Ted and Steve spend a week travelling in Scandinavia in May 2015
Day 1 To Copenhagen
The cheapest flight to København (Copenhagen) at a reasonable time of day was from Edinburgh so we made our way there, with time for a quick pint in the Café Royal and the chance to try out the tram to the airport. It’s more expensive than the bus, slower (outside rush hours), much of the time en route it manages to avoid stopping where people actually live, and it is a slightly longer walk at the airport. There are some very slow speed restrictions and some strange twists in the route as makes its way through the guddle of offices, business parks and shopping centres to the west of the city. However, its comfortable and smooth and could form the basis of a decent system.
The Easyjet flight is full and from the window we spot Berwick on Tweed, then over the North Sea till we reach the Jylland (Jutland) Coast, followed by umpteen islands and inlets. We approach Kastrup Airport from the Northeast – we’re on the wrong side to see the Øresund Bridge as we come into land.
On to the train to Kobenhavns Hovedbanegård (i.e. Copenhagen Central Station), into our hotel which is nearby, then out for a few beers. First stop is Jernbanecafeen (the Railway pub) opposite the side entrance to the station. It’s a fine boozer. Open from 0700 to 0200 every day, decent staff behind the bar, some good beer, and an older woman comes in and sings a few songs. We try the Carslberg Brewmasters India Pale Ale IPA, and the pub’s own beer 7 Expressen (brewed by the Thisted brewery in Jutland), which is fine, and not outrageously expensive (by Scandinavian standards). A couple of Swedish tourists are amazed to find there is no food menu – seemingly you can’t serve spirits in a place that doesn’t serve food in Sweden, but they are shown where to get a takeaway and bring it in. The bloke next to me is working his way through Tuborg products (he has a card which gets him free drink when he completes it), so he has to have a Tuborg Extra Light, their non-alcoholic beer, and he gets a shot of vodka in the bottom of the glass to perk it up.
Next to Mikkeller Bar in Viktoriagade. The Mikkeller brewery seems to have led a craft beer revival in Denmark, and when we check it out in more detail afterwards this is borne out, though the brewer, Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, has moved on from brewing in his kitchen in Copenhagen, to an international operation with beer mainly brewed in Belgium these days. The pub is super-trendy with people tasting their way through a selection of beers in small glasses – there are 20 beers on tap, the majority of them Mikkeller beers. The bar can be a bit too precious for our taste (as old farts), but a 0.3l glass of their Vesterbro Wit is absolutely excellent. We’ll visit again and try more of the beers.
The Vesterbro area where we’re staying, near the station, is a gentrifying red light district and a good mixture of the cool and the edgy. We can’t resist a drink in the wonderfully named Spunk Bar, close to the hotel. It’s a quiet midweek evening and it seems just a locals bar, but who knows what goes on later on. The beer is the basic Tuborg, but it’s cheaper than anything else so far.
Day 2 Copenhagen – Malmö – Göteborg
I’ve worked out that the higher value coins in Denmark are the copper one and the lower value ones look like ‘silver’, and the same applies in all three countries in the trip. I’ve already discovered that they are basically cashless societies, with everything being purchased on debit cards – I would not have needed any cash whatsoever throughout the trip, except for one public toilet (and in retrospect I’m sure the change machine at the entrance would have taken cards).
I dump the rucky in a left-luggage locker and we spend the morning on the hop-on hop-off open top bus tour of Copenhagen. A dodgy knee means my walking ability is limited and the tour proves to be a good idea – it can reach most of the sights, so we include a visit to the Little Mermaid and trundle past the Amalienborg and Christiansborg (pictured) palaces, Nyhavn, the parliament building and Tivoli.
