Scandinavia by Rail
By Janis Turk
Lately, the word “travel” has seemed synonymous with “hassle”; that is until I took a peaceful easy rail trip through three of the world’s most scenic countries.
Sailing through Nordic fjords, gliding past blue glaciers, chugging by train through blue-bell-filled meadows, and pulling into the stations of vibrant Scandinavian cities—such journeys in Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and Norway are safe, scenic, and serene.
So when travel can be so difficult and uncomfortable, and security concerns make us all uneasy, a quiet stress-free rail trip through peaceful spaces of wild untouched beauty is the ticket to ride.
Actually, the ticket is Eurail’s Scandinavia pass, just introduced as a one-country pass this year (even though it now includes four countries) allowing easy seamless border travel between Scandinavian cities, making it easier than ever to say “All aboard.”
With clean cities, friendly people, a dynamic food scene, and efficient railways, Nordic countries are popular with American travelers, and rail travel is the safest and civilized way to enjoy the scenery and see several cities in one trip.
Since there are no long security lines, no checking and paying for baggage, and no cramped seats, trains offer a romantic, easy, hassle-free travel experience. Here are just some of the places to see:
Norwegian Air Shuttle often offers low fares to Copenhagen from the US, and it’s easy to get into the city from the airport without an expensive taxi.
Take the metro from the airport to Kongens Nytorv, a public square that is home to Copenhagen’s Royal Danish Theatre, erected in 1748, at the edge of a wharf filled with colorful boats.
There stands the Hotel d’Angleterre, a fashionable 5-star hotel with its Michelin-starred restaurant, Marchal.
Perfectly situated at the city center, close to a vibrant shopping district, enchanting candle-lit restaurants and lively quayside pubs, the hotel, which reopened after an opulent 2013 renovation, is like a grand palace but with a fresh contemporary vibe.
My room even had a long slender balcony overlooking the rooftops of Copenhagen. Not to be missed is its urban and elegant restaurant Marchal, known for its signature prime steaks.
Copenhagen is a walking city with good public transportation so it is simple to navigate the subway to get to Copenhagen’s famous Tivoli Gardens or find the statue of Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid overlooking the harbor, but first, stroll along the waterfront and visit the bustling shopping streets near the hotel.
Literature lovers can even take a train to the seaside village of Rungsted, a suburb of Copenhagen, to Karen Blixen Museet, the home and museum of the late “Out of Africa” author Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen).
Boarding the train in Copenhagen is easy, and so is the smooth and scenic quick trip across the Øresund Bridge, the longest combined road/rail bridge in Europe, connecting the Danish city of Copenhagen and the Swedish city of Malmö, Sweden. Fans of the Danish-Swedish television show, “The Bridge,” will recognize this as a setting from the popular crime series.
Malmo, Sweden’s third-largest city,is worthy of a stop, with its medieval castle ruins, blue-bell-filled parks, windmills, and a modern port area with good restaurants and nightlife. However, since Malmö is only 35 minutes by train from Copenhagen, some may want to travel farther in one day and go on to Gothenburg.
Gothenburg is one of those sweet surprise cities that visitors adore. Founded in 1621 at the mouth of the Göta älv, (River of the Geats), today it is Sweden’s second-largest city after Stockholm and is a favorite stop of many.
Disembarking in the city center at a large square near the river, rail passengers can walk to a several good hotels, including a modest business-style hotel Grand Hotel Opera. For an over-the-top Belle Époque boutique hotel experience, duck into the 37-room Dorsia Hotel and Restaurant.
Another elegant little “naughty French” décor-driven hotel is Pigalle, with restaurant Atelier and Bar Amuse upstairs.
Unique local stores, coffee shops, bakeries, chocolate shops, microbrew pubs and food halls made my friends and me want to linger longer in Gothenburg, at places like Restaurant Gabriel in the Feskekörka Fish Market, a casual fresh seafood bar with fresh where we dined on rare Swedish oysters.
A Food Tour
That was just one of the stops on a fabulous local food tour offered by Jesper Adolfsson and his company, Matvandringen, which led us through cheese stores, food halls, coffee shops, chocolate bistros, and other places we would not have found on our own.
