Scandinavia is notoriously expensive, but also wonderfully family-friendly — with a little budgeting and advance planning, it can be more wallet-friendly than planned.
Keep an eye out for Scandinavian Airlines’ special Kids Fly Free promotions, expected to drop in early 2019 and cover a wide variety of departure dates. Families only pay taxes and fees for kids ages 2–12 (under 2 are always free as lap babies). The airline also offers youth pricing year-round for ages 12–26, so even kids in college are covered (and invests in CO2-compensation/green initiatives for every ticket sold in this class since April 2018). And with a number of new three-day weekend fares starting at $499 from seven U.S. gateways to Oslo (OSL), Copenhagen (CPH) and Stockholm (ARN), there’s an abundance of options to grow some wings.
Try checking out Stockholm, where everything is walkable, the people are friendly and there’s plenty of experiences to please all ages that won’t break the bank.
Start by settling in to the Bank Hotel, just opened this summer. Its history as a stodgy financial institution is tossed to the side with a design-focused boutique vibe, and kids will have a ball discovering the curated art in each room, hunting for the owls and squirrels hidden throughout the motifs, admiring fun colors and textures with layered textiles (Swedish design house Svenskt Tenn is not far from here) and a spirit that evokes both modernity and comfort. Just right for families, many of the rooms offer adjoining access, bathtubs and stunning views onto the waterfront.
It’s the waterfront where you’ll head for most of your entertainment here, and, while a boat ride over to Djurgården is fun, it’s not essential since everything is within a 20-minute walking distance. You’re most likely to have noticed from across the bay Gröna Lund, an amusement park with twisting rollercoasters and twinkling lights. Admission here is free with the Stockholm Pass. But there’s so much more to do in this area that budgeting your time accordingly is recommended.
If it’s nice outside — or even if you just remembered to pack those hats and gloves — Skansen is the ideal way to spend the greater part of the day. The open-air museum and zoo is like stepping into a time portal and shows visitors what living in Sweden was like hundreds of years ago. More than 150 farms and homes were disassembled and re-created here, and re-enactors in period costume demonstrate bread-making and tending animals like horses (some available for pony rides!). The zoo animals are all native to Sweden, and anyone who’s had seeing a bear, moose or boar on their bucket list can check them all off here.
While there are plenty of snack stations, head over to Spirtmuseum for refreshments that are a bit more refined. Dedicated to the art and science of the tipple, you may think it’s more for the 21-plus crowd, but this combined gallery and restaurant along the scenic waterfront makes everything a delight for the senses for all ages — exhibits you can smell, touch and see with oodles of colors (in a space just large enough for an hour or so) make exhibits easily digestible. Besides a cool tasting menu, there are also kid-friendly nosh options.
You’ll need them if you want to spend the rest of the afternoon in this neighborhood. The Vasa Museum is just a stone’s throw away and displays an almost fully intact warship that sank in Stockholm in 1628, stretching up into the sky over six levels. Admission for kids under 18 is free, and there’s plenty of signage and movies made for youths that bring maritime history to life.
Musical history comes to life in stunning detail here, too, thanks to the 5-year-old ABBA Museum, where the Mama Mia movies certainly inspired visits from approximately 1 million people a year. While kids may not know all of the lyrics to “Dancing Queen,” they’ll definitely love exploring among the nooks and crannies to discover colorful costumes, stages to climb upon and belt out a tune, sound booths to play in, and musical instruments aplenty.
Back on the mainland, there’s much more to see and do. If the kids aren’t tuckered out, a visit to the Royal Armory is in order. The country’s oldest museum was originally started to preserve the battle haberdashery of the Swedish king in the early 1600s, but today, kids can hit up the interactive Play & Learn room to don regal attire fit for kings and queens.
For all of these activities, it sounds like you’re going to need to rest up and energize a bit, right? Luckily, Swedes embraced lots of coffee and lots of sugar, so partaking in a bit of sustenance is also a cultural phenomenon. Fika is an afternoon break with caffeinated beverages and pastries, and a konditorei can be found pretty much on every corner here. Although adults will likely opt for the sweet rolls — some deliciously spiced with cardamom — kids are more likely to point in the pastry case to the colorful princess torte, a dome-shaped layered confection with bright green, pink or blue frosting on top of layers of sponge cake, jam and pastry cream.
Not enough sugar for you? Despite cuisine that espouses farm-to-table and fish-to-dish freshness (kids love the action at the chef’s table at Hillenberg), pick-and-mix candy is a Saturday tradition here and Swedes consume oodles of it weekly. Salty and sweet licorice candies, gummies and chewies in every shape, size and color, and crunchy, creamy and dark chocolate all fill bins at candy stores everywhere. It may not last forever, but it’s certainly one of the least expensive souvenir options guaranteed to please the whole family.