Did you know that from the northern to the southern tips of Norway is a greater distance to travel than from Dover to Rome? Which puts into perspective just how vast Scandinavia as a whole is when you’re planning a tour of this northern European region.
Strictly speaking, the Scandinavian countries are those of Norway, Sweden and Denmark, sharing a common, Germanic language base, and with each kingdom having a constitutional monarchy. Camping wise, things are a little different! For Finland, in terms of using the same obligatory 'Scandinavian' camping card that covers all four countries, conveniently comes under ‘Scandinavia’. Finland also has the same Common Right of Access that is in Norway and Sweden, which is obviously important for motorhome overnight stops. Hence, we’ve made reference to Finland in our practical advice when appropriate.
Top five things to do in Scandinavia
Drive to ‘the top of the world’, Nordkapp (North Cape) in Norway and look out over the Atlantic and the Arctic Oceans (Norwegian and Barents Seas) at the same time. You’ll have to take a signposted path to the promontory of Knivskjellodden, a 10-mile round trip, if you want to get to Europe’s official most northerly point (inaccessible by road).
Jukkasjärvi is the location of the first, original, Icehotel in Sweden. The hotel is made from blocks of ice carved from the frozen River Torne. Visit in summer and you’ll find the tiny village a peaceful haven, with the beautiful river flowing freely through gigantic lakes.
There may be several across the globe now but there’s nothing quite like the original. Head to the Danish region of Jutland to visit the first Legoland, created in 1968. It was a Dane that invented Lego, after all.
Go to Oslo, visit Stockholm or head for Copenhagen. Which capital should you choose? Visit all three cities and then make your mind up! Each is a waterfront city, with great opportunities for boat trips to nearby islands and districts, and each has a royal residence. Otherwise, they’re distinctly different.
It could take years to explore every last nook and cranny of the Norwegian fjords – the entire western coastline is made up of hundreds of them, from small inlets to deep, incisive cuts that penetrate the hinterland. Select just one and you’ll be blown away by the majesty of the landscape. Sognefjorden is the longest, Lysefjorden one of the most breathtaking, both in the Vestlandet region. But head further north for Trondheimfjorden and the many smaller fjords around the Lofoten and Vesterålen islands. They are no less inspiring.
When to visit Scandinavia
You'll find music, film, arts and sporting festivals taking place across Scandinavia throughout the year. But it goes without saying that many events in northern Europe relate to the seasons – and the amount of light available.
Beyond the Arctic Circle there's continual darkness throughout the day for much of December and January, while 'The Land of the Midnight Sun' – 24-hour daylight – applies to the months of June and July. So Svalbard (Norway) celebrates Solfestuke (Sun Party Week) in the first week of March to mark the rising sun, Sweden celebrates Walpurgis Night (30 April) to welcome the spring and Denmark – Copenhagen in particular – goes to town with the Whitsun Carnival in May. Midsummer's Eve is big in all three countries. The best time to see the Northern Lights is from December to March.
Advent and Christmas are also huge with Christmas markets, concerts and winter festivities – head to Bergen to see a giant gingerbread town (there's a big rivalry with New York to see who creates the world's largest each year).
Each country has a national day, when many of the shops may be closed but you'll find festivities abound: 17 May in Norway; 5 June in Denmark; and 6 June in Sweden.
If you're planning a trip around school holidays, a reminder that in Norway and Sweden, schools break up for summer in early June and return at the end of August. In Denmark, the summer holidays are from the end of June to mid-August.
Cheap overnight stops
Scandinavia was made for wild camping. You'll find many stellplätze, where motorhomes can stop overnight for free, or a nominal charge, and fill up with fresh water, empty cassette toilets etc. But, in addition, Norway, Sweden and Finland all share the Common Right of Access, held in high regard across Scandinavia and conscientiously upheld by 'locals'. In principle, the right gives all individuals the right to roam freely on common land.
The basic rule for motorhomes is that, on weekdays, you may stay for up to 24 hours in lay-bys and signposted parking areas along public roads. On weekends and public holidays you may stay until the next weekday (unless local traffic regulations state otherwise on the parking sign). You are not allowed, however, to drive your motorhome off the road to park overnight on beaches, meadows, pastures or other land with natural vegetation.
