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Sunday, 17 March 2013 14:11

Scandinavia’s Captivating Capitals

Written by  Monique Burns
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Thrusting into the North Sea and the Baltic, with the Arctic Circle to the north and continental Europe to the south, the kingdoms of Denmark, Norway and Sweden share a common culture and a long history. On a 10-day visit to the capitals of Oslo, Stockholm and Copenhagen savor Scandinavia’s essence-seaside and woodland beauty, traditional and cutting-edge arts, fresh-caught fish and game, and, best of all, warm-hearted people.

Oslo

From Newark, it’s a 7.5 hour flight aboard SAS Scandinavian Airlines to Oslo Airport where the sleek silver Flytoget (www.flytoget.no) train whisks visitors to Central Station in 19 minutes. Spend three days in Norway’s capital, extending along the waters of the Oslofjord, and surrounded by snowcapped mountains, forests and more than 300 lakes. The Thon Hotel Oslo Panorama (www.thonhotels.no) has stylish red, black and gray rooms, many with sitting rooms, kitchenettes, and balconies overlooking the Oslofjord. Doubles, with breakfast, start at about $240.

A 15-minute walk west of the hotel, the Oslofjord’s waters nearly lap at the steps of City Hall where the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded annually. Steps away, a new exhibit at the high-tech Nobel Peace Center focuses on India’s Mahatma Gandhi. Outside, relax on a park bench and soak up the rays in Scandinavia’s sunniest capital.

Aker Brygge, a harborside neighborhood of restaurants and shops flows into the newer canal-laced Tjuvholmen enclave. Marvel at cutting-edge contemporary art at the Astrup Fearnley Museum, re-opened in a new glass, wood and steel Renzo Piano building. At upscale Tjuvholmen Sjomagasin (www.sjomagasinet.no) next door, dine on distinctly Norwegian minke whale with parsnips and cod-like saithe, or pollock, in beet-root sauce. The Thief (www.thethief.com), a deluxe art-filled design hotel, opens next door in January. Rates will start at $370.

From wharves near City Hall or east near the stunning, contemporary-style Opera House, Batservice (www.boatsightseeing.com) runs “hop on-hop off” mini-cruises through the Oslofjord. Visit Bygdoy Island’s six museums including the astonishing Viking Ship Museum, the Fram Museum (housing explorer Roald Amundsen’s massive polar ship) and the Kon-Tiki Museum (with Thor Heyerdahl’s original 1940s raft).

North of Oslo’s waterfront, browse the shops along Karl Johansgatan. Peek into 17th-century Oslo Cathedral, then head northwest for a drink at the elegant Grand Hotel (www.grand.no) where playwright Henrik Ibsen dined regularly, or the equally swanky Hotel Continental (www.hotel-continental.no). Nearby, the National Gallery houses “The Scream” and other major works by Edvard Munch whose 100th birthday will be celebrated throughout 2013. Farther west, 80-acre Vigeland Park showcases both Gustav Vigeland’s stunning Functionalist sculpture and the city’s sylvan splendor.

 

Stockholm

A one-hour SAS flight from Oslo takes you to Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport. From there, Central Station is just 20 minutes away via the Arlanda Express (www.arlandaexpress.com) train. Billed as “the capital of Scandinavia,” Stockholm is undeniably majestic-afloat on 14 islands between Lake Malaren and the Baltic, and graced with art-filled mansions and gilded royal palaces.

If that sounds stodgy, think again. Stockholm mixes the trendy and the traditional, the new and the old, with panache. Take hotels. The tony Grand Hotel (www.grandhotel.se) draws well-heeled legions to its $600-a-night rooms and celebrity chef Mathias Dahlgren’s two Michelin-starred restaurants. But consider stylish newcomers like the Elite Hotel Marina Tower (www.elite.se), in a restored mill, with classy $270-a-night doubles and a new Sturebadet spa with Turkish hammam. A 10-minute ferry ride takes guests across the beautiful Saltsjon inlet to the Old Town, Gamla Stan.

Gamla Stan’s winding cobblestone lanes reveal traditional sights like the Royal Palace and the Nobel Museum. On nearby Kungsholmen island, next to the City Hall, site of the annual Nobel Prize banquet, relaxing 50-minute cruises (www.stromma.se) depart for 17th-century Drottningholm Palace (www.royalcourt.se), a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to the Royal Family.

