. The staff was very friendly and helpful. There is a great German bakery a block down the street if you want a light affordable breakfast. http://www.holt.is/english
CenterHotel Arnarhvoll is on the waterfront with nice views and has a sauna in the basement. Rooms are small but run $130-$170 a night for 2 people. This is a local chain and they also have CenterHotel Plaza a few blocks away that is a bit more. (Arnarhvoll is recommended by Lonely Planet). http://www.centerhotels.com/
*I didn’t look at any Airbnb locations for Reykjavik because they have some great apartment hotel options and with early arrival times from the states check-in might be difficult and you want a “front desk” to leave your bags with if needed.
Free walking tour at Citywalk.is
I would recommend 1-2 days in Reykjavik (2 days if you want to see whales and/or do the Blue Lagoon) plus at least 1 day to do the Golden Circle. Then add on days for other day trips as desired.
1) National Museum
2) 871 +/- 2 Settlement Museum (to maximize time, make this your first or last stop of the day as they open at 0900 and are open late into the evening)
3) Hallgrimskirkja (large church you can see from anywhere in the city – they have concerts on Sunday nights)
4) Whale or Puffin Watching
5) Blue Lagoon and/or there are thermal pools in the city center that locals go to
Whether you take a day tour or rent a car – the Golden Circle (Gullfoss Waterfall, Geyser, and Pingvellier National Park) and is a must. Plan on a full day. I also recommend a quick stop at Kerid crater if you have some flexibility.
From Reykjavik if you decide to go whale watching, do it your first day there. Most of the companies will give you a voucher if you don’t see whales (same with the Northern Lights tours if you go in April or earlier). If gives you some options if you decide to go out again. I used Special Tours and saw tons of whales but I think most of the companies are pretty much the same. Whale watching trips are about 3 hrs.
Blue Lagoon is the #1 tourist attraction in Iceland. It is located outside Reykjavik by about 30-45 mins but very near the airport so if you go, plan to go when you arrive or are departing.
There are several companies that do a day trip to Greenland! https://www.airiceland.is/ (The domestic airport is downtown Reykjavik so you don’t have to get back to Keflavik for a day trip)
If you end up being a small group, I highly recommend renting the car and driving around as much of the island as possible. For a larger group this becomes hard. You can do this as day trips or as a drive around all /part of the island.
If driving is not really an option, you can also take a domestic flight to Northern Iceland for a day trip or an overnight.
Tons of outdoor adventure options as an official tour or on your own – horseback riding, glacier walking, hiking, rafting, or ice caves.
Beautiful wool clothes and blankets. Lots of cute winter clothes. There are two pedestrian streets (Skolayoroustigur and Austurstraeti) in Reykjavík that are easy to find.
Eating is very very expensive. I am still in shock. For anything other than a hot dog off the street, plan on $30-$50 for a meal (without a drink, appetizer or dessert)
If driving on your own, gas stations have grills with cheaper options. Icelanders also love hot dogs which you can buy off the street for a reasonable price (it’s a thing).
You will find several places that offer an Icelandic tasting menu so you can try whale, reindeer, puffin etc…
Lamb and Fish are the two most common menu choices.
Skyr – traditional / modern yogurt dish
https://lifekinetictravel.com/2016/04/16/icelandic-long-weekend/ – my post with my itinerary from my recent trip with my mom
http://theblondeabroad.com/2016/02/17/how-to-care-for-your-hair-at-the-blue-lagoon/ (If you go to the blue lagoon do some reading about how to protect your hair)
**Icelandic air and WOW Air offer a free stop over deals. This would make Iceland a good first or last stop on your trip. WOW also flies to Copenhagen.
WOW is a discount airline — I recently used them for the first time and was very happy – but make sure to consider baggage fees when evaluating their price.
Copenhagen Admiral Hotel – It is expensive but looks amazing. However, they will let you put 4 people in a Jr Suite. I looked up some dates for 2016 in May and 3 nights came to $1000 – which is only really $85 a person per night.