Then on to the Øresundståg train, across the Øresund Bridge (of The Bridge fame) to Sweden (see Railway Buffery 1, below). The railway deck is beneath the road deck, so the views are limited but it’s impressive anyway. Just over half an hour after leaving Copenhagen I’m in Malmö, via the new City Tunnel (built to make Malmö Central a through station) to the low level section of the Central Station. It’s only a few minutes walk to the main square (Stortorget) with the Rådhuset (town hall) occupying one side. Just off to one side is Lilla Torg, or little square, full of cafes and restaurants with outside tables. Lunchtime cheap set menus and buffets are popular and most places are busy with diners, but Ted and I settle for a beer at Victor’s. All of the outside terraces have gas heaters for the evenings and blankets to keep you warm during the day if necessary. Most people are drinking water, which is provided free – it keeps the price down to that for the set meal – but makes us feel disreputable for having a beer at noon.
Malmo town hall and old town
Back to the station, and we catch another Øresundtåg train onward to Göteborg (Gothenburg) a three and a half hour journey. The trains now run on the left (it was on the right in Denmark and as far as Malmö). The sockets on board are connected to the luggage racks, so there are mobile phone chargers. being dangling from many of them.
This is the main line between Sweden’s second and third largest cities but, though it has been partially modernised in recent years, with new fast stretches and stations on the edge of towns, there remain single track sections, and slow and winding stretches. We pass through Helsingborg where there are regular ferries over to Helsingør in Denmark (the Øresund bridge and the ferry journey make for a good circular day trip out from Copenhagen). The countryside is fairly flat until Angelholm then we reach a ridge of hills, which was clearly a challenge for the railway’s builders. The single track stretch is busy and several times we wait in passing places. The railway winds its way through picturesque countryside over the ridge, and past Båstad there is the exit from a new tunnel being built to avoid this stretch – see Railway Buffery 2, below). This is followed by a newer section via Halmstad then we reach the coast at Varberg, where the single line runs between wooden summer houses and the sea. A final run through the suburbs and we reach Göteborg and our hotel – the Hotel G above the station.
The focus of our evening stroll is to a pub and restaurant called Ölrepubliken (pictured above). We sit at the bar and count 33 taps for draught beer (and there is an excellent selection of bottles also). We try Bedarö Bitter by Nynäshamns Ångbryggeri near Stockholm and two beers by small Göteborg breweries, Oceanbryggeriet Västcost American Pale Ale and Beerbliotek Imperial Porter, all of which are excellent, then back to the hotel. As a sign that craft beer has taken off seriously, even in the hotel bar one of the three taps is a Pale Ale from a local brewery.
Day 3 Göteborg to Oslo
The Göteborg area has an efficient public transport system, with a network of tram lines running long distances into the suburbs. Some of the trams, and local trains also, are getting elderly. The city centre seems to have no cars – only public transport, taxis and bikes. It is very pleasant to walk round when we wander from the hotel through the city centre and back. Then a lunchtime drink in the station bar – a mock Irish pub, busy due to the cheap buffet lunches.
From Göteborg to Oslo there are only a maximum of 4 trains a day, taking just under 4 hours to cover the 350 kms. The trains are operated by NSB, the Norwegian State Railways. I managed to get cheap advance minipris ticket for this stretch for about a third of the full price. The train is relatively quiet despite it being a Friday afternoon, and it doesn’t feel like a main line between two major cities. We later discover that the train is slower and full price fares are more expensive than the coach service, but the route is much more scenic than a motorway.
Though both cities are on the coast, the line heads inland to Trollhättan, a recently modernised fast double track stretch. Beyond there the pace slackens until we reach Oxnered, a major junction, after which we are in deep countryside. The countryside is a mixture of farmland, forest and lakes, with wooden summer houses dotting the landscape, and there are only a few trains a day calling at the occasional station. By the time we reach a small town called Ed, it feels quite remote. Just under two hours after leaving Göteborg we cross the Norwegian Border at Kronsjø.
The first town of any size is Halden and we pass a huge pulp mill. We are now close to the coast and there are inlets with coastal cargo ships serving major pulp, paper, timber and chemical works in towns such as Sarpsborg and Frederikstad. By this time the train is full with people heading for an evening in Oslo, and we call at Råde, Rygge, Moss and Ski (In Norway they like their names short). At Ski three lads get on and are caught by the conductor without a ticket. The driver is phoned, we make an unscheduled stop at the next suburban station, and they are off the train.
