A Week in Scandinavia: What to See and Eat on a Budget!
September 28, 2018
I love to travel. But like so many, I don’t have a tree that grows money or goose that lays golden eggs to fund my adventure obsession. Over the years, I have put into practice some techniques to save some money, while still having a blast traveling. I want to share the love, so I am going to tell you how I had a budget friendly week while on a Scandinavian adventure.
Before I dive in, I need to set the stage with the type of traveler I am, so as to not disappoint. I travel to experience the culture of the places I encounter. I steer clear of tourism hot spots or go to them at off times, to avoid crowds. Food is of the utmost importance. And I love free random opportunities. Wandering around a city with a few landmarks in mind, but being open to whatever catches our eye along the way is our jam. Fancy and chic are not words that I use to describe my travel. If what I have just said appalls you, these may not be the tips you are looking for. For the rest of you, off we go!
Experience the Culture, Not Just Hitting the Big Stops
When I travel, it is to leave what I am familiar with behind and totally embrace the culture I have stepped into. I also like inexpensive. Copenhagen has amazing architecture. I did a little homework before we left, reading up on Copenhagen architecture. The color in town was fantastic. Taking a stroll down a Copenhagen residential city street is a must. Some of the doors have detailed wood carvings, they are all interesting colors, and they have the craziest shapes. The different units of a building would have varying colors between them.
It is funny to bump into familiar things from home when traveling too. It makes you realize how people from other cultures enjoy some of the same things we do back at home. As we were wandering around near the Museum of Architecture, we ended up right in the path of runners in an Ironman triathlon. It took me back to Tempe where the Ironman takes place annually, as well. Halfway around the world, it was such a familiar site. We stood and cheered them on for a while.
We did most of our exploring by foot in Copenhagen. Checking our step count at the end of the day is a nightly highlight! Known for its canals, we enjoyed some yummy street food while dangling our legs over the wall towards the canal near the famous harbor street, Nygahevn. It was just far enough away from the heavy tourist areas, but still close to fun views.
One of my favorite discoveries while wandering along a canal was an old library garden, the Royal Danish Library. On the backside was a very old structure, that looked like Harry Potter might come walking out of. Inside, the carved wood details were gorgeous. In contrast, the front side facing the canal was modern architecture that was obviously new and almost completely glass. It perfectly summed up the city, combining old and new. The study room inside was amazing. Their coat closets and bag lockers for all the winter gear people peel off when coming inside also struck me. But that is coming from an AZ girl with no heavy winter wardrobe to her name! I loved being able to experience this old library as it was unlike something you would experience in the states. I was so fond of how it was still a useful space today.
To tackle the canals from a different perspective, we got a GoBoat! We took a snack of beer, cheese, and bread with us on our own personal water taxi to explore all the canals. This was a fantastic way to see lots of architecture in one excursion. In our GoBoat, we saw a “boat” that was a diving platform in a sectioned off river side water park area. The canals branched off of the river. We saw a jellyfish flowing through the water next to us near another river diving spot that locals were using like a beach, laying out tanning.
After taking a short plane ride from Copenhagen to Bergen, Norway, we were on the search for Viking related adventures, or at least a Viking boat. At the Viking Valley, we found ourselves a FULL Viking experience. It’s a village with volunteers that act as ancient Viking inhabitants for the whole summer, taking visitors on tours. We were taught how to grind oats into flour between two stones, make them into little patties and cook them over the fire. The oat cakes were delicious, dressed with raw garlic, dried herbs, and some hand spun butter. Justin, my husband, blew the Viking horn to alert of intruders and shot a bow and arrow. He was loving it, other than smacking his forearm with the bowstring the first time!
What I learned about the social order of the Vikings and how they chose and used their weapons was so interesting. Best of all was the wool dyeing though, which isn’t surprising due to the happiness I get from the dyed silk and fabric I use with bouquets and boutonnieres. The Vikings figured out how to create most colors in the rainbow. I was so impressed with their dyeing abilities. It was all from trial and error because they didn’t know the chemistry behind it.
In Oslo, we continued our Viking education by visiting the Viking Ship Museum. My dad had taken a picture in front of a ship there in the 80’s, and I took a picture in front of the same ship! I love little bits of history like this. We might not have rushed into as many museums in Oslo had we not had the Oslo Pass. It was definitely worth having the pass to avoid waiting in lines to buy tickets. We used it to get into places like the Viking Ship Museum and The National Gallery to see The Scream painting.
Other things to do for cheap in Scandinavia:
-Go to “The Tower”. You can see some amazing views and Sweden across the water!
