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How to budget travel in Scandinavia

written by Ashlea Wheeler September 21, 2016

Often, the first thing that comes to mind when we think of travel to Scandinavia is the cost. We’ve all heard those horror stories of someone paying 10 bucks for a bottle of water at the airport in Norway. Actually, most of those rumours of Scandinavia’s phenomenal costs aren’t entirely true.

Sure, Scandinavia can be expensive if you’re not careful about how you spend your money, and the northern countries are a little pricier than other areas of Europe, but there are a number of things you can do to make sure your chic, minimalist wallet isn’t drained by Scandinavian prices (which seems to be the only thing in the region that is maximalist). Here’s a few travel tips that might save you a few Euro, krone and krona.

Tip 1 – Book ahead and be flexible with flights

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A tried and tested tip for getting a good deal is to book ahead. There’s no point planning your trip to Scandinavia only a few weeks in advance, as you’ll find that transport options such as flights, trains, and buses will be much more expensive.

The best time to book your trip is 3-6 months in advance, and if you can be flexible with dates, that will make a huge difference to scoring a great deal on your flights! I use Google Flights to search for great deals, as you can compare a huge range of dates and also track prices. Sites like Momondo, Kayak and Scyscanner can set up email alerts for certain routes, pinging you when those dream flights have dropped by 20%. Intrepid’s flight team can also help you score those juicy discounts as they often have access to wholesale fares and other deals before they reach public eyes.

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Tip 2 – Travel in the shoulder season

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Absolutely everyone wants to travel to Scandinavia during the summer, but if you travel during a shoulder season (or the off season, if you can brave the cold) then you’ll find a bunch of ways to save money on your trip. You can expect to save big time on:

  • Flights, as airlines will have better deals
  • Train and bus tickets between cities
  • Hotels, as they’ll have more availability and lower rates
  • Sightseeing tickets, which are often discounted
  • Intrepid tours, whose prices fluctuate based on seasonality

Peak season is from June – August through most of the Scandinavian countries, though Sweden’s tourist season starts a little earlier in May. If you’re after the ideal combination of pleasant weather, less crowds, and cheaper prices, plan to take your trip in April/May or September.

Tip 3 – Choose your accommodation wisely

Scandinavia has a great selection of accommodations for the budget traveller. Prices will differ depending on which city you’re in, but here are a few options for you to check out:

Hostels: There are some great hostels to choose from in all the major cities. If you’re fine with get cosy in a room with 5-10 other people, then you can get your accommodation for next to nothing. Sites like hostelworld.com make it easy to browse and compare. You can search by price, location or rating too.

Budget Hotels: Most cities in Scandinavia have a great selection of budget hotels. I found a fantastic deal for a single room in Stockholm for only $70 a night. The room didn’t have a window, but hey, it was fairly cheap and the location was ideal for exploring the city!

Apartments: Renting an apartment can be a budget-friendly option for your Scandinavia trip. I used AirBnB to rent a gorgeous apartment in Copenhagen’s Christianshavn, and it cost much less than a hotel in the downtown area. All you need to do is take note of the apartment’s location – if you’re not staying in the city centre, make sure the place you choose has easy access to a bus stop or metro station.

Group tours: Don’t want to spend hours trawling the web? Consider a Scandinavian group tour. If you pick the right company, you should get a clean place in a good central location, and it’ll often shave a few Euro off the price (tour companies are usually able to secure group discounts and special rates).

Tip 4 – Be smart about food and drinks

There’s no question that eating out is the number one cause of overspending for most travellers, especially in Scandinavia where food and drinks can get pretty expensive. With this in mind, here are a few tips to avoid overspending:

Food: Restaurants and cafes are not going to be budget-friendly. Instead, grocery stores will be your best friend! They might still be a little pricier than the ones in your hometown, but they’re still one of the best ways to save money on food. You don’t even have to cook your own meals if you don’t have access to a kitchen, as grocery stores often stock pre-made meals like sandwiches and salads for cheap. Look for supermarket chains such as ICA, Netto, Lidl, and ALDI throughout Sweden, Denmark, and other Scandinavian countries.

Drinks: I know that many of us (myself included) feel that having a few drinks is a part of the local experience in the places we visit. Unfortunately, the cost of alcohol in Scandinavian countries is often much more than we’d pay back home. We don’t have to cut out alcohol completely, just be aware that a few drinks at the bar will probably result in your wallet becoming much lighter by the end of the night. Stick to grocery stores for beer and liquor stores for other drinks when you can – it will be much cheaper that way.

Tip 5 – Get creative with sightseeing

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Sightseeing can be a killer for budget travellers. There have been so many times that I haven’t taken a sightseeing activity purely because of the ticket price. If you’re not doing a Scandinavian group tour, where a lot of the activities are included in the price, keep and eye out for free or discount activities such as:

Free sightseeing activities: If you’re travelling to a major city, try doing a web search for ‘Free things to do in Oslo’ or ‘Budget guide to Helsinki’ and take a look through the results – you’re bound to find some great tips in there which are often better than the paid sightseeing activities.

Free vista points: Every city will have a cheap or free vista point. At Christiansborg Palace in Copenhagen, you can head up the tower for free instead of paying 25 DKK for the viewpoint at The Round Tower.

Free walking tours: You might be surprised to discover that every major city has free walking tours! To find them, just do a quick web search for ‘Free walking tour Oslo’.

Free museums and galleries: In Helsinki, there are over a dozen museums and galleries that a free to enter year round, and many more that offer free entry once a week or once a month. Keep notes in your travel diary and plan your days around the free stuff.

Free events: In Stockholm, I stumbled across Rock Fest, where I had the opportunity to watch Swedish punk/rock/metal music with the locals. It was one of the best times I had in Stockholm, and it was 100% free.

Want to check out Scandinavia and get the best bang for your buck? A group tour is usually the way to go. 

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4 comments

Louis Miller November 1, 2019 - 2:25 pm

This is the first time in memory when I’ve read an article, got to the end, and thought, ‘that’s it?’ That it should have been longer.

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Erin May 23, 2018 - 11:22 pm

My son and I traveled to Stockholm and Helsinki in April 2018…weather was perfect and hardly any crowds. We flew Finnair between Stockholm and Helsinki – I think our airfare was $88 USD/each. From Helsinki, we did a day trip to Tallinn via the 2-hour ferry – amazing experience and the ferry was only $30USD/each. I found that hotels in Stockholm were still expensive, even though we were traveling during the “off-season”. A couple of travel guides said that hotels in Stockholm are actually cheaper in the summer because of lack of business travelers. Its the business travelers who keep Stockholm hotel prices inflated from September until May…very interesting!

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David smith March 28, 2018 - 8:10 pm

Thanks for sharing the insights. I am planning to go to Scandinavian this year but few people visit the place, so I was not able to get a clear idea about the place and details of the same. This article will help me plan my trip well.

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Agness of a TukTuk February 13, 2017 - 7:40 am

A lot of travelers never get to cross out Scandinavia from the travel list because of the expense. I’m happy to have encountered your post, great read! I got really awesome tips. Traveling on a budget is always possible no matter where you go, it only requires more research and preparation!

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