The weather in Oslo is drizzly and I’m tired, so we have a quiet night in the Opera Hotel, between the station and the national opera house – my room is dominated by a mural of a ballet dancer (pictured). A beer in the station and another in the hotel, plus some takeaway food from the 7-11 shop in the station brings us face to face with Norwegian prices.
Day 4 Oslo to Bergen
It’s a pleasant morning and we have time for a quick visit to the Holmenkollen ski jump. The Oslo T-bane metro runs underground in the city centre but quickly comes to the surface and starts its climb to the hillside suburbs. In less than half an hour the train reaches Holmenkollen station at 278m above sea level. We walk up towards the ski jump though we don’t have time to visit the ski museum built into the mountain beneath the ski-jump, which has access to platforms midway up and at the top of the jump. It’s impressive enough from down below, so I take a few photos (which don’t do it justice as I subconsciously angle the camera to align with the jump and it looks less steep than it actually is), then some more of the view back down to Oslo and its fjord.
Our train to Bergen, Norway’s second city, leaves at 1203 for the seven hour 489km journey and I’ve managed to get a Komfort class minipris advance ticket for the equivalent of £37, less than half the price of the normal standard class fare (£83). The main advantage of Komfort class is unlimited supplies of free tea or coffee from a machine in the centre of the coach. I had made sure that I had reserved a window seat. We had seen on the television news the previous night that the road to Bergen was still closed by a landslide a few days previously, the result of heavy rain. The conductor announces that he can’t give an arrival time at Bergen as the railway line is also closed by the landslide and he won’t know until later whether it has been cleared.
It’s a tremendous journey, one of the most scenic railway journeys in Europe, and it gets better, the further we go. We head south through the suburbs as far as Drammen, where we cross the head of the Drammen fjord by a long bridge. Then we turn west through a series of small towns and then north through forested countryside along the side of Tynfjorden lake with groups of summer houses by the water, to Honefoss. Already there is the occasional sight of snow (it is late May) on mountains in the distance.
At Honefoss the Bergen railway proper starts, and the few Oslo to Bergen trains each day are the only ones on the line. The country gets emptier and emptier, the parallel main road has virtually no traffic, and we pass through an area of forests, and lakes, with the occasional farmhouse or settlement. The line is built on a ridge above the Krøderen lake and the Hallingdal valley, providing excellent views. A series of small towns follows – Flå, Nesbyen, Gol and Ål – till we reach the ski resort of Geilo. At Geilo we have to wait 25 minutes for the late running train from Bergen to pass us. The station is 794m above sea level and a visit to the platform reveals its pretty cold outside.
From Geilo to Voss is the most spectacular stretch, and it is clear why the line was so difficult to build. We leave roads behind and cross a high plateau, the Hardangervidda, among mountains of ancient rock (pictured below). There is thick snow, the countryside is windswept and the lakes are frozen. There are many snow tunnels and avalanche shelters to protect the line – there is even a station inside one. The summit station is at Finse, in the middle of nowhere at 1222m above sea level. At Myrdal, another station with no road nearby, the railway line to Flam heads off downhill (pictured below) and we continue down a long a valley to Voss – see Railway Buffery 4, below
The line to Bergen is still blocked and Voss is the last place the locomotive can run round the train to return to Oslo, so the 400 passengers are transferred to a small suburban train, which is packed. After about half an hour we reach Stanghelle, the last station before the landslide, and from there the only way onwards is by boat. We scramble down to the pier where there are two ferry boats waiting for us, and we are treated to a cruise along the fjord. We disembark at Garnes where a fleet of coaches take us a couple of miles to Arna. The final stage is on another local train for the brief journey into Bergen. Initially this seemed a bit unnecessary but it makes sense – the railway line tunnels straight through the mountains whereas the road follows the shore of the fjord and takes a much longer route. Despite the diversion, which in this case made the journey more interesting, we are only an hour late into Bergen.
