“Be prepared for the mosquitos,” she said.
A month before my trip to Sweden and Norway — as luck would have it — I had just stumbled into a conversation at a bar with a gregarious Swedish intern in San Francisco.
“Actually, the summer’s aren’t too different from here. They’re pretty cool, but much more humid and full of mosquitos. Definitely pack bug spray for your trip to Sweden.”
Having grown up on the muggy, buggy, converted swamp-lands of Washington D.C. I couldn’t quite process humid and mosquito-filled weather sans 90-degree heat. But once in Stockholm, it would all make sense.
After spending much of June and July biking around Sweden and Norway, chatting with more than a few friendly Danes, Swedes, and Norwegians, here’s what to pack for Scandinavia in the summer.
Start with the Right Luggage
Before you pack anything, you’ll need the right bag for the trip. You’ll be better off with a carry on-sized travel backpack — like the Setout Backpack — than a suitcase or hiking bag.
A suitcase is unwieldy. It’s heavy and you have to awkwardly hoist it into the overhead bin and up and down stairs. A hiking bag on the other hand, is great for comfort and has the benefit of hands-free travel, but it packs from the top — so you have to dump your dirty laundry everywhere whenever you’re looking for anything.
The Setout Backpack has a comfortable, padded hip belt so it carries like a hiking bag, but packs like a suitcase so you can access everything you need. You’ll be able to navigate airports, planes, staircases, and public transit with ease. Plus, it’s got just the right amount of organization so you can find what you need when you need it.
Things to Know Before Packing for Scandinavia in the Summer
Before I dive into the rest of our Scandinavia summer packing list, there are four important things to know about traveling in Scandinavia during the summer:
1. Things Are Expensive
This stereotype exists for a reason: Scandinavian countries really are expensive. Loosely speaking, Norway is the most expensive, followed by Sweden and then Denmark. Seriously, after a week in Norway we were really beginning to miss Sweden’s $10 beers.
So, while it can be a space saver to pick up basic items once you’re in country, try to avoid this while traveling in Sweden, Norway, or Denmark.
2. Prepare For Midnight Sun
In the summer, it stays light for most of the day in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. The southern parts of Sweden and Norway, as well as Denmark, all get dark (actually dark) much earlier than the northern parts. So, if you’re sticking around there — as many travelers do — you should get a few hours of darkness. Nonetheless, I’d still recommend that you bring an eye mask and to not bring a headlamp.
3. Denmark, Sweden, and Norway Are Very Safe
Similar to Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway are all very safe countries and you won’t need a money belt.
4. Midsummer Festivals Shut Everything Down
Similar to July 4th in the U.S., the midsummer holiday is a big deal in Scandinavia. It marks the start of summer and most businesses shut down as locals head out of town and to the woods, or beaches, to celebrate the holiday weekend.
If you’re planning to be around during that holiday, book a place to stay in advance and prepare to have limited food options.
What to Pack for Scandinavia
Prepare for Cool & Warm, Rainy, Buggy Weather
“Aren’t you cold?” an older Swedish woman asked me, staring at my legs which were covered mid-way down my calves by bike shorts and leg warmers.
“No, I’m fine!” I said while trying to hide my shivering.
Outside of Sundsvall, mid-way up the coast of Sweden, I was damp from the heavy rain outside. With temperatures cold enough to see my breath, I kept telling myself things would get better once I hopped back on the bike. A few hours later, I shed my sweatshirt and rain jacket, hot from the sunny break in the rain.
Such is summer in Scandinavia. When it’s cloudy and rainy, it’s pretty chilly. Once the sun comes out, though, it can be nice and warm — at least in the southern parts of Sweden, Norway, and in all of Denmark. With that in mind, I’d recommend bringing:
- 2 tank tops
- 3 t-shirts
- 1-2 fleece or sweaters
- 1 warm jacket
- 1 rain jacket (if your other jacket isn’t waterproof) or umbrella
- 1 knit cap
- 1 scarf
- 1 pair of shorts or a skirt
- 2 pairs of pants
- 1 pair of warm socks
Make sure that you bring at least once nice outfit, since there are a lot of great restaurants and nightlife to explore in Denmark, Sweden, and Norway — don’t miss out because you’re looking a little too scrubby!
