Hidden outdoor gems in Nordic cities
For many of us, lockdown has reduced our travels, forcing us to stay local instead of discovering destinations further afield. But in most places it's still possible to get outside and follow our sense of curiosity to find new spots and activities nearby. We can look to the Nordic countries, whose locals love spending time outdoors, to show us some ways of safely exploring our own neighborhoods.
Our partner Spotted by Locals lists 12 outdoorsy local tips from the 6 Spotted by Locals cities in the Nordic countries. Let them inspire you as you stay local in the coming weeks and months; and one day you might even get to join in with the Nordic locals on a visit to their city.
Did you know that Copenhagen’s harbor has been clean enough to swim in for years now? Projects like Miljøkajakken, or “The Environment Kayak”, are partly to thank for that. Here you can rent a canoe for free and paddle around the harbor for about 2 hours. In return, you have to collect and return all the trash you come across as you go. It’s a win-win idea if we ever saw one - doing your part in keeping the sea clean will make the dip afterwards this much more rewarding.
Valbyparken is one of the city’s largest parks and people love it for its summer music festivals, barbecues and impressive rose garden. However, this place is also a great opportunity to try your hand at disc golf, which is in many ways similar to its namesake, just with baskets instead of holes and frisbees instead of balls. The goal is to get the frisbee into the basket in as few throws as possible. This course has three tiers of 18 “holes” each, complete with water hazards and hills, and is perfect for both beginners and experienced throwers. Just remember to bring your own frisbee!
For many, the Nordic countries are synonymous with saunas, and for good reason. But no matter how widespread and popular steam baths are, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a sauna as unique as Sørengas Badstue, a shack floating in the middle of the harbor across from the Oslo Opera House. The makeshift construction put together using assorted driftwood and debris collected from all over just adds to the charm. Guaranteed to be one of the most memorable things you’ll do in Oslo.
Oslo is famous for Vigeland Sculpture Park, one of Norway’s top tourist attractions. But there’s another, smaller park you can discover on Ekeberg with sculptures placed along forest trails and sprawling views of the Norwegian capital. Some of the artists' names might ring a bell: Rodin, Dalí, Renoir… Ekebergparken is also rich with history, so you’re likely to stumble across Viking burial mounds; walk a bit further and you’ll discover the actual setting of Munch’s famous painting The Scream.
Fredhällsparken is a lush park - perfect for a picnic! - and you can even let your dog run free or join other canine lovers at the west side of the park. However, the biggest attraction here is the weekly meeting of Stockholm’s Medieval Association, who come here on Sundays in full knight armor to practice sword fighting. If you’re into LARPing (live action role-playing) or historical reenactments, then come find your crowd here.
Gröna Lund is an amusement park with an excellent location in the center of the city, three minutes from Slussen metro station, right on the waterline. Not only does it have great attractions, such as the Eclipse, Katapulten or Kättingflygaren, it also organizes concerts by world-famous artists, proper pentathlons for groups and would satisfy anyone with its biergarten, Italian restaurants and vegan options.
Hyllie Vattenpark was made for kids really, but we’re sure adults can also enjoy themselves here! Right below a functioning water tower that looks like it teleported into Malmö from War of the Worlds you’ll find 8 water stations presenting hydrodynamics through pipes, a “surprise fountain”, channels, even a small waterfall - a true paradise of “learning by doing”. The water tower itself - 62m high and 52m in diameter - is actually one of Malmö’s landmarks, together with the Turning Torso skyscraper and the world-famous Øresund Bridge that connects the city with Copenhagen.
Ljudkullar is a true hidden gem - many tourists and visitors never discover it, even though it’s right in front of them the whole time. Every day, around noon, a list of around a dozen albums by various artists starts playing from big speakers embedded into these “Hills of Sound”. You can find the playlist on the white sign in front of the pole to check out what’s on. But don’t worry - the albums are updated often enough to keep the music fresh. It's a brilliant idea that should definitely be emulated elsewhere! Until then, come here for a little personal concert and a picnic.
Do you like trains? Of course you do. How about trainspotting? No, not the cult ‘90s Danny Boyle movie - actual trainspotting: observing locomotives, gathering information on routes, carriages, types of engines… anything related to railways. Linnunlaulun silta is Helsinki trainspotters’ favorite hangout. Every train that arrives at and departs from Helsinki central station passes under this bridge. So it’s an ideal point to join Finnish railfans, listen to the passing trains and wonder where they might be headed - or where they might have set out from.
You can’t visit Finland and not at least be able to recognize the beloved Moomin book and cartoon characters created by Tove Jansson. The legendary author and creator of one of Finland’s most precious exports never had an official statue made of her likeness - at least not after she became famous. However, you can actually find statues of her around Helsinki from when she was a little girl. Her father was a well-known sculptor who used her as a model from when she was little more than just a young sculptor’s daughter. Why not make a little game of finding every one of Tove Jansson’s statues around Helsinki and go explore the city while you’re at it?
Rauhaniemi Beach is an absolute hotspot in summer, and there’s tons of outdoorsy action and fun to be had, whether it’s sunbathing, SUPing, using the public sauna (you should know: Tampere is world capital of saunas) or just plain, good old swimming. If chilling by, or inside, a body of fresh water sounds like time well spent, the “Peninsula of Peace” (Rauhaniemi in English) is sure to rejuvenate you.
Pispala is one of Tampere’s most beautiful neighborhoods by far. Its narrow streets full of colorful wooden houses make it a perfect place for a lazy stroll any day of the week. Here you’ll also find Finland’s oldest functioning public sauna (est. 1906!) and its legendary wooden stairs. Join the people working out on them by climbing up the 310 steps and you will find that the opposing view over both the city’s major lakes (Pispala is the narrowest point between them) will be ample reward.
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