“Experience Danish quality and 200 years of history when you stay at the Copenhagen Admiral Hotel. This uniquely designed Copenhagen hotel is housed in a converted 18th century warehouse neighbouring the Royal Palace and the Royal Playhouse, close to the city centre and the best shopping and cultural attractions. The prizewinning establishment features a Conran-designed restaurant, SALT bar & restaurant. No two rooms in our Copenhagen design hotel are alike – each has been individually developed in close cooperation with a group of the best interior designers to reflect its own characteristic ambience. Our Junior Suites are 35 sqm. and equipped with a staircase going from the lower level living room area to the upstairs bedroom area. This room is for 2 in the upstairs bedroom and 2 in the downstairs comfortable sofa-bed.” http://www.admiralhotel.dk/en
Absalon: If there are only two of you this might be my recommendation. Rated #4 hotel on trip advisor with a trip advisor trip award. Centrally located. Cute. Great reviews. $124 a night. http://www.absalon-hotel.dk/en/rooms-2/
Hotel Skt. Annæ. 4 star boutique hotel in city central. “This hotel is in a central yet quiet area, next to Nyhavn Harbour and just over a quarter mile from Kongens Nytorv Metro Station. 5-minute walk of Amalienborg Castle and the Royal Danish Theatre. The Sankt Annæ Plads bus stop is right by the hotel.” Doubles (hotel rate) run about $300 a night for 2 people. But can add an extra bed for $25. So if you only had 3 people (or 6) it would be about $110 per person per night. http://www.hotelsktannae.dk/the-hotel/
Hotel Guldsmenden: I also like this place for 2 or 4 people. The marketing of their website really drew me in. Good location, good reviews, cute place with character! $132 a night. This place also has a spa. http://guldsmedenhotels.com/Home/GuldsmedenHotels.aspx
Airbnb apartment in city center for $349 a night (including fees) and sleeps up to 6. “Charming apartment right in the old historic center of Copenhagen, and on the famous walking street “strøget”. 100 meter from the metrostation “Kongens Nytorv”, shopping, bars, cafe’s and cozy restaurants. You also have a view to the parliament.” https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/3341868?checkin=04%2F24%2F2017&checkout=04%2F27%2F2017&guests=6&s=3-rH3elx
Another Airbnb location that sleeps 12 if you get a large group. $486 a night including fees. “Located in the heart of Copenhagen city. Close to absolutely everything! Just behind the famous walking street, where you have the opportunity to shop everything from clothing, food, toys to electronics! After all that shopping, you can sit down, relax and have a great cup of coffee or lunch/dinner at one of our coffeeshops just nearby!” https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/26473?checkin=04%2F24%2F2017&checkout=04%2F27%2F2017&guests=6&s=3-rH3elx
Another fun Airbnb option that sleeps 8 is right down town for $371 a night (including fees) https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/11465364?checkin=04%2F24%2F2017&checkout=04%2F27%2F2017&guests=6&s=3-rH3elx
3hr free walking tour starts daily at 1100 from Town Hall: http://www.copenhagenfreewalkingtours.dk/
- Christiansborg Castle
- Little Mermaid statue
- Trivoli Gardens (world’s second old amusement park w/ worlds’ largest carousel and 100 yr old roller coaster – also large gardens and city social center)
- Dutch Renaissance Rosenborg Castle
- Canal tour
- Church of Our Saviour (views of city from the tower)
- Hans Christian Anderson Museum
- Danish National Gallery (free)
- Kastellet Park
- Nyhavan (beautiful walking street)
- National Museum
Off the beaten path: Christiania – Independent community within Copenhagen; hippie utopia (if you ever watched the TV show Weeds Andy travels to Copenhagen in one of the later seasons to live in Christiania where there are no laws)
The Danish rail system offers cheap tickets via their online website called “Orange tickets.” They are only available via the website and you have to print out the ticket before you board the train.
The harbor buses are small ferries that travel up and down the canal, with stops at the Royal Library’s Black Diamond, Knippelsbro, Nyhavn, the Opera, Holmen, and Nordre Toldbod. The harbor buses run regularly from 7 am to 11 pm (10 am to 11 pm on weekends). Standard bus fares and tickets apply
North Zealand including a tour of Frederiksborg Castle.
