Scandinavian exports to the world have varied in type over the last century; from Abba to Brigitte Neilson, IKEA to Nokia mobile phones, Scandinavian goods and personalities have continued to spread throughout our everyday culture. Despite this, tourism to Scandinavia has only taken off recently, with more and more people in Europe and beyond braving its weather conditions to enjoy its many beautiful cities and landscapes. An ideal holiday idea for the first-time traveller to Scandinavia would be a tour of all the capital cities - Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm and Helsinki - as a way of fully enjoying the delights of the region.
Denmark, for example, may have been in the news recently for more controversial reasons, but its capital, Copenhagen, is popularly ranked as one of the world's best cities to live in, despite its high cost of living. Established annual events include the Copenhagen Jazz Festival, which supports the flourishing jazz scene that has existed in the city for many years; the city is also very popular with homosexual travellers due to its active gay community. It annually hosts a gay pride festival, as well as the Gay and Lesbian Film Festival Copenhagen, held in late October.
Stockholm, Sweden's capital, is often referred to as "the Venice of Scandinavia" due to the numerous water channels running through the city. Stockholm also has a rich cultural past that makes it very attractive to foreign visitors; the "Gamla Stan", or Old Town, is an impressive vestige of the medieval architecture, which includes the Riddarholmskyrkan (the city's oldest building), Stockholm Palace and Storkyrkan Cathedral. Stockholm also has over 70 museums, including the Swedish National Museum of Fine Arts, which possesses an extensive collection of fantastic pieces, including works by Rembrandt and Antoine Watteau, as well as many important Swedish artists.
Oslo and Helsinki may not be quite as popular with the majority of mainstream tourists; however they offer much of interest for the potential visitor. Oslo, for instance, is a popular centre for music in Norway, and Scandinavia at large. The world famous Lillehammer Bluesfestival, held every April, is a popular event, as is the Lillehammer Jazzfestival, and the Lillehammer Classic Rock Festival. The Oslo Concert Hall professes to cater to all musical tastes, and The Norwegian Opera is one of Europe's foremost centres of classical opera and ballet.
Finland may have reached the headlines with their Eurovision win this year, through the efforts of rock-shockers Lordi, but this image is at odds with its high brow cultural scene. Helsinki's numerous theatres are widely acclaimed and the capital is also home to various national museums and art galleries. Sometimes known as "the daughter of the Baltic", visitors to Helsinki can also enjoy the Suomenlinna naval fortress, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the open-air museum of Seurasaari Island. Its persistent darkness during the winter months provides a great opportunity for interesting lighting, as in Aleksanterinkatu's famous Christmas street.
Visitors to Scandinavia's capitals will find a selection of affordable and conveniently located independent hotels, as well as the region's largest hotel chain, Scandic Hotels. Make sure you book your tour of Scandinavia now, before the word gets out!
Andrew Regan is a keen sportsman playing rugby during the winter and cricket during the summer