Famous for their striking fairy-tale architecture, pretty green spaces and general high standards of living, the Scandinavian capital cities are always high on our list of must-visit city break destinations. Yet Oslo, Copenhagen and Stockholm have the unfortunate reputation of being more than a little on the pricey side, continually cropping up on lists of the world’s most expensive cities.
But fear not; you don’t have to be Princess Madeleine of Sweden to enjoy the delights of the Scandinavian capitals – far from it. If you’re on a shoestring budget, tips and tricks like choosing the right time of year, knowing the places you’ll find bargain hotels and avoiding tourist trap restaurants can make all the difference. Here’s our guide to how you can save plenty of kroner on your city break.
When to go
Panoramic view of Stockholm Old City © mffoto
Unsurprisingly, summer is the season that sees the most tourists flocking to Scandinavia. The weather’s warm, the days are long and sunny and there seem to be festivals happening most days. The Copenhagen Jazz Festival welcomes over 250,000 music lovers each July – and it’s free entry, by the by. Oslo doesn’t skimp on music festivals either, with everything from rock to chamber music on offer in the summer months.
All this fun and beautiful weather does mean that prices are usually higher than the rest of the year, but you can still find cheap Scandinavia deals in summer. The capital cities can actually be relatively quiet in August when the locals depart for their summer houses in the countryside. Some restaurants and attractions will be closed, but you’re more likely to find great hotel rates.
Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen © 0399778584
A sure-fire way to cut costs is travelling in the shoulder or low seasons. Spring and autumn will be noticeably cheaper than the summer holidays, but there’s still plenty going on, such as the Oslo World Music Festival in October and the Stockholm International Film Festival in November. The weather can still be lovely too; and I speak from experience as someone who managed to get sunburned in Copenhagen one February. Consider also visiting in winter; the pretty Christmas markets, the hot, boozy glasses of glogg and the money you’re bound to save should take your mind off the short days and icy temperatures.
Oslo harbour © crazy82
Ryanair and easyJet are just two low-cost airlines offering regular flights to Scandinavia. And with flight times around two hours, the no-frills approach is an all-round winner because as well as saving you some cash, let’s face it, you wouldn’t have time to enjoy the frills anyway. Below are the cheapest deals we’ve found using our flights search tool – all valid at the time of publishing.
Best Copenhagen flights deal: £47 return Bristol – Copenhagen, 4th – 11th November 2013, through Skyscanner
Best Oslo flights deal: £46 return Liverpool – Oslo, 9th -14th August 2013, through Skyscanner
Best Stockholm flights deal: £52 return Stansted – Stockholm, 11th -17th September 2013, through Skyscanner
Where to stay
Stortorget, Stockholm © Adisa
Most hotels in Copenhagen can be found around Indre By (the city centre) and the Vesterbro district to the west. In Vesterbro you’ll find two summer-only budget hostels, or to go really bargain-basement, head for the Mølleå river. Along the banks are two campsites that are very basic, but the price is right – free of charge!
Budget camping is widely available across Scandinavia. In Oslo you can pitch your tent for free on the island of Langøyene, a short boat ride from the city, or in Bogstad Campsite on the mainland at cheap rates. If camping, no matter how glam, isn’t your thing, try the trendy district of Grünerløkka. Here you’ll find the Anker Hostel and the Overnatting guesthouse among your many low-cost options.
In Stockholm’s medieval centre Gamla Stan on Stadsholmen island there are several hostels dotted around historic Stortorget Square, including Archipelago Hostel Old Town and Best Hostel Skeppsbron on the waterfront. Långholmen and Jumbostay at Arlanda are further from the city centre but also offer very competitive rates.
Christanshavn, Copenhagen © JPF
If you’re watching the pennies on your city break, don’t be tempted to jump in a taxi as soon as your feet get tired. Public transport is much less pricey and thanks to the comprehensive routes available in the Scandinavian cities, you can cover every corner by train, bus, Metro and boat. Plus in Copenhagen, the Boris Bike-equivalent Citybike service is absolutely free!
Each city offers its own variation of a discount card aimed at tourists; look out for the Stockholm Card, the Olso Pass or the Copenhagen Card. Perks include free travel on all public transport, as well as free entry to many of that city’s most popular attractions and discounts in restaurants. All are available to purchase online in advance or on arrival.
What to see – for free
Oslo’s Vigelands Sculpture Park is one of the city’s most popular attractions, home to over 200 sculptures by the artist Gustav Vigeland and free to enter. On Culture Night each September, many of the city’s cultural institutions open their doors for free. And don’t forget Oslo’s natural scenery; admiring the fjords or the view from the hills of Ekeberg won’t cost you a penny.
In Stockholm’s historic centre Gamla Stan, watch the changing of the guard each day at 12:15 in front of the Royal Palace. Away from the hustle and bustle, take a free dip in the pools at Smedsuddsbadet on Kungsholmen island, or explore the wooded island of Djurgården. It’s popular for picnics, strolls along the shoreline and visits to the world-class museums located amongst the greenery.
The Little Mermaid, Copenhagen © Ppictures
The Little Mermaid statue at the end of the Langelinie promenade is one of Copenhagen’s most-visited attractions and it remains free to pay her a visit. Several cultural institutions around the city such as the National Museum and the National Gallery offer free admission. Others that charge for entry such as the Hirschsprung Collection waive their fees on one day per week – often Fridays.
Where to eat
Copenhagen Cooking Festival © Copenhagen Media Center – Photographer: Christian Lindgren
Copenhagen’s trendy Meatpacking District, Kødbyen, is brimming with purse-friendly eateries. New restaurant Mother specialises in great-value rustic Italian fare, while Nose2Tail offers traditional Danish dishes with a contemporary twist. Don’t miss the annual Copenhagen Cooking food festival for a cheap-as-chips taste of Nordic and international dishes. Gourmet meals from the city’s acclaimed restaurants are on offer at special reduced prices, as well as tasty street food at rock-bottom rates. This year it’s happening from 23rd August until 1st September – get your forks at the ready.
One place you’re sure to find cheap eats in Oslo is the Grønland area just east of the city centre. Streets to head for are Grønlandsleiret, Torggata and Grønland itself. Scandinavia’s largest pizza chain Peppes Pizza, known for piling toppings high and cramming their walls with rock’n’roll memorabilia, has no fewer than nine Oslo branches. The most popular branch is in Sentrum, the heart of the city. In this area you can also grab a cheap and cheerful lunch at Bagel & Juice or a taste of Thailand at the Ricebowl Café.
Östermalm, Stockholm © byggarn.se
Looking for a low-cost lunch in Stockholm? Keep your eyes peeled for the words ‘dagens lunch’ on restaurant signs – the daily lunch special. You’ll find them in eateries all over the city but particularly in the chic Södermalm region. Kvarnen is a popular bar and café in this area, dating back 100 years with traditional Swedish dishes and a variety of beers on the menu. In the affluent Östermalm district there are fewer budget options, but the Saluhall food market is well worth a visit, with 17 family traders offering meats, cheeses and much more. Jamie Oliver is a big fan!
Do you have any tips for visiting the Scandinavian capitals on a budget? Let us know in the comment box below!