Scandinavia is home to breathtaking landscapes, exciting cities, and some of the most creative chefs in the world, like Andreas Viestad from Norway, and Rene Redzepi of the highly acclaimed Copenhagen restaurant Noma. Here in Seattle, we have a close connection to the Nordic countries. At the end of the 19th century many immigrants settled here, creating strong community ties which are still alive today. Every summer the Nordic Heritage Museum celebrates the traditions of Scandinavia with the Vikings Day Festival, and opens its doors to the public free of charge, so I headed over to Ballard to pay a visit.
In the mid 1800’s immigration to America from Europe reached its peak as people sought to escape hardships back home and create a better life for their families. It was during this time that many new arrivals from Nordic countries made their way to the Northwest, drawn by the familiar looking landscape. They quickly found work in the fishing and lumber industries of Seattle, and by 1890 comprised a quarter of all foreign-born residents of the city. You get a sense of what life was like for these early immigrants in the many exhibits covering four floors of the museum. Displays and dioramas depict daily life and highlight the contributions made to the city by settlers from Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland and Denmark. Wander through the rooms and you’ll see fine examples of traditional clothing and musical instruments, as well as modern art and interior design. The museum also has a community center where you can take classes in Nordic languages and learn to make the traditional Christmas treat, aebleskiver.
If you explore the neighborhoods of Ballard surrounding the museum, you’ll see signs of Nordic influence around nearly every corner, including Larsen’s Danish Bakery, and a store devoted to stocking products from back home. Stop in at Scandinavian Specialties, where you can shop for Swedish and Norwegian food products as well as cookbooks and other home goods. Then pull up a seat in their café and relax with a little lefse or a delicious smorrebrod to top off your visit, and experience a taste of Scandinavia right here in Seattle.