If you are fans of the book or movie, Out of Africa, you can visit Karin Blixen’s house. http://www.museums.or.ke/content/blogcategory/13/19/
Ferry to Lund, Sweeden (~40 mins)
Aarhus (scenic and historic town) – 3 hrs away but doable via train from Copenhagen. #13 on NY Times list of places to go in 2016. http://www.visitaarhus.com/ln-int/denmark/tourist-in-aarhus
“Denmark’s second city is often eclipsed by Copenhagen, its cousin across the Kattegat sea. But this big city with a college-town vibe has a thriving art, culture and food scene that is set to expand through 2016. New development along its industrial coastline — including Dokk1, a cultural center and the largest public library in Scandinavia — as well as a light rail expected to open by late summer, is transforming Aarhus into a more accessible cultural capital. Other highlights are ARoS, the gallery known for its “Your Rainbow Panorama” floor with a kaleidoscopic view of the city; the Moesgaard Museum, dedicated to cultural history; a concert hall, home to the Danish National Opera; the “Iceberg,” a striking residential building on the water; and three Michelin-starred restaurants. Gastromé, a short walk from Aarhus’s old city center and canal, highlights new Nordic cuisine sourced from the Vilhelmsborg Forest and surrounding countryside. Ashley Winchester”
Pedestrian-only street of Strøget (Europe’s longest)
Storm – fashion store
Just Spotted – Souvenirs
Prag – Upscale consignment store
Wood Wood – I couldn’t figure out what they sell but I like the name. 😉
Kanelsnegle (Danish cinnamon roll)
Hot dog off the street
Lunch at Lumskebugten (cira 1850s)
Hotels: I had a hard time here, I didn’t fall in love with anything like I did for Copenhagen but there are some good choices below from 5 star luxury to good serviceable choices and beach airbnbs…(Some of the Airbnb prices are estimates because some charge an extra fee per night for “extra” people)
Grand Hotel. Central Oslo. My pick for 2 or 4 people. $178-$215 a night for a double room. Also has a spa and fitness area. http://www.grand.no/en/default.html?_ga=1.153372984.1662365823.1457910940
“The Grand Hotel in Oslo is Norway’s best-known and prestigious hotel. The luxury hotel first opened its doors in 1874 and for over 140 years it has been host to the people of Norway, international guests, world leaders, celebrities and the Nobel Peace Prize laureates. Henrik Ibsen, the world-renowned Norwegian author made the luxury hotel one of his favorite daily haunts.”
“With acres of marble, Murano chandeliers and a palm court, this is the grand dame of Oslo hotels. Its guests have included Norwegian royalty and Nobel Laureates. 290 traditionally decorated rooms and suites include a dedicated ‘Ladies’ Floor’. The Artesia Spa, with its birch-tree trunks, chromatherapy pool and rooftop sun terrace is stunningly luxurious. Be sure to get a roof with a view: 54 of the rooms look onto the backs of other buildings.” Price rating: 3/5
The Thief. 5 Star Hotel. Winner of multiple awards. Right on the Harbor. $350 a night. But can only have 2 to a room. http://thethief.com/
“With stylish rooms featuring in-built sound systems and Nespresso machines, The Thief is a design boutique hotel on Tjuvholmen in Oslo. The buzzing promenade of Aker Brygge is within a 5-minute walk, and the hotel offers in-room spa treatments and free around-the-clock gym access. The rooms at this modern hotel include free Wi-Fi, a private balcony, a mini-bar and a rainforest shower in the private bathroom. The Thief has 24-hour room service, focusing on comfort and luxury. The Thief Spa includes a steam bath, sauna and swimming pool. There is a resident personal trainer as well as a hairdresser and make-up stylist, guests can relax on the chic rooftop terrace and enjoy Norwegian-inspired cuisine in the Fru K Restaurant or the Thief Food Bar. All guests receive free entry to the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, and the hotel is only a 15-minute walk from the center of Oslo and the National Gallery.”
“An Anthony Gormley statue greets you in the lobby, Julian Opie video installations blink at you in the lifts and an Andy Warhol overlooks diners in the restaurant, Fru K, which serves gutsy, updated Norwegian dishes such as venison with fondant potato and poached turbot with Jerusalem artichoke. The whole effect is more serious art collector than edgy artist.”
