Sweden, Finland and Norway are the three most northern countries in all of Europe… and these Nordic nations also happen to be three of the best places of go bicycle touring in the world.
I know that Sweden, Finland and Norway are great bicycle touring destinations because I’ve spent more than seven months of my life traveling across these three countries on my bicycle. At the time of this article’s publication, I have spent 36 days in Finland, 76 days in Norway, and 107 days traveling by bike in Sweden. As a non-European, I think that’s a pretty good stretch of time to have spent in a foreign country… and I think that experience has given me a pretty good perspective on what it’s like to go bicycle touring in this part beautiful, safe, and friendly part of the world.
By reading this article, listening to the podcast above or watching the video below, you’ll discover what it’s like to go bicycle touring in Sweden, Finland and Norway. You’ll learn 15 important things you need to know before you consider a bike tour in this incredible part of the world.
What is the Biggest Difference Between Sweden, Finland & Norway?
If I had to describe the most major difference between Sweden, Finland and Norway, I would say that Sweden and Finland are relatively flat, with forests, lakes and rivers covering much of these two nations… whereas Norway is a whole lot more mountainous.
In Norway there are big mountains that dive down deep into the water of the fjords, and this contrast in landscapes is what makes Norway so unique when compared with Sweden and Finland (and so many other countries all around the world).
What is the Best Time of the Year to Visit?
The best time to go bicycle touring in Sweden, Finland and Norway is definitely during the summer months. June, July, August and September are probably the best months to go cycling in this part of the world, but May and October can be nice too (if the Nordic weather gods smile in your favor).
No matter what time of year you plan to go bicycle touring in Sweden, Finland and Norway, you need to know that it can and probably will be cold at least some of the time you are there. Even during the summer months, Norway especially can be very, very cold. You need to be prepared for rain and even snow! So, packing a high-quality rain jacket and rain pants is an absolute must. Plus, a fleece jacket is essential to keeping yourself warm – both on and off of your bicycle.
Which Direction Should You Cycle?
If you have the option of cycling in any given direction, you’re going to want to cycle from north to south if at all possible. And if given the choice between traveling east or west, you are likely best off traveling from the west to the east, as the wind tends to blow in that direction for a great deal of the year.
Weather patterns can change, of course, but based on my personal bicycle touring experiences in these three countries, cycling to the south and to the east is going to be the most bicycle-friendly direction, unless (of course), you enjoy cycling into a slight headwind.
11 Reasons Why I Love Bike Touring in Sweden, Finland & Norway
There are so many good reasons to go bicycle touring in Sweden, Finland and Norway, but if you were to ask me what the number one reason for cycling in this part of the world is, I would have to say that it is the boundless nature. If you’re the sort of person who enjoys forests, lakes, rivers, waterfalls, wildlife and edible plants, then these three Nordic nations have something very special about them that you are sure to enjoy!
Another great thing about cycling in Sweden, Finland and Norway is that there aren’t a whole lot of people living here. All three nations combined have a population of approximately 20.5 million people. Compare that to a US state like California (which has a population of almost 40 million people), and I think you will agree that there aren’t nearly as many people in northern Europe as there are in so many other parts of the world. And because there are so few people, it means there is more space for you to enjoy to yourself – both in the cities, on the roads, and in the wilderness.
Another great thing about bicycle touring in Sweden, Finland and Norway is that all three countries have what is called “The Right to Roam” or the “Allemannsretten.” This is regulation that makes you free to hike, bike and camp anywhere you want in nature, so long as you tread lightly and do not cause damage to the natural environment. The Right to Roam makes it super easy to simply roll of the road at the end of your day, push your bicycle a short distance back from the street, and set up camp in some isolated spot in the forest. Not only is doing this legal in Sweden, Finland and Norway, it’s both encouraged and quite common among locals and international travelers.
Compared to other places in the world, Sweden, Finland and Norway have a number of different roads for you to cycle on, which means there are a number of different bicycle touring paths for you to take. You won’t be limited to just one or two paths when you go bicycle touring in Nordic Europe.
And because there are so many different roads to chose from, it means that the vehicle traffic is also spread out across the country. In addition to the fact that all three countries have a wide network of bike paths, traffic on the roads is generally quite light and the roads are in good condition. Road shoulders might not be large, but because there is so little vehicle traffic, it’s more than safe to cycle on most of the two-lane streets in Sweden, Finland and Norway.
Nordic Europe is a great place to travel (both on and off the bicycle) because most people speak English. If you’re the sort of person who is afraid (or maybe just a little timid) about talking to another person or traveling to a part of the world where they don’t speak your language, Sweden, Finland and Norway are great places to travel because almost everyone in these three countries speaks English. Some of the locals, in fact, are very good English speakers! While there are people in Sweden, Finland and Norway who don’t speak English, most people know at least a little bit of the language, so communicating the basics of what you want or need is very, very easy.
Not only are the nations of Sweden, Finland and Norway great from a cycling perspective, but they are fantastic from a safety standpoint as well. Sweden, Finland and Norway are all safe countries for solo bicycle tourists – both for both men and for women. In fact, I’ve seen more women traveling in Norway, Sweden and Finland than I have in any three countries anywhere in the world. Norway especially (for whatever reason) stands out in my mind as one of the most female-friendly travel destinations in the world. Whether yo’are traveling alone (as a solo woman) or with a partner or a friend, Sweden, Finland and Norway are some of the safest nations in the world for a bicycle tour of any kind.
