Traveling to any other country can be a bit of a culture shock. From the language barrier to the currency exchange rates, it’s easy to become a bit baffled by how different everything is.
Don’t worry though, we’ve got you covered. Our practical tips for traveling to Scandinavia will have you feeling more like a local in no time, so you’ll spend less time confused and more time enjoying the experience of being in such a great part of the world.
Let’s start with money because without that you can’t really do anything. If you’re planning on visiting multiple Scandinavian countries, you’ll need multiples currencies. This includes:
- Denmark – Danish Krone (DKK)
- Norway – Norwegian Krone (NOK)
- Sweden – Swedish Krona (SEK)
- Finland – Euro
- Iceland – Icelandic Krona (ISK)
- Lithuania – Litas
- Latvia – Lati
- Estonia – Euro
- Greenland – Danish Krone (DKK)
- Russia – Ruble
It’s probably a good idea to have a small amount of each currency so it’ll be easier to move through different countries. Get some money exchanged before you leave but be aware that exchange rates do fluctuate so it’s a good idea to contact your bank or shop around a bit first. Do some research so you get the most bang for your buck.
If you don’t have the right currency or need more of it, you’ll usually be good to rely on your credit card. Scandinavia accepts credit cards at most major stores, restaurants, and hotels. Just make sure you have your PIN code and a photo ID ready for when you need to use it. Credit cards are also widely accepted in the Baltics, especially in the capital cities, and some shops and restaurants in Russia accept Visa/MC. Always have your PIN code and a photo ID and you should be good to go.
If you want to exchange more money, banks are usually open between 9.30am and 4pm, Monday to Friday. Outside these normal hours, you can find banks at airports or major rail stations, and 24/7 ATM machines can be found outside the banks. Most hotels and larger stores will exchange currency and traveler’s checks but you’ll always get the best exchange rates at banks.
There’s a huge number of hotels on offer throughout Scandinavia, and it’s worth doing some research and shopping around to find the best prices.
Comparison websites play a great part here as the same room can be available on multiple websites at different prices, so with a little bit of extra work you could save yourself a bit of money. It’ll take a little bit more time and research, but the savings will be worth it. Also, if you find a good hotel on a comparison website, always check the hotel’s main website to see if it’s cheaper to book directly with them.
Unless you’re staying in 1st class hotels you probably won’t have air conditioning, but that shouldn’t make too much difference in the moderate climate.
Check-in is usually at 2pm, which can potentially be a problem as most transatlantic flights land early in the morning, but hotels will usually be on hand to make your wait comfortable. Check out is normally around 11am/12pm.
When it comes to location, it’s easier to stay somewhere centrally located so you can get to all the attractions and easily access public transport. It’s also a good idea to decide whether you’ll need access to Wi-Fi, and book accordingly.
If you want an alternative to a hotel you can always have a look at Airbnb to experience life like a real local. Most of the rooms are cheaper than a hotel and you can even stay in an apartment with a kitchen, so you can cook your own food.
The main benefit of Airbnb is the help and advice of the person offering the rental – these are usually local people who will be on hand to help you out with anything you’re stuck on, and you may even receive secret tips on great places to eat or have a drink.
Lastly, don’t discount the option of staying in hostels. They’ve changed a lot over the past couple of years and staying in one doesn’t always mean huge dorm rooms and shared bathrooms.
A lot of them offer private rooms with on-suites and can be one of the nicest places to stay. They also give you the opportunity to mingle with other travelers from all over the world, so you can make some friends and share some stories.
Scandinavian countries use 220/230 volts AC current with various volt types being used by the wall outlets. The US uses 120 volts, so you’ll have a purchase a converter and transformer to take with you.
There’s no denying that northern Europe is known for its cold weather, but the temperature doesn’t always plummet as low as people expect. In fact, one of the most frustrating things about Scandinavian weather is how unpredictable it can be.
You can definitely expect snow in winter, but otherwise, temperature and climate will be very different across the region. You can get an idea by looking at the average temperatures of Norway’s capital city, Oslo.
In July, the hottest month of the year, temperatures can reach an average of 18°C (64°F), whereas during the coldest month of January you’ll be experiencing averages of 3°C (27°F). You’re also far more likely to be rained on during August and September.
