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30 unique experiences you can only have in Northern Europe

Jan 25, 2023 by Jamie Gallerani

There’s a region in the world where you can cruise through fjords flanked by sky-high cliffs, visit the most spectacular Christmas markets, and chase the northern lights in the snow-covered countryside. That spot is Northern Europe—and yes, it’s just as magical as it sounds.

Wondering about the best places to visit in Northern Europe on our Europe tours? Read on to see some of the most unique, unforgettable, photo-worthy experiences to have while visiting Northern Europe on tour, straight from our community of staffers and travelers. But first, here are a few helpful things to know before you decide where and when to go.

What are the countries in Northern Europe, you ask? Here’s the list!

  • Denmark
  • Norway
  • Sweden
  • Finland
  • Estonia
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania
  • Iceland
  • Ireland
  • The United Kingdom (which includes England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland)

The best time to visit Northern Europe

It all depends on what you hope to see on a trip to Europe. The summer months bring more sunshine to Northern European countries like Iceland, Norway, and beyond (hello, midnight sun). Want to pencil in a winter trip instead? The winter months offer up snow flurries, Christmas market magic, and opportunities to spot the northern lights dancing across the sky. Read on to see some of the most unique experiences you can have in the northern countries of Europe—no matter when you go.

1. Feel like a royal at Frederiksborg Castle in Denmark

If you’re lucky enough to cross our Scandinavia: The Capitals & the Fjords tour off your bucket list, then you can’t miss visiting the most famous castle in the country on our Frederiksborg Castle & Elsinore excursion. Picture this: The castle is situated on three islands, is surrounded by sprawling gardens and Slotssøen lake, and is home to the Museum of National History. Talk about good credentials. This royal residence makes Denmark one of the most intriguing Northern European countries to visit.

More unique experiences to have in Denmark:

2. Get festive at the Tivoli Gardens. These historic gardens play host to Copenhagen’s most famous Christmas market, where live reindeer and over 2 million fairy lights add to the festive feel. While there are so many things to do in the Tivoli Gardens on a tour of Copenhagen, there’s even more winter magic to be found throughout the rest of the the city. “You can step into a cafe on almost every corner for hot coffee and pastries, meals are hearty, and across the city, windows are lit by dozens of candles every night,” said staffer Alaina. “The city truly sparkles in the winter.”

3. Walk through the Nyhavn district. Here, colorful row homes along the wharf will wow you. It’s a famous, historic spot, making it one of the best places to visit in Northern Europe. See more must-have experiences in our Travel Guide to Copenhagen

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4. Ride the Flåm Railway to the fjords in Norway

There’s a lot to love about Scandinavian countries, and taking a trip to Norway is one way to find it all. It’s here that the world’s steepest and narrowest fjords weave their way through a dramatic landscape of sheer cliffs, immense glaciers, and tumbling waterfalls—and getting to the fjords via the Flåm Railway is just as spectacular as being there. There are countless amazing places in Northern Europe, and this one is worthy of a top spot on your bucket list.

“The Bergen fjords are amazing, and riding the Flåm Railway is just an absolutely breathtaking experience!” said staffer Shannon. “I went during March so the landscape changed quite a bit during the short journey. When we started at the bottom in Flåm, it looked like spring, but as we made our way up the mountain to Myrdal, it was winter. Definitely one of the most memorable travel experiences I’ve ever had. This should be on everyone’s bucket list and we offer it on both our Highlights of Scandinavia: Sweden, Norway & Denmark tour and our Scandinavia: The Capitals & the Fjords tour.”

More unique experiences to have in Norway:

5. Visit the city of Tromsø during free time. “Tromsø had the most scenic views I’d ever seen in my life,” said staffer Meaghan. “We saw the northern lights every night we were there and it was so magical. We also got to go to the northernmost brewery in the world (Macks Ølbryggeri) and that was an unforgettable experience.” Staffer Shannon agreed. “Tromsø is a super cool little city,” she said. “I can now say I’ve been to the Arctic Circle because Tromsø sits at a latitude above the beginning of the Arctic Circle.” Check out more free time tips in our Norway Travel Guide

6. Visit the colorful, UNESCO-listed Bryggen wharf in Bergen. “Bergen is, by far, one of the most beautiful, serene places I have ever been,” said traveler Cheryl after our Highlights of Northern Europe: Amsterdam to Stockholm tour. “Describing this place would be a disservice, it was so spectacular.”

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7. Sing some ABBA in Stockholm, Sweden

With all of its green spaces, art-filled metro stations, a cozy coffee culture, and one of the oldest monarchies in the world, Sweden is a top-tier place to explore in Northern Europe. Plus, if you’re a music lover, you’re in for a treat when you set off on our Sweden tours—the pop sensation ABBA hails from Sweden, and visiting the capital city is your chance to have a bit of musical fun at the ABBA Museum.

“When I was in Stockholm, Sweden, one of the most memorable experiences was going to ABBA: The Museum!” said staffer Emily. “It was in a beautiful location, was enjoyable yet informative, and the group loved being able to do the karaoke sing-along with the holograms. Learning local history is so important when traveling, but so is having some laughs and enjoying yourselves, and this was a great opportunity to have fun.”

