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It’s fitting that harbourside Helsinki, capital of a country with such watery geography, melds so graciously into the Baltic. Half the city seems liquid, and the writhings of the complex coastline include any number of bays, inlets and islands.
Though Helsinki can seem a younger sibling to other Scandinavian capitals, it’s the one that went to art school, scorns pop music and works in a cutting-edge studio. The design scene here is legendary, whether you’re browsing showroom brands or taking the backstreet hipster trail. The city’s gourmet side is also flourishing, with new gastro eateries offering locally sourced tasting menus popping up at dizzying speed.
Nevertheless, much of what is lovable in Helsinki is older. Its understated yet glorious art-nouveau buildings, the spacious elegance of its centenarian cafes, dozens of museums carefully preserving Finnish heritage, restaurants that have changed neither menu nor furnishings since the 1930s: all part of the city’s quirky charm.
Stockholm’s good looks and fashion sense could almost be intimidating. But this city is an accessible beauty, as easy to explore as it is to love. Though spread across 14 islands, connected by 57 bridges, it is compact and walkable. Each neighbourhood has a distinct character, yet they’re so close together you can easily spend time in several areas. In each, you’ll find trend-setting design, inventive cuisine, unbeatable museums, great shopping, pretty parks and loads of atmosphere
The old town, Gamla Stan, is one of Europe’s most arresting historic hubs, all storybook buildings, imposing palaces and razor-thin cobblestone streets
Just a few metres from this time capsule, the modern city centre shines like the pages of a magazine. Downtown is a catwalk, showroom and test kitchen. Everything here is the very latest thing.
And it’s surrounded by pristine forests and a vast archipelago. What’s not to love?
To the rest of the world, Norway is where Mother Nature has created one of her finest works of art. Against such a wonderful natural canvas, it’s easy to forget that man can also be artistic, and many a visitor has been left surprised to discover that Oslo is home to world-class museums and galleries rivalling anywhere else on the European art trail.
But even here Mother Nature has managed to make her mark, and Oslo is fringed with forests, hills and lakes awash with opportunities for hiking, cycling, skiing and boating.
Add to this mix a thriving cafe and bar culture, top-notch restaurants, nightlife options ranging from opera to indie rock, and a large and visible immigrant community who add their own colourful touch to the city and the result is a thoroughly intoxicating place in which to forget about the fjords for a while.
Copenhagen is the coolest kid on the Nordic block. Edgier than Stockholm and worldlier than Oslo, the Danish capital gives Scandinavia the X factor. Just ask style bibles Monocle and Wallpapermagazines, which fawn over its industrial-chic bar, design and fashion scenes, and culinary revolution. This is where you’ll find New Nordic pioneer Noma, (once again) voted the world’s best restaurant in 2014, and one of 15 Michelin-starred restaurants in town – not bad for a city of 1.2 million.
Yet Copenhagen is more than just seasonal cocktails and geometric threads. A royal capital with almost nine centuries under its svelte belt, it’s equally well versed when it comes to world-class museums and storybook streetscapes. Its cobbled, bike-friendly streets are a hyggelig (cosy) concoction of sherbet-hued town houses, craft studios and candlelit cafes. Add to this its compact size, and you have what is possibly Europe‘s most seamless urban experience.