Anyone traveling in Scandinavia this year will find a region that’s investing in itself. Numerous urban, cultural and transit projects are underway, continuing the Scandinavian devotion to quality of life for residents and visitors alike. Here are some notes to keep in mind as you travel in the region:
In Denmark’s capital city, a massive subway project is creating havoc above ground, but when completed in 2019, a new circular line will make sightseeing in Copenhagen’s city centre a breeze. Several museums are being rebuilt or refurbished: The Museum of Copenhagen will reopen later this year in a new building, and the National Gallery of Denmark is renovating, but staying open through most of the work. (The Museum of Danish Resistance, long shuttered after fire, won’t be back until late 2019.)
Major construction is also ongoing in some of Denmark’s other large cities. In Aarhus, a new light rail line opened at the very end of 2017. In Odense, the Hans Christian Andersen Museum is being rebuilt. While it won’t reopen until 2020, travelers can visit a temporary museum space: the home where Andersen was born and his childhood home.
In Oslo, Norway, the urban streetscape continues to evolve, with a eight-kilometre harbour promenade now running nearly the entire length of the city’s waterfront. The historic Grand Café at the Grand Hotel is open again after renovation, and still has beautiful old artwork — including a mural showing Norway’s literary and artistic legends from a century ago.
The National Gallery, home to magnificent works by celebrated Norwegian artists, is scheduled to close in fall 2019. (When it does, the collection will move to the new National Museum being built near the harbour, where it will be joined, in 2020, by a brand-new building for the Edvard Munch Museum.)
Norway is also working on improvements to its transportation infrastructure. In Bergen, a tram now travels from the city centre to the newly remodelled Flesland Airport. Oslo’s outlying Moss Rygge Airport is closed; discount airlines now primarily use the Sandefjord Airport Torp, 113 kilmetres south of the city. And construction on the speedy X2000 train line from Oslo to Stockholm will likely interrupt service through 2020 — plan on flying or taking a slower Intercity train instead.
Sweden’s museums continue to switch back and forth from charging admission to being free. depending which political party is in power. As recent elections brought in a left-leaning majority, admission charges have been dropped (for now) at many of Stockholm’s sights, including the Royal Armory, Museum of Medieval Stockholm, Museum of Modern Art and Swedish History Museum.
Several of Stockholm’s top attractions are closed for renovation or in the process of moving, including the Royal Armory (main exhibit halls closed in 2018), Royal Coin Cabinet (moving; closed until 2020), Stockholm City Museum (closed until 2019), Saluhall market (closed for renovation), and the National Museum of Fine Arts (reopening in late 2018). Stockholm’s new Vikingaliv Museum (on the Djurgården waterfront) busts myths about the Vikings. Interactive displays present them as colonizers and traders more than looters and warriors — you won’t find a horned helmet in the place.
Southeast Sweden is glass country, home of the country’s art-glass business. In the 1990s, many independent hotshops went out of business or were gobbled up by corporate conglomerates. But the region has regained its footing as a showcase for small glass producers, including several new boutique enterprises: the Orranäs Bruk glassworks in Orrefors (with an open-air hotshop) and the Glass Factory in Boda — part glass-art museum/showroom and part glassblowing hotshop. The town of Växjö, convenient to Glass Country, has also perked up, with good restaurants and a high-end hotel.
Like its Scandinavian neighbours, Finland’s capital city of Helsinki is undergoing major redevelopment work. Construction on the Hernesaari peninsula just outside the city centre (where cruise ships dock) and the West Harbour terminals (with ferry service around the Baltic region) will add green spaces, a mix of residences, and recreational marinas to what is now a barren industrial zone. Visitors to Hernesaari can already get a taste of what’s to come at the stylishly modern Löyly sauna, with water views and an indoor/outdoor restaurant. And Iceland continues to grow in popularity as one of Europe’s trendiest destinations. Expect big crowds and book your rooms well in advance — especially if visiting in summer.
Rick Steves (ricksteves.com) writes European travel guidebooks and hosts travel shows on public television and public radio. Email him at [email protected] and follow his blog on Facebook.