It’s after 9pm by the time we check into the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel, next to the Bryggen, the collection of old wooden houses along the Bergen waterfront (pictured) and a major tourist attraction, and eat some food we’ve bought. Plans to pub crawl the centre of town are abandoned and we stay local when we go out. We sit outside – it’s a lovely evening, though the temperature is about 5ᵒC. We have a Hansa beer and people watch. The terrace tables belong to the Sjøboden pub but new customers at the outside bar are told sternly that they can’t take their drinks. This is because the pavement between is a public footway and its not allowed to have opened alcohol in public places. I hope the umbrellas don’t leak if it suddenly rains. Further along the Bryggen is UNA Bryggeri & Kjokken, which is a modern microbrewery and restaurant. From the range of draught beers in the downstairs bar we try beer from two local breweries – 7Fjell UNA Blonde Ale and a Kinn Ekstra God Bitter. I think that means extra good, which is true, and I try not to cry at the prices.
Day 5 MS Bergensfjord
The plan was to wander slowly through Bergen in the morning taking in the sights, but it’s a miserable day with heavy drizzle, so we opt for a late and long breakfast in the hotel, trying as many varieties of herring as possible. We set off to wander slowly through town sheltering in shop doorways. We passed some of the bars we planned to try last night, so now I know where they are – for our next visit. We reach the ferry terminal for the ferry to Hirsthals in Denmark, in time for check in opening at 1230. After a while watching the rain, we board the MS Bergensfjord. It’s an 18½ hour journey, and I’ve treated ourselves to an external cabin, and a buffet dinner.
From Bergen to Stavanger we spend most of the time threading through the offshore islands passing under bridges and by local ferries. I take some photos of Ted at the porthole looking at the drizzle and explore the ship and even go out on deck for a bit. The beer on board is standard Carlsberg but it’s at duty free prices and only about £4.50 for 50cl. It’s rubbish, but it’s cheap rubbish, so I have a couple of them then back to the cabin to read, which becomes a siesta. As we pass Haugesund, the weather starts to clear and there is the odd patch of blue sky, so we spend the time looking at the view.
After leaving Stavanger at 2000, its time for dinner, which turns out to be well worth the 42 euros I paid for it. It is a buffet and there is 90 minutes to each as much as we want – there is a tremendous selection of fish, seafood, meats and plenty of salads. It also includes helping yourself to beer or wine – I’ve seen the price of a glass of wine in Norway and many of the punters are very quickly getting through 42 euros worth with their meal. The ferry is the usual odd combination on these long ferry journeys of lorry drivers and people on a mini-cruise from Denmark pretending they are on a top-notch cruise liner. We find a corner of the bar where we are away from the entertainment (dire….but they try hard) then head for the cabin. There’s quite a swell once we hit the open sea – you can see smaller boats bobbing around, but the stabilisers on this boat are excellent and we hardly feel a thing.
