Scandinavia – mention the word and possibly cold chilly winters and the Northern Lights immediately come to mind. But Scandinavia is more than just that. We give you five things you (probably) didn’t know about Scandinavia – but before that, what and where exactly is Scandinavia?
We tend to use these words interchangeably, but they mean different things in Northern Europe. Geographically, the Scandinavian peninsula refers to Norway, Sweden, and part of Northern Finland – hence by this definition Scandinavia will only refer to Norway and Sweden. Linguistically, and in the most commonly accepted definition, Scandinavia refers to Norway, Sweden, and Denmark (yes Finland isn’t included in this definition!). However, a wider definition will include Iceland and Finland as well.
Confused? The French came to help – they invented the term “Pays Nordiques”, which means “Nordic Countries” – this refers to Scandinavia (as defined above), Iceland and Finland. In this article, Scandinavia = Nordic, but pay special attention to these differences when you’re speaking to someone from Northern Europe!
1. Copenhagen, Denmark: Hash and marijuana are sold openly in Freetown Christiania
No, you did not read that wrongly. The controversial autonomous region of Freetown Christiania in Copenhagen is best known for its inhabitants’ alternative ways of life. Established in 1971 by a group of hippies, they developed their own set of rules that govern the area independent of the Danish government. About a thousand people live there permanently.
At Freetown Christiania you can find homemade houses, art galleries, cheap and organic eateries etc., but of course the highlight is the infamous Pusher Street, where hash and marijuana are sold openly from permanent stores. While this is illegal in Denmark and the stands were evicted in 2004, they have since returned. Visitors are advised not to film/photograph in Christiania, especially near and along Pusher Street. There’s a list of do’s and dont’s signs at the entrance – visitors are advised to follow them closely to avoid getting into trouble.
2. Nyhavn, Copenhagen: Where the fairytales that accompanied your childhood were born
The Tinderbox? The Princess and the Pea? The Ugly Duckling? These will definitely ring a bell if you’ve read fiction when you were a kid. The famous Danish fairytale writer Hans Christian Andersen, a.k.a. the Father of Fairy Tales, used to live along Nyhavn, originally a busy commercial port of Copenhagen. While Nyhavn is now filled with classy restaurants, you may still be interested to know that he used to live in no. 20 (and in no. 67 for 20 years, no. 18 for 2 years), and wrote many of the fairy tales that accompanied your childhood right there.
Not forgetting, The Little Mermaid! You might be impressed (or not), to find that there is a 103-year-old sculpture of The Little Mermaid at the Langelinje Pier of Copenhagen, and it is one of Copenhagen’s most (in)famous tourist attractions. She hasn’t had it easy though – for several times she has been vandalised. She has lost her head twice, had her arm sawn off once, and had paint over her several times. But of course, she gets rescued every time (like in a fairy tale story).
3. There is a sun at midnight
Fancy cycling under the sun through the ‘night’? As the term suggests, the midnight sun refers to the phenomenon that occurs when the sun does not set above the Arctic Circle for several weeks. If you travel to the very north of Scandinavia, e.g. the Arctic islands of Svalbard (a Norwegian archipelago between mainland Norway and the North Pole) where the sun doesn’t set between April and late August, you can experience a midnight walk on a glacier, dog sled through the ‘night’ under the reddish sky, or even do midnight golfing, cycling, and kayaking.
You may find more tips on where to catch the midnight sun, how to photograph it, and some activities to engage in here! For example, you can even take midnight sun photography courses at Lyngen Lodge if you are in the Lyngen Alps.
4. Step into the Arctic Circle when you visit Santa Claus’ hometown
Santa Claus Village is an amusement park (and much more) located about 8km northeast of Rovaniemi, in the Lapland region of Finland. Cross over into the Arctic area, meet Santa Claus, and stay in an igloo, all at one place!
The Arctic Circle cuts right through Santa Claus Village, denoted by a white line – once you cross the line you’ve officially entered the Arctic. Naturally, that has become a popular photo spot.
Visit Santa Claus during his office hours and take pictures with him in his office! In case you didn’t know, Rovaniemi is the official hometown of Santa!
Want to experience staying in a genuine Arctic igloo? You can do so in Santa Claus Village, Snowman World Igloo Hotel! The room is built entirely of snow and ice, but don’t worry about freezing in there – the temperature in the igloo stays at a constant of just below zero degrees Celsius, regardless of how cold it might get outside.
5. The Three-Country Cairn: be in Norway, Sweden, and Finland all at once
The Three-Country Cairn is the point where the international borders of Norway, Sweden, and Finland meet. The Three-Country Cairn is the name given to a conical frustum made of concrete, located 10 metres out in Lake Goldajärvi.
To visit it, you, can drive up to Kilpisjärvi in Finland and start walking from the car park just across the border. In the summer, you can take a boat across the lake and walk for about 20 minutes along a marked path to the Three-Country Cairn! Well, so if you don’t have time to visit all three countries, you know where to go!