In Denmark, the rules are different. Generally speaking, motorhomes should only pitch at official campsites. That said, there are specific stellplätze where you can sleep overnight providing that you don't 'pitch', that is pull out awnings or set up barbecues. DK-Camp campsites offer QuickStop-nights, where you can stay at a reduced price if you arrive after 8pm and leave before 10am the next day.
To stay on the hundreds of campsites across Scandinavia (including Finland), you must carry the obligatory 'Camping Key Europe' card. It costs just a few pounds, is valid for one year and is available to purchase at the first campsite that you visit (even if this is in Finland). Alternatively it can be purchased prior to travel from one of the Scandinavian camping websites. The card also gives accident and third-party insurance while staying at a campsite together with certain discounts.
Motorhome access and information
The Øresund Link, a dramatic looking bridge that connects Copenhagen in Denmark with Malmö in Sweden, is magnificent to drive across, but this comes at a cost (to your wallet). Other notable toll bridges (in terms of price) include the Storebaelt Bridge in Denmark, the main E20 motorway from Odense to Copenhagen, and the Svinesund Bridge, crossing the border between Sweden and Norway on the west coast.
Norway uses tolls on many of its motorways and, in particular, on ring roads around major cities. It’s worth trying to have some coins with you (we'd recommend purchasing something at a border crossing, using a note, to start a 'collection' if you're arriving with banknotes) as many of the smaller slip roads off motorways and dual carriageways are not manned. Trying to pay later can be very costly and awkward.
You’ll also find some hefty tolls on bridges and tunnels in Norway. Too many to list here, the most eye-watering for motorhomes are: the Kristiansund fastlandsforbindelse and the Trekantsambanet, both on the E39; the Sunnfjordtunnelen (north of Bergen); the Oslofjord Tunnel on the Rv23; and, the most bank-balance-reducing of all, the route to Nordkapp, which is a popular destination for motorhomes and you’ll find many parked there, overnighting. Here, the toll rate is measured according to the length of the vehicle – so make sure that you pull right forward, level with the line marker!
Aside from these, you'll also find all three Scandinavian countries operate low emission zones and congestion charging in certain cities. To see whether your plans include relevant cities, check online, where you can look up by country or by vehicle type, including motorhomes.
You'll need to ensure that you have the correct documents and equipment in your ‘van. Passports, driving licence (the minimum age for visitors to drive in Norway, Sweden and Finland is 18 years, 17 years in Denmark, and UK driving licences must include a photograph when driving in Sweden), vehicle registration and insurance documents are all required.
Compulsory equipment varies slightly between the three Scandinavian countries, therefore we recommend all of the following be on board: a warning triangle (compulsory in all but Sweden) and a visibility warning vest for all occupants. Fire extinguishers and first aid kits are also recommended but not compulsory. In Sweden, it is also compulsory to have antifreeze in the windscreen fluid at all times and be carrying a shovel. Winter tyres are compulsory everywhere between December and the end of March (Sweden) and April (Norway). Snow chains should also be carried during these periods.
All three countries, plus Finland, require the daytime use of dipped headlights; your vehicle may also need headlamp converters. Sweden also requires the use of parking lights and/or hazards when stationary on poorly lit roads.
Diesel and unleaded fuels are all widely available (though you should fill up whenever possible in the northern regions as there can be many miles between petrol stations), however LPG is very limited in Denmark, Norway and Sweden (with none available in Finland). Only propane is available throughout Scandinavia and you cannot use refillable gas bottles in Norway.
All this advice can sound slightly mind-blowing to the first-timer in Scandinavia. Planning and preparation really are crucial when visiting the region. But, once prepared, all three countries (four including Finland) really are very motorhome friendly, with thousands of miles of quiet (deserted) open roads and barely a height barrier in sight.
How to get to Scandinavia
Unfortunately there are no longer any direct ferries from the UK to Scandinavia, although there are lots from Denmark to Sweden and Norway. To Sweden, select between Frederikshavn to Gothenburg, Grenaa to Varberg or, the shortest, Helsingor to Helsingborg. For Norway there are ferries to Oslo from Copenhagen and Frederikshavn and several routes from Hirtshals, including to Bergen, Kristiansand and Stavangar. It is these ferry routes to Norway that can save motorists the longest drives.
Of course, if you’re touring anyway, it’s as easy to go by land. The quickest driving route beyond Denmark is via the Øresund Link between Copenhagen and Malmö in Sweden. It’s a spectacular drive across the water but be prepared to cough and splutter at the cost.