Time your visit carefully. Remember that it’s so far north that there aren’t many hours of daylight during midwinter
Take your own booze. Lots of it. It’s very, very expensive here, particularly in Norway.
Take ID if you’re going out. Many bars and clubs will ask for it.
Recycle everything. You’ll get money back on bottles and crates.
Talk to people. Scandinavians tend to be very open and forthright, so they’re more approachable than many other nationalities. A little bit of friendliness goes a long way.
Finland Finland's major airport is Helsinki. Carriers to Helsinki include SAS (flysas.co.uk), British Airways (ba.com), Finnair (finnair.com) and KLM (klm.com). Levi is around 15 km from Kittila airport, so fly to Helsinki then get an internal flight from Finnair. There are also charter flights direct from the UK available from ski-flights.com. Norway Oslo is Norway's major airport, and Lillehammer and Geilo are both nearby. Carriers include Lufthansa (lufthansa.com), British Airways (ba.com), British Midland (flybmi.com), SAS (flysas.com), KLM (klm.com) and Ryanair (ryanair.com). There are also charter flights direct to Fagernes (around 100 km from Geilo) from the UK available from ski-flights.com. There's a daily bus service from Oslo to Stryn called the 'Moreekspressen', run by Fjord1 (fjord1.no), which takes about five hours. Bergen is the nearest airport to Hemsedal – SAS fly direct from the UK, or you can get a domestic flight from Oslo. Sweden Sweden's major airports are Stockholm and Gothenburg, and carriers include SAS (flysas.com), Air France (airfrance.com), British Airways (ba.com), KLM (klm.com) and Ryanair (ryanair.com). Riksgransen is in the far north of Sweden so you can either fly to Kiruna airport, or take the overnight train from Stockholm or Gothenburg. This is run by Connex (connex.se) and goes direct to Riksgransen. Ostersund airport is 81 km from Åre, and you can get internal flights from SAS (flysas.com) or charter flights direct from the UK from ski-flights.com. See skistar.com for details of transfers to the resort. There are also trains from Gothenburg and Stockholm which run direct to Åre – visit sj.se for details.
Norway is the only country of the three to remain outside the EU (though funnily enough it has adopted more EU legislation into domestic law than any other EU country besides Denmark). In most cases (European and North American countries) a valid passport is all that's required to enter Norway, Finland or Sweden for stays of up to three months. Note that in Sweden, if you are travelling with children other than your own you should have a letter of consent from the child's parent or guardian.
The Scandinavian standard of healthcare is very high, particularly in Norway. EU citizens should obtain a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which entitles them to emergency medical treatment on the same terms as Finnish, Norwegian or Swedish nationals. This doesn't cover non-urgent medical treatment or repatriation so having additional comprehensive medical insurance is highly recommended.
Scandinavian cuisine tends to make very creative use of potatoes, and has more focus on that which can be trapped, shot or hauled out of the sea. Game (elk, reindeer and fowl) and fish (herring, sardines, salmon, cod and mackerel) are typical Scandinavian ingredients, with smoked salmon being Norway's most notable contribution to dinner tables around the world. Pickling is a characteristic Scandinavian pursuit – Sweden and Norway share some very similar traditional dishes made of pickled or fermented fish, some of them such as the Swedish surströmming (fermented Baltic herring) being notoriously offensive to the non-Scandinavian nose. Gravlax (gravlaks in Norwegian) is also very well known – it consists of salmon cured in salt, sugar and dill brine. To brighten up the otherwise heavy cuisine, the Swedish often use traditional conserves such as lingonberry and cloudberry jam. The former will be familiar to anyone who has eaten köttbullar (Swedish meatballs). Breads, cheeses and jams are typical breakfast items, with knäckebröd (a kind of crisp, flat bread) being very common in Sweden. Yoghurt and fermented milk (such as the Swedish filmjölk) are also likely to be at hand. If you're in Finland then expect to eat lots of the delicious ruisleipä (a dark, traditional rye bread). Other traditional Finnish dishes include kaalikääryleet (boiled cabbage leaves filled with rice and minced meat, then covered with dark syrup and oven baked, commonly eaten with boiled potatoes and lingonberry jam), mykyrokka (a meaty soup with dumplings) and mustamakkara, a type of blood sausage. The Finnish even have a dish called kalakukko, which is very similar to the Cornish pasty. The attitude to drinking is markedly different in these three countries to the rest of Europe. Aside from licensed premises like pubs and restaurants, sales of alcohol are monopolized by government-owned enterprises – in Sweden it's Systembolaget, in Finland Alko and in Norway Vinmonopolet. Other retailers are allowed to sell very weak alcoholic drinks such as certain beer or cider (ie in Sweden you can buy beer of up to 3.5% alcohol in shops). Scandinavians absolutely love drinking coffee, and rank amongst the biggest coffee drinkers in the world. Tipping is not customary – usually, a small service charge is automatically added to hotel or restaurant bills. And bizarrely for a country renowned the world over for being expensive, mountain restaurants in Norway are in fact cheaper than they are in France. Though perhaps this says more about France than it does about Norway.