Holmenkollen Park Hotel Rica Farther outside the city center than I would usually recommend, but the views look fantastic. Most review complaints were about the restaurant and walking up the hill in snow/ice. Reasonable rates ($150 for a double room). Hotel has a spa. http://holmenkollenparkhotel.no/
“Dating back to 1894, this traditional hotel offers panoramic views of Oslo and the Oslo Fjord. The renowned De Fem Stuer Restaurant features dining in a unique and historic setting. A more casual atmosphere is featured at Restaurant Galleriet. Drinks can be enjoyed by the fireplace at the bar. Recreation options at Scandic Holmenkollen Park include a swimming pool, sauna and fitness center. Bicycles can be rented on site. The surrounding Nordmarka area is ideal for skiing and hiking. Holmenkollen Ski Jumping Hill is just 500 feet away. Holmenkollen Metro Station is a 5-minute walk away with services to central Oslo.”
Hotel Continental 5 star hotel. Great reviews. They have afternoon tea. $236 a night (includes breakfast) http://www.hotelcontinental.no/HCeng
Price rating: 3/5“Hotel Continental is a hotel in Oslo, Norway, that opened in 1900. The background story of the Continental is like an old fairytale, about a young couple, who through their hard work and entrepreneurship created a monument that will live for many years. It all started in Sweden in 1860, with the birth of Caroline Boman. Her family was poor, and instead of emigrating to America, something that was customary at the time, she crossed the border from Sweden to Christiania, now Oslo Norway in 1887, where she got a job as a cook. Four years later, she married Christian Hansen, who was from Oslo and worked as a waiter.”
“Opposite the National Theatre, near an airport-express station, the Hotel Intercontinental has an intimate feel despite its 155 rooms. There’s a tiny gym but no spa or pool, though guests can jog in the Royal Palace Park nearby. Munch paintings hang in the bar and the Theatercaféen serves delicious open sandwiches.”
Anker Hotel – award winning hotel with good reviews on both tripadvisor and booking.com. Just over $100 a night for two people. You can add an extra bed and their website shows a family room with 3 single beds plus a sofa and room for an extra bed. Might be worth a look if you have 3 or 6 people. City Center. (I didn’t fall in love with it but it looks very serviceable and if you splurged elsewhere and are looking to save some $ then this could be a great choice) http://www.anker-hotel.no/en/
Cochs Pensjonat – similar to the above in reviews, looks, price, and location. They have triple and quadruple rooms available. www.cochspensjonat.no
Central Airbnb on the Beach. This is my favorite place I found on airbnb. On an island but a few hundred meters from Opera House & city center). Sleeps up to 6 (although they are not specific on the bed arrangement – I would ask if you look into this one). Two bathrooms. $337 a night with cleaning fees ($56 a person). It does have a hefty security deposit. I would ask about that too (I’ve never seen that before but when I went back to check some of the other Oslo locations it seems to be pretty standard there). https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/6447059?checkin=05%2F18%2F2016&checkout=05%2F21%2F2016&guests=6&s=jYUQT8ZN
Check out this Airbnb as well. It will sleep up to 7 (3 beds?), has a great location and is $309 a night (for 7 people). It appears smaller than some of the others and has an odd fascination with Marilyn Monroe. But it also has 3 ½ baths. It has 20 positive reviews. This place also has a security deposit and has a blurb about paying for electricity in the winter. https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/6676382?checkin=05%2F18%2F2016&checkout=05%2F21%2F2016&guests=6&s=jYUQT8ZN
City Center Airbnb. It advertises 6. $296 a night so it could be a great choice for 3-6 people (especially if you don’t have an exact head count when you go to book). But only one bathroom. https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/8266700?checkin=05%2F18%2F2016&checkout=05%2F21%2F2016&guests=6&s=jYUQT8ZN
This Airbnb has fantastic views and if you visit more towards summer it is close to the beach. It sleeps 6 and would be less than $70 a night per person but is 10 mins away from the city by bus. Only one bathroom and “beds” include a couch. https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/11096779?checkin=05%2F18%2F2016&checkout=05%2F21%2F2016&guests=6&s=jYUQT8ZN
Large Airbnb. This place sleeps 8 but probably not worth it if you don’t have a larger group (~$600 a night). Central location. https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/7046118?checkin=05%2F18%2F2016&checkout=05%2F21%2F2016&guests=6&s=bjWxx2xl
Note: The train connects the city center to the airport and may be your best way to/from the hotel if you stay in the city. Or take the train to the city and then take a cab/uber from there instead of the airport.
