‘Hygge’ and the Allure of Scandinavia – 6 cities you’ll want to visit

Today I have my dear friend Richelle Z. sharing about her love and knowledge of Scandinavia.  Richelle is from the Midwest (she was my R.A. in college!), but is now living and working in the UK.  She has traveled extensively throughout Europe and Asia.  Thanks so much, Richelle!

____________________________________________________________

The idea of ‘hygge’ has been everywhere these days (Google it- the results will surprise you!). You can read books about this Danish art of living, raise your children in accordance with this philosophy, cook meals that represent this way of life, and even transform yourself into a happier person by following these principles. While I can’t profess to being an expert in the art of hygge (pronounced ‘hoo-ga’), I must admit that there is something alluring about Denmark, and, Scandinavia as a whole, and this new-found interest in ‘hygge’ has made me think more and more about the unique aspects of Scandinavia that truly set it apart.

After six trips to the region (and an awful lot of time spent in Scandi cafes in London!), this is what ‘hygge’ means to me and why I believe the entire region of Scandinavia has something to offer all ages.

Reykjavik: Other-worldly landscapes and awe-inspiring natural beauty

Reykjavik was my first brush with Scandinavia. My sister and I had ten hours in between a flight to London to explore the city. Of course, it wasn’t nearly enough time, but it did give us a small sense of what Iceland has to offer.

6 cities in Scandinavia that you'll want to visit

Oslo: Austere architecture amidst tranquil natural surroundings (photos 4757, 4391)

Oslo is one of my favorite cities. There was a formality about it that really resonated with me, but it was also very quirky and hip at the same time. I loved the bright buildings and the connection that one felt with the sea and nature. Norway also has a proud history of discovery and exploration, and this was surely felt in Oslo with the many statues of Roald Amundsen, the famous Arctic explorer.

Scandinavia cities you'll want to visit

I like this photo that was taken in a cemetery near our Airbnb flat because it represented such a tranquil space (it was also a garden park in the city center). The gravestones had a very spartan quality that was in stark contrast to the many gravestones I’ve seen in London in Highgate Cemetery or Brompton Cemetery.  The day after I took this photo, it snowed and the entire place was lightly dusted with soft white powder.

Cities to visit in Scandinavia

This photo was taken at Vigeland Park, the world’s largest sculpture park made by a single artist. The park was brimming with sculptures of people in strange poses, as you can see by the photo of me with Vigeland’s art. I’ve chosen a tamer sculpture here so as not to frighten Leah’s young readers, as there were some rather strange ones.

Bergen: Charming seaside fronts and UNESCO World Heritage sites

Bergen is one of the most charming places I’ve ever been and may even give Salzburg a run for its money in terms of being the most charming city on earth. In addition to strolling along the historic Bryggen, the city’s historic wharf and UNESCO World Heritage Site, it was most interesting to wander through the little neighborhoods behind the water. Not surprisingly, the seafood was outstanding, but, visitors beware, everything in Bergen is terrifyingly expensive. A simple pint will set you back £8, for instance, and most starters are around £10-16, which I consider a bit high for an appetizer.

Cities to visit in Scandinavia

This is the beautiful wharf, Bryggen, which is also a little labyrinth of shops and cafes, albeit slightly touristy ones these days. The site is extremely well preserved and belies the fact that it dates back to the 1350s.

cities to visit in Scandinavia

To get the best view of Bergen, climb to the top of Fløibanen mountain, one of the city’s Seven Mountains that surround it. You can hike to the peak of the mountain or you can take a cable car. We actually chose to hike, which friends of mine would find quite surprising. My advice to other would-be climbers is to wear proper hiking shoes, not pointed toe flats. The reward for your hard work, however, will be this stunning view along with a glimpse of the trolls who dot the top of the mountain (yes, there are trolls!).

Copenhagen: One of the world’s most liveable cities as well as a haven for cyclists

Copenhagen stands out to me as one of the most liveable cities I’ve ever visited. This may also be due to the fact that I absolutely loved our Airbnb flat, but I think there is more substance to back up that claim. The trains in Denmark are efficient to a tee, it’s easy to cycle everywhere (in fact, most people get around entirely by bicycle in Copenhagen), and the overall quality of living seemed very high.