crime & safety
Scandinavia must rank as one of the safest and most crime-free areas of the world to visit. Petty crime such as pickpocketing does occur, though on a much smaller scale than the rest of Europe. As ever, the risk increases in busier areas in the larger cities, particularly during the tourist-heavy summer months.
Swedish and Norwegian both belong to the North Germanic group of languages, and are mutually intelligible to a certain degree. Thanks to an excellent education system, most Norwegians and Swedes speak a very high standard of English (and often French and German too), so it's easy for most foreigners to get by. Though Finland is officially bilingual (in Swedish and Finnish), the vast majority of the population (around 93%) count Finnish as their mother tongue. Unlike Swedish and Norwegian, it is difficult to learn. It's impossible to guess what a Finnish word might mean, so getting around can be difficult. But don't worry – as in the rest of Scandinavia, the overwhelming majority of Finns speak English remarkably well.
Car hire is easy enough to organize but can be expensive. Each of these countries takes drink driving very seriously and there are harsh prison sentences for offenders – be warned. Legal limits are lower than in Western Europe. Other points of note are that headlights are mandatory at all times of the day in all three countries, and snow tyres are required by law during the months of winter. Beware of collisions with elk and reindeer!
Most major hire car companies (easycar.com, hertz.com, avis.com) have offices in airports and cities. Usual age restrictions apply.
Public transport is comfortable and well organized throughout Scandinavia, though it's also pretty expensive. Finland has a good network of trains (vr.fi) and buses (matkahuolto.fi). Internal flights are good but costly. Thanks to Norway's craggy coastline, roads and trains can be quite slow so internal flights are a good option. They're reasonably priced by Norwegian standards, which for the rest of the world means they're still pretty costly. Norway also has a good network of trains (nsb.no) and buses (nbe.no; timekspressen.no) connecting major towns and cities. Public transport in Sweden is excellent, particularly the trains. Planning any travel is easy here – there's a national public transport authority with an online timetable called Resplus (resplus.se). You can buy a Scanrail card (scanrail.com) for cheap rail travel throughout bScandinavian.
Shops in Norway generally open from 1000-1700 on weekdays, and from 1000-1500 on Saturdays. Food stores are normally open from 0900-2000 or even 2100. Larger shopping centres tend to open until 2000 on weekdays, and 1800 on Saturdays. Most towns have late shopping on Thursday when the shops stay open until 1900. Shops are closed on Sundays. Shops in Finland and Sweden share a common 0900-1800 opening on weekdays, and 0900-1300/1600 on Saturday (generally 1500 in Finland). Some larger Swedish department stores stay open until 2000/2200 and open on Sundays from 1200-1600. Finish supermarkets tend to open 0900-2100 on weekdays, closing at 1800 on Saturdays. Most shops are closed on Sundays, though many smaller grocery shops remain open. All three countries observe regular European national holidays such as Easter, Christmas and New Year's Day.
green travel tip
Tack an extra day either side of your trip and consider taking the train between resorts and airports. Although it is a lengthier way to travel, it is surprisingly straightforward and is best way of exploring the incredible scenery of this achingly beautiful European peninsula. Try the site scandinavianrail.com for details on passes and itineraries. For our money, an overnight transfer from Stockholm to Riksgransen is one of the most romantic rail journeys in Europe.