Summer in Scandinavia: five eco-friendly ideas to holiday like a local

Summer in Scandinavia: five eco-friendly ideas to holiday like a local

Oslo: summer in the city

With swimmable harbours in Stockholm, Oslo, Helsinki and across Denmark’s cities, not to mention plenty of ways to enjoy the sea, from kayaking to urban fishing, there’s often a seaside air to Nordic cities in summer, and especially in Oslo.

One of the best summer activities is to tour the Oslofjord and its archipelago by boat – pack a picnic and set sail in search of hidden swimming spots and colourful island houses. Brim Explorer is one of the best options: an eco-friendly boat company offering silent tours powered by an electric motor (tours from £44). You can also show your love for the water by joining Mad Goats in their fjord clean-up operations every Sunday; participation gives you access to one of their saunas for free and a free burger at the end.

There’s a growing art scene to discover around the harbour. The National Museum is showing an unmissable exhibition by Sápmi artist Britta Marakatt-Labba focused on the environmental struggle and climate issues seen from an indigenous perspective, until August. Afterwards, stroll around the harbour promenade past the opera house, and visit the Munch Museum. There is a new family-friendly beach, Operastranda, by the Opera House this year; it’s also great to swim at the Sørenga seawater pool. Stay at the eco-conscious Oslo Guldsmeden, a Nordic-Balinese hotel in the Vika district from £100 a night.

Explore Denmark ’s sunniest isle

Bornholm is is officially the Danes’ favourite holiday spot and has an artist colony vibe. Photograph: Image Professionals GmbH/Alamy

Bornholm is officially the Danes’ favourite holiday spot (as voted for last year in the Danish Travel Awards). Reachable by bus and ferry or hydrofoil from Copenhagen, it’s known as the country’s sunshine island: Svaneke, a charming harbour town on the west coast, is the sunniest spot in the whole of Denmark.

There’s no need for a car: you can get around relatively easily by bike and bus to explore fishing villages and small towns such as Gudhjem, known for its national cooking competition, and sunny Svaneke, in search of the best ice-cream, smoked herring and locally brewed beer. Bornholm has an artist colony vibe reminiscent of parts of Cornwall and is well known for its ceramics. You can find small workshops and galleries dotted around its villages, and especially in the town of Nexø, where there is a ceramics school. Beaches are wide, sandy and beautiful – especially child-friendly, dune-backed Dueodde, which Lonely Planet recently listed as one of the 20 best beaches in Europe.

New this year, Eco Beach Camp offers glamping from about £150 a night (sleeping two to four) on the beach just steps from the island’s Michelin-starred Kadeau restaurant, known for its focus on hyper-local, sustainable food. Or rent a summer house through firms including Novasol and Dancenter where rates start from about £300 for a week’s stay. It’s expected that you’ll bring basics with you, including bed linen.

Norway’s Arctic hiking route

The Nordlandsruta takes in a magnificent array of Norwegian landscapes. Photograph: ufopeople/Getty Images

Culture and nature come together on Norway’s longest hiking route this summer. The 400-mile Nordlandsruta, which runs along the Norwegian-Swedish border, will be joining in the celebrations to mark the Arctic city of Bodø’s year in the spotlight as one of 2024’s European Capitals of Culture. There are a range of artist-led events in cabins along the trail, and activities include poetry and portrait workshops and a mobile perfumery making scents from the herbs that hikers pick along the route.

Evening entertainment includes campfire cooking, improv theatre and Sápmi lassoo throwing. It also plays into another key Nordic travel theme: friluftsliv, a love of the great outdoors. Norwegians love to hike and there is an extensive network of trails, with hiking cabins along them, across the country.

It’s a beautiful hike – whether you’re in the region for the celebrations or not – passing through the Arctic Circle, Laponian Area world heritage site, national parks and Sápmi cities. From meadows filled with wildflowers to snow-capped mountains, reindeer-herding plateaux and raging rivers, it has all the drama you’d expect of this northern landscape. There are 43 unstaffed huts on the route – you’ll need a key from Norwegian trekking organisation DNT to use them.

To walk the whole route would take around six weeks, but it’s broken down into eight smaller stages for those with less time. For ramblers with an eye on reindeer herding and Sápmi husbandry, the 57-mile stretch from Raudlia to Susendalen treks across two valleys and past the hat-shaped Hatten mountain while the 45-mile section from Bolna to Umbukta skirts the sacred Sápmi mountain of Auronasen, silver mines and a glacier. Weekend hikes along the trail are also possible from Narvik and Bodø.

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Finland’s peaceful waterways

Kainuu is one of the most tranquil regions in Europe. Photograph: Alamy

If you like lakes, islands and trees, Finland is the place for you – it is the most forested country in Europe and has more bodies of water than any other country in the world. In the Kainuu region in the east of the country, it’s easy to get away from the crowds for pure immersion in Nordic nature.

Nature Travels offers self-guided canoe tours in the region where you can camp wild along the route, fish for your supper and go at your own pace. The pick of the bunch is a remote adventure on the Tar Route (from £154 per person, for three nights/four days, based on two people, including all equipment and transfers to start point), the historic route once used to transport tar to the Baltic Sea. Instead of tar, your cargo will be just yourselves, your tent and enough food for a four to eight-day tour of quiet waterways, short and easily bypassed rapids, and protected islands.

Along the route you might spot moose, foxes, owls or even eagles. Stop to fish for your dinner, cook it on an open fire and retire to a lean-to shelter or tent in the evening. Look out, too, for island saunas, dotted along the route, where you can ease the tension in your back and arms after a hard day’s paddle. Don’t forget to pack insect repellent: Finland’s forests are known for their pesky flies.

This route commonly starts from Kuhmo, accessed by train and bus from Helsinki, while Helsinki itself can be reached by ferry from Stockholm if you prefer not to fly.

Stay in a Swedish summer house

Landsort village on the island of Öja. Photograph: Berndt-Joel Gunnarsson/Alamy

It’s traditional in this part of the world to spend at least part of the summer in a “summer house” (actually more of a simple cabin) in nature. The essence of summer house life is leaning into a slower pace of life: read a book under a tree, bake a cake, a gentle walk. It’s about living in harmony with nature, too, and embracing the joys it offers, including sea swimming, fishing, hiking and boating.

The Stockholm archipelago is one of the most accessible and popular summer house destinations. Access is via one of the many public ferries (one-way trips from the city pier cost up to £14 depending on the location). It’s as easy as taking a bus.

The region is protected by the Archipelago Foundation, which preserves public access to land and water in the area, and has a wide range of characterful accommodation spread all over the islands. They include a 19th-century former customs house on the remote and rocky island of Huvudskär, remade into a rustic youth hostel (room rates from £186 for a four-bed room), as well as summer cottages on the activity-packed southern island of Utö, where two-person cabins start at around £338 for a week in high season.

Summer cottages usually require you to bring bed linen. Depending on which island you choose, you might need to bring all your supplies for the week too. Peak season for Scandinavia is typically July – travel in August for slightly reduced rates.

Copenhagen-based Laura Hall writes the Modern Scandinavian newsletter

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