Speaking of safety… No, the refugees that have come into northern Europe over the last several years are not a problem. There is not widespread crime in Sweden, Finland or Norway. If you heard that that was the case, I’m sorry, but you are flat out wrong! While it is true you will encounter refugees during your travels in these three European nations, you will quickly discover that most of the refugees who have come to Sweden, Finland and Norway over the past several years are just normal people trying to live their lives. Yes, bad things do happened in all three countries, but that doesn’t mean crime, rape or theft are widespread by any degree.
As a bicycle tourist, there are number of basic things you need regular access to as you travel: food, water, gas, internet and electricity. Luckily, finding those five things is very easy to do in Sweden, Finland and Norway. Food is readily available and relatively affordable at local supermarkets found in every sizable town. Water can be purchased at local stores of be drunk straight out of streams, rivers and waterfalls. Gas for your camp-stoves is available in the many sports and outdoor shops that are littered across these three nations. Internet access is widespread and there are hardly any locations in the country where you won’t be able to get a signal on your phone. Purchase a SIM card once you arrive here or travel with an international carrier – your coverage should be very good in most instances. Finally, electricity can be had wherever there is a restaurant, campground, hotel, public library or information office.
If you need to take a boat, bus, train or plane with your bicycle while you are traveling in Sweden, Finland or Norway, don’t fret, because the public transportation in this part of the world is both relaxed and relatively easy to do. Public transport operators are used to people traveling with bicycles in this part of the world, so it’s normal to show up with your bike in many locations across the country. Of course, you’ll need to do a little bit of research before traveling on any boat, bus, train or plane, as some of these transportation options may not be bicycle-friendly.
Finally, if you are the sort of person who wants to experience that beauty and nature that Sweden, Finland and Norway have to offer, but you’re not the sort of person who wants to camp in a tent or spend days on end traveling by bicycle without taking a shower, you should know that there are plenty of ways to see these three countries without having to sacrifice your comfort. If you choose to travel on your own, hotels and campgrounds are always an option. Most campgrounds in Sweden, Finland and Norway have small cabins that you can rent (which usually cost $50-$100 or more per night). In addition, you might consider joining a guided or self-guided bicycle tour – where all of your bicycle touring routes, meals and accommodations are taken care for you by an established bicycle touring company. Discover Norway, Berg Fritid (also in Norway) and Upitrek Bike Tours (in Finland) all have really good guided and self-guided bike tours for you to join.
Important Things To Keep in Mind When Bike Touring in Nordic Europe
While Sweden, Finland and Norway all have a number of really good things going for them as bicycle touring destinations, there are some negatives to traveling in these three countries.
The most obvious downside to traveling in this part of the world is that it can be pretty expensive. Sweden, Finland and Norway are three of the most expensive countries in the world, and you can feel it when you travel there both on and off of your bicycle. Food, drinks, lodging, transportation and entertainment are all pretty expensive… but a bike tour in this part of the world doesn’t have to break the bank.
For example, on my recently completed 2017 bike tour from Umea, Sweden to the Nordkapp in northern Norway, I spent 28 days biking across all three of these countries and the grand total for my trip was only $722.76 USD (or 676 Euros), which breaks down to approximately $26 USD per day (or 23 Euros). I was able to travel for so little because I only paid for lodging on one occasion and spent the other 27 nights camping for free in the forest. Also, the price listed here does not include my airfare to and from Europe, which, for me at least, was another $900+ USD.
Earlier I mentioned that one of the best things about bicycle touring in Sweden, Finland and Norway is that the landscape is so spectacular and the nature is so abundant. The downside to all that nature, however, is that for some people at least, the landscape can become a bit boring over time – especially if you spend all your time traveling in Sweden and Finland (which can appear to be a never-ending blanket of forests, lakes and rivers).
Another major downside to cycling in northern Europe is that because these three countries are so far north, it means that they are cold places to travel for much of the year. Bicycle touring in Sweden, Finland and Norway during the winter months is not something most people are going to want to do… and even during the summer it can be quite cold. Norway, especially, during the summer months can be a very cold place – depending on where you are in the country and what the weather happens to be at the time. I personally wouldn’t let a little cold weather hold me back from experiencing this incredible part of the world, but if you’re the type of person who can’t stand even a little bit of cold, then you might think twice before conducting a bike tour in any of these three Nordic nations.
And while the cold can be viewed as a negative for many people, one of the good things about traveling in Sweden, Finland and Norway when the temperatures are low is that the cold weather helps to keep the mosquitoes at bay. In Sweden and Finland especially, the mosquitoes can get really, really bad during the summer months. So, when it’s cold… it’s cold, but the mosquitoes aren’t around. And when the weather warms up and it’s more comfortable to cycle, it also means that every time you stop cycling, you need to be prepared to fight off the mosquitoes. Carrying a good bug spray, citronella oil or other mosquito repellent is an absolute must during the summer months!
So, there you have it! Those are 15 important things you need to know about bicycle touring in Sweden, Finland and Norway.
As I said before, I’ve spent more than seven months of my life traveling in these three countries and all three places are some of my favorite bicycle touring destinations in the world. Don’t let the cost, cold or mosquitoes hold you back! Sweden, Finland and Norway are amazing destinations for a bicycle tour of any length.