I know I know, we’ve now reached Poland so a post about our trip through the Nordic countries is way, way, waaay overdue! I had been meaning to share this ages ago but problems with uploading photos and then not having enough data, somehow it got pushed back. There’s so much info about with a quick Google search that let’s be honest another blog post isn’t much needed but I thought it would be nice nonetheless to share our experiences and a few photos of our trip through this amazing part of the world, plus how easy we found travelling by van for anyone hoping to do the same.
Overall we spent just under two weeks in Denmark, a month in Norway and about a week each in both Sweden and Finland so we obviously have a lot more experience in some countries than others but altogether they’re a brilliant introduction to travelling by van or camper – now we’ve left we really don’t feel that we appreciated quite how easy everything was to access and find! Norway was by far the most set up to deal with crowds of camper vans and ‘Tømme Stations’ (where you dispose of waste and fill up with water) were clearly signposted with regularity along most roads – in fact they were a bit hard to miss!
Each (with the exception of Denmark) also has ‘right to roam’ so as long as you’re 150m away from a house, don’t stay longer than 48hrs, are respectful and leave no trace then pulling up for the night is suuuper easy – we still found it easy in Denmark and we wild camped throughout each country without having to pay once – if you’re going to ‘do’ Scandinavia, by camper is most definitely the cheapest (and best!) way!
In fact the main issue we found with finding a good place to sleep for the night (though this was definitely an issue mainly reserved for Norway) was the sheer amount of campers in most areas. Frustratingly that perfect quiet scenic spot you find in the late afternoon could often be inundated with other travellers before the evening’s out. It definitely pays to head off the beaten track!
Being from the UK nothing can prepare you for the sheer size of Norway, Sweden and Finland – we’d done our research and planned a vague route but still the amount of driving we had done and had yet to do felt a bit overwhelming at times and many of the roads we took through Norway could be described as ‘Alpine’ in nature. Coupled with such massive distances and high fuel prices (the highest we saw was over the equivalent of £1.50 a litre, the lowest just under £1.30) Norway is NOT a cheap country to drive though – but all the guide books tell you that! Food shopping was also a slightly stressful experience, we saw broccoli for the equivalent of £2.50 and a box of eggs for over £4, mindblowing! Alcohol was of course out of the question for a budget such as ours (and probably most budgets if I’m honest!). For us the only way to keep our costs down was to pack food as if we were going to the moon beforehand and make sure not to linger too long, despite the massive temptation to! During our trip through Norway we also cut into Sweden above Trondheim for the the journey up to the Lofoten Islands in the aim of finding slightly lower fuel prices and quicker roads.
The weather overall was pretty changeable (it’s not a blog by a Brit if it doesn’t describe the weather is it!?). As we travelled through Denmark in June you could definitely tell that it was gearing up for summer with a few lovely hot sunny days though we did have a few torrential downpours. We were super lucky with both Sweden and Finland with glorious sunshine most of the time though we were into July at that point! Norway however could maybe be described as having a ‘Great British Summer’ – not helped in the least by the fact the UK was having a lot of hot weather quite a bit of the time we were there judging by various Facebook posts of friends back home. I hadn’t really thought about the weather that much before we set off, apart from to check accessibility due to the amount of snow that there was (still quite a lot on the higher peaks) but had (naively) assumed that it would be better than what we’re used to back in the UK because everywhere is right!? Newsflash I’m a fool and clearly didn’t use my brain: pack waterproofs and wellies if you have the space – the weather changes in an instant, though that is part of the beauty of the place!
The scenery in Sweden and Finland seemed to be quite similar and much much flatter than Norway, though as we only paid such a flying visit through both and only saw the middle/top of Sweden we admittedly don’t have much to go on. A mind blowing amount of trees over a mostly flat landscape led to some quite boring although extremely beautiful long-distance drives through the top of both though of course the opportunity to see lots of Reindeer did break up the monotony of driving that was quite ‘samey’.
We did find some of our favourite camp spots in Sweden though due to being able to easily pull up next to one of the millions of lakes in beautiful quiet woodlands. We spent a brilliant two days paddle boarding, swimming and reading without seeing a soul. The only thing to ruin this was the midges – though the ones we came across in Latvia gave them a run for their money!
