I am always surprised to meet seasoned travelers who have never traveled to Scandinavia. Many people tell me that they always wanted to go to the northern European countries along the Baltic Sea, but have yet to take the trip. Sightseeing, seafaring history, and shopping for new and vintage items are the main attractions of this wonderful part of the world. Once in some of Scandinavia’s grand cities, consider these shopping tips.
Helsinki is a bustling city that is easy to navigate even if you are a newcomer. The straightforward lay-out of the city allows serious shoppers to spend less time finding their way and more time hitting the shops. Starting from the main railroad station, designed by Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen or the conveniently located Stockmann department store (one of Europe’s largest retailers), you can pleasantly browse the shop windows, find big bargains, and eat ice cream alongside the locals. They seem to enjoying the treat almost non-stop!
Downtown Helsinki boasts a major Marimekko store. Marimekko sells the Scandinavian home goods that were popularized by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy in the early 1960s and on American college campuses in the 1980s. The famous store offers colorful, graphic, printed textiles and other interior design necessities for the design guru in all of us. I was impressed to find a few bargain tables on the main shopping floor piled high with brightly colored floral beach bags, stylish make-up cases, and boxes of trendy cocktail glasses. From the cheerful Marimekko shop, I brought home a bundle.
To truly experience Helsinki, you need to walk around the orange tented stalls at Embassy Park, the city’s open air market. Two for one specials are the norm as sidewalk sellers offer handmade jewelry, fresh fish, home grown produce, and woolen crafts. Here, negotiating is a polite art which is a far cry from New Yorkers’ “hand-over-your-first-born” style of street bargaining. If you offer a Finnish seller a fair deal, you’ll typically get exactly what you asked for. High quality is the norm.
At the stalls, tasting a loose grape or stray lingonberry before you buy a bunch is an acceptable practice, within reason. Let me tell you, once you tried a piece of Finnish fruit, you will be hooked and you will buy more. The strawberries in Helsinki are particularly delicious.
Stockholm & Visby, Sweden
Stockholm is a cosmopolitan city filled with expensive specialty shops and fashion-forward couture. If it’s bargains you are looking for in Sweden, then Stockholm is not the place for you or your wallet. For you bargain hunters, instead of Stockholm, plan to visit the resort island of Gotland and head for the medieval town of Visby. There, I discovered both historic architecture and unexpected cheap antiques treasures. Swedes come to leisurely stroll the cobblestoned paths of Visby and cash in on inexpensive pieces of antique furniture. In Visby’s outdoor antiques shops, I found a pair of white-washed Gustavian chairs selling for a couple hundred bucks. The same chairs would have cost you thousands of dollars in an American antique store. Hand-painted corner cabinets in the 19th Century palette of teal, mustard, and coral featuring floral scroll work in the Scandinavian tradition were pretty cheap, too.
When shopping in lovely Copenhagen, my advice is to bank on the basics. Copenhagen offers some of the best Scandinavian designed furniture options in luscious, native woods. Reject the urge to buy amber jewelry as there are too many obvious fakes for sale and don’t get taken in by a miniature copper replica of the famous Little Mermaid statue either.
Scandinavian furniture design is hot with today’s collectors just as it was in the 1950s and 1960s. Chairs, even in miniature, by Arne Jacobsen are coveted pieces and command high prices, upwards of $150 each. For my money, invest that $150 in the real thing—a vintage Scandinavian molded wood chair for the kitchen.
Copenhagen’s shops sell the fabulous designs and quality workmanship of well-known Scandinavian designer, George Jensen, in silver and stainless steel. For my money, I wouldn’t leave Copenhagen without a piece of something designed by Jensen! Just remember to stick to your budget.
So, if you are looking for a trip that unites old world history and contemporary culture, look to northern Europe for fine collectible souvenirs.
Ph.D. antiques appraiser, author, award-winning TV personality and TV talk show host, Dr. Lori presents antiques appraisal events nationwide, including the Tampa Bay area. Dr. Lori is the expert appraiser on Discovery channel’s hit TV show, "Auction Kings". Visit www.DrLoriV.com, www.facebook.com/doctorlori or call (888) 431-1010.