Scandinavia in a Nutshell

  • 1 week (or 2 weeks)

This quick hop jaunts around southern Scandinavia's classic sights. With just a week, it's essentially one city in each of Denmark, Sweden and Norway; extra time allows more detailed exploration.

Start in Copenhagen, admiring the waterfront, museums and lights of Tivoli at night. Take a day-trip to the cathedral and Viking Ship Museum at Roskilde or Hamlet's castle at Helsingør.

Next, train it to Stockholm and get into the design scene and the watery town centre. An overnight train takes you to Oslo to check out Munch's work and the city's extraordinary museums. From Oslo, a long but scenic day includes the rail trip to Flåm and a combination boat and bus journey along the Sognefjord to Bergen, Norway's prettiest city. Out of time? Fly out from Bergen.

Otherwise, head to Kristiansand, where there's a ferry to Hirtshals. Nose on down to Aarhus – don't miss the ARoS art museum. From here, it's an easy train back to Copenhagen.

Extra days? A side trip from Stockholm on a Baltic ferry could take you to Helsinki or picturesque Tallinn. Other stops could include Gothenburg or Kalmar; more fjord-y Norwegian experiences at Fjærland and Geiranger; or extra Danish time at Odense.

Finland & the Baltic

  • 2½ weeks

Starting in Stockholm, this itinerary follows the old trading routes around the Baltic and covers plenty of Finland, including the capital, Helsinki, and beautiful Lakeland, also taking in the sumptuous Baltic city of Tallinn.

Kick things off in Stockholm, for centuries a Baltic trading powerhouse. Admire its picturesque Old Town and ponder that famously neutral Sweden once ruled most of the Baltic from here. Take a day trip to ancient Uppsala before taking advantage of Stockholm's cheap, luxurious overnight ferries to Finland. Don't overdo it on the duty-free booze, because you'll want a good view of the spectacular arrival in Helsinki, where you should investigate the cathedrals, market halls, modern architecture and design scene. Catch a classical concert at Musiikkitalo or a rock gig at legendary Tavastia.

From here, a good excursion heads east to the town of Porvoo, with its picturesque wooden warehouses and cathedral. Back in Helsinki, it's an easy boat ride across the Baltic to medieval Tallinn, a historic treasure trove that's worth a couple of days' exploration. If time's short, take a day trip.

In summer, take the train to the shimmering lakes of Savonlinna, with its awesome medieval castle and opera festival, and/or Kuopio, to steam up in its large smoke sauna. If you have the time, historic lake boats travel between these and other inland Finnish towns, a fabulously leisurely way to travel on a sunny day. A side trip from either of these towns can take you to Joensuu, from where you can visit the Orthodox monastery of Valamo or what is deservingly claimed to be Finland's best view at Koli National Park.

Turning west, head to the dynamic cultural city of Tampere, visiting its quirky museums and re-imagined fabric mills, and patronising its interesting cafes and restaurants. Then it's on to the third member of the trinity of Finnish cities, intriguing Turku, with excellent museums of its own, a towering castle and cathedral, and some very quirky drinking dens. From here you can get a ferry back to Sweden via the Ǻland islands. Stop off here for as long as you wish and tour the archipelago by bike.

Beyond the Arctic Circle

  • 3½ weeks

This thorough visit to the north takes in Santa, Sámi culture, spectacular coastal scenery viewed from the sea and opportunities for excellent activities. It'll be a completely different experience in summer or in winter.

Take the overnight train from Helsinki to Rovaniemi. Visit the fabulous Arktikum, chat with Santa Claus and stock up on anything you might need for your wilderness adventure; it will be a while before you see another town this big. Head north, crossing the Arctic Circle to Saariselkä, a base for great activities, whether hiking in the adjacent Urho Kekkonen National Park in summer or husky-sledding trips in winter. There's a huge range of other things on offer year-round, too.

From here it's a short hop to the Sámi village of Inari, where Siida is a wonderful exhibition on Lapland's nature and indigenous cultures. Check out the craft shops too, and the impressive parliament building. To continue the theme, head onward to Karasjok, Inari's Norwegian counterpart and an important meeting place for representatives of different Sámi groups.

From Karasjok (and Inari) summer buses run to Nordkapp, where you can stand at the top of Europe and gaze out towards the utter north. From nearby Honningsvåg, catch the Hurtigruten coastal steamer to the stunning Lofoten Islands, possibly stopping in lively Tromsø. Did we say Nordkapp was the top of Europe? We lied; from Tromsø there are flights way north to Svalbard, demesne of polar bears and an epic Arctic experience to really impress the folks back home.

Take some time to enjoy the Lofoten Islands, doing some cycling and visiting the Lofotr Viking Museum. When you're done, the Hurtigruten heads right down to Bergen, but jump off in Narvik and take the train to Kiruna, a remote Swedish mining town, and, in winter, home to the famous Icehotel. On the way, stop off for some hiking or aurora-watching at stunning Abisko National Park. Also be sure to check out the Sámi village and typical reindeer-herding region of Jokkmokk.

From here, you could fly, train or bus all the way south to Stockholm, cut back into Norway to continue your trip down the coast, or head to the Finnish border at Haparanda/Tornio to head back to Helsinki from there.

Northern Islands

  • 3½ weeks

This trip takes in a little of Denmark then takes to the seas in true Viking style as you head to Iceland, brooding volcanically in the mid-Atlantic, via a stop in the bird-rich archipelago of the Faroes.

Fly into Copenhagen, taking some time to absorb its addictive atmosphere. Get in the mood for your sea crossing by visiting the Viking Boat Museum at nearby Roskilde. Then hit north Jutland and the beautiful dunes at Skagen, where, at the sandy headland of Grenen, two seas meet at Denmark's northernmost tip.

Jump aboard the Smyril Line ferry leaving from nearby Hirtshals. In summer there are two ferries running per week, so you can make a three-day stop in the remote Faroe Islands, but in the low season it's either nine hours there or a whole week. If you manage some time on the islands, giggle at the comical puffins on the awesome cliffs of Mykines and take a boat trip to visit the immense seabird colonies at Vestmanna.

The ferry continues to Iceland, arriving at Seyðisfjörður. From here journey along the south coast past Skaftafell, a national park area that is one of Iceland's most spectacularly scenic regions, offering great hiking and unforgettable glacier walks. If you've got time to explore, head to the interior for the amazing geoscapes of Landmannalaugar. Take the three-day hike to Þórsmörk, one of Europe's most spectacular walks. The tough extra day to Skógar takes you across some of the country's newest lava fields. Next, you could head out to see the bird life and traditional communities of the Vestmannaeyjar islands.

Hit the capital Reykjavík, enjoy the nightlife, visit the Saga Museum and take a trip to the Blue Lagoon. Then travel around the Ring Rd to the north of the island, where an R&R stop at peaceful fjord-side Akureyri can include a side trip to the Mývatn natural thermal baths and the steaming volcanic landscape of Krafla.

From here, you can return to the ferry terminal to head back to Denmark by sea if you're still game, otherwise you can fly back from Reykjavík.