Which Is the Best City in Scandinavia?

Which is the best city in Scandinavia?

The other day I was asked what my favourite city is in Scandinavia, and without little hesitation I replied with Copenhagen. The ease of my reply came as a surprise to myself as usually I find questions like this really difficult to answer. If someone were to ask me what is my favourite country, I don’t think I’d be able to answer without humming and harring, then I’d reel off at least four or five countries.

Anyone who has stepped on the foot of a Norwegian fjord and experienced its tranquillity or been to Svalbard and had their whole vision eclipsed by the sight of a glacier, will know there isn’t a city that comes close to what the nature in this part of the world has to offer. That’s not because there aren’t some great cities in Scandinavia, it’s because the nature is really out of this world, often beyond comprehension.

Where Scandinavian cities are generally quite small; Scandinavian nature is nothing short of imposing. I don’t think I’ve ever been so in awe of Mother Nature until I’d stood by hissing fumaroles in Iceland or watched puffins glide off cliff edges in the Faroe Islands.

So what about Denmark? Well unlike it’s other Nordic neighbours, Denmark is tiny in comparison and doesn’t share the same diversity in nature that Norway, Sweden and Finland have, and which spreads all the way up to the Arctic. So it only seems fair that Copenhagen should be crowned the best city in Scandinavia then, eh? (Though I’m really, really fond of Stockholm too).

The beautiful and colourful city of Copenhagen

The best way to describe the appeal of Copenhagen is by how it makes you feel. It’s more than just a collection of attractions – it’s a feeling. It essentially has a way of showing you how to live a better life, after all, the Danes are perpetually topping the list of the world’s happiest countries. Surely heading there is a way to understand why and how?

Personally I take these kind of lists with a pinch of salt, though I do believe that happiness can be found in a high quality of life which the Danes (and the rest of Scandinavia) aspire all their citizens to have. Obviously no government is perfect, but the Scandinavian model does place a higher emphasis on equality more than most places which does add to a certain amount of peace and safety. Walk around Copenhagen and people simply don’t look as miserable as the city dwellers hoarding onto the London tube like cattle.

Exploring Copenhagen - Scandinavia's best city!

It’s difficult not to appreciate how the Danes live their lives (on the surface at least), for example you often see families or a bunch of friends cycling together, this may seem like something small, but there’s no way you’d find parents doing the school run on a bicycle in the UK – it’s an aberration if you do! Doing this as part of a daily commute – which so many do – obviously has a positive impact on health, energy and mood, least not forgetting the environment.

Renting a family bike in Copenhagen

Honestly, I reckon Copenhagen is inadvertently one of the biggest marketing tools for UK bike companies, even if they don’t know it! I bet countless visitors have returned home and purchased a bike through sheer inspiration.

Hiring a bike in Copenhagen

Although it’s a capital city, Copenhagen manages to have the peacefulness of a small, seaside town, BUT it still manages to rival most major cities for things to see and do. I’m not sure how it does it, maybe it’s the lack of cars and the people don’t seem to be manically burning the midnight oil (most workplaces in Scandinavia don’t impose strict dress codes like you’d find in Canary Wharf so this adds to the picture).

Another thing about the people – and you’ll notice this everywhere you go – is just how gorgeous they are. On top of their natural good looks they are effortlessly chic too. Initially I was somewhat baffled by this but have come to realise it’s part of their DNA. I suspect it’s demoralising for most visitors, myself included, but don’t worry, it makes window shopping all the more enjoyable. Every cloud… silver lining…

Finally, I can’t write about Copenhagen without talking about the food. They say a way to a person’s heart is through their stomach and that’s probably why Copenhagen has a way of getting into your heart. Good doesn’t even begin to describe it. Even the simplest set of ingredients can leave you speechless and yearning for more.

There are numerous places to go for food, you can keep the costs down my heading to Torvehallerne Food Market and try a variety of local and fresh dishes, I think a Smørrebrød is a must, or you could head to the meat packing district which is pretty hipsterish but you’ll find some fantastic restaurants. Don’t worry about the name, it might be called the meat packing district in homage to its heritage, but in reality you’ll find all restaurants have vegetarian dishes on their menu. Though if you’re looking specifically for veggie restaurants check out this list here.

For those of you who have some extra kroner to treat yourself, then Noma is a no-brainer, but remember you have to book months in advance. Other restaurants that come highly recommended are Geranium and Amass.

Alternatively, and I know this is a bit disloyal to Copenhagen but you could cross over the Öresund bridge to Skåne in South Sweden (less than 45 minutes away) and you’ll be in foodie heaven. You can either head to Malmö or out to the countryside if you have a car for some superb places to eat. You’ll find lots of organic farm shops that specialise in locally grown produce. For fika you should make your way to Olof Viktors because it’s super pretty inside and out.