Free walking tour: http://freetouroslo.com/daily-free-tours/
One Day in Bygdoy outside the city:
Viking Ship Museum
Kon-Tiki Museum – Famous raft from 1947 that sailed 8000 miles
Norsk Fokemuseum – one of Europe’s largest open-air museums.
Slottet – Royal Palace (guided tours only)
Attend the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet or just visit the rooftop for the views
Visit Arkershus Fortress – well preserved from 1300s / sits on the harbor
Korketrekkeren Toboggan run – if you decide to go in early spring when there is still snow, this looks great! http://www.visitoslo.com/en/product/?TLp=182035#!
The Holmenkollen Ski Museum and Ski Jump If any of you love quirky museums or skiing. The jump dates to 1892.
Munch Museum – Munch’s most famous paintings, The Scream, Vampire, Madonna and The Sick Child (a bit outside the city center but on public transportation, check schedule once you have dates, it has many days it is randomly closed)
Vigeland Sculpture Park – also outside the city center but if the weather is nice it looks like a great place to take a walk and spend some time
Karl Johans Gate is the city’s main thoroughfare
The Oslo Card (available from tourist offices, hotels and newsagents) enables you to travel in four different zones in Oslo, including on some ferries and boat routes, and also gives free entry to most museums.
Fredrikstad’s Gamlebyen (Old Town) is the best-preserved fortress town in Scandinavia.
Drobak, an hour’s drive from Oslo, gives visitors a taste of a classic southern coastal town, with beach life and white wooden houses.
Bergen – You can get there via railway which is listed as one of the most beautiful rail journeys.
Lonely Planet – “Set amid a picturesque and very Norwegian coastal landscape of fjords and mountains, Bergen lays a strong claim to being one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. A celebrated history of seafaring trade down through the centuries has bequeathed to the city the stunning (and Unesco World Heritage–listed) waterfront district of Bryggen, an archaic tangle of wooden buildings. A signpost to a history at once prosperous and tumultuous, the titled and colourful wooden buildings of Bryggen now shelter the chic boutiques and traditional restaurants for which the city is famous.”
Polar Bears – If you have time, money and the inclination, think about a trip north of the Arctic Circle to see Polar Bears. There are very few places you can do this (I did it in Alaska and Canada and loved it). Here is a link to a blog about it. http://www.gonomad.com/destinations-xxx/1994-norway-s-svalbard-archipelago-the-land-of-the-ice-bear
Shop in Grünerløkka – Located slightly north of Oslo’s city centre, Grünerløkka is ideal for an afternoon of perusing small, independent shops. You can expect to find handcrafted goods, clothing, pottery, and various other trinkets of Norwegian influence, in addition to record shops and second-hand bookstores.
Stroll along Aker Brygge wharf – Perfect for an afternoon stroll and host to the largest concentration of restaurants in Oslo, Aker Brygge is located southeast of Oslo’s city centre.
Tea and sandwiches at Hotel Continental.
Engebret – Oslo’s oldest café
Grand Café – at the Grand Hotel
Kaffistova – Recommended by Fodor; “Norwegian home cooking is served at this downtown restaurant on the ground floor of the Hotell Bondeheimen. Daily specials come in generous portions, and there’s always at least one vegetarian dish, as well as fish (including salmon and cod) and homemade meatballs. Whale and reindeer often feature on the menu, too. This is a good option for lunch.”
Roof Top bar about ½ down in the article: http://www.ralphlauren.com/us/en/magazine/friends-in-high-places%20?utm_source=display&utm_medium=fb&utm_campaign=rl_mag&utm_content=custom
Oslo Food Blog: http://www.outside-oslo.com/about/
Some additional reading:
-Once ready to book your hotel, recommend you look at prices on at least the following: hotel’s website, hotels.com, booking.com, and tripadvisor to compare.
-If you haven’t stayed in an Airbnb before, I have done it a handful of times and had success. However, I find the “check-in” process a little stressful, especially since I tend to create tight/full travel schedules. Because you are working with an individual and not a 24 hr check-in desk, there is less flexibility.