High, Low, Sleeper: Cycle Touring in Scandinavia

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Cyclists and pedestrians alike encountered respectful drivers throughout Oslo.

Cyclists and pedestrians alike encountered respectful drivers throughout Oslo.

If you follow along our Twitter and Instagram feeds, you’ll know that we’re well out of Scandinavia by now. Internet was surprisingly difficult to find in Germany, so we’re hoping to catch you up to our current location over the next several posts. For now, we wanted to share our thoughts on cycling through Scandinavia.

Rather than write a list of our favorite finds in Scandinavia, we prefer to reflect on our journey by using a method we learned during our days in grad school, called High, Low, Sleeper. This allows us to consider our favorite, least favorite, and surprise moments during our journey through Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. Since Denmark is also part of the Copenhagen-Berlin cycle route, we will just use Copenhagen for the purposes of this list and include Denmark as a country when we post our High, Low, Sleeper for the cycle route.

Highs

Allemnsrätten + Denmark Camping
We’ve stumbled upon some stunningly beautiful campsites along our journey so far, thanks to the freedom to roam laws recognized in a few countries throughout Europe, including Norway and Sweden. Allmansrätten, or every man’s right is the Swedish term coined during the mid-1900s, thought the concept goes back centuries.

Throughout Norway and Sweden, camping is permitted on private land, so long as visitors respect the landowner’s home and property, as well as the environment. Wild berry and mushroom foraging and wildflower picking also fall under this right, as well as a host of other recreational activities like cycling, swimming, human-powered boating, and skiing.

While Denmark does not observe Everyman’s Right, the nation is home to over 1,100 campsites primitive campsites, which do not charge more than 30 DKK (about $5 USD) per night. The Shelter app, unfortunately only available in Danish lists the locations and descriptions for each site. This wikivoyage page also shows the same detailed information and indicates how to find a site without knowledge of the Danish language.

Camping in Hamburgö, a tiny island in the Swedish archipelago, thanks to allmansrätten.

Camping in Hamburgö, a tiny island in the Swedish archipelago, thanks to allmansrätten.

Cinnamon Rolls
If you know me well, you know that I love cinnamon. I put it in everything, from breakfast smoothies to tomato sauces and on top of ice cream. I love the stuff and can’t get enough.

The EU seems to think that cinnamon consumed in large quantities can cause liver damage. Luckily for me, the Scandinavians also eschew any malicious words about my favorite spice and catered to my love for the bark by providing abundant cinnamon rolls to fuel our journey. We found cinnamon rolls the size of our head in Gothenburg, Sweden, in a tiny town after a night of struggling to find a place to sleep, and in Copenhagen at the famous Meyers Bageri.

Cinnamon rolls from Meyers Bageri in Copenhagen.

Cinnamon rolls from Meyers Bageri in Copenhagen.

Respect for cyclists and pedestrians
Cars stopped at nearly every single crosswalk we came across throughout Scandinavia. Drivers were super vigilant for pedestrians and cyclists, and though cyclists were supposed to dismount and walk their bikes across, we never had a problem if we forgot and remained on two wheels.

WiFi Availability
We experienced little trouble finding free and reliable WiFi throughout Scandinavia. In addition to parking our rigs outside the front door of McDonald’s to pilfer the conglomerate’s free WiFi, we could also access Internet at Kiwi grocery stores in Norway, Stat Oil gas sations, libraries (where you have to go inside and get a code), and at nearly every tourism office in each town.

Rugbrød
Our hostess in Copenhagen, Cindie took us on a bicycle tour of her city the one afternoon our schedules aligned. After meandering through Christiania (home of the Christiania bike), she took us to Papiroen, where Cindie ordered a simple plate of crackers with a few dips. She offered them to us, and thinking they were just crackers, I wasn’t expecting anything special. This cracker was perfectly salty, chock full of seeds and nuts, with the perfect amount of crunch. I couldn’t get enough.

I inquired about this delicious square we were eating and Cindie gave me the basic overview about Danish Rugbrød. Post ride, Dave and I headed to the nearest bakery and bought a loaf. Then we bought another the next day, and the morning we departed Copenhagen. Each loaf weighed about four pounds and was worth toting the extra weight. If you’re reading this at home, visit My New Roots and bake Sarah’s bread. Please. For me, because I can’t find psyllium husks in Europe.

Lows

The Weather
If you haven’t heard us mention the weather in Scandinavia in the early spring (or winter as they call it) then read here and here to catch up. Like our native Pacific Northwest, the best time to visit is during July, August, and September.

