In the coming year, travelers to Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Scandinavian's Baltic neighbor, Estonia, will find fun new innovations that many have come to expect from these creative Nordic countries. And most of the action is taking place in their capital cities, where new sights and exciting events are sure to keep visitors entertained.
For much of 2010, Copenhagen's most-photographed statue, The Little Mermaid, will be traveling, just like you. She'll be visiting Shanghai, China, to represent Denmark at the World Expo. If you visit her rock pedestal in the city's harbor, you may see a different interpretation of this Danish icon, created by Chinese sculptors. For the next-best thing to the real deal, head to Tivoli Gardens amusement park, where a more accurate replica of The Little Mermaid will be on display.
In Copenhagen's Christianshavn area, Our Savior's Church (Vor Frelsers Kirke) reopens this year after a lengthy restoration.
On the transportation front, Copenhagen's CityCirkel Bus no. 11 offers an inexpensive one-hour overview of the city. You can hop on and off as you like, and the quiet electric bus is small enough to traverse the narrower streets of the Old Town.
On the sleepy isle of Aero, in the south of Denmark, the Aeroskobing tourist office now rents small electric cars, making it easy for non-bikers to follow popular bike routes on this idyllic island.
Farther north, in Norway, Oslo's once traffic-congested and slummy waterfront is undergoing huge changes. Cars and trucks now travel underground in tunnels; the zone in front of the City Hall has become a pedestrian-friendly plaza; and a string of upscale condos and restaurants enjoys prime fjord views. Nearby, locals are taking full advantage of their splashy Opera House. The sleek, modern building's roof, which slopes right down to the fjord, doubles as a public square — a popular place to go for a panoramic stroll or to enjoy an outdoor concert (bands perform on a stage floating in the fjord).
In 2011, Oslo will host the World Ski Jump Championship. In preparation for the event, the famed and venerable Holmenkollen Ski Jump is being completely rebuilt and is scheduled to open by mid-2010. The new, cantilevered jump has a tilted elevator and empties into a 50,000-seat amphitheater.
Out on the Norwegian fjords, you can take a tour on a super-fast rigid inflatable boat (RIB, a.k.a. "Zodiac" boat), which is designed to slice at top speeds through the fjord. Passengers don full-body weather suits, furry hats, and spacey goggles, making everyone look like crash-test dummies. As the boat rockets across the water — pausing at some particularly scenic spots for narration from your English-speaking captain/guide — you'll be thankful for the gear, no matter the weather. FjordSafari, based in Flam, operates these tours on the Sognefjord (www.fjordsafari). Tours costs $85 for a two-hour tour, $110 for a three-hour tour, and similar adventures are cropping up elsewhere in Scandinavia.
The Scandinavian people seem to have great relations with their royal families, since the royals know their place: They obey their constitutions and do pretty well at staying out of the tabloids. But Sweden's royal family will be in the news big time this year. In June, Stockholm's cathedral will host the royal wedding of Crown Princess Victoria, heir to the Swedish throne, and Daniel, her personal trainer. Visitors should expect a very crowded and boisterous city (and jam-packed hotels), as the whole country celebrates.
ABBA fans are singing the blues after plans to turn Stockholm's former Custom House into a museum honoring the Swedish super group were scrapped due to escalating costs. The collection of ABBA memorabilia was instead sold to a promoter who is staging touring exhibitions in London and Melbourne, Australia.
Helsinki has an exciting new sight: the Ateneum. This National Gallery of Finland has the largest collection of art in the country, including local favorites as well as works by Cezanne, Chagall, Gauguin and Van Gogh.
Estonia's capital, Tallinn, is just two hours by boat from Helsinki. Upon arrival, head for the Travelers' Tent, a youthful and creative tourist office that offers lots of helpful information and services, as well as several spirited tours (www.tallinnfreetour.com). Also in Tallinn, the Estonian History Museum in the Great Guild Hall is closed for renovations until 2011; in the meantime, its collection is housed in Maarjamae Palace, outside of town (and not worth the trip).
Each of these Nordic and Baltic countries is dominated by a capital city that offers sightseeing fun and a distinct cultural flavor. And they're all well connected by air, sea, or train, making it easy to sample several cities in one trip. Whatever year you decide to visit, remember that Scandinavia is best in summer.
(Rick Steves writes European travel guidebooks and hosts travel shows on public television and public radio. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to him c/o P.O. Box 2009, Edmonds, Wash. 98020.)
© 2010 Rick Steves ... Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.