You’ve probably seen the fantastic knit sweaters that come from Scandinavia—rich colors and intricate patterns knit into a warm garment that can withstand the Nordic winter temperatures. You’re invited to see for yourself the colorful locals and landscapes behind this sweater, a mix of tradition and innovation that speaks to the cool, yet quirky people of Scandinavia and the pristine nature that surrounds them. There’s so much to discover on a Scandinavia cruise. (And you might as well pick up a sweater while you’re here. They make excellent souvenirs!)
Call into port at one of Scandinavia’s capital cities—Stockholm, Copenhagen, Oslo and Helsinki. These cities offer history and tradition in a metropolitan atmosphere—and always an open-minded welcome to visitors. Don’t miss the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen or Munch’s The Scream in Oslo. Take time out to enjoy the Swedish tradition of the sauna in Stockholm. World-class cuisine, high fashion and lively nightlife await you in these cities as well. Ask a local to explain the spirited tradition of drinking Aquavit.
Sweden and Denmark are home to marvelous historical castles, manor houses and chateaux dating back centuries. Kronoberg Castle in Denmark—the setting for Shakespeare’s Hamlet—is just one of over 300 castles in southern Scandinavia. You’ll feel the fairytales of Hans Christian Andersen or the trolls of Norwegian folklore come alive as you visit one magical destination after another. How many castles will you count?
Nature rules in Scandinavia. You’ll be thrilled by spectacular scenery—glaciers in the north, forests and lakes in the south—and wildlife like the puffins of the Loften Islands or the reindeer herds of Samiland in Finland. The alpine meadows, mountains, glaciers and rivers of Swedish Lapland’s national parks will keep your camera clicking away. The phenomena of the northern lights, midnight sun and polar nights will simply enchant you.
Scandinavians are among the most eco-conscious people on earth. And who could blame them? They love the pristine wilderness found in their homeland and they intend to protect it. They’re also eager to share it with visitors. What are you waiting for? Look for the Green Key label on your Scandinavia tour for hotels and inns that promise to be eco-friendly.
Early Scandinavians were nomadic people who hunted reindeer and wandered far in search of food. Scant archeological evidence remains of their existence in the form of stone and iron tools and jewelry. The Vikings who followed were seafarers and pirates who explored vast expanses in light, maneuverable longboats. (Today’s Scandinavians retain some of that ancient wanderlust— following the area’s many roads, bike trails and walking circuits to discover and appreciate their countries’ treasures.)
Being a fierce tribe of warriors, the Vikings placed great emphasis on battle and honor. They believed in a mythical place called Valhalla, home to their gods and fallen warriors. From the late 700s to the early 1100s, they pillaged, plundered and explored areas of modern-day Russia, Western Europe, the British Isles, the Mediterranean and lands as far away as North America. Evidence of their conquests remains in the many rune stone grave markers they erected on battlefields to honor the fallen. Sweden alone has over 2,000 rune stones. Famous among the Viking explorers is Leif Erikson, probably the first European to reach North America—nearly 500 years before Columbus!
From 1100 – 1600 Denmark, Norway and Sweden were united under a single monarch. The Kalmar Union, as it was known, lasted until the Nordic Seven Years’ War broke the agreement. At this time, Sweden became a European power, conquering the Finns and dominating their land. By the 16th century, all of contemporary Scandinavia was divided between Denmark and Sweden. The two countries waged a war with each other that lasted 134 years.
Christianity arrived in the form of English missionaries in the 10th and 11th centuries. During the Reformation of the 16th century, Scandinavia became a center for Lutheranism. The Danes and Swedes would each become involved at some point in the Thirty Years’ War (1618 – 1648) to defend their interests against the Catholics and the Holy Roman Empire.
Beginning in the 17th century, Demark and Sweden formed colonies ranging from the Arctic to India to the Caribbean. At one point, the Danish and Swedish East India Companies imported more tea than the British (which they then smuggled into Britain and sold for a profit).
The Napoleonic Wars (1799 – 1815) again changed the political map of Europe. Finland separated from Sweden, and for the next 100 years, Finland remained a province of czarist Russia. Norway claimed independence from Denmark in 1814 only to wind up bound in a union with Sweden.
Norway officially split from Sweden in 1905. The Russian Revolution began soon after, leaving Finland in the throes of civil war, after which—for the first time in its history—Finland became a free and independent nation in 1917. Russians, however, attacked Finland in 1939. Under Stalin’s rule, they defeated the Finns but never occupied Finland.
Germany attacked Denmark and Norway in 1940. The Nazis took over Denmark, causing Iceland to declare its independence from Denmark. Even though many Europeans regarded Iceland as an Aryan haven, the Allied forces quickly supported the newly independent Iceland. By the 1990s, Denmark, Norway, and Iceland all belonged to NATO. Today, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland are members of the European Union.
Photos: Lori Gifford