Stories of coffee costing more than your car are common in conversations about Scandinavia. But while vacationing here will never be as cheap as a Bulgarian backpacking jaunt, there are ways to keep your costs down – even in Oslo.
Norway-based travel blogger Andy Higgs has several budget-stretching tips for visitors to the capital: an Oslo Pass for attractions (transit included); the Park Inn for good-value digs; and Restaurant Schroder for well-priced traditional dining.
But his main advice is to leave. "Pass through Oslo in a day or two and get into the countryside to experience the real Norway. Alesund is beautiful and less touristy than Bergen, while Trondheim [his hometown] is a wonderfully laid-back city easily reachable via budget airlines."
And since Roros also makes his must-do list – "it's a fabulously preserved old mining town and UNESCO heritage site" – you'll also need a way to get around without breaking the bank. "Trains can be an excellent deal here. See the NSB website for monthly Minipris ticket deals from just 249 krone [about $40]."
It's not his only tip for saving while still seeing as much as possible. Act fast this year (or plan for 2016) and you can buy a summer-only two-week-long Explore Norway air pass from domestic airline Wilderoe, priced between around $440 and $630. "You get unlimited travel in or between three zones that cover the entire country. It's a bargain, really, and incredible value if you use it well."
In Denmark, Aarhus-based Miriam Risager suggests a different way to explore without blowing your budget. "You can get around really cheaply by taking the bus here – the train is more than double the expense," she says, adding that you can peruse fares and routes at abildskou.dk and rødbillet.dk.
Buses aren't required for exploring the compact capital, though. "You can see a lot in Copenhagen without ever opening your wallet. Free sights include churches, Amalienborg castle, Freetown Christiania and the waterfront Nyhavn area," Risager says.
She also recommends exploring further afield. "My favourite destination in Denmark is North Jutland. If you stay clear of Skagen – which is quite expensive – you'll find budget-friendly places like Rubjerg Knude, the sand buried church, Tornby beach and Rabjerg Mile – they're all free."
Wherever you head, she also has some general cost-cutting travel tips. "Buy food in supermarkets like Aldi, Netto and Fakta; hire bikes for city sightseeing; and consider renting a summerhouse off-season. There's really no reason why you can't do a trip to Scandinavia on a budget."
Sweden's Lola Akinmade Akerstrom – editor of the Slow Travel Stockholm online guide – agrees. Her resource-packed site recently added a handy list of 50 free things to do in the capital, from gratis tours to lesser-known museums.
But sleepover costs, she admits, can shrink your savings – unless you choose wisely. "I suggest any of the Scandic Hotels. They include a wonderful breakfast and have free gyms and WiFi," she says, adding quirky floating "botels" such as Red Boat Malaren and the MS Rygerfjord to her valued-added Stockholm suggestions.
She also recommends escaping the capital. Her site's long-weekend trip ideas include historic Gotland island as well as some out-of-country boat excursions. "Weekend cruises to Baltic countries like Estonia and Latvia are popular here. You leave on Friday, return on Sunday morning and have a full Saturday in-country. Tickets for these are cheaper than a fancy dinner in Stockholm."
For Higgs, though, the bottom line is that cost should only be part of the mix when planning a Scandinavian sojourn. "My best advice is to visit only if you can travel without constantly worrying about prices. No trip is fun if you feel you can't afford anything – sometimes it's better to save a little longer and come when you can really enjoy it."
OUR READERS WRITE
- We rented apartments and ate in a lot – man it’s expensive there! Oh and don’t hire a car and drive between countries – we drove from Copenhagen to Oslo and it was crazy expensive @chowandchatter
- Camp and bring your own food! Driving can be convenient, but the tolls really add up, so weigh your transport options carefully.
- Plan ahead for sticker shock on everything (especially Norway!); hot dogs in Denmark/Iceland are delicious & budget friendly @Gregory_Power
- Do your research; buy transportation tickets early and online; and bring a reusable water bottle – a bottle of water in a Norwegian grocery store is close to $6. Also, carry snacks to avoid ridiculously priced food in remote areas. Another point: many hotels – especially in the mountains of Norway – will let guests pack a lunch from the breakfast buffet!
- Get last minute soft drinks and gifts from the Tiger shop in the departures area at Kastrup airport, Copenhagen. Also, it’s free entrance on Wednesdays to the city’s Hirschsprung Collection @timofnewbury
- For getting around, the ScanRail train pass [now superseded by the Eurail Scandinavia Pass] was great. If you take overnight trains, there’s no need for a hotel.
- Couchsurfing works well in Scandinavia. For our night on a boat in Ostersund marina, the owner handed me the keys and left @UKHotelNetwork
- Spend less time in Norway and more time in Sweden, Finland and Denmark. Also, shop at the local markets. Peggy Coonley/SerendipityTraveler
- Go to an ‘afterwork’ in Sweden where you can eat your way through a big buffet for the cost of a single beer.
- See this link for information on this and some budget other ideas for Sweden. @RoutesNorth
- I wouldn't spend less time in Norway – there is so much more to see. Just be cautious of your spending – it’s worth it @TravelingRachie
- Go when you’re a student for the discounts. That’s what I did – although this advice is not useful to everyone @GAdv_Elyse
- See The Scream for free on Sundays at the National Gallery in Oslo! @MikeMacEacheran
- I lived in Helsinki for a year when I was a student and had loads of low budget tips! The Hakaniemi Market, the Viking Line booze cruise to Stockholm and walking on the Baltic Sea in winter! @shionamc
- Come to Solvang [California’s Danish village] @uPerceptor
"I've always dreamed about visiting Dawson City, Yukon, but it's a long way to go. Is it really worth it and what is there to do?"
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Editor's note: @TravelingRachie's original reader comment was inaccurate in the original version of this article. This version has been corrected.
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