Olof Viktors in South Sweden

I stayed over at a Clarion hotel and ate at its restaurant, Table & Kitchen, whose menu has been created by famed chef Marcus Samuelsson. I chose a veggie plate of bhajis with vine tomatoes, lightly floured and fried broccoli, humous and bulgur wheat salad!

Food in Scandinavia - dinner at Table & Kitchen restaurant

Oh geez, now look where I am? I wish I’d never written this blog about Copenhagen, I’m filled with wanderlust, hungry and pining for Nordic flavours!

Must. Go. Seek. Food.

But before I go, which do you think is the best city in Scandinavia?

A travel & culture blog specialising in Scandinavia and the Arctic, peppered with the rest of the world in between.

'Which Is the Best City in Scandinavia?' have 12 comments

  1. November 23, 2016 @ 8:49 am Matt

    Copenhagen is great, but I love Stockholm more. I think it’s the combo of Gamla Stan, Skansen/Djurgarden and, of course, the archipelago.

    Such a beautiful city. And much friendlier than its traditional reputation would have you believe.

    If we could afford it, my wife and I would move there tomorrow. As it is, we’re planning to move to either Sweden or Denmark next year!


    • November 25, 2016 @ 9:33 am Shing Yoong

      Hi Matt, I love Stockholm too, for all the reasons you mentioned and more (how awesome is the underground?!). But I think Copenhagen has a really cool energy and each neighbourhood is really different!

      Exciting news about your move, which areas are you looking at in either Sweden or Denmark?


      • November 25, 2016 @ 1:13 pm Matt

        We’re drawing up a shortlist this month. Malmo, Lund, Roskilde and Arhus are currently on the list. A friend who lives in Bastad recommends it (though I’m sure it’s expensive!).

        We’ll probably also look at areas just outside Stockholm and Copenhagen too.


  2. November 23, 2016 @ 9:08 am Megan

    Well, obviously I am biased beyond belief here 😛 But, had I never lived in Oslo, I actually think CPH would be my choice, too!


    • November 25, 2016 @ 9:43 am Shing Yoong

      Haha you’re allowed to be biased Megan 😛 But glad to hear Copenhagen would probably be your choice otherwise!


  3. November 25, 2016 @ 3:42 pm David Yoong

    I have only been to Copenhagen so I cannot comment.But i think Copenhagen will top the list.


  4. November 26, 2016 @ 7:39 am Nigel Hywel-Jones

    I have been to Copenhagen three times and to Oslo once. When I first went to Copenhagen I ‘complained’ to my Danish student about how expensive beer was compared to Thailand where I live. Morten reminded me that the next time we would meet would be in Oslo in August (2002). He told me that Danes go over the border to Germany for cheap beer and Norwegians go over the border to Denmark for their cheap beer. He was not wrong. Oslo is hugely expensive. I have been to Japan several times. When I was in Norway my Japanese colleagues told me this was the first country they had visited that was more expensive than Japan.


  5. November 29, 2016 @ 2:20 pm Victoria @The British Berliner

    ‘Love this post Shing!

    I’ve been to Denmark loads of times, and recently went again in the summer.You’re spot on! They don’t call it the happiest place for nothing. It’s lovely and it’s sunny in the summer! I’ve been to Helsinki too, but I was only there for a few days. ‘Really nice city!

    I suppose, when I’ve been to the others, I’ll be able to compare properly. Until then. Right on I say!


  6. June 18, 2017 @ 10:34 am Mikael

    I think Gothenburg is one of the best Scandinavian cities. The amazing sea food, the diverse architecture, the relaxed vibe and the absolutly stunning islands out in the archipeligo. But then I’m not really being objective as I live in the city myself. But not from here, so that’s something I guess!


  7. October 9, 2017 @ 1:58 pm Jonas

    Hi Shing

    Great to read a little about the capital of my home country. I have two comments, the food market is called torvehallerne (with an r), not tovehallerne. A torv is a square, whereas Tove is a girl’s name.

    Further, Smörgåsbord is Swedish, the Danish equivalent is Smørrebrød.


    • October 10, 2017 @ 9:02 am Shing Yoong

      Hi Jonas, thank you for your message. I have made the corrections now – always good to get assistance from a local! 😉


  8. November 13, 2017 @ 9:26 am Jonas

    What a great article, we host international students at our home, they mention a lot of the same things as you, but by favorite city is Roskilde the combo of a smaller town and the rich is amazing. Roskile is 30 min outside Copenhagen. My secund city is Helsinki, there is just something about the vibe of that city.


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