Cities to visit in Scandinavia
The Little Mermaid Statue
scandi-3
Overlooking the Danish rooftops in Copenhagen

Stockholm: Beautiful churches combined with an innovative food and art scene

We only had a short three-day weekend to spend in Stockholm, but it was certainly long enough to get a taste of the city and confirm that we absolutely need to return. Stockholm had all of the hallmarks of a great Scandinavian city to me- extremely clean and efficient travel infrastructure, close proximity to water and natural beauty, eclectic churches, and an overall austere feel to the streets and neighborhoods. Two of my favorite churches are pictured here:

church cities to visit in Scandinavia

Helsinki: World-renowned design district and the Moomins

Helsinki is a strange city in that I’m not sure it fully identifies as being Scandinavian. Technically, yes, Finland geographically finds itself within Scandinavia, but it also shares characteristics with Russia and the Baltics, given its proximity to and history with that region. Yet, after exploring Helsinki for a few days, I did come to the conclusion that it was a true Scandi city, deeply possessing all of the things I’ve come to love about that part of the world. The food was off-beat and interesting, the coffee was amazing, the architecture had that clean austerity about it, and one could be close to nature.

Helsinki stands apart from its more glamorous cousins of Oslo and Stockholm with a strong identity rooted in design. The Design District comprises street after street of shops filled with contemporary designs and, in true Scandi tradition, they were extremely expensive.

Cities to visit in Scandinavia

Cities to visit in Scandinavia

Have you been to Scandinavian?  Favorite city?  Maybe you follow hygge?  I’d love to hear!

Cities to visit in Scandinavia

Off the Beaten Path in London

off the beaten path in london

What to see after you’ve hit all the major tourist sites

{I’m so excited to have Richelle back with us today.  Richelle is currently living in London and is totally in love with her city.  Here she shares with us some great trips for our 2nd or 3rd trip to London.  I can’t wait to check out some of these parks and museums on my next trip.  Thanks so much, Richelle.}

London is a city of endless possibility. It’s the world’s most literary city (hello, Shakespeare and Charles Dickens), the most diverse in terms of cuisine, and home to some of the most significant cultural treasures in the world. Perhaps you’ve been to London a couple times and you’ve already checked off a few of the most amazing landmarks and sights. You’ve been to Big Ben and Parliament, have witnessed the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, have stood in awe of the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum, have marveled at Westminster Abbey, and have strolled through some of the loveliest areas in Central London, like St. James, Piccadilly, Mayfair, Soho, and Covent Garden.  And now you’re wondering what to do next. Fortunately, in a city as rewarding as London, you’re just getting started on experiencing all that this vibrant city has to offer! Here are a few of my picks for what to do after you’ve conquered the London Tourist Trail.  Here is London off the beaten path.

 

If you’ve been to the British Museum, National Gallery, or the British Library, how about exploring the Wallace Collection in Marylebone or the Sir John Soane Museum in Russell Square? Both of these smaller museums are free of charge and located in charming neighborhoods. The Wallace Collection is just a stone’s throw from the elegant Marylebone High Street and contains paintings by masters like Joshua Reynolds and pieces of armor dating back to the 14th century. It is also an incredibly elegant museum, so dress a tad smarter than you normally would on a standard sightseeing excursion.

The Sir John Soane Museum, on the other hand, is a highly unusual collection of antiquities from Greece, Rome, and Egypt that were picked up by the eponymous lord during his travels (back when it was ok to go home with a piece of art from the first century in your luggage!). While simply amazing, there can be queues and you’ll also need to put your handbag and other items in a clear plastic bag upon arrival, so it’s best to not enter after a massive shopping trip in Knightsbridge. This is a truly unique experience, though, and is not to be missed.

galleryfixed

If you’ve been to Hyde Park, Regent’s Park, or St. James’s Park, how about Holland Park, located in the uber-swish neighborhood of the same name? Holland Park is just one stop after Notting Hill Gate on the Central Line (Zone Two), but it feels a world away from the hustle and bustle of Central London. Be sure to stroll through the park of the same name until you come to the enchanting Kyoto Garden, which has a Zen-like tranquility about it, complete with free-range peacocks. After a little gambol through the park, continue on to the Leighton House Museum, another small collection of antiquities amassed by a wealthy, eccentric lord. This time, the flair is to the Middle East with the showcasing of a truly opulent domed ceiling. Yes, there is more to Holland Park than Maserati’s and mansions (though you will see plenty of both)!

London off the beaten path
Kyoto Garden

 

 

London off the beaten path

If you are looking to get out of Zones 1-2 and want to experience both open spaces and literary treasures, why not consider the North London neighborhoods of Hampstead and Highgate? You can begin your journey at either the Hampstead Tube Station or the Hampstead Heath Overground Station before heading north to Highgate. This rather long walk will take you past places like the John Keats House (small entry fee), Parliament Hill for amazing views over London, Highgate Cemetery (final resting place of Karl Marx), Kenwood House, and the famous Spaniards Inn pub (where Keats and Dickens, among others, stopped). This is truly a literary, intellectual stroll, which can take a few hours to complete, especially if you stop along the way.  I completed this exact walk over the weekend, and it was enchanting!

