Summer Travel Tips: How to Do Scandinavia on a Budget

Say the word Scandinavia and a few things probably pop into your head: land of impossibly tall icy blondes, never-ending winters and socialism. But these Nordic countries offer so much more than meets the eye and, best of all, thanks to a strong dollar and longer, warmer summer days, there’s no better time than now to plan your visit.

Generally speaking, the best ways to save money within the capital cities of Stockholm, Copenhagen and Oslo are on transit, food and lodging (we leave the shopping to your discretion). Thanks to competing low-cost airlines, it’s not impossible to get a flight to one of the Scandinavian cities for under $700 round-trip and there are plenty of deals to be found once you arrive. Many cultural establishments and trains offer student and youth discounts, so it’s well worth the $25 fee for an International Student Identity Card (ISIC) or International Youth Travel Card (IYTC) for those under 30. And thanks to home-sharing sites like Airbnb, you can rent a room from a local, saving money on hotels and ensuring you get all the best insight into the city you’re visiting. Win-win.

Stockholm, Sweden

Skyline of Stockholm, Sweden

Stockholm skyline; Image: Yadid Levy/Getty

The crown jewel of Scandinavia and Sweden’s capital city is an absolute must-see, from the cobblestone streets of Stockholm’s Old Town to the shockingly modern commercial district of Norrmalm and the bucolic vistas of nearby Djurgården. The shopping is incredible with trendy neighborhoods like Östermalm bursting with cute boutiques and markets and Södermalm with its eclectic East Village vibe.

Getting There: Budget airlines like Norwegian Air, Icelandair and SAS offer flights starting as low as $400 one-way. Other services like Google Flights, Vayama and Adioso help you build a low-cost flight. It’s best to be flexible with your dates, as top deals are often found in the middle of the week.

Once you arrive at the airport, fight the New Yorker urge to immediately hail a taxi. Base fares often start at $15 to $20 and go up from there. Instead, take the Arlanda Express train ($15 to $30) into Stockholm Central Station. The tunnelbana (subway) is clean, safe and on time. A seven-day unlimited card costs 300 SEK (about $36) and gives you access to all subways, buses, shuttles and even ferries for the duration of your trip.

Things to Do: Besides all of the shopping (be sure to save your receipts to get back around 15 to 18 percent of Sweden’s 20 to 25 percent value-added tax), Stockholm rivals New York in terms of museums. From the stunning Moderna Museet (Modern Museum) to the unmissable Vasamuseet featuring the only surviving 17th century warship to a museum dedicated solely to Swedish spirits (and a drinking song or two), there’s something for everyone. Many of them offer reduced rates for students and young travelers with ISIC or IYTC cards.

Old Town Stockholm, Sweden

Old Town; Image: adisa/Getty

Food for Thought: There’s no getting around it, Stockholm is a pricey city for meals and nights out. Most sit-down dinners start around 200 SEK (around $25) and that’s without alcohol, which is heavily taxed. If you’re hoping to save while still staying glam, try a restaurant with a daily lunch special, or “dagens rätt,” which ranges from $8 to $15. Nearly every restaurant, even high-end ones, offers these specials, which come with salad, bread, coffee and dessert.

Where to Stay: The more, the merrier! Try splitting a hotel room or Airbnb (bonus points on the latter since you can cook at home). If you’re into the artsy, bohemian vibe, look no further than Södermalm for a room. For a unique stay, try Långholmen Hotel and Hostel, which once served as a jail. The hostels here are generally very well-kept and clean and, like Amsterdam, Stockholm’s most famous hostel is on the water.