If blending in is important to you, I’d recommend packing clothes that are minimalist and clean. The fashion is simple but edgy, using lots of neutral colors and clean lines — which is pretty perfect for a travel wardrobe too.
Hanging Out at the Beach
Though you’ll likely get hit with chilly weather, you should also prepare for some actual warm, summery weather too — just in case! Though I was freezing my butt off in July while on a fishing trip in the Norwegian Fjords, our guide was happily recounting an August boat tour where it was so hot, all of his clients decided to skip on the fishing and jump in for a swim instead.
Similarly, Denmark and Southern Sweden, along with Norway have some great spots for lounging by the beach on a sunny day.
You should also pack:
Personally, I brought a small cross-body purse that was big enough to fit my camera, wallet, and other essentials. It was versatile enough to work for going out in the evening and walking around town. If you plan to do anything outdoorsy, though, I’d recommend bringing a small backpack in addition to or instead of a purse.
Camping: Pack for It
Scandinavia is expensive, that’s no secret — but in the summertime you can take advantage of the moderate weather and camp outside.
In Sweden, it’s actually legal to camp anywhere for a night (except private property) and official campsites will only run you about $10 a night to pitch a tent (and usually include a shower and kitchen). In Norway, you can camp outside of towns (except on farmlands) for up to 48 hours. Denmark, however, does not allow camping anywhere outside of official campgrounds. All three countries have high-quality camping facilities and many offer cute little cabins to stay at if you don’t have a tent.
If you’re planning to camp, be sure to bring:
- Tent (unless you’re relying on cabins — which you should try and reserve in advance)
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping pad
- Knife, spork, and collapsible cup
- Bug spray (did I mention you have to bring bug spray yet?)
Packing a camp stove is not necessary unless you plan on skipping the official campgrounds.
Staying in Hostels?
If you’re staying in hostels at all on your trip, make sure you bring the following to save yourself some cash:
- 1 travel towel
- 1 set of travel sheets (like the Cocoon mummy sheet)
Some, but not all, will charge you for these extras. You might also want to bring a pillowcase, but I usually just stuff the pillow in a t-shirt I don’t mind stretching and call it a
Shoes: Just Cities, or, Into the Woods?
Since I was bike-touring around Sweden and Norway, I had my bike shoes, a pair of black sandals, and a pair of Toms. It worked out okay since I spent most of my time in my bike shoes, but the sandals and Toms were terrible in the rain. If I were to go back for a trip without the bike, I’d bring:
- A pair of rain-friendly ankle boots
- Sneakers for hiking
If you’re planning to just stick to the cities, you could even get away with just a pair of ankle boots or casual rain-proof shoes and comfortable sandals.
Make sure you have shoes that could work for the following situations:
- Hanging out on the beach in the Stockholm archipelago
- Trekking around the arctic circle in Norway
- Soaking up the nightlife in Copenhagen
- Hopping on a bike in Gothenburg
- Exploring Oslo in the rain
Wondering what to pack for Scandinavia this summer?
Start with the right luggage — a carry on travel backpack is best.
Make sure you pack clothing that will keep you warm on a chilly, rainy day (or while sitting on a boat in the fjords) but also a few sunny-day beach items.
Also, don’t forget to bring one nice outfit to wear while exploring Scandinavian nightlife or its booming dining scene.
Bug spray and sunscreen are a must –– as are any toiletries you’ll need while there (since buying them in country will be pricey).
If you’re trying to save a bit of cash and enjoy the nicer weather, consider bringing camping equipment — or at least a travel sheet for hostel stays.
For shoes, a sneaker-sandal or sneaker-sandal-boot combo will do you well. You’ll definitely want something that will hold up while slushing around in the rain, being active, or wearing on a night out.