Beat the heat with a Nordic retreat
Tips for traveling around northern Europe
Published: Jul 24, 2016 06:58 PM

In the scorching summer, Chinese people always prefer a cool or even cold vacation destination. Thus, northern Europe is an ideal option for more and more Chinese families during the summer holiday.

Together with my family, I recently traveled to Finland, Estonia, Sweden, Norway and Iceland. Finnair offers good deals for nonstop flights between Shanghai and Helsinki.

We arrived in the Finnish capital at 2:30 pm, so we still had enough time to visit Helsinki's famous churches on our first day as the daytime is unbelievably long. As the symbol of the city, the Helsinki Cathedral impressed us most.

Chinese people would call it a white church and complain that it's difficult to take a good picture in front of it, as the background is too brilliant, backlighting the person posing in front. We found that it's quite romantic to go for a silhouette effect (pictured below).

We didn't get to go inside the Temppeliaukion Church, also called Church of the Rock because it's built directly into the stone. Alas, that one closed right before our arrival.

The Harold restaurant in downtown Helsinki gave our palates authentic Nordic tastes for our first formal dinner in northern Europe. If you have enough time, don't miss the open-air, old-market barbecue in downtown. The mix of salmon, unnamed little fishes and roasted vegetables is a good choice at a reasonable price.

Tallinn was an unexpected surprise on our journey. We added it onto our schedule at the last minute when several of our friends strongly recommended it. Different companies run frequent ferry services between Helsinki and Tallinn, and it takes 2 hours each way.

Based on our tight schedule, we chose the 7:30 am early shuttle and returned at 1:30 pm, leaving us 3 hours in the old town of Tallinn, including a flavorful local lunch in the square, trying the moose soup and a seafood platter with several kinds of fish prepared in different cooking styles.

The well-preserved old town stands out from the modern developed cities we experienced later, so we would also recommend you go to Tallinn if you can squeeze in a half-day on your itinerary.

One tip worth mentioning is on booking tickets. We traveled as two adults and one child under 16, buying round-trip tickets. On the English-language booking site of the Tallink Silja Line company, the best price was 95 euros ($104.63). After I failed several times to pay via my credit card, I accidentally clicked to the Finnish website. I finally made the booking - and at just 70 euros!

We then took the overnight Viking Line cruise from Helsinki to Stockholm. We took a windowless cabin with two double-decker beds for 113 euros, a fair price for the 16-hour journey.

For those coming from Shanghai, try the buffet, at 29 euros for adults, with unlimited wine and macaroons - a reasonable but high-end luxury if it were back home.

In Stockholm, we purchased both the one-day Stockholm pass and 72-hour transport card, which turned out to be a bad choice, wasting quite some money. The passes are valid upon purchase, and the museums close at about 5 pm and open at 10 am.

The real validity period of the so-called 24 hours is very limited. And in most venues, children under 16 are free to enter, but the saleswoman in Stockholm didn't explain the details to us.

Stockholm in general is like a big garden, with great greenery and beautiful views. After paying a visit to the landmark scenic spots and museum, we took a No.7 tram to its terminal and took a walk.

We first checked out the seaside and then happened to enter a forest. There we saw the No.69 bus, which took us back to the downtown and hotel. My family agreed that the walk in nature was a good, relaxing time that allowed us to catch our breath.

Stockholm in general is like a big garden, with great greenery and beautiful views. Photos: Fu Shiyuan

We also met two university students who were maintaining the greenery in Skansen. As gardening and urban landscape design majors at an agricultural university, they were on a junior-year internship helping loosen soil in the garden. We were surprised to learn that they earned 119 Swedish kronas ($13.82) per hour - really good pay, especially compared with the normal unpaid internships in China.

We rode the train from Stockholm to Oslo. In Norway, when the conductor saw us drinking beer, he reminded us that under certain circumstances it's illegal to drink alcohol on the train - although the train itself sold beer.

In Oslo, we encountered so many ship-themed museums. We had a very good Airbnb experience, about a 10-minute walk from Vigeland Park.

The house we rented has spacious rooms, a good living room and a beautiful garden and terrace. We purchased shrimp, crabs and salmon in the supermarket and prepared our own dinner.

Besides the traditional museums, City Hall and galleries, we witnessed the LGBT parade in Oslo. We also found the Vikingskishuset in Holmenkollen an exciting and thrilling try for my daughter at the price of 600 Norwegian krones ($70.42).

Our experience told us that with basic English, it's not difficult for Chinese people to visit European countries on their own, without a package tour; doing so also offers more opportunities to taste authentic and exotic local flavors and experience more of the culture.

On a worrisome but in the end relieving note, we lost our computer at the Oslo airport, but we got it back after we contacted the airport via e-mail. Nordic propriety!

For tips on visiting Iceland, see" target = "_self" nid = "993295" appprop = "1.