We also enjoyed an unforgettable meal in the historic post office building at the Clarion Hotel Post near the train station.
Oslo, Norway was our next stop called on our great rail adventure. Norway’s capital, founded in 1040, Oslo is a global city, and a vibrant fishing port, rich in trade, industry, and banking.
Oslo’s harbor and marina areas are exciting to visit, and its museums and parks are many, so plan on spending several days here before boarding the BergenRailway.
Oslo-Bergan with a scenic Flam side trip
The Bergen Railway, linking the Norwegian cities of Oslo and Myrdal, offers one of the finest ways to view Scandinavian wonders, including glaciers, mountains, green valleys and golden sunsets. At 4,000 feet above sea level at Finse, see the blue-ice beauty of Hardangerjokulen glacier.
Sunshine and snowfalls, soft sunsets, and starry skies, this is the place to it all. With four daily departures from both Oslo and Bergan, this is a seven-hour rail journey across Western Norway’s highest mountain plateaus.
From Myrdal, you’ll want to be sure to take the scenic Flam Railway, a 12.5-mile-long trek past fjords, mountains, deep valleys, and tiny villages by the Aurland fjord to the community of Flam, tucked away at the inner end of a branch of Sognefjord, the world’s deepest and second-longest fjord, 127-miles long and 4291 feet deep.
While Flam is an add-on trip requiring a separate ticket on the Flam railway, don’t miss it, for the scenery is unparalleled. (Eurail pass holders receive a 30 percent discount on the ticket from Flam Railways).
Surrounded by steep mountainsides, cascading waterfalls and slender valleys, Flam is home to a comfortable little inn, the Freheim Hotel and a few surprisingly good restaurants, including the Ægir BrewPub a Norse Viking style pub set in a building that looks like a Stave Church.
There, guests encircle a large central fireplace, sip local brews, and sample the chef’s creative dishes, many containing Ægir beer.
In the morning, board a two-hour fjord cruise on a comfortable ferry to experience one of the most stunning fjord areas in Norway, a UNESCO world heritage area in the Nærøy fjord. Eurail pass holders receive a discount on tickets for this cruise, and when they arrive by this boat in the tiny community of Gudvangen, a bus will pick them up and take them to the town of Voss, where guests can take a train or bus to the city of Bergan, using the Eurail pass.
Another city that is surprisingly vibrant and young, in spite of its long history dating back to 1070 AD, Bergen is the second-largest city in Norway, after Oslo, a west coast destination called the “city of seven mountains” and the perfect place for a final stop on your great Scandinavian rail adventure.
Walkable and friendly, this is a fun university town with a happening art scene and a New-Nordic culinary focus.
With a bustling city center and northern neighborhoods set alongside Byfjorden, “the city fjord,” it’s a tourist-friendly place with a tram to the top of a high overlook of the city and harbor.
While in Bergen, be sure to stroll through the area known as Bryggen (the dock), a series of Hanseatic commercial buildings dating from the Middle Ages lining the eastern side of the Vagen harbor, also a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site.
There, overlooking the wharf in a historic house and shop with a unicorn sign over the door, enjoy fresh Norwegian seafood at Enhjorningen an enchanting restaurant with a warm and inviting antique-style decor.
In the land where the world’s famous fairy tales and children’s storybooks were written, and it’s no wonder that Scandinavia is such an enchanting place.
For a peaceful trip to a truly idyllic land, witness the wild beauty of this place from the wide windows of a train.
Eurail’s Scandinavia Pass covers travel by participating train, ferry, and public transport companies in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland. Children 11 years and under travel free when accompanied by an adult pass holder.
With a choice of 3, 4, 5 or 8 days of rail travel within a one-month period, the new Scandinavia pass, offers youth discounts and “Saver Pass” discounts for two or more traveling together.
Eurail Scandinavia Pass holders this pass can avail of travel discounts in the region on ferries, busses, and other trains, including a 30% discount on the Flam Railway. For more details, visit www.eurail.com/eurail-passes/one-country-pass/scandinavia , and www.norwaynutshell.comand www.eurailgroup.org/eurail-vendors
The writer received her travel through Eurail, but the opinions are her own.
For more information on Eurail check out Eurail: Everything You Need to Know about Railpasses