Endless day, perpetual night. Rocking festivals, majestic aurora borealis. With effortlessly chic cities and remote forests, Scandinavia attracts style-gurus and wilderness-hikers alike.
The great outdoors is rarely greater than in Europe's big north. Epic expanses of wilderness – forests, lakes, volcanoes – and intoxicatingly pure air mean engaging with nature is a viscerally pleasurable experience. National parks cover the region, offering some of Europe's best hiking as well as anything from kayaking to glacier-walking to bear-watching. Spectacular coasts invite exploration from the sea, whether there be rugged fjords, cliffs teeming with seabirds or archipelagos so speckled with islands it looks like an artist flicked a paintbrush at a canvas. Wildlife from whales to wolverines awaits the fortunate observer.
Stolid Nordic stereotypes dissolve in the region's vibrant capitals. Crest-of-the-wave design can be seen in them all, backed by outstanding modern architecture, excellent museums, imaginative solutions for 21st-century urban living, internationally acclaimed restaurants and a nightlife that fizzes along despite hefty beer prices. Live music is a given: you're bound to come across some inspiring local act, whether your taste is Viking metal or chamber music. Style here manages to be conservative and innovative at the same time, or perhaps it's just that the new and the old blend with less effort than elsewhere.
They have proper seasons up here. Long winters carpeted with thick snow, the sun making cameo appearances if at all. Despite scary subzero temperatures, there's a wealth of things to do: skiing, sledding behind huskies or reindeer, snowmobile safaris to the Arctic Sea, ice fishing, romantic nights in snow hotels, visiting Santa Claus and gazing at the soul-piercing aurora borealis. Spring sees nature's tentative awakening before the explosive summer's long, long days, filled with festivals, beer terraces and wonderful boating, hiking and cycling. Autumn forests display a glorious array of colours, offering marvellous woodland walking before the first snows.
You'll rarely come across the word 'ecotourism' in Scandinavia, but those values have long been an important part of life here. Generally, green, sustainable solutions are a way of living, rather than a gimmick to attract visitors. Scandinavia will likely be affected by climate change significantly, and big efforts to reduce emissions are being made across the region. Travelling here, you'll be struck by the excellent levels of environmental protection, the sensible 'why don't we do that back home' impact-reducing strategies and the forward thinking. It makes for pleasurably enlightening travel.