Although there are many ways to see the highlights of Scandinavia, a road trip is hard to beat. Drivers can get off the beaten track and enjoy breathtaking viewpoints, small villages, scenic roads and more away from the crowds of the tourist hotspots.
Denmark, Norway and Sweden are all fantastic road trip destinations for different reasons.
From picturesque fjord villages to mountain viewpoints, some of Norway’s most scenic spots are only accessible with your own transport. Denmark’s flat terrain and direct roads means getting around in a car is a breeze, while Sweden’s rural south and central lakes are ideal for exploring by road.
Many tour operators sell self-drive tour packages that include the cost of car rental, ferry tickets, insurance and accommodation along a pre-defined itinerary. While this suits some travelers, you’ll pay more for the convenience and have far less flexibility for last minute changes of plans.
If you have the time to plan your own trip, here are some tips to make the most of your time and money.
Combine all three countries in one trip
It’s not difficult to combine all three Scandinavian countries into one itinerary. Driving in Denmark, Norway and Sweden is generally easy although inexperienced drivers should take more care in smaller towns and villages where locals will assume road knowledge.
Border crossings are straightforward and in many cases you’ll drive straight on through. Just be sure to check with your rental car provider that traveling internationally is permitted.
As all three countries are well on the road to being cashless societies, you don’t need to worry about exchanging cash multiple times. As long as you have a debit card, credit card or mobile payments system that works internationally, you’ll be fine.
However, just because you can include all three countries into your itinerary, it doesn’t mean you should!
take your time
When planning a travel itinerary, it can be tempting to cram in as many must-see sights as possible. While you should plan your trip around some key highlights and your accommodation options, leave time to make decisions on-the-day.
Spending two or more consecutive nights at the same accommodation is a good idea so you can explore the local area without the constant stress of making it to the next stop in good time.
Even on shorter itineraries such as in the Norwegian fjords, allow extra time between stops. If a map suggests three hours, allow four or five. You’ll almost certainly come across the perfect spot for a photo or picnic lunch, or a village you want to explore.
Plan for ferries
It’s hard to avoid car ferry crossings in Scandinavia, especially in the Norwegian fjord region. Even if you’re not used to them, there’s no need to worry or plan to avoid them. They provide a natural break from driving and the opportunity for a coffee, snack and bathroom break.
Google Maps is excellent at identifying ferry crossings when you plan a trip. While ferries on major routes such as Norway’s E39 are very regular, ferries on more remote routes are less frequent, especially on weekends and evenings. It’s a good idea to print out the ferry timetables in advance so you aren’t caught out facing a long wait.
Booking in advance is a wise move on popular ferries such as Bodø to Lofoten, while it’s essential on the longer ferries between the countries. Although this removes flexibility, it guarantees you’ll get to where you want to go.
Save money on a self-drive trip
If cost is an issue, consider exploring Norway by train instead. A trip on the Oslo to Bergen line will give you time to explore Norway’s two biggest cities and provide fantastic mountain views across the Hardangervidda plateau.
The optional Flåm railway is an attraction in itself as well as providing access to the picturesque Aurlandsfjord. Combine this with a road trip in Sweden and/or Denmark and you have the makings of a memorable trip.
When traveling by car, plan your itinerary to start and finish from the same location. While one-way car rental is possible with most companies, you’ll pay a lot for the privilege.
Also consider choosing a smaller car. If your trip is in the summer, you won’t need an all-terrain vehicle. Requesting a hybrid car can also save significant amounts on fuel, without the hassle of seeking out electric car charging points, which can see long queues in the summer.
Scandinavia road trip itineraries
With all these tips in mind, creating your ideal road trip itinerary can still be a stressful experience. But there’s no reason to start from scratch. Many others have been there, done it and written about it.
First things first, check out some of the self-drive tours available from tour operators. They might not give you the full itinerary without booking, but their tour descriptions will give you a great place to start building your own.
Many travel bloggers have also covered their road trips in detail. This 9-day trip starts in Gothenburg, Sweden, and focuses on Norway’s fjord region before incorporating an overnight ferry to Denmark. This 14-day trip incorporates flights, ferries and trains but is a good starting point for a longer trip.
Rick Steves provides multiple options depending on how much time you have, starting with the Scandinavian capitals then widening to include the Norwegian fjords and beyond.