Despite our desire to see Scandinavia, if we had to do the tour again, at the same time of year, with the same visa restrictions, we likely would have begun in the Netherlands. Our need to travel quickly burnt us out in the beginning, and also prevented us from seeing the best parts of each nation. Rick Steves says that if you visit Norway and don’t see the fjords, you should have your passport revoked. Sorry Rick. Norway, please accept our deepest apologies, and know that we will return to visit your beautiful land.

Expensive beer in Oslo
We knew that food and beer and eating out and pretty much everything would be expensive in Oslo. It is among the most expensive cities in the world, after all]. After reading about the high beer prices prior to our trip, we decided to check it out for ourselves.

Into the grocery store we went in search of beer. Six packs found and priced at $13 USD, so we instantly discredited everything we had read about expensive beer in Oslo.

Then we realized that was the price per beer. And it was a cheap beer. Ouch.

Sleepers

Visit Olso
Before departing on our journey, I made friends with Visit Olso over Instagram. Specifically over this photo, taken one month before our arrival date. Their social media manager took notice and reached out to us, letting me to know to get in touch with any questions. I fired away, asking any and every cycling question I had, and not only received a reply, but was also offered Visit Oslo passes, which provide free rides on public transit and museum entrances, and an invitation to visit the office and meet in person.

Espen
Yet another Instagram connection, an American friend of Espen’s referred him to our site, knowing that our tour began in Oslo. Espen reached out to us, letting us know of his cycling knowledge of the city and offering his suggestions. After a few email exchanges, we agreed to meet for a ride. Espen took us on a tour through Oslo, showing off cycle paths we never would have found, the university, various neighborhoods, and Grefsenkollen the tallest point in Oslo, where we shared an apple juice overlooking the city, the Marka, and the ski jump.

We highly recommend making friends with locals in the cities you visit. It’s the best way to discover the hidden gems of a place and to really get to know how the locals live.

Grefsenkollen_Dave_Sora-1

System Bolaget
Throughout our first few days in Sweden, we noticed that all of the beer in the grocery stores contained no more than 3.5% alcohol. This surprised us, as we didn’t find Sweden to be a particularly conservative country.

We eventually learned about the System Bolaget, the government-run liquor stores, where one can purchase a variety of beer with alcohol higher than 3.5%.

Typically smaller towns have only one System Bolaget and they tend to close by 18.00 or 19.00. They are not open on Sundays or holidays.

Lack of bike signage in Norway and Sweden
Over the first several days of our tour, we traveled very slowly. Caused by a number of factors, including weather and our fitness level, lack of signage contributed to many, many time delays. Relying solely on GPS for our travels, we had to stop every few minutes in some instances to determine which direction to head. We’ve since learned that picking up the free city maps from each tourism office helps us navigate through cities more quickly.

And there you have it! Our next edition of High, Low, Sleeper will cover the Copenhagen-Berlin Cycle Route. Have you cycled through Scandinavia? What would you add to this list based on your experience?

 

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4 Comments

  1. Cmon Dave, $13/beer is a total deal! If it’s a 9 liter bottle, of course.

    Navigation tip that works for me: headphones plugged into GPS/phone with turn-by-turn directions on. I spend very little time looking at the phone and just follow Siri’s melodious voice to wherever she decides to send us. Maybe it doesn’t work as well with crazy intersections of 15 bike paths in the middle of nowhere, but for cities it is awesome!

    Keep on keeping on, you killer cyclists.

    • Next time we’re in Norway, we go with you and beer’s on you, K? 🙂

      We would use Siri and her melodious voice, if only we didn’t have “ancient” iPhones. 3G means no Siri for us. Catch us if you can!

      • We can share a beer in Norway, cool? We just crossed into Belgium – time for some REAL beer action here in Bruges. I love how the customs, food, language (everything) changes country to country! I’m totally becoming a Europhile.

        Actually, I didn’t even mean Siri, just Google Voice. I don’t always do turn-by-turn directions, but sometimes it’s nice to just plug in an audiobook and let the phone tell you where to go with a voiceover. Navigating every day is boooooring.

        Power on, amigos. We’re cranking away, but tomorrow is a rest day. See you in Croatia in August?

        • Croatia may definitely work! We just crossed into Austria yesterday and are headed for the Dolomites. We have to be in Croatia by 27 July, so this may just happen after all!

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