Summer dreaming: escape to the best islands in the Nordics

Make your next trip a not-quite-tropical island getaway. From the midnight sun in Greenland to Michelin-starred food in Bornholm to scuba diving in the Lofoten Islands, our list of the best islands in Scandinavia has it all!

Åland Archipelago – Finland

Stop for coffee and pastries on tiny island Kobba Klintar

Stop for coffee and pastries on tiny island Kobba Klintar

A rambling red granite archipelago of 6500 named islands, only 60 of which are inhabited, Åland offers the ultimate island hopping experience. It’s most lively in summer, with sailing, boating and fishing abound.

Hike through a pine forest, cycle over the bridges that connect the rocky islands, and marvel at the midnight sun. You can also take a chilly dip in the Baltic Sea, then warm up in the sauna. It’s blissfully unpopulated, but not entirely so. Quaint wooden houses and lush parks characterise the sole city of Mariehamn, which features a must-see maritime museum. The archipelago is accessible via Helsinki or Stockholm, with the journey taking about two hours.

Visingsö – Sweden

An island for history lovers: stop by the Visingsborg Castle Ruins on Visingsö

An island for history lovers: stop by the Visingsborg Castle Ruins on Visingsö

Legend has it that Visingsö was formed when a giant hurled a tuft of grass into Lake Vättern. It’s certainly a fitting story for this historic island, home to the imposing Visingsborg Castle Ruins and a massive oak forest once intended for shipbuilding purposes.

A family-friendly spot, Visingsö offers horse and carriage tours, beautifully landscaped gardens and an alpaca farm bound to delight the kids. To get to Visingsö you’ll need to take a boat from Gränna, on the eastern shore of the lake; the trip takes about 45 minutes. Once there you can rent bikes to get around.

Öland – Sweden

The limestone formations Byrums Raukar are a sight to behold

The limestone formations Byrums Raukar are a sight to behold

With a prime position on the Baltic Sea, Öland is one of Sweden’s sunniest places. A huge limestone plateau dominates its southern half, while ancient stone-age structures and burial grounds reflect its 8000-year history. A one-time royal game park, the island features a unique mix of scenery to tempt outdoorsy types and photographers alike.

Stop by the 12th-century Borgholm Castle, and visit the Gråborg fortress and nearby St. Knut’s chapel in the island’s centre. Snap some pics of Byrum’s sea stacks in the rocky north, and be sure to hit the water – the strong winds are ideal for windsurfers and kitesurfers. Arrive via bus or car over the Ölandsbron bridge, then bike or bus around.

Lofoten Islands – Norway

Ramberg Beach is the perfect spot to experience the midnight sun

Ramberg Beach is the perfect spot to experience the midnight sun

Far above the Arctic Circle, the Lofoten Islands boast a diverse landscape of mountains, fjords and beaches that make them perfect for an active getaway. The warm Gulf Stream keeps the temperatures more mild than expected, resulting in impressive conditions for hiking, fishing, rafting and scuba diving. Surfers will enjoy hitting some of the world’s most northernmost waves.

Staying up late is par for the course here: the midnight sun makes an appearance May to July, while the Northern Lights dance in the sky September to April. History lovers should visit Borg, which features a Viking Museum set within in a reconstructed Viking village. Fly in from Oslo to Svolvær or Leknes via either Bodø or Tromsø.

Bornholm – Denmark

Stop by for some smoked herring at Hasle Smokehouse

Stop by for some smoked herring at Hasle Smokehouse © skoczekp

Denmark’s most eastern outpost, Bornholm, is a glorious Baltic gem. Sunny and cheerful, it combines craggy coastline, cheerful fishing villages and quirky round churches for a picture-perfect experience.

