Northern Delights; Chris Anderson Manages to Tour Denmark, Norway and Sweden in Just Eight Days - Thanks to the Train

Article excerpt

Byline: Chris Anderson

THERE is profound majesty to be found across Scandinavia, from its dazzling capitals to its ravishing interior. On top of that, it has a cultural life as bracing and as wised-up as you will find anywhere.

But would it be possible to take in so much richness during a whistlestop jaunt by train, traversing Denmark, Norway and Sweden in just eight nights? I wasn't sure. I was, however, eager to find out.

I set off by Eurostar to Brussels, then on to Cologne for an overnight stop. OK, it's not Scandinavia (I could easily have pressed on to Denmark), but the secret of a successful rail trip is to break the journey down into manageable segments.

In any case, one of the joys of rail travel is to build in precisely this sort of digression: a lunch here, an overnight stay there. My itinerary was devised by Railbookers, a company which specialises in tailormade holidays by train and which has a complete understanding not only of how to devise workable schedules but of the global rail system from St Pancras to the Rockies.

Cologne is a prosperous, buzzing city, and when I arrived the locals were already spilling out of the bars in the old town and on to its squares and streets. I had a slim, foamy glass of pilsner in Peters Brauhaus; somewhere else I had superb sausages and oily, crusty potatoes. Then it was back to my hotel, the Marriott, for a complimentary nightcap and pudding in the swish executive lounge (this admirable place dispenses freebie cocktails and hors d'oeuvres, too).

The following morning I struck out for Copenhagen. This is a thrilling journey for the straightforward reason that at a place called Puttgarden, the train trundles into the bowels of a roll-on, roll-off ferry and makes the crossing to Denmark along with cars and lorries.

During the voyage, rail passengers go to the upper decks with the petrol-heads, and at the other side we get back on the train and we trundle off again. A childish delight.

An hour or two later we were pulling into the Danish capital. Copenhagen is a beguiling city, blessed with conventional good looks - canals, cobbles, gables - and conventional attractions such as splendid museums. But it's hip, too, and replete with independent shops and cool design studios.

The landmarks have to be ticked off, so I visited the Tivoli gardens - a rather decorous amusement park - the somewhat austere royal residence, and the palaces of state on Slotsholmen island.

I also found myself trekking out to the Little Mermaid, the iconic but entirely underwhelming city symbol that sits on the waterfront. She is a small, droopy thing, wearing an expression as if trying to remember where she has left her mobile phone.

The nearby Gefion Fountain is much more the ticket: the eponymous goddess fights to control the four sons she has just transformed into writhing oxen. Now this is the stuff of proper Nordic legend.

As is the case with many cities, though, the real beauty of Copenhagen is to be found in simply strolling its streets, from the timemellowed university quarter to the hippy enclave of Christianshavn.

For this, it helps to have a central hotel: mine, the Admiral, was not only an amazing building (a vast former warehouse with 3ft-thick walls, vaulted ceilings and preserved timbers) but it was situated absolutely in the middle of the city.

After two nights in Copenhagen, I pushed on up the coast towards Oslo, stopping for a night in Gothenburg.

Canals add allure to a city and so, I think, do trams. Gothenburg has both. I checked in to my hotel - the sassy, gleaming Radisson Blu - and then wandered over to the Haga district for dinner in the cool university quarter. The following day I took the train towards Norway. The journey itself is unforgettable. My carriage had picture windows and sleek pine fittings and I gazed out at epic wildernesses of lake, forest and sky. …