In Norway the places we pulled up and the views were absolutely stunning – huge fjords surrounded by incredibly steep cliff faces and hundreds of snowmelt waterfalls dropping to the water below but because of the steep sides with no way up away from the road a few nights were spent with an amazing view along a fjord from one window, a slow procession of cars and motorhomes along the road out of the other! The reality of #vanlife is that the park spots are not always as picturesque as you might hope from every angle – once again it definitely pays to head away from the crowds!
Scenery-wise my favourite part of the whole trip was undoubtedly Lofoten (predictable I know) just for the sheer beauty of the place. Turquoise water meets white sand beaches with the rocky points of the islands surging out of the water, and driving them is an amazing experience, I’ve wanted to visit for so long that I spent half my time convincing myself I was really there. It’s quite literally a photographers paradise and the light is something else; shifting so quickly that two photos are rarely the same. Unfortunately though we did have an incident with our water tank so two days of our 7 day ‘budget’ in Lofoten were taken up with faffing to get it fixed and spending a bit more money than we anticipated. Which I think sums up Norway really – you’ll probably end up spending more money than you anticipate – but it’s certainly worth it! The islands were also craaazy busy so finding somewhere quite for the night is probably best achieved by getting the tent packed and heading into the hills for an evening or so. We didn’t do this but I’m really wishing we had.
The Lofoten Islands were our last stop for Norway and it felt a real pull to leave the place especially as our last day was a rare super sunny one (typical!). Norway had been an incredible first proper stop on our trip and despite the weather being pretty dismal more often than not it has firmly wedged it’s way in there as one of the most magical places I’ve ever been (honestly even the air smells amazing). However our bank account wasn’t enjoying the experience anywhere near as much as we were so it was definitely time to get going and head back south in the search of sunshine and cheap food shopping!
We ended up whizzing our way through Swedish Lapland as much of the roads were the same ones as we’d used to make our way back into Norway and in no time we were in Finland. Our vague plan was to make our way down the West coast with the occasional visit inland to the various national parks. Inland however seemed to be where the flies were, we decided to go on a bike ride to give Syl a proper run but struggled. If you even slowed down they would be on your face, mouth, arms, anywhere they could land. After receiving a sting to her eye early on in the trip Syl gets quite agitated when there’s anything buzzing round her head and we were the same, so back to the coast we went. No hardship as it’s beautiful and the sunsets were amazing – something we’d quite missed in our trip to the ‘midnight sun’, though admittedly the sun was still only briefly touching the horizon.
One evening about two days into our trip through Finland we had a quick check of our bank accounts however. With having to fix the van and other little expenses here and there costs had crept up and we had a mild panic. We looked online and the cheapest ferry we could find was on Saturday evening – five days away – feeling that we we were in desperate need of cheaper living, we booked it.
Looking back I’m in some ways quite disappointed that we did, Finland is absolutely lovely and there were so many towns and villages we ended up speeding through which we’d have loved to have visited, plus some amazing national parks. It would have been brilliant to have had the time to properly explore the south and spend the time that such a beautiful country deserves. Alec also lost his wallet on our last day which gave a bit of a frantic end to our trip with some driving back and forth and not spending as much time exploring Helsinki as we hoped. (Though he was messaged on Facebook just before we boarded the boat to Estonia and the wonderful finder posted it home for us, which I’m still feeling we’ve been overwhelmingly lucky about).
All in all there’s a massive amount we didn’t get to see and we definitely travelled through Sweden and Finland far, far too quickly than they deserve. I’m not sure if it’s the never ending light, the feeling of being completely surrounded by nature or the smell of wildflowers on the breeze but Scandinavia is a completely magical place and somewhere that we will definitely be visiting again, if we ever have the chance (and quite a bit more money)! For now though we’ve had an amazing time travelling from Estonia downwards to Poland and we’re extremely excited to see what the rest of Europe has to offer (and admittedly the fact we managed to do a big shop PLUS BEER for just over £25 upon landing in Tallinn certainly softened the blow of leaving such a magical place behind.)
Until next time Scandinavia!