One of my oldest and closest friends & travel buddy is in her third year of residency here in NYC so she doesn’t get to choose when she goes on vacation; as a freelancer I can technically go on vacation whenever I want so when she asked me if I would be down to take a trip in the middle of November, I was! We debated where to go for WEEKS. We must have discussed at least 10 different possible itineraries- London + the Cotswolds, Paris + Bruges, a tour through the Netherlands, Costa Rica, Budapest, Prague, Venezuela, Portugal, going back to Italy for a second time this year- all wonderful places but nothing felt like the one…until we started talking about going to see the Northern Lights. Immediately this scenario evoked a different feeling, and we knew we had found our trip!
After we picked our destination, we had to plan around it. Being city girls, we thought an entire week in the Arctic would be a bit much, so we knew we wanted some urban time as well. We discussed the major Scandinavian cities- Copenhagen, Stockholm, Oslo and Helsinki. I was immediately most interested in Stockholm; I went there once a few years ago for only 48 hours. I don’t remember much about it except that found it surprisingly a bit Parisian-looking with a similar yet friendlier vibe than Copenhagen- in other words I LOVED it and have wanted to return ever since. I’m not sure how I came across our destination in the Arctic, but we knew we had to stay in domes with a clear roof, so we would be able to (hopefully) see the Northern Lights from bed. I believe I originally found the company on Airbnb, then booked through them directly. To get from Stockholm up to Alta, where we stayed in the Arctic Circle, is about a 4 hour journey by plane, with a layover in Oslo. Instead of returning to Stockholm on the way back we decided to end the trip in Oslo, just to see a new city!
In this post I’m sharing our complete itinerary, where we stayed, what we ate and probably most importantly, what I packed! By the way, we planned this trip only 3 weeks before embarking, but I’d say we did a damn amazing job, because everything about this trip was perfect and I don’t think I’d do a single thing differently.
- is Scandinavia expensive? It depends on where you’re coming from. For us, we found pretty comparable to NYC prices. An entree for around $20-$25, a drink for $15, etc. So yes, it’s not cheap but sorta the norm (unfortunately) for us.
- What’s the currency and did you need cash? They use the Swedish and Norwegian kroner and NO. We used our credit cards/Apple Pay for literally everything. Scandinavia is pretty much cashless, this made things very easy!
- Stockholm or Oslo? I’ve spent a collective 5 days in Stockholm vs. 36 hours in Oslo so I don’t think I can make a fair judgment. However, if my life depended on it I think I’d go with Stockholm
- could this trip be done solo? You could, but I wouldn’t advise doing the Arctic Circle portion alone. I love to travel solo but I think that would feel very lonely.
Day 1-4, Stockholm
We landed in Stockholm at 7:30am and made our way to the hotel. Usually I prefer an Airbnb over a hotel but I found this darling hotel and just HAD to stay there. I would stay here a thousand times over! The breakfast was a highlight of our trip!
Hotel: The Sparrow, linked here
Price: about $360/night
Other lodging we looked into (and would love to stay at):
- Ett Hem Hotel, linked here, I was absolutely devastated we couldn’t stay here. Aside from it being a little too pricey to justify, they were booked out. We went here for lunch instead and oh my god. Scatter my ashes here, please.
- Lydmar Hotel, linked here
- Hotel Frantz, linked here
- Airbnb in old town, linked here
- Airbnb in Södermälm, linked here
- Ett Hem for dinner
- Bistro Marie
- drinking Glögg at sundown (Nordic mulled wine)
- Fika (afternoon coffee) at Skeppsebro Bageriet
- Grab a cinnamon bun at Valhallabageriet, then walk to Djurgården, then grab lunch at Skorten
- Cafe Nizza for dinner
- Drinks at TAK ( good view)
- Viewpoint at Mariaberget
- Walk around Södermalm then have dinner at Pelikan or Prinsen
- Stockholm Brunch Club
- Greasy Spoon (brunch)
- Vette Katten
- Vasa Museum
- 800 Grader (pizza)
- Hornstull Market for street food
- Nordiska Museum
- Exhibits at Fotografiska
- Boat trips to Archipelago- this was so fun! Linked here
- donation based walking tour of Gamla Stan (old town) linked here
Day 4-6, Alta, Northern Norway (the Arctic Circle)
We hopped on a 9:30 flight, had an hour long layover in Oslo and got up to Alta by 1:30pm (yes, it was already getting dark). We were picked up at the airport by our hotel and driven to the campgrounds.
