Home Blog Your Guide to UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Nordics

Your Guide to UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Nordics

Wednesday, 14th April 2021

Pam Forrest

south east iceland svinafellsjokull from air rth

Unearth a natural wonder or cultural gem on your next trip with our pick of World Heritage Sites around the Nordic region, guaranteed to give you itchy feet. From geological marvels to bronze age petroglyphs, discover a collection of sites in Iceland, Greenland, Finland and Scandinavia.

Thingvellir National Park, Iceland

The division of the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates is clearly visible in a striking rift valley at Thingvellir, making it a very well known geological landmark in Iceland. But it is the cultural significance of Thingvellir that sees its inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Established in 930AD, Iceland’s Alþing (Althing), an open-air assembly that laid down laws and settled disputes, took place at this site. The oldest known legislature in the world, the Alþing was held annually until 1798. Archaeological remains can still be seen, making this a compelling cultural diversion in a country where natural wonders steal the show. It is part of a must-see trio known as the Golden Circle.

We recommend: Golden Circle Self Drive

iceland south west thingvellir rift and stone path istk

Vatnajokull National Park – Dynamic Nature of Fire and Ice, Iceland

High plains, lava beds, sand flats, rivers, ravines and waterfalls – including Dettifoss, the most powerful in Europe – make up this vast wilderness area that is geologically unique. A showcase of the raw power of nature, Vatnajökull National Park was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2019 and covers more than three million acres. This is around 13 per cent of Iceland’s landmass. Located in the east of the country, it features 10 volcanoes, most of which are sub-glacial exemplifying Iceland’s iconic nickname, “the land of fire and ice”. Indeed, two of Iceland’s volcanic eruptions since 2010, Grimsvotn and Bardarbunga, have occurred within the park. While much of Vatnajokull extends over the remote Highlands, some of the more accessible areas include visitor favourites, Skaftafell and Jokulsarlon along the south-east coastline.

We recommend: National Parks and Natural Wonders

iceland svartifoss tumbling from basalt cliff istk

Ilulissat Icefjord, Greenland

Designated under Denmark, Ilulissat Icefjord on the west coast of Greenland, is home to Sermeq Kujalleq, one of the fastest and most active glaciers in the world – it annually calves over 35 km3 of ice, which is 10 per cent of the production of all Greenland’s calving ice. Even more staggering when you consider 80% of Greenland is covered in ice. Strikingly beautiful, glaciers of all shapes and sizes drift through the fjord during summer under the glow of the midnight sun.

We recommend: Essential West Greenland

greenland ilulissat icefjord eqip sermia glacier viewpoint istk

Bryggen in Bergen, Norway

Bergen is the gateway to Norway’s iconic fjord region and its ancient wharf and Hanseatic quarter, Bryggen, has been the nerve centre of the city for hundreds of years. Brightly coloured buildings line the distinctive waterfront providing must-have photo opportunities for many a visitor. Ravaged by many fires over the years, these characteristic wooden houses have been restored and reconstructed using traditional techniques. Soak up the atmosphere with a stroll through the narrow alleyways.

We recommend: Over the Roof of Norway

norway bergen bryggen evening side view istk

West Norwegian Fjords – Geirangerfjord and Naeroyfjord, Norway

Part of the 500km-long Norwegian Fjords and among the world’s longest and deepest fjords, with sheer walls rising up to 1400m from the sea’s surface, Geirangerfjord and Naeroyfjord are head-spinningly beautiful. Considered archetypical of fjord landscapes, that they are exceptionally beautiful puts them on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

Laced with waterfalls and stippled with pristine forests, the immense scale of the fjord walls is showcased by viewing from the water, perhaps by kayak or more commonly by cruise. While high vantage lookouts, such as Ørnesvingen overlooking Geirangerfjord, provide views that are simply breathtaking. Our advice is to try both perspectives to fully appreciates this iconic landscape.

We recommend: Norwegian Fjord Odyssey

fjord norway view over naeroyfjord istk

Fortress of Suomenlinna, Finland

Built in the mid-18th century by Swedes, this impressive maritime fortress clings to a group of rocky islands at the entrance to Helsinki’s harbour. A district of the capital city, Suomenlinna has a population of around 850 and is an intriguing collection of walls, guns and cannon barrels, tunnels and barracks.

We recommend: Capitals of Scandinavia

finland suomenlinna fort helsinki istk

Royal Palace of Drottningholm, Sweden

When it comes to cultural World Heritage Sites, Sweden excels, but for sheer exuberance, nothing compares to Versailles-style Drottningholm, an 18th-century royal residence (complete with castle, theatre, Chinese pavilion and gardens) on Lovon Island in Lake Malaren, just outside Stockholm.

We recommend: Capitals of Scandinavia

sweden drottningholm palace summer stockholm astk

Rock carvings in Tanum, Sweden

Found in the north of the Bohuslän archipelago in West Sweden, the rock carvings in Tanum are a unique artistic achievement not only for their rich and varied motifs but also for their cultural and chronological unity. They reveal the life and beliefs of people in Europe during the Bronze Age and are remarkable for their large numbers and outstanding quality.

We recommend: Discover West Sweden

west sweden tanum rock art istk

Discover more UNESCO World Heritage Sites around our destinations in the following guides, or view the full World Heritage List

Feeling inspired?

If you’d like to visit any of the sites shown above, get in touch with our team of travel specialists. With in-depth first hand experience of the Nordics, they can advise the best way to weave a UNESCO site or two into your holiday itinerary.