Northern Europe Travel Guide
Tales of fierce Vikings, ethereal northern lights, and enchanting fjords just scratch the surface of Northern Europe's grandeur.
A region of mesmerizing contrasts, here modern cities brimming with innovative design blend seamlessly with untamed wilderness, ancient folklore, and some of the world’s most inspiring cultural feats. Dive into this haven of history, nature, and innovation, and let the magic of Northern Europe captivate your heart.
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Quick Facts About Northern Europe
- There are 11 distinct nations and territories in Northern Europe, according the United Nations geoscheme.
- In terms of land area, Sweden stands out as the largest country in Northern Europe.
- The Faroe Islands, a self-governing archipelago under Denmark, is one of the tiniest territories in this region.
- Key geographic facts:
- Land of Islands: Northern Europe is dotted with thousands of islands, notably Sweden’s Stockholm archipelago, which alone comprises over 30,000 islands.
- Fjords Galore: Norway is world-renowned for its breathtaking fjords, with Geirangerfjord and Nærøyfjord listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites.
- Northern Lights: This region is one of the best in the world to witness the awe-inspiring Aurora Borealis, especially in places like Iceland and Lapland, Finland.
- Midnight Sun: During summer, areas north of the Arctic Circle experience 24 hours of daylight, a phenomenon known as the Midnight Sun.
- Diverse Linguistic Landscape: The region boasts a variety of languages such as English, Danish, Finnish, Icelandic, Norwegian, and more.
- Baltic Languages: Latvia and Lithuania contribute the unique Baltic language group to Europe’s linguistic tapestry, with Latvian and Lithuanian being closely related yet distinct languages.
- Christian Roots: Most countries in Northern Europe have a significant Christian population, primarily Protestant, especially Lutheran, with exceptions like Ireland, which is predominantly Roman Catholic.
- Ancient Beliefs: While Christianity is dominant today, the region has a rich tapestry of ancient Norse mythology and Celtic traditions that still influence its culture and festivals.
Northern Europe, A Region of Many Records
- World’s Northernmost Capital: Reykjavik, Iceland, stands as the northernmost capital city on Earth, a beacon of civilization amidst icy landscapes.
- Land of a Thousand Lakes: Finland boasts around 188,000 lakes, a testament to its unique geography and glacial history.
- Europe’s Largest Glacier: The Vatnajökull glacier in Iceland is the largest in Europe, covering an area of around 8,100 km².
- Tallest Cliff in Europe: The Hornelen sea cliff in Norway stands tall at 860 meters, making it Europe’s highest sea cliff.
- Below Sea Level: The Kristianstad municipality in Sweden is known for being the lowest point in Northern Europe, lying 2.41 meters below sea level.
- Geothermal Wonder: Iceland possesses the highest concentration of geysers and hot springs, with the famous Geysir being the namesake for all geysers globally.
- Largest Forested Area: Sweden has the most significant forest coverage in all of Europe, making up almost 70% of its land area.
10 Handpicked Northern Europe Highlights
10 fantastic places and experiences in Northern Europe, in no particular order.
- Soomaa National Park, Estonia: Known for its “fifth season” or the flood season, Soomaa offers a unique wetland ecosystem. Canoeing amidst its waterlogged forests and witnessing its diverse fauna is an unmatched experience.
- Jökulsárlón, Iceland: This large glacial lagoon at the head of the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier is a mesmerizing sight with its floating icebergs. It’s a window into the raw, ever-changing beauty of Icelandic landscapes.
- Lake Sørvágsvatn and the Trælanípa Cliff, Faroe Islands: The optical illusion where the lake seems to hover above the ocean, especially from the vantage point of Trælanípa Cliff, is a sight to behold, encapsulating the magic of the Faroes.
- Snowdonia National Park, Wales, UK: A realm of rugged mountains and lush valleys, Snowdonia offers dramatic landscapes and is home to Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales.
- Cairngorms National Park, Scotland: Britain’s largest national park is a haven for wildlife, with its vast moorlands, ancient forests, and snow-capped peaks.
