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Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Northern Exposure

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Follow in the footsteps of the Vikings with a trip through Scandinavia’s stunning landscapes.

Many of Scandinavia’s charms are obvious: mountains soaring over narrow, crystalline fjords; deep, remote evergreen forests; sleepy fishing villages and compact, tidy cities where people linger in outdoor cafes into the long hours of summer sunlight.    

Less immediately clear — but still evident to those who look — are the intriguing traces of its Viking past. From the eighth to the 11th centuries, Vikings from Denmark, Norway and Sweden sailed to far-off lands for trade and conquest. Contrary to popular myth, they were far more than brutal plunderers; they were accomplished mariners, craftsmen and inveterate explorers. They still hold our collective imagination; even inspiring TV shows a thousand years later. On “Timeless Scandinavia,” an Insight Vacations Luxury Gold itinerary, you’ll not only learn more about them, you’ll see the places they lived and the things they left behind. 


Start in Denmark, often ranked as the happiest country in the world and a hub of sleek Scandinavian design, bicycles and New Nordic cuisine, highlighting local seasonal ingredients and fresh fish. Experience Viking history firsthand at Ribe VikingeCenter, a heritage center featuring authentic reconstructions of Ribe’s earliest Vikings. Or, explore Copenhagen’s National Museum; it boasts a vast collection of Viking artifacts, including runestones — rocks the Vikings inscribed with the story of a great man or woman (Vikings were ahead of their time in promoting women). Some 3,000 runestones remain throughout Scandinavia.

From the more recent past, one of Copenhagen’s most famous attractions is Tivoli, the world’s second-oldest amusement park. Opened in 1843, it’s a Copenhagen must-see. Amid gardens and trees, merry-go-rounds and other rides, theaters, arcades and dozens of high-end restaurants and food stands are arranged. It’s a good place to sample smorrebrod, the popular open-faced sandwich that could be the Danish national dish.

To get out on the water — like the Vikings did — try a boat tour around Copenhagen. A good place to board is the oft-photographed Nyhavn district. It’s centuries old; No. 9, the oldest house remaining, was built in 1681. Many of the houses have been occupied by famous writers and artists; Hans Christian Andersen wrote The Princess and the Pea while living here. Brightly painted gabled houses line the Nyhavn canal, where old boats are tied — the subject matter for countless postcards.  


Arriving in Gothenburg, a port city founded in the 1600s, you soon notice its canals — the city was built by the Dutch — which you’ll cruise through aboard a private charter, learning about the region’s history. Today the city is known as a hip center for creative pursuits, boasting a vibrant music and arts scene; galleries and cafes line its cobblestone streets, which are crisscrossed by blue and white trams. The Gothenburg City Museum, housed in a grand 18th-century building, is worth a visit to see Sweden’s only surviving Viking ship. Cross Sweden toward the Baltic Sea and Stockholm’s unmistakable silhouette appears, set across 14 islands connected by more than 50 bridges. Here, a Local Expert introduces you to some of the city’s wonders, including the cathedral and the Royal Palace, a baroque style behemoth with more than 600 rooms arranged around an inner courtyard. 

Stockholm's 13th-century old town, Gamla Stan, has a fairy-tale charm. It’s easy to wile away hours strolling and window shopping its car-free streets, alleys and squares lined with yellow and pumpkin-colored buildings (with a stop to get inspired at the Nobel Museum). 

Keep an eye out for the Viking runestone in the foundation of a Gamla Stan house.

After your explorations, you can refuel like a Viking might have at Aifur Pub & Bar, a Gamla Stan restaurant focused on the food and culture of the Vikings. The menu includes venison in mushroom sauce or mussels boiled in mead and cream.


Bergen is Norway’s second largest city, but Bryggen, the historic wharf area, feels more like a small fishing village. It’s surrounded by seven mountains and many fjords. Along the wharf, beautifully preserved colorful wooden buildings painted in reds, white and yellows, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, date back to the 14th century. Today those buildings beckon visitors into small museums, restaurants and shops.

 At the wharf’s end is Bergen’s Fish Market, with stalls offering fish of every description, cooked and raw, the perfect place for a quick lunch. Not far from the wharf is a group of fine-art museums and the Bergen Maritime Museum, housing a large collection of ship models and Viking ships.    

Enjoy a ride on the historic Flam Railway, is often called “a journey of a lifetime.” This short (just over 12 miles) railway is the steepest standard-gauge railway in the world, rising in elevation more than half a mile. It carries passengers into Norwegian wilderness: past snow-covered peaks and by waterfalls, so close you’ll feel the spray.

Return to urban surroundings in one of Europe’s fastest growing cities: Oslo’s cutting-edge food, fashion and art scenes buzz. Peer into its past within the ramparts of the 13th-century Akershus Fortress, transformed in the 17th century into a Renaissance palace (it also served at times as a prison), and the Viking Ship Museum, which houses three original Viking ships and many finds from Viking tombs, including the skeletal remains of two women buried with one of the ships.

Many of the museum’s treasures were found near the Oslo Fjord, which you can get a unique perspective on from the Opera House. The striking architecture was inspired by glaciers; its geometric white mass rises just feet from the water’s edge. Climb the sloping roof to the top; looking out over the water, it’s not hard to imagine the Vikings rowing their great ships away from these shores and into the open seas.  

AAA can help you plan your Viking-inspired adventure with unforgettable experiences. Call today to book your Insight Vacations getaway. 

(Traveler Spring 2018)

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