Is Scandinavia the new Med?

Is it Greece, Italy, Croatia? Nope, it’s Norway (Adam Read / Visit Norway)
Is it Greece, Italy, Croatia? Nope, it’s Norway (Adam Read / Visit Norway)

There’s catching a bit of sun, and then there’s 2023’s devastating European heatwave – where Med holiday favourites like Croatia, Greece and Italy suffered dangerous plus-40C temperatures for weeks. With climate change turning up the heat across the continent, travellers that want more tempered climes are increasingly looking to the north. With beaches, culture, history and outdoor adventure galore (plus the added bonus of ultra-long, light days), the Nordic nations let you enjoy the bounty of the sunshine season without the melting mercury readings. Here's our pick of five top trips to try this summer…

For beaches: Gotland, Sweden

 (Henrik Trygg / Visit Sweden)
(Henrik Trygg / Visit Sweden)

The draw: White sand beaches, in Sweden? You bet. With rambling powder dunes and reliable rays – plus nature reserves and rich medieval history – this island in the Baltic Sea could be a Scandi doppelganger for Sardinia.

Do: Swedes come to Gotland to take in the sunshine: there’s apparently more here than anywhere else in the country. In summer months temperatures reliably hit a pleasant 20C and seas warm along the stretches of idyllic beaches: chalky Sudersand, family-friendly Tofta and laid-back Norsta Auren. Just to the north of Gotland, nature reserve isle Gotska Sandön has its own clutch of stunning sands (try French Bay or Bredsandsudde), plus wildlife like grey seals and migrating birds. As for history? As well as Viking burial grounds, there are 92 medieval churches dotted around the landscapes, while Gotland’s main town of Visby is the best-preserved Hanseatic fortified trading town in northern Europe – earning it a place on UNESCO’s World Heritage list.

Eat: Set on frothy sands on the west coast at Gnisvärds, boho Surflogiet serves up organic Gotland lamb in a baguette, crispy fried cauliflower and lentil tacos. First-rate sundowners, too: try the Tropical Isle with rum, caramelised pineapple, lime, basil and coconut.

Sleep: The seven timeless bedrooms at sustainable Stelor (, from £171), an 1820s farmhouse-cum-restaurant-with-rooms, benefit from local art pieces, organic linens and original fireplaces.

For cute towns: Agder, Norway

 (Vidar Moløkken / Visit Norway)
(Vidar Moløkken / Visit Norway)

The draw: Often referred to as the Norwegian Riviera, the stretch of south coast from Flekkefjord in the west to Risør in the east is flecked with beautiful ports, ripe for exploration. In summer these ‘white towns’ exude a kind of Cape Cod energy with their clapboard waterside cottages, picket fences and fishing jettys.

Do: Hopping from one white-painted town to the next – stopping off for local art, fresh seafood and stays in cosy holiday rentals – gives you the best taste of this scenic region, so beloved by Norwegians. Relaxed Risør is cluttered with outdoor restaurants, flower-lined laneways and little artist boutiques, all spilling down to a marina cluttered with handsome wooden boats. Tvedestrand’s cobbled streets are lined in second-hand bookshops, and Arendal’s waterfront is lined in grand-scale wooden buildings. Boat rides, lighthouses, sea kayaking and bracing swims off wild beaches are all part of the package too.

Eat: Seaside Risørfiskemottak isn’t beholden to a fixed menu – part restaurant, part fishmonger, it serves whatever has been freshly landed from the waters, perhaps sweet, blush-hued prawns with lemon and mayo.

Sleep: With rooms set across a clutch of historic wooden houses – some with access to a heated alfresco swimming pool – Det Lille Hotel (, from £185) combines homely retro atmosphere with hotel-style amenities.

For activities: Bornholm, Denmark

 (Visit Denmark)
(Visit Denmark)

The draw: This Danish island cast off the south Swedish coast doesn’t have the low-lying hills of much of the local region – rather it is studded with dramatic granite rift valleys and dense woodland. Perfect if you want a summer break with serious outdoor adventure.

