Friday, August 9, 2013

Planning a Week in Scandinavia with Young Kids

I mentioned in my previous post that I spent a lot of time planning our week-long holiday in Scandinavia. While I read a lot of great blog posts about individual attractions in each location (see my Pinterest board about Scandinavia with Kids), I couldn't find much information on how to put it all together into one trip (particularly because we weren't interested in seeing the area via cruise ship, as many do). So I thought I'd share our itinerary, what I'd do differently and what I loved the most. Here are more detailed itineraries and info for Copenhagen and Oslo.

Our 1-Week Scandinavia Itinerary:

Day 1: Travel from London to Copenhagen, Denmark.

Days 2-4: Explore Copenhagen.

Day 5: Drive from Copenhagen to Gothenburg, Sweden, with a stop in Helsingborg, Sweden (via the bridge to Malmo in Sweden, not the car ferry in Helsingor, Denmark).

Day 6: Morning in Gothenburg, then drive from Gothenburg to Oslo, Norway.

Day 7-8: Explore Oslo.

Day 9: Travel from Oslo to London.

Nyhavn area of Copenhagen

What I Loved:
  • I'm so glad we had 3 1/2 days in Copenhagen. If there is one aspect of this itinerary that I wouldn't change, it would be that. In fact, we could have probably easily filled a fourth day there.
  • Our lodging. We only stayed in a hotel for one night (in Gothenburg, at the Best Western Hotel Mektagonen, which I also highly recommend). The apartments we rented in Copenhagen and Oslo were wonderful places to call home for a few nights. Seeing two big cities in one week with two young kids is exhausting. Having space to spread out and sleep well was key to everyone's happiness.
  • The drive from Gothenburg to Oslo was very picturesque. Think rolling hills meeting deep blue water, dotted with sail boats and cottages. It left me longing to see more of the Scandinavian countryside, particularly Norway (see what I'd change below).
Karnan medieval tower in Helsingborg, Sweden

What I'd Change:
  • I really wish we had incorporated Stockholm into our itinerary. I keep hearing such wonderful things about it, and I hate that we made it to this part of the world and missed it. 
  • Our limited exposure to Norway's landscape was such a tease. In hindsight, I'd swap our time in Oslo for a few days in Stockholm, and I'd plan an entirely separate Norway trip (a few days in Oslo, followed by a few days in the more remote areas, touring the fjords).
  • Car rental costs. I didn't realize, until I was too deep into it, that renting a car in Copenhagen and dropping it off in Oslo incurred a huge fee (and many car rental companies wouldn't even allow it at all). We decided to splurge and do it anyway. But if you're on a tight budget, look into the overnight ferry from Copenhagen to Oslo (or flights), or if you want to keep the same itinerary, take a train from Copenhagen to Gothenburg and then Gothenburg to Oslo. 
Oslo's famous Opera House
A few more tips:
  • I purchased a general guidebook on Scandinavia (Lonely Planet brand). The day before our trip, I picked up DK Eyewitness Travel's Top 10 Copenhagen* at the library. In hindsight, I would have ditched the general guidebook (which was too broad, covering 6 countries) in favor of that Copenhagen book and one on Oslo. It was small enough to fit in my purse and my husband and I practically read it from cover to cover during our time in the city. Hardly even opened the more general guidebook. Lesson learned.
  • Much like the UK, even though these countries are in the EU, they have kept their own currency. So don't get out Euros from the bank. We just got a small amount of cash out in each country. (Some touristy areas will accept the other country's money, particularly near the border, if you haven't spent it all by the time you leave.)
  • Don't worry about the language. I was stunned by the English fluency of each and every person I met. And they don't mind a bit. If communication worries keep you from traveling to Europe, Scandinavia would be a great place to start. That said, signs, particularly on public transit, will likely not be in English. Grab a transit map before you board anything.
  • You'll read over and over again about the high costs in these cities. It's true. But here's what I'd also say about it: lodging was about what I'd expect to pay in any major European city and sightseeing was practically free, or reasonably priced. (Both Copenhagen and Oslo also offer a city pass that includes many of the major attractions and public transport.) It's the food and snacks that will get your budget in trouble. For a family of four, expect to pay at least $100 to sit down anywhere to eat in the city centres. That's at casual places, like for pizza. A stop for coffee and juice to go? About $20 or so. Crazy! We had planned to only eat out for one meal each day, and for the most part, we stuck to that. Another reason the apartment rental was key for us. 
  • Pack a good stroller. We did lots and lots of walking. In Copenhagen the metro stops are spaced very far apart, so we chose to just walk to all the sites. I was glad we had our sit and stand stroller* with us. There's no way Big Arrow (4) could have walked all those miles we put on it.

This post is a part of Travel Tips Tuesday at Walking on Travels and Suitcases and Sippy Cups.

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