More unique experiences to have in Sweden:

8. Snap a picture in the Stockholm Tunnelbana. The city’s 100 subway stations, or Tunnelbana, are decked out with dramatic murals created by more than 150 artists, making the transit system one of our favorite hidden gems in Stockholm.

9. Sit down to socialize during fika. This traditional coffee break is one of the most authentic cultural experiences to have while exploring Sweden. Pour yourself a cup of joe, grab a cinnamon bun, and enjoy some good conversation with your fellow travelers to truly get into the fika spirit.

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10. Visit the happiest place in the world: Finland

Seeing the world is always a euphoric experience, and that’s never more true than when you’re exploring Finland on tour. That’s because this Northern European country clinched the number one spot on the World Happiness Report in 2022 (for the fifth year in a row, we might add). Visit to soak in extra joy while you admire all the incredible Finnish scenery.

“Scandinavia was visually stunning, with some of the most beautiful scenery in all of Europe: pristine waters, towering mountains, and green everywhere you look,” said traveler Barbara after returning from our Scandinavia: The Capitals & the Fjords tour. “In addition to the physical beauty and temperate conditions, the Scandinavians were very friendly and almost everyone spoke perfect English.”

More unique experiences to have in Finland:

11. Enter Temppeliaukio Church. This Lutheran site is carved into a rocky hillside in Helsinki, and makes for an interesting photo-op, indeed.

12. Learn about Sámi culture. This indigenous tribe hails from Lapland in Scandinavia. The Sámi historically worked as reindeer herders, and still have a very strong connection to nature.

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13. Have a pastel moment in Tallinn, Estonia

Northern European countries are known to have breathtaking architecture—what’s not to like about spire-studded castles and Gothic cathedrals? See just how pretty an old building can be while strolling through the Old Town in Tallinn, Estonia, on tour. This historic section dates back to the 13th century, and is filled with pastel-hued buildings in mint green, pale pink, and sky blue. Plus, it’s surrounded by medieval walls that will, ahem, floor you.

“Tallinn is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe,” said staffer Shannon. “The Old Town is just stunning. It’s right on the coast, has beautiful cathedrals, and the walls are just incredible. If you love architecture you should definitely visit.”

More unique experiences to have in Estonia:

14. Visit Toompea Castle in the winter. “A few years ago I found myself in Tallinn, Estonia, in the dead of winter, and it was truly breathtaking,” said staffer Stephanie. “Winter is the off-season there, so it was almost eerily empty. That being said, the lack of crowds enabled so much charm. Walking around a snow-covered castle without another tourist in sight felt like going back in time.” See all 8 places to visit in winter that will make it your favorite travel season →

15. Raise a glass of Vana Tallinn. “It’s a specialized liquor you can find throughout the city,” said staffer Shannon.

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16. See wooden houses by the water in Jūrmala, Latvia

Thinking of long, sandy beaches may bring places like Italy to mind, but don’t count our Latvia tours out. This is one of the best Northern European countries to visit if you want to head to the shore—some of its top cities sit right on the Gulf of Riga, after all.

One of those Northern European cities is UNESCO-listed Jūrmala, which you can visit on an added excursion on our Poland & the Baltics Adventure: Warsaw to Tallinn tour. Check out the 19th-century wooden houses, which have hosted the likes of Ivan Goncharov and other literary giants, artists, and musicians. Then, skip on over to the beach to see why so many 19th-century greats spent their summer holidays here, and grab some authentic Latvian food at Kūriņš.

More unique experiences to have in Latvia:

17. Visit Black Magic Bar for Black Balsam. “Riga has a unique liquor called Black Balsam that I highly recommend anyone try when they’re in the city,” said staffer Shannon. “Black Magic Bar has some of the best desserts and Black Balsam, and it used to be an old apothecary so the interior is super unique! Definitely worth the visit.” See why Riga is included on our list of 7 hidden gems of Eastern Europe →

18. Go on a bog walk in Kemeri National Park. This is one of the Baltic region’s iconic wetland landscapes, and is home to the Great Kemeri Bog. Remember to keep your binoculars close as you stroll through–you just might spot a Wood Sandpiper or a European Golden Plover.

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stairs up a hill surrounded by many different crosses

19. Have a moment of reflection at the Hill of Crosses in Lithuania

A lot of mystery surrounds this pilgrimage site in northern Lithuania, where thousands of wooden and metal crosses have stood on a small hill for over 200 years. It serves as a representation of Catholic devotion, and while the crosses have been destroyed by the Soviets multiple times over the centuries, over 60,000 crosses and rosaries mark the site today. Set off on a trip to Lithuania to see it for yourself.

“The Hill of Crosses was just breathtaking,” said travelers Amanda and Greg while sharing memories of exploring the Baltics on a free tour. “It’s a Lithuanian pilgrimage site, and whether you’re a religious person or not, it’s truly moving. To think that these crosses were destroyed by the Soviets and then quietly replaced by the people who risked their lives each night to show their solidarity is incredible.”

