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A sailing holiday in the Scandinavian countries – Denmark, Norway and Sweden – offers plenty of spectacular scenery, sunshine and solitude, with numerous astonishing destinations scattered among the islands, sandbars, fjords, lagoons and skerries of the Baltic and North seas. Even though the region is considerably colder than the Mediterranean, its geographical diversity and vast sailing area along the coasts of three countries make Scandinavia one of Europe’s most popular cruising grounds.
The Baltic Sea is a strong wind area, but navigating its waters is not too difficult. It is in fact the safest sea for a boating holiday. There are no tides, but the winds can cause strong currents, which can be a challenge, particularly in the narrow passages between the Kattegat and the coast of Denmark. Ice flows are not uncommon in winter and spring, and can occur even in the most temperature Baltic climates and cause buoys to drag or break adrift.
The coast of Norway is a very popular sailing area, but the archipelago is considerably more challenging to navigate than the fjords because it contains numerous rocks – both above water and below it – that can make passages very close and nighttime sailing quite difficult.
The sailing season in Norway lasts from June to August, when the weather is warmer and there is plenty of sunshine. Temperatures usually do not exceed 15°C, even in the warmest months, and the prevailing winds blow from the west. Squalls and jets can occur, so it is important to always keep an eye on the weather forecasts.
In Sweden, the sailing season lasts from June to September. The country has relatively warm, dry weather, with temperatures generally staying in the range from 12°C to 25°C in the summer months. The southern portion of the Baltic area has a very mild climate and the sailing season lasts from mid-May to late September, but at least some rain is to be expected.
The sailing season in Denmark is also limited to the summer months, when the weather can still be quite wet and sometimes unpredictable. The prevailing winds are westerly and can be variable, with occasional squalls and gales.
The Scandinavian sailing area is divided into two major regions: the North Sea and the Baltic Sea. The main ports and marinas in the Baltic Sea are the Strömstad Marina in Sweden’s Västra Götaland County, the marinas in Stockholm and Gotland and, on the Danish side, Marina Egå near Aarhus and Aarøsund Marina at the entrance to the Haderslev Fjord.
On the Baltic coast, the main ports in the Oslofjord area are Asker, Drøbak and Hoarding, and the yachting hubs on Norway’s northern coast are situated in Bodø and Tromsø.
Norway has an impressive coast, with numerous inlets, fjords and about 150,000 islands that add up to more than 80,000 km of coastline. The most popular sailing destinations are in the southern part of the country, mainly in the Oslofjord and around Bergen. Oslofjord offers 120 km of scenic archipelagos, beaches and waterfront cities, and makes an idyllic destination for island hopping holidays. The fjord is surrounded by 11 out of the country’s 22 largest cities, including the capital of Oslo, famous for its scenic cityscape, energetic nightlife and vibrant cultural scene, Tønsberg, Norway’s oldest town, associated with lots of Viking history, Sarpsborg, which harbours Europe’s largest waterfalls, and Skien, the river city known for canal cruises and large sports facilities, as well as for being the birthplace of Henrik Ibsen.
Bergen, Norway’s second largest city, is famous for its beautiful landscapes, prolific cultural life and lively underground music scene. Surrounded by the Seven Mountains, the city is a paradise for hikers and nature lovers. Even though it has numerous attractions, it is Bergen’s architecture, cultural landscape, parks and cafés that are the main draws.
More adventurous sailors can head to the Arctic Circle and enjoy the views of the northern lights and midnight sun in the Lofoten Islands. Stretching from Bodø to Tromsø, the archipelago offers an unreal landscape defined by carved peaks, steep hills, secluded bays and glittering golden sand beaches. It is considered one of Norway’s most scenic destinations.
The Baltic Sea offers countless attractive anchorages, most of them found in archipelagos, which are home to millions of natural harbours. The coastal area does not provide as much diversity and most harbours appear quite similar.
With 8,000 islands and many remote traditional villages and towns, Sweden harbours some truly astonishing sailing grounds. The most popular destinations in the country include Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Gotland.
The Stockholm archipelago, which extends from Sweden’s capital city about 60 km to the east, is the second largest archipelago in the Baltic Sea. Consisting of countless beguiling granite islands, each with a distinct character and wildlife, the archipelago is home to stunning seafront summer houses, as well as thick forests and rugged landscapes. Sailors can enter the archipelago via Sandhamn in the east, Söderarm in the north or Dalarö in the south.
The island of Gotland is primarily known for the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Visby, Scandinavia’s best preserved medieval city, surrounded by 2 km-long city walls. The giant Rauks, limestone pillars found along the coastline in Sudret and Fårö, the Tofta Viking Village and Gotska Sandön National Park are the island’s other must-see attractions.
Gothenburg, a large city on Sweden’s west coast, is home to several hugely popular attractions. Liseberg amusement park, the largest theme park in Scandinavia, the traditional area of Haga, lined with candlelit pubs and home to the 17th century Skansen Kronan fortress, and the Universeum, a large science center offering interactive experiences on seven floors, are among the most visited ones. The granite cliffs and picturesque fishing villages of the Gothenburg archipelago are less than an hour away.
Denmark’s top sailing destinations include the South Funen archipelago, Limfjord, Roskilde Fjord, Bornholm, Funen, and the Bay of Aarhus. The South Funen archipelago consists of about 55 low-lying islands that are popular destinations for water sports, kite surfing, kayaking and relaxation. The old houses, cobbled streets, quaint ports and small villages make for an incredibly diverse landscape and provide easy access to many beautiful natural areas. Limfjord, a shallow channel 180 km in length that separates the North Jutlandic Island from the rest of the Jutland peninsula, is dotted with scenic bays and islands. The main port is situated in Aalborg, Denmark’s fourth largest city. The local highlights include Thy National Park, KUNSTEN Museum of Modern Art Aalborg and the well-preserved medieval Spøttrup Castle.
Roskilde Fjord contains one of Denmark’s most impressive and diverse landscapes, with a narrow inlet that harbours about 30 small, mostly untouched islands and islets.
The island of Bornholm is home to a hilltop medieval castle, the magnificent Helligdomsklipperne rocks, and Døndalen valley with Denmark’s longest waterfall. The Bornholm Museum showcases 10,000 years of the island’s history, while NaturBornholm museum offers interactive natural history exhibits and dinosaur displays.
Funen, Denmark’s third largest island, has a number of notable sights and attractions. The turreted, moated 16th century Egeskov Castle houses a playground and beautiful gardens, while the Funen Village recreates 19th century life in half-timbered houses. The Hans Christian Andersen Museum outlines the famous author’s life in the house where he was born, and the Odense Fjord offers spectacular views of the sunset to the sound of soaring white-tailed eagles.
The Bay of Aarhus, sheltering Denmark’s second largest city and 2017 European Capital of Culture, stretches over 610 square kilometers and has several marinas for easy access to the local shallow coves and sandy beaches. The city of Aarhus is famous for its Old Town, a recreation of a 19th century market town, the 12th century Aarhus Cathedral, the ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum, a large art museum featuring 18th century to contemporary works of Danish artists, the underground Viking Museum, and Marselisborg Palace, a royal palace with large gardens, lakes and art works.