Hire a bike and cycle from village to village, take a dip in one of the many tiny white-sand beaches, or dine in style at the Michelin-starred restaurant Kadeau. A draw for creatives, the island is also home to numerous glassware and ceramics studios, notably Baltic Sea Glass and Den Danske Keramikfabrik. Fly in from Copenhagen (35 minutes) or take the ferry from Ystad, Sweden (one and a half hours).

Trysunda – Sweden

Trysunda is made for sunny walks

Trysunda is made for sunny walks © linabjorkskog

Arguably Sweden’s most beautiful island, Trysunda is a tiny picturesque blip on the Örnsköldsvik archipelago. It’s untouched by roads and vehicles; instead use the hiking trail that will take you past striking cliffs, beautiful beaches and a quaint U-shaped village with a cute wooden chapel.

Spare some time for Storviken beach, with its colourful pebbles and hollowed-out stone “seats”. Head to the red rocks of Rödskaten and enjoy a barbecue in the sheltered area. A nature reserve and geological wonderland, Trysunda has something for everyone. Get in via ferry from Köpmanholmen (30 minutes).

Ærø – Denmark

The colourful old houses of Ærøskøbing provide plenty of photo opportunities

The colourful old houses of Ærøskøbing provide plenty of photo opportunities © lucividal

Step back in time with a visit to this Baltic beauty, which is a favourite wedding destination for a reason. The charming town of Ærøskøbing is a fairy tale delight, with cobblestone streets and colourful buildings dating back as far as the 17th century.

Stop by the Prior’s house (1690), the old church, the bright windmill and the cook house, historically used for sailors to prepare food. Spare some time to visit Søby, where you’ll see ancient galleons and Viking ships being restored.

Arts and crafts, golf and brewery tours round out the offerings at this cheery destination. Get in via train, ferry or car – it’s about three hours from Copenhagen.

Læsø – Denmark

Læsø is known for its houses featuring seaweed-thatched roofs

Læsø is known for its houses featuring seaweed-thatched roofs

In the middle of Kattegat, this laid-back oasis is about as tranquil as it gets. Famous for its seaweed-thatched roofs, white sand beaches and lobster, it offers plenty to look at – and eat.

Take a horseback tour, or cycle the island, which is perfectly flat and easy to traverse. An 18-hole golf course offers sweeping views; runners should visit in June for the marathon. Stop by the Læsø Salt, where you’ll learn about the history of the island’s salt-based economy; relax at Læsø Kur, a historic church-turned-spa; and marvel at the striking Museumsgården. Arrival is via ferry from Frederikshavn (90 minutes) or by air from Roskilde (one hour).

Greenland

Summertime is the best time to go hiking in Greenland

Summertime is the best time to go hiking in Greenland

There’s nothing quite like the world’s largest island. With hiking, mountaineering and dog sledding and heli-skiing, it’s a playground for athletes. For a more laid-back experience, visit the Northeast Greenland National Park to spot polar bears and walruses, warm up in the 30-degree hot springs in Uunartoq, and go sailing under the midnight sun from May to July.

Culture-lovers will have plenty to explore as well: try the National Museum of Greenland and the Hvalsey Norse church ruins. Qaanaaq, Greenland’s most northerly town, is ideal for viewing the Aurora Borealis.

Fedje Island – Norway

Take in the view from the Hellisøy Lighthouse on Fedje Island

Take in the view from the Hellisøy Lighthouse on Fedje Island © levi.s91

Off Western Norway, Fedje is a sparsely inhabited series of 125 tiny islands. Known as the “place where the fish always bite”, it’s a sea angler’s dream. But despite having just 600 inhabitants, it’s full of landmarks. There’s the incredible cast-iron Hellisøy Lighthouse, dating to 1855, which you can tour June to Aug. To the west, Vinappen delivers sweeping views of the ocean as well as German second world war installations.

An appealing church, a local pewter factory and a coastal museum round out the cultural offerings. If you’re an active type, you’ll want to hike the rugged terrain, go wave rafting or cycle the islands. A ferry from Bergen to Fedje takes about an hour.