- The Aurora Borealis in Lapland, Finland: The ethereal dance of the Northern Lights against the Lapland skies is a natural marvel that continues to captivate travelers from around the world.
- Tallinn’s Old Town, Estonia: Walking through Tallinn’s medieval Old Town feels like stepping into a bygone era, with its cobblestoned streets, Gothic spires, and historic charm.
- Norwegian Fjords: Norway’s fjords are grand testimonies to nature’s artistry, where towering cliffs meet the serene waters below, creating some of the planet’s most breathtaking vistas.
- Blue Lagoon, Iceland: Beyond being a geothermal spa, the Blue Lagoon is an epitome of Iceland’s volcanic energy, offering therapeutic waters amidst a stark, beautiful lava landscape.
- The Lofoten Islands, Norway: With their jagged peaks, deep blue waters, and traditional fishing villages, the Lofoten Islands present a picturesque panorama of Norwegian life and nature.
When to Go to Northern Europe
Northern Europe’s climate varies from maritime to continental, with distinct seasons that each offer a unique travel experience.
Winter (December-February): The colder months bring shorter days, with some areas above the Arctic Circle experiencing the polar night. It’s the best time to witness the ethereal Northern Lights, especially in regions like Lapland. However, travelers should be prepared for chilly temperatures.
Spring (March-May): As the snow melts, the region wakes up with blossoming flowers and gradually longer days. It’s a peaceful time to visit before the summer crowds.
Summer (June-August): Enjoy long days and the Midnight Sun, especially in northern areas. Warm weather makes it ideal for hiking, exploring fjords, and city visits. Popular festivals also take place during this time.
Autumn (September-November): Fall paints the landscapes in golden hues, with vibrant foliage and crisp air. It’s an excellent period for scenic drives and spotting wildlife.
For most travelers, the summer is the ideal time due to favorable weather and extended daylight hours. However, those seeking the Northern Lights or winter sports might prefer the colder months.
Traveling to Northern Europe
Northern Europe is generally safe, but as with any destination, it’s essential to stay informed and vigilant.
- Stay Updated on Weather: Especially in winter, check the weather forecast and be prepared for sudden changes.
- Road Safety: Icy roads can be a challenge. If driving, ensure your vehicle is winter-ready.
- Respect Nature: When hiking or exploring, stick to marked trails and inform someone of your plans.
- Watch Out for Wildlife: Especially in remote areas, be cautious of large animals like moose.
- Secure Valuables: Even in safer cities, always be mindful of your belongings.
- Travel Insurance: Ensure you have comprehensive travel insurance that covers potential activities like skiing or hiking.
- Know Emergency Numbers: 112 is the general emergency number for most European countries.
- Stay Warm: Dress in layers and be prepared for colder-than-expected temperatures, especially in winter.
- Avoid Risky Activities Alone: Whether it’s hiking or exploring off the beaten path, always have company.
- Respect Local Customs: Northern Europe is diverse, so always be respectful of local traditions and etiquette.
Getting There and Around
- Major Airports: Some of the primary gateways include London Heathrow (UK), Oslo Gardermoen (Norway), Arlanda (Sweden), and Keflavík (Iceland).
- Trains: Efficient train networks, like SJ in Sweden or VR in Finland, connect major cities and provide scenic routes.
- Buses: Companies like Bus4You and Lux Express offer intercity connections.
- Ferries: With so many coastal cities and islands, ferries are popular, especially in areas like the Norwegian fjords or between Finland and Estonia.
- Car Rentals: Renting a car provides flexibility, especially for more remote areas.
Accommodation in Northern Europe ranges from luxury hotels in major cities to quaint bed and breakfasts in the countryside. For a unique experience, travelers can opt for ice hotels in Sweden, cozy cabins in Norway’s fjords, or traditional turf houses in Iceland. Hostels are prevalent for budget travelers, especially in cities like Copenhagen or Dublin.
Prices are often on the higher side, especially in Norway and Iceland, but early bookings and off-season travel can offer value deals. Always check reviews and consider booking directly through hotel websites or trusted platforms.