The delights of northern Europe and Scandinavia

The great thing about Europe is the incredible variety it offers. Think of a cruise around the continent and you probably assume I’m talking about the south – an itinerary that visits all those sun-drenched Mediterranean beaches. But a cruise around Europe doesn’t have to be about sun and sand; pick an itinerary to northern Europe and Scandinavia and you can discover everything from soothing hot springs to the Northern Lights. And personally, I think that beats a traditional seaside break any day of the week.

Of all the countries you can visit on a trip like this, Iceland, Norway and Sweden are my favourites. Below, I’m going to outline a few of the highlights of each place, while you can get an idea of potential itineraries at Fred. Olsen.

Iceland

It’s no exaggeration to say that Iceland is full of wonders. Famous for waterfalls, wildlife and geysers, this country is somewhere that everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime. The capital city, Reykjavik, is the ideal place to be base yourself, and is a popular port of call on cruises.

First off, explore the city itself, such as the incredible sports area of Laugardalur, which is home to an open-air Olympic-size swimming pool. What’s even more remarkable about it is that it’s filled with thermal water. Other highlights include the lovely old quarter, which is home to narrow streets full of colourful wooden houses.

Another thing that makes Reykjavik such a fabulous destination is that there are so many amazing things to do and see in the local area. For instance, you could explore the ‘Golden Circle’, which is the nickname for the city’s three main local attractions – Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss and the Geysir area.

The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Thingvellir is famous for its remarkable landscapes, while Gullfoss is the most famous – and arguably most beautiful – waterfall in Iceland.

Alta

Next up is Alta, one of the best places in the world to see the beautiful phenomenon of the Northern Lights. The optimum time to see them is between late winter and early spring, but while they’re certainly a highlight, they’re not the only reason to come here.

You see, Alta has a great history too, dating all the way back to prehistoric times. That said, it’ll mostly be modern buildings you see, given that a sizeable chunk of the town was rebuilt following World War II. There are some historical marvels you can see just outside Alta, though, like Hjemmeluft – the largest collection of rock carvings in Scandinavia. Remarkably, these carvings date from as far back as 5,000 years ago.

Sweden

Last up is Sweden. A cruise can take you to fantastic cities like Gothenburg which, like Reykjavik, offers a great mix of urban and natural attractions. What’s nice about Gothenburg is that it’s full of pretty 17th-century canals – and if they put you in mind of Holland, so they should, because they were designed by the Dutch.

If you come here, make sure you don’t only visit its amazing cultural attractions like Gotaplatsen (which is filled with museums, galleries, restaurants and more) but also the gorgeous rural areas just outside it. In fact, there’s a lovely little archipelago that gives you the chance to experience a totally different side of the city.

Called the Ockero municipality, this area consists of ten islands and is famous for its wonderful flora and fauna, not to mention scenic harbours. Make sure you bring your camera, because you’ll have the chance to get some absolutely stunning shots of the archipelago.