Nordic exploring

Steve Jack, 04 October, 2018
Steve Jack reveals the 10 things you should definitely embrace on our winter journey, Nordic Cities Explorer...
While there’s an easy-going informality to each of the Nordic countries, it’s the Danes who seem to have mastered the art of cosy contentment. This concept of hygge, especially mellow during the winter months, will wrap you up in a blanket of warm-heartedness, so relax and surrender to its allure.
Copenhagen boasts what must be the world’s most tasteful amusement park, and the twinkling Christmas markets at this fairground-cum-national-institution must be experienced at least once in a lifetime.
Embrace your inner Saga Norén as you journey by rail across the Øresund Strait via the ‘Bridge’ that has gained a certain notoriety, thanks to the engrossing TV series of the same name. If you’re unfamiliar with the dark arts of Nordic Noir, just sit back and admire the watery views on this crossing from Copenhagen to Malmö.
Stockholm is full of wintry beauty; but be sure to spend a couple of hours indoors examining the exhibits of the ABBA Museum, surely one of the world’s quirkiest. It’s a kitsch and shiny glitter-ball of an attraction, in which you can sing, dance, make music or even try on some virtual – yet decidedly dodgy – stage outfits from the 70s.
The three northern European capitals you visit on this holiday – Copenhagen, Stockholm and Helsinki – each have magical Christmas markets: you’ll find Christmas beer pouring from the taps in Copenhagen, warming Swedish glögg  (mulled wine) throughout Stockholm’s historic Gamla Stan, and the most stylish of Christmas gifts for sale in Helsinki’s Senate Square.
One of the easiest – and most comfortable – ways to experience the Baltic is to take the overnight ferry between the Swedish and Finnish capitals: watch the lights of Stockholm recede into the distance, then wake up revitalised, as you glide through the narrow gap between the islands of Suomenlinna, the remarkable, 18th-century sea fortress in the Bay of Helsinki.
The Katajanokka in Helsinki could be described as a luxury lock-up. Nowadays, the atmosphere at this converted prison (the ‘cells’ are now comfortably enlarged bedrooms) is swanky rather than severe, though there are some quirky nods to former ‘guests’, such as the black-and-white striped uniforms worn by staff, and framed keys adorning the walls.
Helsinki’s Design District is well worth exploring. It’s bursting with boutiques, workshops and galleries, and is the focal point of one of the world’s most electrifying design scenes. Admire the work of iconic producers like Iittala, Marimekko and Artek, and pick up an item or to two to lend a sense of Scandi style to your home.
With virtually two full days in Helsinki, why not use one of them to experience something a little different, and take a ferry through the frozen seas to Tallinn, the absurdly photogenic capital of Estonia? Again, there is a popular Christmas market, but the Old Town is full of wonderful sights – ancient churches, medieval streetscapes and noble merchants' houses – the whole year round.
Yes, embrace the chill! For what choice do you have, when exploring these beguiling Nordic cities during the winter months? As the mercury drops, add some layers: wrap up warm like the locals, and feel as snug as the proverbial rug-bound bug.

Nordic Cities Explorer

Embrace all this – and more – on our winter journey, Nordic Cities Explorer, as you travel by rail and boat between Copenhagen, Stockholm and Helsinki – three of northern Europe’s most exciting cities.
More about our cultural journeys in Denmark, Sweden & Finland >
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