Day 6 Hirsthals to Odense
I’m woken from a deep sleep at 0650 by a tannoy message announcing that we are approaching Denmark, will be docked by 0800 and must be out of our cabins by 0730. No chance of a long lie then. Then comes the inevitable cock-up in my trip planning. I had assumed Hirsthals would be like, say, Oban and it would be straight off the boat and on to the train. And it looked as though that was the case as we arrived in the harbour, except I was looking at the Color Line terminal. Fjordline, which took over the Bergen route a few years ago, has built its terminal on the furthest extremes of the breakwater at the other side of the port. I wasn’t quick enough to get one of the three waiting taxis, there’s no connecting bus, and we have to walk for almost an hour to get into town – I don’t think Fjordline are bothered much about foot passengers. The signage is crap, there’s no one around (it’s a holiday Monday morning) and walking through a container port isn’t very attractive, but Google Maps on my mobile helps. When I check their website it says the town centre is a 15-20 minute walk from the terminal. This would only be true if you could walk if you could walk on water – after 15 minutes wev’e just reached the end of the breakwater
Hirsthals station is a derelict building, but outside is a platform, a rusty railway line, a set of buffers, a bus shelter and a working ticket machine. The little train to Hjørring turns up, run by Nordjyske Jernbaner, it is a modern railcar and we pootle through the fields on the 16km journey. After a wait, and breakfast from the station shop, the intercity train for Copenhagen pulls in. It’s only a three coach diesel and we set off. The train is crowded (Denmark seems to be short of rolling stock – I check this later and it’s true. New diesel trains they ordered didn’t work and in 2015 were several years late going into service). The sign above the seats don’t say ‘not reserved’ but ‘can be reserved’ (courtesy of Google translate….Google is coming in useful this morning). And indeed the reservation status is downloaded and updated every couple of minutes, and many seats become reserved during the journey. Those of us without reservations check the sign as we arrive at each station, followed by a ballet of people and luggage having to move seats. Cross Country Trains decided to adopt the same model in the UK leading to people who have paid full fare to travel on any convenient train being chucked out of their seats to make way for those who have bought cheap tickets.
In Danish terms North Jutland is the end of the earth, but it doesn’t feel that remote. It’s an interesting journey through pleasant countryside, then across the lifting bridge over the Limfjord. Technically the top bit of Jutland is an island, but nobody seems to treat it as anything else but another bit of the peninsula. Through Aalborg and onwards to Aarhus, and we’ve managed to repel boarders and keep my window seat. At Aarhus we reverse and add another 6 coaches, and there is less overcrowding. At Skanderborg a large group of young people dressed as though they’ve had a weekend mountaineering board the train, but there is hardly a hill in sight. We reach the sea at Vejle and after Frediricia cross the Lillebælt (Little Belt) onto the island of Fyn (Funen). I didn’t notice this – I thought it was only a river. There is some major engineering work going on between Fredericia and Odense and the timetables are adjusted to allow an extra half hour, which we spend waiting for other trains to pass and watching workers not working. And after six hours from Hirsthals we arrive in Odense (pictured).
The first sight of Odense isn’t impressive. The station sits on a busy ring road, the buildings around are ugly and modern and the traffic lights seem to forget about pedestrians. However the City Hotel, though quite cheap, is clean and comfortable, but the bed it is very definitely a single bed with hardly room for a small bear to share. When we wander out into the old town it’s pleasant and pretty in a low key way. The town makes a big deal of being the birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen. It’s a holiday Monday but it is deserted. However, we find our way to a couple of worthwhile pubs, both of which have a bit of atmosphere even when quietish, and lots of decent beer. In Christian Firtal on Vintapperstræde we have a Danish wheat beer, and a perfectly kept cask ale from London (Crouch End Boadicea). Slightly out of the centre on a fine corner site is Carlsens Kvarter where we have an Ecological Pale Ale (for some reason it comes out of a Carlsberg tap, but it definitely isn’t) and one of the Mikkeller beers –I don’t have a notebook with me and I forget to leave a memo for myself on the mobile, so it must have been good stuff. Even the bottled beer in the hotel is from a local brewery, so by the end of the day we are quite impressed by Odense.
Day 7 Odense – Copenhagen – Durham
Odense station is full of school parties going on trips, but we manage to escape them and have a pleasant journey into Copenhagen. Between Nyborg and Korsor we cross the Storebælt (Great Belt) to Sjælland (Zealand), a major work of engineering. For the first part of the crossing the road and railway run side by side on a bridge, then for the remainder the railway goes into a tunnel while the road is carried on a high suspension bridge – see Railway Buffery 4 below.
I dump the rucky (and Ted) in left luggage and buy a day ticket for Copenhagen. First by suburban train and the driverless metro (it is similar to the Docklands Light Railway) to Amager Strand. I walk out to the beach to try to get some photos of the Øresund Bridge. It’s in the distance, behind a series of planes flying into the airport, the camera on my mobile isn’t really up to it, and it would be a long walk to the best viewpoint, but I manage to get the general impression.
