With some of the best festivals, concerts, art exhibitions, concert halls, musicians, actors and cultural institutions the world has to offer, Scandinavia boasts a range of cultural experiences unlike any other region in the world. Famous for its high level of quality as much as its width of diversity, the Scandinavian expression of culture amazes and enthrals: from Norway’s Svalbard and Sweden’s Umeå to Denmark’s Zealand.

Uncertain of where to go first? Depending on your interests, wishes and requirements – all dreams can be fulfilled. It’s only a matter of choice…

Norway: from magnificent chamber music to challenging cycle races

In stunningly beautiful Norway, among mountains, fjords, traditional villages and modern cities, you will find many a hotspot for world-class festivals. If you are looking for a dreamy trip to the very North, putting you in the very centre of the world’s finest location for Northern Lights watching and all kinds of winter sports, there are plenty of art, music and film festivals to keep you enticed. It’s hardly possible to get further north than Svalbard, where Polarjazz festival brings together music fans, great artists and greater nature over four days of exceptional festival joy. Names such as Morten Abel, Emilie Nicolas and Bo Kaspers Orkester recently graced the festival with their presence – you couldn’t ask for a better quality line-up.

On the tip of mainland Norway, you will find one of the country’s most distinguished film festivals: the North Cape Film Festival. With around 5,000 to 6,000 visitors per year, this festival is a key player in the field of innovative cinema. So is Norway’s International Film Festival, taking place annually in west coast town Haugesund – presenting the Amanda Awards, Norway’s answer to the Academy Awards, and bringing together a world of film fans in glorious late summer sceneries.

Venture further south to quaint, white coastal villages to enjoy one of Norway’s most famous chamber music festivals, namely Risør Chamber Music Festival. Started by one of Scandinavia’s most famous musicians in the classical genre, Leif Ove Andsnes, it is a festival noted for presenting the highest artistic standards of Norwegian and foreign performances.

Those more prone to engage in physical activities will find challenging and inspiring ventures all over the country. Cycling has enjoyed a significant revival in Norway in the past years, with Tour de Fjords and Nordsjørittet topping a list of several prestigious road races for all ages and levels of proficiency throughout the country’s mountainous terrain. And, not to forget the little ones, there are legendary sports events such as Norway Cup – the diversity-loving football tournament that has brought together talents from the whole world since 1972.

Sweden: inherently diverse – preserving the old and welcoming the new

Diversity runs as a red thread throughout Scandinavian culture life. Sweden’s Minister of Culture and Democracy, Alice Bah Kuhnke, notes that Sweden’s strength in the cultural world lies in a history of diversity: welcoming people from other societies and thus forming a distinctive cultural identity: “A precondition for the Swedish society’s evolution over the centuries has been open societies. For many, as for me, tolerance, openness and solidarity with other people are the best things about being Swedish,” she says, continuing: “The Swedish people’s understanding and openness for people who come here is amongst the highest measured in the world, and the benevolence has risen constantly during the time this has been studied.”

Sweden boasts a number of cultural institutions that challenge perceptions and break boundaries of art, music, film and theatre. Moderna Museet is the go-to place for all things contemporary, while Södermalm’s (Stockholm’s trendiest district) Södra Teatern, and Gamla Linköping Open-Air Museum south of the capital, bring together the best of old and new. Furthermore, areas further north have a lot to offer in both nature experiences (how about dog sledding, skiing at Riksgränsen, or going on forest hikes?) and urban getaways. Umeå is a great example, having been the European Capital of Culture in 2014. The city has set the bar high for Swedish cultural expressions, especially by pinning many of their noted exhibitions and events on elements of the indigenous Sami people. If there is one way to experience Swedish culture, it is through diversity.

Denmark: quaint folklore and modern festivals

Music, sun, festivals and great museums – Denmark has got cultural variety covered. Discover the legacy of Bang & Olufsen at Struer Museum, where history comes to life through extensive exhibitions and knowledgeable staff ready to enlighten you. If you are looking for something a little bit different – and perhaps more Christmassy – Nisseland in Mørkøv will have you thoroughly entertained for hours on end. Who knew that Santa Claus’s helpers, who have centre spot at the museum, had such a mysterious past?

Denmark is a music festival nation, boasting some of Europe’s grandest and best-visited music gatherings – for instance the Roskilde festival. One of the most family-friendly and cosy ones is the summery Samsø Festival, held over four days in July. During these days the little Kattegat island transforms itself into a hotspot for good times, family fun and sunny days allowing for open-air music shows and lazy days at the beach.

And, what festival would be complete without a taste of Denmark’s famed beers? – Harvesting the goods of multiple independent microbreweries, as well as brews from big brands like Carlsberg, Denmark has turned the brewery tradition into more than a meal-time experience. Now, breweries are making their rightful imprint on culture life – as shown by the emergence of brewery fairs and trade shows allowing visitors to taste the creative juices of Denmark’s finest makers. It all goes to show: Scandinavia’s cultural life spans an impressive range of institutions, industries and experiences. All that’s missing? You!

By Julie Linden, feature for Scan Magazine web | Photos: Rodrigo Rivas Ruiz 

For more information on cultural events that can be discovered in the Nordic countries, please visit our SEARCH – The Ultimate E-Resource for Scandinavian culture.

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