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Summer in Scandinavia

Sometimes it pays to plan ahead. Roundtrip flights to Europe in June, July or August are routinely $1000 or more. This year with oil prices on the rise, fares may climb even higher.

When compared to current fares for late winter or spring travel, this summer sale from Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) may initially evoke sticker shock. But if you absolutely want to visit in the summer, these fares could end up saving you quite a bit of krona.

I booked a similar sale in March of last year for an August trip to Stockholm and Copenhagen. When I checked fares for those same August flights in June, prices were $300 higher.

The SAS sale includes fares for Stockholm, Copenhagen, Oslo and Helsinki -- cities that are often not the first choice for U.S. travelers, but well worth a visit. If you go, here are a few things to know:

  1. Enjoy the Sunlight: Being closer to the Arctic Circle, the days are long in these cities -- sunsets around 10 p.m. are not uncommon through the summer. These late nights will sync well with the American body clock, so take advantage of the extra time with a late dinner or drink at a local pub. (I recommend Nils Oscar - a local Swedish brew.)
  2. Take the Kids: SAS was very helpful and accommodating for our children. They offer a discounted children's fare (up to 25% off). In addition, some of the comforts that you no longer see on U.S. carriers were available on family-friendly SAS: Pre-boarding, free gate check for strollers, kid-friendly meals. Our favorite perk: The flight attendants come through the cabin before the flight and give out a free toy to the youngsters. Scandinavian countries are very family-friendly. For example, a parent with a stroller gets free bus fare in Stockholm.
  3. Use Public Transportation: Buy a 72-hour bus pass in Stockholm to see almost all of the city -- from the Blue Hall, where they award the Nobel Prize annually, to a preserved 17th-century warship at the Vasa Museum. If visiting Stockholm, definitely spend some time on the island of Kungsholmen (King's Island) -- with bars and restaurants popular with the locals. 
  4. Double Up: Consider using the train to travel between cities in Scandinavia. We flew into Stockholm and then out of Copenhagen. The price was the same and we got to see two great cities for the same fare.
  5. It's Not Cheap: The Scandinavian countries are not on the Euro. The krona is currently quite strong vs. the dollar and the currency valuation of 7:1 can really shock you. There's nothing like taking a bill with "500" on it (about $70) and then using it to pay for a casual dinner. Also when dining out, the price generally accounts for tip, as the wait staff gets paid a full wage. So while the prices seem high, you won't need to leave a tip on top of the bill.
  6. Save Receipts: The 25% VAT adds quite a bit to most purchases – but some of that is refundable after the trip if you keep receipts. Most shops will give you the necessary forms for a refund once they catch your American accent.
  7. Do a Touristy Thing or Two: While no one wants to stick out like a tourist, Scandinavian countries are not a common vacation destination for many Americans. But it is popular with other European travelers -- for good reason. We particularly enjoyed shopping at IKEA (which even sells groceries in Sweden) and H&M in Stockholm, seeing the historic Swedish settlement of Skansen (think Colonial Williamsburg, but with reindeer) and visiting the Rosenborg Castle in Copenhagen.
  8. Water World: Both Stockholm and Copenhagen are surrounded by water, so take advantage of water taxis for a transportation as well as a relatively cheap way to see more of the city. They follow pre-marked routes and offer hop-on, hop-off convenience for one ticket price.
  9. Visit the Old City: Few things appeal to me more than just walking through the Old City in a European metropolis and exploring the winding narrow streets, random town squares and small shops that add so much character and charm. History is often right around the corner -- whether it's the one-time residence of a famous poet or author or a 13th-century castle or church.
  10. Get Out of Town: If visiting for more than a week, it's worth venturing outside of Stockholm to see another side of Sweden. We took the train to Bastad, a popular resort town in southern Sweden, and shacked up for a few days in a B&B. Even mundane daily chores like visiting the grocery store and getting lunch provide a sense of adventure when living like a local. It allowed us to see an entirely different side of Sweden than our stay in the capital city.

If peak summer fares aren't in the budget, visit sooner. This SAS spring sale has fares as low as $334 each way through June 16.

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Tips by

Deal Expert, New York
Monday, March 14, 2011
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Andrew Young