Back on the metro into the city centre at Kongens Nytorv square, and a short walk to get some pictures of Nyhavn, now the centre of tourist Copenhagen. Back in the square itself is a little kiosk, with deckchairs outside, which turns out to be a bar, so a beer break is called for. Then a visit to a souvenir shop to buy some tat for my tat shelf – a Little Mermaid snow scene and a fridge magnet of Nyborg. Back to the Central Station, collect the rucky and Ted, cross the road from the side entrance for our final beer in Copenhagen – in the same place as the first one six days ago – Jernbanecafeen.
After that its out to the airport and an only one-third-full SAS flight back to Newcastle, followed by the Metro to the city centre and a train back to Durham, where we have a couple of pints in the Colpitts to finish the trip. During the journey I calculate that in Scandinavia the trip involved 14 train journeys, 6 metro journeys, 2 boat trips, 2 bus journeys and 20 different beers, 17 of them good quality craft beers.
Railway (and bridge) buffery
1 The Øresund Crossing (Øresundsbron) was opened in 2000, and is in a combination of a 4km tunnel from the Danish shore to the artificial island of Peber(pepper)holm – the other (natural) island nearby is called Saltholm. Witty eh? – and an 8 km bridge onwards to the Swedish shore, with a motorway on the top deck and the railway line below. The bridge is the longest combined road and rail bridge in Europe. If anyone hasn’t seen The Bridge (you should do) it hinges on the discovery of a dead body on the Øresund Bridge right on the Norwegian – Swedish border and the joint investigation by the Malmö and Copenhagen police.
The Øresundståg trains are run by a separate company, jointly owned by Danish Railways (DSB) and Transdev. There are trains every twenty minutes all day between Malmö and Copenhagen. They have in effect become one conurbation, with regular commuting encouraged by house prices being considerably cheaper on the Swedish side, and the bridge explains how Ryanair could get away with landing at Malmö airport in Sweden and calling it Copenhagen.
Øresundståg and Øresundsbron are hybrid Swedish-Danish words, and while both countries are part of Schengen, with no passport or customs checks in normal times there were other issues to be resolved such as differing railway signalling and electrical systems, Swedish trains driving on the left, Danish on the right, the need to avoid interfering with shipping traffic to and from the Baltic and air traffic to and from nearby Kastrup Airport and keeping the strait free of ice floes in winter.
2 The railway between Malmö and Göteborg still suffers from being constructed as a series of private local lines, rather than as an intercity line. It doesn’t help (and the same applies on the route from Göteborg towards Oslo), that it was deliberate policy in Sweden to build railways away from the coast for military reasons (so that the railway would be less vulnerable in any invasion), and hence many lines take the long way round, through nowhere. This has taken time and money to sort out, and the line is still not completely modernised. In particular the tunnel under the Hallandsås ridge is well-known in Sweden for building delays and cost overruns. Construction began in 1992 and, after a series of construction, financial and environmental problems, it opened after our visit in December 2015. The line will not be fully modernised until 2024, when tunneling and double-tracking in the Angelholm and Varberg areas are due for completion.
3 The line from Oslo to Bergen was completed in 1909, with the final stretch between Honefoss and Voss, over the Hardangervidda, being a major challenge. There are 182 tunnels and many miles of snow sheds, and the tunnels had to be built through solid gneiss and granite. The weather is such that construction was only possible for three months each year. 112km of the route is above the average snowline. The highest point on the line is at 1237m above sea level. The area around the highest station, Finse, was used to film the initial scenes in The Empire Strikes Back of battle scenes on the ice planet Hoth.
The 7.6km Ulriken tunnel between Arna and Bergen was constructed in the 1960s to shorten the route into Bergen (still taken by road) by 25km.