Karl Marx statue- London off the beaten path

If you want to experience a bit of West London, why not head to the Chiswick House and Gardens or Fulham Palace in Bishops Park?  Chiswick House can take a bit of time to reach, depending on where within the city you’re staying, but it is well worth the visit. You can alight at the Turnham Green Tube Station (on the cusp of Zones 2 and 3) and stroll down the delightful Chiswick High Street before proceeding to the gardens. When we visited, there was a wonderful camellia exhibition and a photo of The Beatles that was taken during a performance at the gardens.

After Chiswick, you can make your way to Hammersmith and Fulham to see Fulham Palace. If you’re not up for the three-mile walk, though, fear not, as the excellent Underground will get you there. Fulham Palace, dating back to 704, was once the home of the Bishop of London. There is a beautiful walled garden, not to mention the lovely Bishops Park.

London off the beaten path

If you’ve seen the posh neighborhoods of Chelsea, Kensington (swoon), and Belgravia and thought to yourself, where do regular people live, venture to Highbury, Angel, or Stoke Newington. It’s no secret that London is a ridiculously expensive city and that you need to be either a footballer or a financier to live in the areas of the city that most tourists only see (i.e. most of Central London); therefore it can be refreshing to see places where the non-millionaires live.

Stoke Newington is my little part of the city, so, of course, I have to have a bit of a plug for my own neighborhood. You can reach “Stokie,” as locals affectionately call it, in about 15 minutes via the Overground from Liverpool Street station.  I would recommend a saunter down Stoke Newington Church Street, which is lined with independent cafes and shops, before reaching Clissold Park, a lovely neighborhood park that our precious chihuahua loves to frolic through on a Sunday afternoon.  At the tip of the park, you’ll see St. Mary’s Church, which is picture-perfect on any day.

London off of the beaten path

As I scroll back through this list of exquisite museums, cathedrals, gardens, and landmarks, I realize that this, too, only begins to scratch the surface of all that this city has to offer.  I hope that this list will guide you at whichever stage of exploring London you may be, for, as Samuel Johnson said, “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.”

Have you been to London?  What is your favorite off-the-beaten-path attraction?

PIN THIS:

London off of the beaten path. Things to do in London.

A long weekend in Denmark in 10 photos (part 2)

Hi everyone!  I’m back with photos 6 through 10 of Richelle’s trip to Denmark.  You can check out Part 1 here.

 

TITLE2

 

 

6. Copenhagen also has a Changing of the Guard Ceremony (just like London!), and it’s pretty neat.  You can actually get pretty close to the Guards as they walk aroung the Amalienborg plaza, unlike the guards at Buckingham Palace in London, who are restricted behind the palace gates.

IMG_0933
#6 Changing of the Guard

 

7. It wouldn’t be a proper trip to Denmark if I didn’t eat at least one Danish.  These pastries were absolutely incredible and far better than any other “Danish” I’ve had in other parts of the world. There was also a delicious specialty store near our flat that sold miniature Danishes in large bags.  I may have purchased one a day during the trip to tide me over…

IMG_0958
#7 A real Danish

 

 

8. The Frederikskirken Church has one of the most beautiful domes I’ve ever seen.  Somehow, my Smartphone managed to capture this breathtaking image of it.

IMG_0970
#8 Frederikskiken Church

 

9. Bicycles are everywhere in Copenhagen! The cycling infrastuture is truly world-class and unparalleled.  You’ve heard of other cities that are bicycle-friendly, like Amsterdam and Portland, but this is bicycle-friendly on a whole new level.  There are specific cycling lanes that are not only separated from oncoming traffic, but they are also in their own, unique lanes, away from bus-lanes and pedestrian-only lanes.  This is a city that is built upon bicycles before any other mode of transportation.

IMG_2065
#9 bicycles

 

10. My husband and I took a twenty-minute train ride outside Copenhagen to visit a stunning, UNESCO World Heritage Site, church in Roskilde.  This church, which dates back to the 12th century, houses remains of nearly 40 Danish monarchs.  Best of all, though, is the fact that visitors can roam freely throughout the entire church.  Most of the major churches that I’ve visited have restrictions throughout, but in Roskilde, you can wander into all of the nooks and crannies.  We had initially planned to take the train to Malmo, Sweden, but I’m so glad we ended up coming to Roskilde instead.  This church was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen.

IMG_2076
#10 Roskilde

 

I hope you have enjoyed my photos!  If you get the chance to go to Denmark, take it!!

 

Thanks again, Richelle!  You had me convinced that Denmark was for me just by the photo of that Danish! Haha!  Readers, I’d love to hear what you’re favorite photo was!