More unique experiences to have in Lithuania:

20. Step inside Trakai Island Castle. The Gothic-style brick castle sits on a tiny island in Lake Galvé, and serves as both a cultural landmark and a scenic weekend escape for residents of Vilnius.

21. Check out the street art in Vilnius. This capital city is home to many a gem, and the sculptures and art-covered buildings are some of them. Trust us when we say you will be wowed by the artwork on our tours of Vilnius.

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22. Enjoy lunch in an Icelandic geothermal greenhouse

Iceland is known for having otherworldly landscapes, but did you know that the food is top notch, too? Set off on our Iceland tours to sit down for an included lunch at Fridheimar Farm, where fresh produce is grown in a greenhouse heated by geothermal energy.

Staffer Ellie counts Fridheimar Farm as one of the best places to visit in Northern Europe. “You eat tomato soup from tomatoes grown in a geothermal greenhouse—I’m not sure you can experience that anywhere else in the world,” she said. “We also had tomato ice cream and tomato pie for dessert, which were surprisingly delicious.”

More unique experiences to have in Iceland:

23. Chase the northern lights on a winter trip. “I went to Iceland in January and saw the most beautiful display of northern lights dancing across the sky,” said staffer Bridget. “It really does look like they’re dancing! Our tour guide said it was the best display he’d seen in the last five years—absolutely worth the colder weather.” Find out where to see the northern lights on tour

24. Stroll along the black sands of Reynisfjara beach. “The waves are massive, and the rock formations in the water and along the beach are one of a kind,” said staffer Priscilla. See 5 more photo-worthy stops on Iceland’s Ring Road →

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25. Drive along the Wild Atlantic Way in Ireland

Sprawling green fields make Ireland magical, but the country also boasts dazzling sea views that you can admire on our Ireland: The Wild Atlantic Way tour. This coastal route is over 1,500 miles long, and weaves along the country’s western coast from Derry down to Cork. (Take a peek at all that coastline on a map of Northern Europe!) Check out 5 reasons why you’ll fall in love with Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way →

While there’s so much that will wow you along the way, the village of Connemara is an undeniable gem in County Galway—and you can visit on our Ireland tours. “Ireland is my favorite place in the world,” said staffer Meaghan. “Galway is a must-see in my opinion. There’s so much to do there! The city is so lively and colorful, and right nearby is Connemara, which you get to via an absolutely stunning nature drive.”

More unique experiences to have in Ireland:

26. Strike up a conversation with a local. “The most memorable part of visiting Ireland (specifically Dublin) was meeting the people,” said staffer Thea. “Don’t get me wrong, the scenery, architecture, food—and that fresh, fresh Guinness—were amazing, but the people were something else. They were hospitable, kind, helpful, friendly... I could go on. I have truly never felt more welcome in a city or a country than Ireland.”

27. Listen to live trad music. One of the best ways to spend free time no matter where you are in Ireland is to pop into a local pub to enjoy a trad music session. That’s when musicians come together to casually play live folk tunes while sharing a drink. If you have your own instrument, you can usually even join in! It’s always good craic, and it captures the warm, welcoming spirit of the Irish.

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28. Head Thames-side in the United Kingdom

The UK is quite a stunner, and is home to some of the top Northern Europe tourist attractions. There are lochs and legends to uncover on our Scotland tours and Wales tours. There’s regal splendor to admire on a trip to England. And there’s rebel history to immerse yourself in while exploring Northern Ireland. Long story short: This group of islands off the northwest coast of mainland Europe has a lot to offer.

Everything from the countryside to cosmopolitan cities like London will stun you. Speaking of exploring London... this bustling metropolis has more than earned its stripes as a bucket list destination. One of the best things to do while you’re there? “Walk along the Thames’ South Bank in London,” said staffer Jim. “There are always street performers, vendors (including Christmas markets), and gorgeous views. I had a local guide who described the views as ‘1000 years of British history’ because you could see Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, and the London skyscrapers all in one incredible vista.” Check out our top travel tips for London →

More unique experiences to have in the UK:

29. Watch an outdoor cèilidh overlooking the North Sea in Scotland. “While at St. Andrews, I was lucky enough to get tickets to go to a cèilidh within the grounds of St. Andrews Castle,” said staffer Jim after his trip to Scotland. “The combination of the live music, the movement of the dancers, and the dramatic landscape was truly spectacular.”

30. Have a cup of tea at the top of the Royal Opera House in London. “A friend recommended this location as a quiet place to grab a snack and enjoy the view,” said staffer Jim. “At the top of the Royal Opera House, there’s a snack bar that’s open most days, with a covered veranda overlooking Covent Garden. Most people don’t venture all the way to the top of the opera house, so it’s a great way to escape the London crowds for a bit. Added bonus: The costume workshops are next to the veranda too, so you can get a view of the costumes for upcoming performances.”

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About the author | Jamie Gallerani
It was Jamie’s homestay in Germany that made her fall in love with travel (and her studies in Florence that really sealed the deal). When she’s not writing and sharing the magic of seeing the world with others, she’s usually on the lookout for her new favorite memoir, testing out recipes at home, or visiting her family on Cape Cod.

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