It has been an interesting exercise to try to think of the Scandinavian countries and come up with a good and succinct outline of what makes them different from each other without requiring a degree in history, architecture, and other similar fields. So I decided to not be that ambitious and limit this to taking a look at the Scandinavian “first cousins” capitals – Oslo, Stockholm and Copenhagen – and see what I came up with…
All of these first cousins felt very manageable for a first time visitor. There was nothing daunting or complex about getting around which made it easy for me to walk aimlessly to see what I would discover. Everyone spoke English which certainly facilitated the visit though I am OK attempting to communicate in any number of languages I can dabble in. I visited them all more or less around May or June making my comparison even in terms of weather. Clearly the time of the year I visited made them all come across as “alive” since everyone by then had finished thawing off from their winter “slump”. Everyone was out and about enjoying the weather – and their cities.
In Norway, they were actually having a warm spell in early May (I carried a coat through Europe because I was supposed to need it when I got to Norway; it was hotter than anywhere in Europe at the time!). Everyone was out at the parks and streets just hanging out. The outdoor cafes were all packed, everyone enjoying a beer or four. I partook even if I was a little horrified at the cost of everything.
My favorite meal was a bucketful of fresh shrimp and beer sitting at a water-side restaurant (maybe by the Herbern marina) right around Aker Brygge, a modern shopping, entertainment, and office district near the Nobel Peace Center. Of course, my favorite activity overall was taking a brief boat ride down Oslofjord but that is a different story!
It was neat to walk right by boats selling their catch to local restaurant buyers right across from City Hall.
Oslo probably felt the smaller of the three cousins (I actually have not looked up population statistics) and the more relaxed, perhaps because of its size, perhaps because people just wanted to enjoy the newly found warmth by chilling (!) outdoors. I loved scenes like the Akershus Fortress and the massive ski jump off in the distance!
As a capital city, Stockholm didn’t have a presence that screamed “big city”. And I liked that. It sits comfortably by the water built on and surrounded by islands. It is quite easy to move about even if unfamiliar with it – its vast waterfront makes it hard to get lost. I have previously written about this city by the water so I will not elaborate here.
We headed first to the area where the Royal Palace sits, “Stadsholm”, an island itself. This is all part of old town or Gamla Stan. Gamla Stan is full of charming architecture and beautiful streets. From there, one can easily cross to a small island where Parliament sits (Riksdag) and exit it on the other side to enter the pedestrian shopping street (Drottninggatan) and move on to parks and other areas of town. Almost across the water from the Royal Palace, of course, on another island, one finds the Vasa Museum (a must-see in Stockholm).
Stockholm, and the people, there felt very relaxed, none more so than the students celebrating being done with school atop a party bus, one of the city scenes I shared in another post. I could see myself lounging a few days, weeks, or more in this capital. Of course, likely not during winter.
During my visit to Copenhagen (three days), we toured around all the main areas of town you are always told to see and visit. These included palaces, museums, the maverick community of Freetown Christiania, and other key sights. As with many cities, my favorite part of Copenhagen was exploring the smaller side streets and finding that little jewel of a restaurant (as happened to us, with Restaurant and Café Nytorv which sits at about 150 years old).
We also happened upon the Copehagen Carnival (in June!) which made the main pedestrian street, Strøget, a lively corridor. It may have lacked the wildness of Rio’s Carnival or Nawlins’ Mardi Gras but I certainly give it an “A” for enthusiasm and effort!
The Danish capital definitely felt the more developed of the “first cousin capitals”, the more urbanized, the more identifiable as a capital. While it sits on the water’s edge like the other two, it lacked the splendid fjords of Oslo or the charm of the many islands in and around Stockholm. Granted it may have more diversity of older and modern architecture than but it often was not impressive. For example, the buildings composing the royal palace/residence at Amalienborg were not imposing, nor terribly interesting from the outside, nor graced with gardens or green spaces (Rosenborg Castle fares much better.)
While it was interesting to visit Copenhagen and walk its old streets, I hate to say, it did not wow me. I didn’t feel an urge, say, to live there for 6 months, nor linger longer (though that may be precisely what I should do to “get” Copenhagen?).
Have you visited these first cousins? Which one did you like best/least? What influences your answer?