Scandinavia, an area made up of three historic kingdoms – Denmark, Norway and Sweden – nestles high up in the northern hemisphere – a land of myths, legends and world-famous light shows.
But there’s much more to this captivating destination, and it’s all just waiting to be discovered by any traveller willing to scratch beneath its sometimes snow-laden surface.
With days where darkness never loses its grip, and fabled summers full of midnight sun, every season brings wonders to marvel at.
So what better way to immerse yourself in the spectacles that are nurtured here than by venturing into the wilds by train?
Travel 66 degrees north of the equator – the intangible point that marks the beginning of your journey into the Arctic Circle – for a ride along the ‘backbone of Sweden’.
Sitting aboard the Inlandsbanan as you’re transported through these dense forests, keep an eye out for the native wildlife – this kind of habitat provides the perfect home for regal reindeer and elk.
No two glimpses from the train are the same
Spine-tingling scenery is a running theme throughout Scandinavia, where panoramas unfold delivering one extraordinary landscape after another, and from the comfort of a seat on Norway’s Bergen Railway, views of the glaciers and ice fields, forests and rocky coastlines come thick and fast.
Then there’s the Ofoten Railway, connecting Kiruna in Swedish Lapland and the port town of Narvik on the Norwegian coast, which follows a route that runs past deep fjords and through barren mountain plateaus. No two glimpses out the window are the same in this untamed land.
Slick cities where the sun never sets
As if the region’s breathtaking scenery was insufficient justification for visiting, at the forefront of cutting-edge European design Scandinavia’s cities are a delightful mix of the avant-garde and the traditional.
From Bergen’s 14th-century waterfront to Oslo’s sloping opera house, designed to mirror the mountain scenery the city feels almost enveloped by, this collection of rugged countries is one of contrasts – something reflected in its celestial extremes. Witness unique natural phenomena when, for around two months each summer, a tilt in the earth’s axis means that the sun never sets in northern Norway and daylight lasts for 24 hours.
These polar conditions make exploring the marine-rich waters surrounding the Lofoten Islands ideal, where a cruise through the Lofoten archipelago or a walk along Svolvaer’s centuries-old seafront can reveal the creatures of the deep anytime day or night.
This is also sea eagle country, and the majestic birds are drawn by the shoals of herring that pass through every year. Seals and otters patrol these coasts, too, and further out killer and humpback whales are known to make regular appearances, feasting on abundant shoals of their favourite seafood.
Temperatures hover around freezing throughout the year, but when the sun shines, this pretty town and the landscapes of sugar-dusted peaks and shimmering blue fjords are never anything less than achingly beautiful.
Back on the mainland after experiencing the world-famous Flåm Railway, one of the steepest railway lines in the world, arrive into the town that shares its name with this renowned track.
Delicately tucked deep in a tributary of the world’s longest and deepest fjord, Flåm is the little place between the mountains surrounded by roaring waterfalls and deep valleys, each of which are truly extraordinary to behold whether the sun is shining or rain is pouring from the sky.
Onwards to desirable Denmark
And last but not least, who could forget Denmark from this trio of distinctly otherworldly destinations?
Copenhagen is a Nordic capital set to rival even the most well-established with its mix of world-class gastronomy, beautiful architecture, award-winning design, and ancient monarchy.
Conveniently compact for visitors, it consistently ranks among the world’s most desirable cities to live in and was the first in the world to be named ‘Bike City’ by the International Cycling Union – a title to which the several hundred bike lanes bear witness.
Small, old, yet perfectly formed, it has historic buildings and attractions aplenty hidden amongst the narrow curving streets in its centre.
And with a chic reputation to boot, Copenhagen is in the midst of a cultural revolution offering an abundance of ways to spend your time, from swish cocktail bars to highbrow museums.
Combine the stunning mountains, the wildlife and the celestial quirks with the cosmopolitan, culturally-rich cities, and it’s clear Scandinavia has everything to provide the rail tour of a lifetime.