That being said, many areas of Scandinavia do get very cold during the winter. Many parts of Sweden and Norway have guaranteed snow for months, and temperatures in most parts of both of these countries can plummet below freezing for weeks.
Scandinavian summers can also be surprisingly warm. It’s not uncommon for temperatures in the capital cities to reach 30°C, but on average 15°C to 20°C is much more common.
Luckily it’s relatively easy to get online and check what the temperature is likely to be life before you arrive, so you can plan and pack accordingly. It’ll be worth making sure you’re not heading into arctic conditions with just a hat and a scarf to keep you warm.
The best way of fully immersing yourself into Scandinavia is to use trains to travel around. Flights may be a lot quicker, but you won’t get the views that trains can give, and you get to skip the hustle and bustle of airports.
The Eurail Scandinavia Pass is great if you’re planning on visiting a few different cities but plan your trips ahead of time if you want to ensure yourself a good deal. It also allows a great amount of flexibility as some journeys will allow you to get on and off the train whenever you want.
Overnight trains are more expensive, and even though they might seem like a good way to save on hotel bills you’ll also miss out on the amazing views. You can save money easier by stocking up on drinks and snacks in a city like Sweden before you get on the train because it’s marked up significantly if you buy on board.
Make sure you stop at the tourist office whenever you get off the train, too. They have free maps and the locals may be more than happy to make suggestions.
English is widely spoken throughout Scandinavia – in fact, it’s their second language – and the majority of the region speak it fluently. In the Baltic States and Russia, English is generally spoken at hotels and major tourist locations.
If the language barrier ever becomes a problem, it’s really easy to whip out your smartphone and start up Google Translate.
Either that or get ready to play the best game of Charades of your life. It shouldn’t ever come to a point where you can’t communicate with someone, but if it does, remember that’s all part of the fun of traveling.
You’ll need a passport to enter any of the countries, and it must be valid at least six months after your date of return. You won’t need a visa to stay in Scandinavia as long as you aren’t staying for more than 90 days, but you do need one for Russia so make sure you plan accordingly.
Making Phone Calls
If you want to call home when you’re away, be aware that the cost of phone calls is expensive, especially when you’re calling from a hotel. Your best bet is to find calling cards either online or at the airport, or you can use your credit card or call collect.
If you have a newer cell phone you may have the right frequency to call in Europe, so it might be worth getting in touch with your cell phone provider to double check.
To call the USA, dial 011-.
To call Scandinavian countries, dial:
Denmark 011-45, Sweden 011-46, Norway 011-47, Finland 011-358, Iceland 011-354, Russia 011-7, Estonia 011-372, Latvia 011-371 and Lithuania 011-370.
You should probably be aware of time zone differences, so you aren’t calling your mom to say hello when it’s the middle of the night for her.
- Scandinavia 6 (ET), 8 (MT) and 9 hours (PT)
- Finland & The Baltic 7 (ET), 9 (MT) and 10 hours (PT)
- Russia 8 (ET), 10 (MT) and 11 hours (PT)
In Scandinavia, Finland, Latvia, and Estonia, shops are usually open between 9am and 6pm Monday to Friday and 9am to 4pm on Saturdays. Shops and banks are closed on public holidays and most museums and public transport operate on a Sunday schedule.
In Russia and Lithuania, shops are usually open from 10am to 7pm Monday to Saturday, with a few closing for lunch. Bars, restaurants, and big department stores are all open on Sundays.
For tax-free shopping, you must be a non-resident of the country where you made the purchase, spend a minimum amount, export the goods within2-3 months, and get a valid Customs stamp on your final departure.
Some shops will give you a Tax-Free export declaration which can be mailed back to Tax-Free for a refund on your credit card, cheque, or bank transfer. You can also get a cash refund from selected airports on the day you depart.
When you’re in Scandinavia a tip will be included in the cost of things like your hotel stay or your meal. It’s also customary to give a tip as a token of appreciation if the service you receive is particularly good, and bellboys and taxi drivers will certainly appreciate it.
Scandinavia lives and breathes natural beauty, and though the trip may seem a little on the expensive side at first, it really is worth every penny. Lots of prior research and planning will prevent any surprises, and make sure that you feel comfortable and confident wherever you decide to go.
With our practical tips, you’ll be well equipped for any circumstance, meaning nothing will get in the way of you and the trip of a lifetime.