Hotel: Glød Aurora Canvas Dome, linked here
A few notes on Glød/Alta:
- as much as we loved staying here, we found that we really had to over-communicate with the staff. Their website makes it seem like you’re signing up for an inclusive package, so we arrived thinking certain meals and activities were accounted for, but they were not! You just need to specify if you want dinner and what day you want to do your Northern Lights tour, or any other activities you want to book.
- They do have snowsuits and gear for you to borrow, but I urge you to pack like they don’t!
- If you don’t rent a car, download this app before you go. It’s basically Uber, but a local taxi service that will get you to and from town.
- Alta is a pretty small town with not much going on! A few people asked us why we chose Alta over Tromsø which is a more popular Northern Lights destination with more things to see in terms of restaurants and shops, a bit down south. We honestly didn’t have a reason, it just happened like that but I’m glad it did because we learned that you have a much better chance of seeing the lights in Alta! Something to do with its positioning, geography, I can’t remember, but Alta is actually one of the best places in the world for the Northern Lights!
Price: $595 for the two days + breakfast, additional $ for activities
- Dog sledding at Holmen Husky
- Northern Lights tour- we got extremely lucky to see them!
- Reindeer sleigh rides and Sami food at Sami Siida- just down the road from Glød, a short walk!
What I packed:
- thermal top, link here
- thermal leggings, link here
- waterproof sock liners, link here
- fleece lined leggings, link here
- warmest socks, link here
- turtleneck, link here
- snow pants, link here
- waterproof tech gloves (I could use my phone), link here
- bomber hat, link here
- Sorrel boots, link here
- hand warmers, link here
- fleece lined gaiter, link here
- parka, link here
- extra layer of gloves, link here
Day 7-8, Oslo
We left Alta at 2pm and were in Oslo by 4. I was not finding nearly as many cute hotels in Oslo as I did in Stockholm, but one of my sweet Norwegian Instagram followers suggested we stay in Frogner, a beautiful old area of the city, and we found our hotel there via an article in the New York Times.
Hotel: Oslo Guldsmeden, linked here. Price: $140/night. You get what you pay for I guess! It was fine- decent breakfast, free tea & coffee in the lobby at all times, a spa you can pay for private access and a very small room. I would NOT stay here again but it wasn’t terrible. I’d suggest looking into other options though, listed below.
Other lodging options:
- Amerikalinjen Hotel, linked here
- Sommerro, linked here
- Airbnb in Frogner, linked here
- Airbnb in Grünerløkka, linked here
- Airbnb in Grünerløkka, linked here, beautiful but at the time it had no reviews, so we were skeptical.
- Christmas market
- dinner at Sentralen
- shopping in Grünerløkka
- Søstrene Grene- cheap home decor store
- lunch at Mathallen
- dinner at Skansen
- City hall for murals
- Vigelund sculpture park
- Fika (afternoon coffee) at WB Samson
- walk around palace & parliament
- walk by river & waterfalls in Grünnerløkka up to Honse-Lovisas Hus for waffles and Brunost (cheese)
- National Gallery
- roof of the opera house
- Munch museum
This was not a cheap trip, (I mean, we did book it with 3 weeks to spare) but it was also not it the most expensive.
Hotels: $1704 (or $852 per person)
Food & drink: about $350
Total: $3502/$ per person: $2,650
A final word
In conclusion, this was one of my favorite trips I’ve ever taken. I LOVE Scandinavia and feel right at home there. Stockholm is a beautiful city, so much to do and see. Oslo is as well but I don’t feel as well acquainted with it. Scandinavians are very kind people, though first impression they come off a little cold, but keep chatting (everyone speaks English) and you’ll see it’s only a front. The design of their furniture, buildings, the cities themselves, even down to the lids on disposable coffee cups (no plastic!) is just so well thought-out. Do not get me started on how well everyone dresses and how beautiful the people are! As for the Northern Lights, well, that was perhaps a once in a lifetime opportunity and I am SO grateful and amazed we got to see them. Sledding with huskies and then getting to play with the puppies afterwards is a new core memory for me. I cannot recommend this trip enough and am so excited at the prospect of someone copying it! You’ll have to let me know 🙂