4 The Little Belt Bridge from Jutland to Fyn (Funen) is only 1.1km long and opened in 1935. The Storebæltsforbindelsen (Great Belt Fixed Link) from Fyn to Sjælland (Zealand) opened in 1997. From the western side (Fyn) there is a box girder bridge to the island of Sprogø, and then a road suspension bridge and a railway tunnel onward to Zealand. Before it opened both motor and rail traffic were carried on ferries, and the journey time between Zealand (and Copenhagen) and the remainder of Denmark was shortened by at least an hour. The total length of the link is 18km, longer than the Øresund crossing.
The information in this section has been drawn from entries on Wikipedia. Occasional details have relied on online translations of Wikipedia sites in Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish. Though translation software has its vagaries, any errors are my own. Additional information on the Bergen railway is from the Insight Guides Great Railway Journeys of Europe (2002).
Information that may be useful to anyone contemplating a similar journey.
For rail travel I booked the Norwegian tickets in advance, the others as I went along. The reason is the cheap ‘minipris’ advance tickets available on Norwegian intercity journeys, which can give a massive saving over the standard price. There was nothing comparable for journeys on Øresundståg trains or Danish State Railways. Bear in mind however the standard full prices for singe fares are cheaper than in the UK. Since our visit Norwegian Railways (NSB) has been rebranded as Vy and their cheap tickeys as ‘lowfare’. Their website is at http://www.vy.no . As always, the best investment is a European Rail Timetable – much better than online planners in working out the best travel option. Order online at www.eurpoeanrailtimetable.eu . For accurate and up to date information about route and ticket options for European rail travel, the key resource has to be Mark Smith, the Man in Seat Sixty-One at www.seat61.com . The website for Danish Railways is http://www.dsb.dk and for Swedish railways http://www.sj.se .The Fjordline ferry journey was booked online at their site www.fjordline.com . The basic passenger fare is cheap, but cabins are quite expensive (particularly for one), but comfortable. www.skyscanner.net is as good a starting place as any for flights.
I used www.booking.com . People travelling together could get better deals than I and may want to find more characterful places, particularly if staying more than one night. Most hotels we used were large modern business chain hotels and the quality was good, the buffet breakfasts were excellent (mainly included in the room rates) and the locations were central. There was only one hotel (in Copenhagen) that was not worth the money.
Beer and food
I carried out some advance research online, mainly by Googling ‘brewpub’ for each city. In practice the most useful site (which came up in all these searches) was www.ratebeer.com . While it can be a bit anoraky, the recommendations and scores from their contributors for the best pubs and bars were spot on. Most of the pubs and breweries mentioned in the text have their own websites.
The variety of craft beers now available in Scandinavia was a surprise to me. After 40 years of drinking too many pints of bitter I stuck to mainly the weaker options and I’m sure I missed out on many stronger beers of excellent quality, which are better sipped and savoured than knocked back á la Brit. We’ll have to return.
This was not a foodie trip – workwise I’ve spent too many meals on my own in restaurants to bother on holiday. However I can recommend the hotel breakfasts and, if I had known how good the on board buffet dinner was on the MS Bergensfjord, I would have starved myself for a day beforehand. Each main station has a 7-11 or similar chain offering hot and cold drinks and snacks. The lunchtime buffets in Swedish pubs looked like excellent value, and I would have tried them if I hadn’t already stocked up.
Money and Prices
OK it is not Spain and Scandinavia can’t be called cheap. However, with the exception of Norway, prices are not outrageous and we were not as taken aback as I thought we would be. Even in Norway it is just the price of booze that’s the killer. Remember that some of the beers sold in small glasses at a tenner a go are more than twice the strength of the standard UK beer or lager.
Back in 2015 Denmark, Sweden and Norway were effectively cashless societies with all payments by contactless card. We stood out as tourists by offering cash to pay for drinks or food. Before travelling check what is the least expensive way to pay by card.
Please check before you go
We are updating this in 2020 when coronavirus restrictions are still in force. The borders between Denmark, Norway and Sweden were closed for periods and international trains cancelled. Please check for any remaining restrictions before you travel.
Text and photographs are (c) Copyright Steve Gillon 2015, 2020.