Scandinavia comes alive in summer. From wildlife watching to feasting on seasonal specialties to exploring the great outdoors, add these essential activities to your to-do list.
Take the plunge
Hot Springs at Landmannalaugur, Iceland. Photo: Icephotos.com
There are plenty of ways to get wet in Scandinavia. Denmark has more than 6000 km of coastline, much of it lined with sandy beaches; in Copenhagen, head for the family-friendly Amager Beach Park (www.kk.dk/amagerstrandpark), with its tranquil lagoon. Over in Finland, the Lake District is filled with forest-fringed lakes perfect for swimming and kayaking. Try the vast Lake Saimaa (www.visitsaimaa.fi/en), which has its own island archipelago.
Much of central Iceland is inaccessible during the long winter, hidden beneath layers of snow and ice. That makes summer the time to head inland. Explore such attractions as the country's mightiest waterfall, Gullfoss (www.gullfoss.is/); the multi-hued mountains at Landmannalaugur (www.landmannalaugar.info/index.htm), where you can plunge into a thermal pool; or try skidooing on the Langjokull Glacier (www.extremeiceland.is/en)
Take a Scandi safari
Scandinavia's forests and plains are surprisingly full of wildlife. If you are heading to Finland, Sweden or Norway, try your luck at spotting moose and reindeer, or far more fearsome creatures. Encountering a moose can be as easy as taking a twilight stroll through the forest, but if you want to see wolverines or brown bears, you will need to camp out overnight in a hide.
Sample a summer restaurant
There are more than 300 islands within Helsinki's city limits, several of which are home to idyllic restaurants open only from May to September. Most of them are accessible by ferry; the closest, Savu (www.ravintolasavu.fi/en) – which smokes its own fish – can be reached by walking across a bridge. Further afield is Särkänlinna (www.ravintolasarkanlinna.fi/en), housed in a historic fort. That oddly sloping floor? It was designed to help soldiers roll cannonballs towards the cannons.
Catch festival fever
Malmao festival, Sweden. Photo: Johan Bavman
Summer is festival season in Scandinavia. Some festivals – such as Denmark's mega rock festival, Roskilde (www.roskilde-festival.dk), Helsinki's Savonlinna Opera Festival (www.operafestival.fi/en), and Oslo's Jazz Festival (www.oslojazz.com) – are world-renowned, but there are also plenty of lesser-known options. Scandinavia's largest festival is the Malmö Festival (www.malmofestivalen.se), which takes place in Sweden every August, and boasts a packed roster of concerts, street art and other events, most of which are free.
Go island hopping
Stockholm's archipelago is one of the world's great summer playgrounds. With thousands of islands to choose from, you can always find your own patch of paradise to go hiking, swimming or kayaking. Not the active type? There are also museums such as the Artipelag set amid pine trees on Värmdö (www.artipelag.se/en), and even shopping destinations such as Gustavsberg, with its antique stores and discount outlets.
Take the high road
Trollstigen road, National Tourist Route, Norway. Photo: Ãyvind Heen
Never been excited about a road? Then you haven't travelled Norway's scenic Geiranger-Trollstigen National Tourist Route. This road packs a lot into its 106km: soaring mountain peaks, deep fjords, and the occasional hair-raising sheer drop. The high point, in all sense of the word, is the breathtaking Trollstigen Pass, surrounded by 1800 metre peaks and plunging waterfalls. Stop at the viewing platform before following the road as it switchbacks its way downhill through 11 hairpin bends at a hair-raising gradient of nine degrees (www.nasjonaleturistveger.no/en/routes/geiranger-trollstigen).
Feast on crayfish
During crayfish season - August and September - Swedes go so crazy for this crustacean that large numbers are imported from as far afield as Turkey and China. Traditionalists insist on catching their own; visitors to Gothenburg can sign up to take part in a crayfish catching trip. Otherwise you will find these tasty beasties on the menu at restaurants across the country.
Put your best foot forward
Ludicrously long days make Scandinavian summers the perfect time to take a hike. Iceland has some great day walks including the fumarole-filled Smoky Valley, just 45 minutes from Reykjavik; along the way, you can enjoy a dip in a naturally heated river. For something more strenuous, try Sweden's 400km-long Kungsleden or King's Trail, which has mountain cabins where you camp overnight.
Snap a polar bear
Glacier Waterfall, Svalbard, Norway. Photo: Roy Mangersnes
Scandinavia's deep north is a surprisingly popular winter destination, thanks to the spectacle of the northern lights. In summer, wildlife fans can head even further north to the Svalbard archipelago, for the chance to spot a polar bear in the wild. The incredible landscapes alone are worth the journey, with waterfalls cascading down sheer ice walls.
This article brought to you by Viking Cruises.