- Check out Tivoli Gardens, the second oldest amusement park in the world. It reminded me of Ebcot at Disney World with the different lands. When we were there, it was about $15.
-See the beautiful royal horses at Christiansborg Palace.
Norway (by car)
- Walk through a Stav church.
- See a waterfall in Laerdal!
- Outside of Bergen along the Fjords, take yourself and your rental car across the fjord on a ferry.
- Buy the Oslo Pass if you want to visit more than a few museums. It felt like we had a Disney fast pass for the whole city. We didn’t have to weigh the price per museum or bus fare before deciding to check it out. No lines at museums, no figuring out how to pay for each bus we wanted to take. Admittedly, it wasn’t cheap at $75 per person for two days. But we went to four museums, took countless buses, trains, and ferries and got to skip plenty of lines in the process.
-Take a night walk with your love to reflect on the day and take in some evening details of town like the lights up on Akershus Fortress.
Eat great food without spending a ton
Great food is also a top priority for me when traveling. Even when we just need something quick, I seek out local options I can’t get at home. I want to enjoy what the locals eat when they are just doing life. We had the best open faced sandwiches at Packhouse in Copenhagen, which are all the rage in Denmark. They were made of thick nutty bread, with hummus spread, feta cheese, a little bit of honey and, yummy beets. Near Nygahevn, we had street food of long but skinny danish hot dogs in thick buns. We ate at an amazing Greek buffet in Copenhagen. We had lovely pastries for breakfast one morning from one of the oldest bakeries, St. Peters. We grabbed coffee and people watched in a “Hygge” cafe. Hygge is the quintessential Copenhagen word for cozy. I also had the best chicken curry sandwich a little ways into our trip. I was feeling accomplished when I ordered this meal as I was able to read enough to know what I would like from a menu!
To save some money, we also made a few meals at our AirBnB with local ingredients. Grocery shopping in a foreign country is an experience in itself! There was a machine that would cut the loaf of bread you just bought in every grocery store we went to! Due to liquor laws, sometimes the beer was covered up during the day also.
Combining sightseeing with food, we walked through the fish market in Bergen. Justin found some sushi, which is his absolute favorite. We watched the sushi maker create rolls for a ton of party platters. Keeping with his frugal style, Justin bought some half-price day old sushi ingredients from the stand. He still said it was the best he’d ever had. Sorry Sakana in Tempe! They showed us how to make the sushi when we lingered a little too long trying to figure it out!
There is nothing more budget friendly then just enjoying God’s creation when traveling. The views we experienced are memories I will never forget. We did something as simple as picking wildflowers. I found sweet peas, scabiosa, dahlias, snowberries, globe thistles and something like Queen Anne’s Lace. No surprise here that this was a memorable part of our trip for me. Even though picking flowers is possible back home, being able to do it with flowers that would never naturally grow where I live was fantastic!
In Laerdal, we visited Mount Molden. It had an old world mystery charm and reminded me of Alice in Wonderland because of the crazy bright red mushrooms everywhere. We saw funny little ladder looking bridges over the mini water streams. The views were stellar from here seeing the river wind around the mountains and into fjords.
In Stryn, we rented canoes and experienced the glacier fjord by water for a couple hours. At first we just saw empty canoes out behind a cafe down by the water, with no one around. We walked into the cafe and chatted with the owner about renting the canoes. He wrote down just the first and last name of one of us and 2 hours, how long we planned to be out. Then he handed us life jackets, paddles, and said “enjoy your trip”! We walked ourselves out to the edge of the lake, took a family picture for a vacationing Italian family, and then pushed out the canoes for our adventure. It was about $8 per person to rent a canoe.
It was lovely. My backside did become slightly frozen via splashing from the other member of my canoe team, who shall go unnamed. We eventually started working together and singing bits of songs we knew as we rowed along to the far side of the fjord. We bounced around to different spots, even seeing a waterfall running off into the water. It was drizzling on and off for the whole ride. By the time we started paddling back, we couldn’t believe how far away we were. It also had started pouring by the time we were working on getting back, so we used our Costa Rica rainforest river rafting strategies and teamwork to book it back to shore.
I loved so much of our trip to Scandinavia. We didn’t spend a ton and were able to take in a new culture, and eat delicious food. These were just some of the adventures we chose on our trip. Visiting Scandinavia on a budget is possible if you remember to look for free things, enjoy the food the locals partake in during their daily lives, and enjoy the nature where you are. If you ever have the chance to explore even a part of Scandinavia, I would highly encourage it!
Where are some of your favorite adventure destinations?