Northeast of Gamla Stan, in the Ostermalm district, shop for designer fashions around chic Stureplan square and stay in elegant boutique hotels like the 101-room Hotel Stureplan (www.hotelstureplan.se) with its superb Ostra Matsal restaurant. At nearby Ekstedt Grill (www.ekstedt.nu), innovative meat and fish dishes are cooked entirely in wood-burning stoves, ovens and firepits.

Djurgarden island has more than a half-dozen museums, including Skansen, the world’s oldest living-history museum, with over 150 buildings, including a bakery and glassworks. Go back in time to the Vasa Museum housing the huge, ornate Vasa, the world’s only existing 17th-century ship. Then fast-forward to the new Spirit Museum next door, with quirky, high-tech exhibits like the room simulating the sights and sounds of a hangover, and the art museum celebrating Swedish-made Absolut vodka.

South of Gamla Stan, on Sodermalm island - where Stieg Larsson set his famous Millennium Trilogy - Fotografiska draws crowds to world-class photography exhibits in dramatic black-and-white spaces and a cozy top-floor cafe with stunning water views. South of Folkungagatan, explore SoFo, a strollers’ paradise of quirky shops, trendy cafes 
and galleries.

 

Copenhagen

After three days in Stockholm, hop another SAS plane for the 70-minute flight southwest to Copenhagen Airport. Trains leave regularly on the 20-minute journey to Central Station. A few blocks away, check into 288-room Hotel Imperial (www.imperial-hotel-copenhagen.com), with its new Italian restaurant, L’Appetito. Doubles start at $180.

Built on several islands, a stone’s throw from Germany, compact, densely populated Copenhagen has a Western Europe feel but an undeniably Scandinavian spirit. Amble east through the center city, known as “Copenhagen K,” stopping for traditional smorrebrod - meat and fish topped sandwiches on dark rye bread-in the cozy basement of Restaurant Kronborg (www.restaurantkronborg.dk).

Continue to Gammel Strand for a sightseeing-boat tour (www.stromma.dk) through the canals. You’ll see the Black Diamond (the Royal Library’s new extension), the contemporary-style Opera House, the Nyhavn neighborhood, whose canals are lined with colorful wooden yachts and pastel-colored bars and restaurants, and the Little Mermaid on her rocky berth near the Langelinje cruise-ship terminal. You’ll visit Christianshavn, home of quirky Christiania, the bohemian enclave where marijuana was once sold openly at flea-market stalls. Return to Christiania to dine on home-cooked meals like veal flat ribs with celeriac at Restaurant Kanalen (www.restaurant-kanalen.dk). Or sample pricier New Nordic cuisine at Michelin-starred noma (www.noma.dk) just north.

Back on land, stroll the Stroget - the world’s longest pedestrian street, lined with designer boutiques and department stores. Next to the flagship Royal Copenhagen porcelain shop, The Royal Cafe (www.theroyalcafe.dk) serves innovative “smushi”-sushi-sized smorrebrod like brisket of beef with pickled vegetables and spiced herring with red-beet salad and quail’s egg. For dinner, head west to the former meat-packing district of Vesterbro for fresh baked breads, soups and other Danish comfort food at Meyer’s Deli (www.meyersdeli.dk).

Don’t leave Copenhagen without visiting Tivoli Gardens (www.tivoli.dk) with 40 restaurants, three open-air stages and countless rides. At the National Museum, superb Viking exhibits include priceless gold jewelry. Just north, amble through sculpture-filled gardens surrounding Rosenborg Castle (www.rosenborgslot.dk), home of the crown jewels. Steps away, Scandinavian paintings hang in the light-filled National Gallery. East, on Store Kongensgade, dine on veal brisket, fresh fish and down-home specialties at trendy Madklubben (www.madklubben.info). Then stroll to harborside Nyhavn for live music, and a farewell drink of aquavit or Carlsberg beer.

 

For More Information

Contact SAS Scandinavian Airlines (flysas.com), offering the most flights to and within Scandinavia. Log on to www.visitcopenhagen.com and www.visitdenmark.com; www.visitoslo.com and www.visitnorway.com, and www.visitstockholm.com and www.visitsweden.com

 

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