As a middle child, I have always deeply appreciated a sibling rivalry, and Copenhagen and Stockholm’s love/hate relationship is infamous. The cities evolved together, learning to adapt and change to new eras and political climates. They fed off of each other’s progress and built on each other’s successes. To this day, they share similar customs and policies, from smørrebrød to socialized medicine. They also share a long and bitter history, filled with intense wars, murderous castle dinner parties, and TikTok debates over fashion preferences.
Copenhagen is known for Tivoli; Stockholm is known for Gröna Lund. Copenhagen bolsters an array of canals; Stockholm is arranged on an archipelago. Copenhagen is flat as a pancake; Stockholm has hills for days.
Both cities create welcoming spaces for nature lovers and coffee enthusiasts. Both cities contain famous castles and shiny metro stations. Both cities are known around the world for their progressive policies, sustainability, and charm.
It is hard to say which city I have loved more. Each has been special in unique ways. Each has made me smile. Each has connected me to incredible people and places. As for which city is for you, I will let you decide. 🙂
Stockholm is for the Ghost Lovers
I feel like most people believe ghost tours are light-hearted and goofy, filled with tourist traps and half truths. Yet, as I stared at cobbled streets and storefronts of Gamla Stan, I was struck by the old town’s eeriness and dissonance. I got ice cream at a store where a widowed woman was once murdered for running her own business. I laughed and took pictures with friends in an alleyway that was once known for murders and theft, so much so that it is still referred to as Hell’s alleyway. I rubbed the head of the “Little boy who looks at the moon” without realizing I was making a wish to conceive. I listened to our ghost tour guide describe how person after person was murdered in the square where the Nobel museum, a hallmark of innovation and global cooperation, now stands. While I may not have seen any actual ghosts, I did leave with more questions than answers.
Copenhagen is for the Home Decor Connoisseurs
Copenhagen is home to so many fun home decor stores, from Studio Arhoj to Hay House. There are an array of little trinkets, ranging from colorful candles to amorphous figurines. My favorite find was Studio Arhoj’s “Mi Familia” collection, which has hundreds of colorful figures in fun shapes. I also enjoyed the various vases, plates, and pillows. It was so fun to see the creativity of everyone in the city.
Stockholm is for the Nature Lovers
From the archipelago to moss filled forests, Stockholm is home to beautiful scenery and wildlife. During my first week here, I went on a hike in Tyresta National Park, which is located just outside of the city. The rocks and shimmery lakes were like a scene out of Frozen. I had so much fun hiking with my friends, and we were able to see so much of the park and nature reserve in just a few hours!
There are also hikes closer to the city by Nacka Reserve and parks along the waterfront. It is also possible to enjoy nature on the water with kayaks, boats, and paddle boards. There are even beaches to swim in the archipelago!
Copenhagen is for Public Transport Wimps
In Copenhagen, I only used public transportation once, when my class was going to a field trip to a hospital outside of the city. Otherwise, I got around on my bike. To preface, I trip at least three times a day, struggle to differentiate my lefts from my rights, and have taken several bloody spills on a bicycle back home. Yet, I was still able to bike in Copenhagen with zero biking accidents. If you learn the rules and follow them, you will be safe biking in Copenhagen. Plus, the fresh air and exercise endorphins will keep you in a good mood throughout your class.
The flat, flat, flat Copenhagen streets will allow you to get everywhere you want to go without having to catch a bus or train. For someone who is completely inept at public transportation, this was a blessing. That’s not to disregard the fact that public transportation in Scandinavia is clean, accessible, and reliable. I use the metro everyday in Stockholm, and I love it too. Biking is just a fun (and still green) alternative for those who are weary of public transport.
Stockholm is for Themed Restaurant Enthusiasts
Viking bar. Pirate bar. Ice bar. While Stockholm may not have as many wine bars as Copenhagen, they have an excess of fun filled themed bars. My friends and I went to the ice bar together and were served with ice cups. The theme of the bar changes every year, and while it may seem obvious, it is super cold. We were only able to last 20 minutes inside, but it was still amazing to be in such a unique space!
Copenhagen is for Outdoor Market Goers
From the Glass Market to Reffen, there are so many outdoor spaces in Copenhagen to pick up some fresh fruit, a meal, or a treat after class! The Glass Market is located right by the DIS classrooms and is such a fun place to see, even if you aren’t hungry or in need of produce. I loved looking at all of the fruits and flowers on display. Reffen is a little bit further outside of the city but is a perfect place to grab dinner with friends. I would always try to go around sunset to watch from the water front.
Scandinavia is for the Coffee Obsessed
Both Copenhagen and Stockholm love coffee. In fact, the average Dane consumes 1.5 cups of coffee a day, and the average Swede consumes 3.2 cups of coffee a day. Coffee is deeply embedded in Scandinavian culture, and cafes go to great lengths to create welcoming and comfortable environments to enjoy coffee in. One coffee shop in Copenhagen, the Living Room, has lots of couches and blankets inside. In general, coffee time is truly a sacred time. In Sweden, there is even a name for this tradition: fika. During fika, people take a break to drink coffee and relax. Some coffee shops even restrict laptop and work material use during this time. I have enjoyed many fikas during my time here, including a science fika with my class.
Scandinavia is for Museum Goers
There are so many museums in both Copenhagen and Stockholm that have free admission or reduced student rates. This makes it so easy to see iconic art pieces and experience beautiful museums. In Copenhagen, I would recommend going to the Glyptotek on Wednesdays, and the Thorvaldsen on Thursdays. With an array of scupltures and beautiful spaces, these are two of the best museums I have ever been to. Similarly, Stockholm has free admission to the Nationalmuseum, the Moderna Museet, and more.
There are also places that are 100% worth the visit, even though they don’t have reduced rates. I enjoyed Skansen, the oldest open air museum in Sweden, and the Copenhagen Photo Festival. Both cities also have lovely places to swim, ride rollercoasters, and have fun.
Scandinavia is for YOU
Whoever you are, whatever you love, and wherever you call home, Scandinavia has unique and fun opportunities. As cheesy as it sounds, I have truly been challenged and grown here in so many ways. Each of my friends has gained something from being here, and we have each benefited in different ways.