Scandinavia: Stockholm and Bergen

By Randy Keck
This item appears on page 55 of the January 2016 issue.
Bergen’s harbor hosts the visitors’ center and a plethora of attractions. Photos by Randy Keck

(First of three parts)

Scandinavia finally edged its way to the top of my travel bucket list in August 2015 when the Fates presented an opportunity to travel to Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland. 

With an energetic group of 38 savvy explorers, I participated in a 12-day “Scandinavian Explorer” highlights tour, partially hosted by both Finnair and New York-based smarTours (800/337-7773 or 212/297-0955,

Tour prices, including air from New York City, range from $3,399 to $3799 per person, double occupancy (ppdo), with a single supplement of $699. A 3-day St. Petersburg option, which I did not take, costs $789 ppdo or, for a single, $989.

Any concerns about traveling with such a large group were erased by our highly experienced expert tour director, Betty Levin, who made it clear that we would be free from the standard regimens of larger groups, such as wearing name tags and coach-seat rotation, plus we would have lots of free time for exploring on our own. Most in our group were repeat travelers with the company.

Inviting Stockholm

Our trip began with an enjoyable tour of Stockholm. Sweden’s capital (pop., 2 million) was established in the 13th century and constructed on 14 islands, today connected by scores of bridges. These islands are among nearly 30,000 islands, islets and skerries in the Stockholm archipelago, located in the Baltic Sea. A modern ferry system helps make island living and commuting a viable option for the city’s residents.

Stockholm is a trendsetter in terms of music, design, fashion and technology. The city is also abundant in parks and green areas, and a walking tour we took included the quaint streets and alleys of Gamla stan, or the medieval Old Town, accessed from the city center via the busy Drottninggatan, a pedestrians-only throughway. 

In the summer months, the area around Old Town and the waterfront is a beehive of festive activity day and night, especially around the Opera House and the park Kungs­träd­gården (King’s Garden).

City wanderings

On the following free day, most of us ventured by tram with Betty to one of the city’s impressive museums, the Vasa Museum (, a “must see.” 

The Vasa was a huge sailing ship that, on her maiden voyage from Stockholm in 1628, sank before even making it out of the harbor. In 1961, after 333 years on the sea floor, the wreck was salvaged and an amazing restoration effort was undertaken. 

Today, the reconstructed vessel — 95 percent original — is impressively adorned with several hundred carved wooden sculptures. Museum admission costs SEK130, about $15.

From there, we all went in different directions, many of us taking the ferry back to Gamla stan. (One cannot really experience Stockholm without spending some time on the water.) 

In Old Town, I walked some of the backstreet residential neighborhoods in an effort to get a feel for the local lifestyle amidst the treasure trove of historic architecture on display. With fortunate timing, I arrived at the majestic Royal Palace in time to hear a military band performing for visitors. 

As in most major Scandinavian cities, in Stockholm bicycles rule, and busy cycling lanes prevail throughout the city. The rules for pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists are apparent, allowing all to move efficiently. 

One evening I undertook a rather long walk to and through Gamla stan and across a bridge into Södermalm to find a popular pub I had read about online, Akkurat (18 Hornsgatan, Stockholm; phone +46 08 644 0015,

The tab for the tasty rökt böckling (smoked herring) appetizer, with onion, lettuce and parsley on seedy dark rye, and a mug of the local Landsort Lager came to $18. The price of local beer on tap remained in the $7-$9 range throughout Scandinavia.

Historic and scenic Bergen

On our morning flight to Norway’s scenic west coast and the city of Bergen (pop., 270,000), we were treated to exceptionally clear weather, allowing me to take great shots of mountains and sea from my window seat.

The gateway to the massive fjords of western Norway, Bergen is beautiful and features excellent museums, a fine aquarium and a thriving cultural scene. 

Our accommodations were adjacent to the old wharf area of Bryggen, a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site. Bryggen had its origins in the 11th century and for several centuries was a vital commercial center, despite being ravaged by many fires. The wooden buildings existing today were built on the original foundations. 

The area offers many outdoor dining options. 

At the lively Fish Market, I sampled the offerings of several seafood vendors and quickly came to understand why Norway is the world’s leading exporter of farmed salmon. As a seafood aficionado, I sampled salmon in some form on every day of our Scandinavian journey. 

A “must do” for all Bergen visitors is the Fløibanen funicular ($10 round trip), which transports passengers to the peak of Mount Fløyen in about seven minutes. The viewing platform affords expansive views over the city, mountains and fjords. 

Imbibing is an art form in the quaint squares of Stockholm’s Gamla stan.

A range of hikes is available from the peak. Betty and I walked back down to the city below in about 20 minutes, traversing hillside neighborhoods and stopping to chat with locals tending their orderly gardens. We learned that summer had been late in arriving, and locals were trying to make up for lost gardening time. 

To and around Scandinavia

In my continuing effort to avoid using American carriers on overseas flights, I was happily able to fly Finnair (800/950-5000, from New York’s JFK Airport to Helsinki and back as well as on two flights within Scandinavia. 

I flew business class outbound and economy on return, both pleasant in-flight experiences. It is possible to upgrade from economy class to Economy Comfort, which features more legroom and other amenities, for about $100 in each direction.

Finnair offers daily service to Helsinki year-round from JFK as well as seasonal service from Chicago and Toronto, June through October, and from Miami, October through March. 

Next month, in the second part of this series on Scandinavia, follow along on our overland journey from Bergen to Oslo.    

Contact Randy c/o ITN.