Enjoying the Summer Scandinavian Style

You know, the Swedes and the Danes really know how to celebrate come summertime.  It must be something to do with the extremes of their weather. Think about it, if you'd just had a bitterly cold and dark winter, come spring and summer, wouldn't you be ready to get outside and enjoy yourself?  Oh you did? And you are?  So how come you're sitting here and reading this then? Not that I'm complaining, but isn't there something more … outdoorsy you could be doing?

I know, you're going to tell me that you're sitting here because the less than perfect British weather has ruined yet another of your days off. But it's really no excuse, because our Scandinavian cousins don't sit around waiting for the perfect day, they get out there. I'm not suggesting you conduct a barbecue during a rainstorm, but there's a lot we can learn from our Nordic near-neighbours. If you think Scandinavia is all about flat-pack furniture and Eurovision, think again. It's chilled, chic and at home with nature.

In truth, you will find clean, sleek design all around you. But with lilac trees in blossom and hedgerows and gardens that come alive with flowers, Scandinavia is one of the prettiest places on the planet, especially during June. There's plenty of shopping in the cities, of course, but with the cost of living in the Nordic countries considerably higher than here in the UK (especially if you intend to buy alcohol), you might well want to choose to spend your time, and your money, soaking up some of the local lifestyle. 

The Swedes, in particular, are remarkably chilled. They have an almost karmic sense of well-being. In a 'the sun is shining, the flowers are blooming, we're not in a hurry so everything will be just fine' kind of way. Never have I known a group of people more content with their lot than the Swedes. I think it's because they choose to bob along in harmony with nature, rather than trying to fight it. Largely, they eat seasonally. And they adjust their behaviour according to the time of year. Come the dark, cold nights of winter they hunker down beside fires, illuminated by candles and indulge themselves.

Come summer, they get up early and go to bed late to make the very most of the long, drawn-out days. And, as soon as the weather allows, they get outside and enjoy each day. Sweden, in particular, is such a laid-back place that it might, at first glance, seem that the people who work at tourist attractions, or in restaurants aren't in nearly enough of a hurry to serve you. But, mark my words, I've never experienced bad service there. Remember, just because they don't appear to be racing back and forth doesn't mean they're not on the case. Just relax, wait and, before you know it, everything will be just fine. Once you adjust,visiting Sweden and the rest of Scandinavia, are a remarkably relaxing experiences. Indeed, I defy anyone to spend a few days there without wanting to bring back home just a little of that unhurried lifestyle.

In cities like Gothenburg taking coffee and cake is almost a religion.

Copenhagen's Tivoli Gardens stands right in the middle of the city and is  a popular playground for young and old alike.

The floral planting and spectacular water features at the Tivoli Gardens make for an interesting contrast to this 'Viking' building.

If you've already been lucky enough to visit Scandinavia in the warmer months, you'll know that, when it comes to making the most of the daylight, they really know how to push the boat out. Often literally. With so much coastline and so many lakes and rivers, it's little wonder that they love to get near to the water. Either on the water in a boat, or on dry land on one of the thousands of islands that lie just off the coast of many of the major settlements. In many cities, like Malmo, Gothenburg and Copenhagen, you can take very relaxing boat trips around the waterways, which is well worth doing because you get a real feel of the Scandinavian personality and a better look at the architecture of those cities. 

What might startle you, given the Scandinavian propensity for spending time close to water, is the amount of alcohol that is consumed in some parts. Before you tut-tut, you need to understand a little about the Nordic relationship with alcohol. In Norway alcohol is extraordinarily expensive. To be fair, one of the reasons that liquor is so expensive in Norway is that, a few years ago public drunkenness was in danger of spiralling out of control so the government brought in legislation to restrict the sale of  strong alcohol to licensed restaurants and bars, and to state-owned off-licences. In Sweden alcohol, while still quite pricey, is more freely available and in Denmark there are even fewer restrictions and even lower prices.

Spend a weekend in Copenhagen and you will soon learn that the Danes are enthusiastic drinkers. It's not uncommon to see elderly ladies enjoying a glass of chardonnay with breakfast. Areas like Nyhavn, which is lined with bars and restaurants, fill up from Friday evening to Sunday night with revellers, many of whom don't seem to go home the entire weekend. Yet, in contrast to many cities in the UK, you never feel remotely threatened. Yes, the Danes like to revel. Yes they can be rowdy. But they are among the most polite drunks in the world. And they tidy up after themselves. Come Monday, apart from hundreds of bottles and glasses all neatly stashed in crates, you wouldn't know there had been a single drop drunk.

For a more family-friendly weekend, try Copenhagen's Tivoli Gardens. Opened to the Danish public in 1841 on what was once the edge of the city ramparts, it's now one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country it offers a mix of beautiful gardens, amusement park rides, fast food outlets and elegant restaurants. They're a bit pricier than those outside the park, but you get the added advantage of beautiful surroundings.

The huge Stortorget square in the Gamla Stan area of Stockholm is lined with lovely restaurants and cafes.

If you really want to take advantage of the extra Scandinavian daylight you need to head north. On a coach tour through Scandinavia I visited Fagernes in Norway. At only 60 degrees of latitude and with three weeks to go before midsummer, the sun was still visible on the horizon as the time approached midnight and, even in the small hours it was never totally dark. It's a strange experience because, if you're not used to it, it seems quite ridiculous to try to go to sleep while the sun's still out.  And you don't really need to stay up all night to make the most of the Scandinavian summer. You don't even have to stay outside. Or keep warm either. 

You'll have to get wrapped up in your thermals to enjoy Stockholm's Icebar at the Nordic Sea Hotel

One of Stockholm's most popular, and unusual tourist attractions is the Icebar, the world's first permanent ice bar boasts temperatures of minus five year round. Constructed within the Nordic Sea Hotel, right next to Stockholm's main railway station, Icebar Stockholm is made from ice harvested from the Torne River in northern Sweden. You have to book your 40-minute experience ahead but it is worth the effort. Unless you've travelled to the North Pole, you're unlikely to have experienced anything like it. Before you enter you're togged up in a thermal, hooded cape and special mittens. And believe me, you might think you look ridiculous, but you'll need them! Because everything, from the bar itself, the tables, the chairs, the decor and even the 

glasses are made from ice. The menu of drinks are, unsurprisingly, mostly made from vodka. And given fabulous names like the Wolf Paw, the Husky Sledge and the Snowflake. Although there are other drinks, including non-alcoholic ones. You might think that spending only 40 minutes in the bar is a bit limiting, but by the time your slot is up, even the most cold-tolerant among you will be ready to get back to a hot and humid day.

The entire bar is made of ice imported from Lapland

No need to add ice to these vodka cocktails – the glasses are made of solid ice!

Of course we can't all go dashing off to Scandinavia to spend a week, but perhaps we can bring just a little bit of that Nordic flavour to our own homes. If you live near an IKEA why not search out some Swedish foods and drinks from their Swedenshop. Or buy fresh, seasonal produce from your local markets. Even if it's drizzly you can always put a bottle of flavoured vodka in the fridge to chill. Nip outside to pick a few wild flowers, or posher ones from your garden. Because, whether it's sunny or not, it's still nearly summertime and it'd be a pity to miss out on all the fun because we're waiting for the perfect day, now wouldn't it?