Do: Windsurfing, rock climbing and sea kayaking are all high on the agenda on this isle built for active travellers. Join a guided abseil down the rock face at luminescent Opal Lake with Klatring Bornholm, or circumnavigate the coast on a 110km journey with Paddle Bornholm. When you’re ready to take things at a more relaxed pace, pootle around pretty Svaneke with its half-timbered houses and lively market square, or explore the medieval Hammershus fortress ruins on the island’s northern tip.

Eat: Michelin-starred Kadeau proves you don’t need to be in Copenhagen to get a first-rate meal. Its breezy seaside dining room on the south coast serves up foraged and house-grown veg alongside sustainably sourced meat and seafood – as well as views of the Baltic Sea out towards Poland.

Sleep: The eco-creds are top notch at Green Solution House (, from £170) on the west coast, where minimalist rooms come with free bike rental, rooftop sauna and a breakfast spread featuring honey from the hotel’s own hives. There’s a beach a short walk away, too.

For midnight sun: Lapland, Finland

 (Visit Finland)
(Visit Finland)

The draw: It might be most famous as Santa Claus’s homeland, but between its epic nature and otherworldly midnight sun, arctic Lapland can be just as enticing to visit in summer.

Do: Regional capital Rovaniemi is the gateway with activities galore – hiking with huskies, golfing and river cruises included. But strike out into a deeper verdant wilderness of pine trees for the real off-the-beaten track experience. To the north, resort town Levi sees 45 days of never-setting sun in high summer, so you can enjoy mountain biking trails, horse rides or hikes at all hours – plus some plush hotels and excellent restaurants. To the south in Ruka, the annual Solstice Festival from 20-22 June celebrates the longest days of the year with music, art and bars serving natural wine. Or take to Lemmenjoki National Park, the largest in the country, to see rugged fells, gold mining areas and former hunting grounds of the local Sámi peoples.

Eat: With a contemporary air that feels plucked from a Nordic city, Kekäle in resort town Levi dishes up plentiful organic Lapland produce, from sugar-salted salmon with milk, dill and cucumber, to reindeer fillet with blueberries.

Sleep: Gazing across glassy Lake Pyhähärvi, recently launched Kurula’s Resort (, from £120) gives easy access to local hiking trails from its suites – each kitted out with kitchenette, sauna and big windows to allow for unadulterated wilderness views.

For scenery: South Coast, Iceland

 (Annie Spratt / Unsplash)
(Annie Spratt / Unsplash)

The draw: This Nordic island nation may have most recently been making headlines for its volcanic activity around Grindavik, but at the time of writing flights are operating as normal and the rest of the country remains unaffected. Which is a good thing for travellers, as there is so much to see here in summer. A road trip along the south coast comes with plenty of wonder: endless strings of waterfalls, colonies of cute puffins, magnificent mountain peaks and black sand beaches. You might not get Med-like temperatures, but the long, often sunny days can make up for that, as can a coddling dip in local hot springs.

Do: The scenery gets more and more spectacular the further east from Reykjavik you go. Among the meadows of Hella enjoy a riding tour on a famously compact Icelandic horse, then at Vik take in the magnificent pillar-like basalt rock formations lining the beach and the bunches of puffins clinging to the cliff-faces. Further along, Vatnajökull National Park awaits with its epic glacier-topped peaks and hikes, and at Jökulsárlón you can take a boat ride through a glacier lagoon. The pinnacle? The sparkling black sands of Diamond Beach, so called because ice shards that wash onto its shores are polished to the clarity of precious jewels. You’ll also get dozens of magnificent waterfalls along the way; if you stop at just one, make it majestic Seljalandsfoss.

Eat: Langoustine – locally referred to as lobster – is an Icelandic summer obsession. Tuck in at Fjörubordid in an old timber building by the coast, where langoustine soup is followed by langoustine tails sauteed with garlic, butter and lemon.

Sleep: Cosy lodge-like Hotel Rangá (, from £278) overlooks brooding Eyjafjallajökull volcano and glacier (the one responsible for 2010’s airspace closure). Its comfy rooms come with terraces for northern lights viewing and frothing outdoor hot tubs.