Nyhavn Harbour in Copenhagen, Denmark. Image Credit: Supplied

Only four crossings on Earth bridge two countries divided purely by sea. But it can be argued that no two cities from that list complement one another at each end quite like scenic Malmo and Copenhagen.

With competition admittedly weak, the contenders are England's Dover to France's Calais, Bahrain's Manama to Saudi Arabia's Dammam, and, perhaps, the closest second, Malaysia's Johor Bahru with Singapore.

None of the above can boast such a fresh, clean-living, cosmopolitan, alfresco lifestyle all under the summer-long midnight sun, nor the collision of raw urban grunge with refined minimalist contemporary Nordic design, quite like these two cities in southern Sweden and northern Denmark.

For good measure, sitting among the IKEA-esque off-the-shelf pine prefabs are the rustic, Gothic, Baroque and empirical palaces and castles from the chequered past of Scandinavia — all neatly divided by a maze of backstreets swathed with bicycles trundling over the cobbles.

Nothing can be greener, more in bloom, more alive than northern Europe from May to August. With the Northern Lights (aurora borealis) moving as far south as Germany, it's also a worthwhile autumn and spring retreat. But beware — the cost of living is right up there with the quality of life, and neither obeys the euro, which means you are constantly confused between whose krone you are spending where.

Ten minutes, and being the only difference between the two Viking foes, a return bus fare of Dh85 is all it takes to get the best from either end of the bridge across the Oresund, the body of water separating the two, in one ultimate weekend of chaotic nightlife mixed with solid detox and recuperation. Here are the must-visits and must-dos to complete your brush with ABBA-land.

Lilla Torg, Malmo

This is the small but nevertheless beating heart of Sweden's third-largest city. Here you'll find a cobbled square surrounded by 16th-century stables and quaint rustic townhouses all transformed into fresh and healthy eateries of every imaginable choice in this hive of activity. The perfect place to settle into your afternoon people-watching, having perused the shops, or an even better prelude to moving on to the bigger nightclubs of neighbouring Copenhagen, Lilla Torg stays open till late, stays alight and alive, and every available pew comes complete with a blanket and overhead heater for when the mercury retreats. There's also an old music shop on the corner belting out Swedish folk with live buskers competing for your attention. No matter which way you walk around the more laid-back Malmo, all back alleys return you here with a wind-swept tan and dying thirst. Big tip: Head for a burger at The Moosehead.

The Little Mermaid Statue, Copenhagen

She has been blown up, decapitated three times, covered in paint on at least seven occasions and dressed in various guises by vandals in her 98 years. As statues go, at just 1.25 metres high, weighing 175 kilos, Hans Christian Andersen's literary-creation-turned-national-landmark will surely evoke the words "Is that it?" But as a constant barometer of Denmark's political mood, the state you find the Little Mermaid in is often of bigger significance than its otherwise underwhelming stature. A picture next to the famous silent soapbox — for whatever the nation's civil resentment is at that moment in time — will surely appease your Facebook friends as proof that you've actually been here. You may need a zoom lens as they keep moving it further from the vandals' reach. There's also a statue of Hans Christian Andersen next to City Hall, but he bears much less of the brunt than his mermaid creation.

Bjerreds Saltsjobad or Ribersborg Kallbadhus, Malmo

You can't go to Sweden and/or Denmark without sampling what is essentially the joint national pastime. We're talking about saunas, not ice hockey, though the latter's Swedish-Danish rivalry gets people similarly steaming. Not for the faint-hearted, there is a selection of saunas on stilts halfway out to the Baltic joined back to the land by long pontoons. Each gives panoramic views of the Oresund winding back to Denmark and Malmo's iconic Turning Torso, the tallest building in Scandinavia. There are male, female and mixed options available. The idea is to do 15 minutes and then run and jump into the icy seas. Moments of sheer panic, dizziness and excruciating cramps later, if your heart hasn't stopped and your other internal organs resisted the temptation to go into a mode of protective shut-down, you'll feel "alive". Afterwards you can read a paper, dine and listen to a live band on the pier.

Nyhavn Harbour, Copenhagen

This is where the region's impressive nautical heritage meets 17th- and 18th-century inner city Copenhagen head on, with bars and restaurants the focal point of the multicoloured pastel dock front. Ideal for a late afternoon jaunt to a live jazz backdrop or as the source of most canal tours, Nyhavn maintains a lot of what Copenhagen lost in the great fires of 1728 and 1795 — not least in architecture and old-worldliness but also in spirit. What was once the sailors' section of town, reserved for the to-be-expected winding down misdemeanours of men returning from sea, Nyhavn is now an upmarket tourist point ideal to call base for your treks across the rest of the city, taking in parks, such as Tivoli Amusement Gardens, or architecture, such as the 17th-century Rundetarn Round Tower in medieval Stroget. There are also plenty of museums and galleries — for example, Glyptoteket (Adults, 75 krone or Dh54; free for those under 18), which is a don't-miss. End it all with a walk beside "the lakes" at Soerne.

The club guide: Malmo and Copenhagen

Malmo's Slaghuset or "slaughterhouse" claims to be the biggest club in Scandinavia, with no less than three dancefloors. The venue behind the central train station is crowded with young Swedes or invading Danes most weekends. Midweek, Etage, just around the corner in main Stortoget square, is apparently the place to be for the latest and classic dance music. But beware — most places only open at 11pm and things don't get started until much later. The midnight sun should be translated to your own concept of sunset; therefore their midnight is 6.30pm to you and me — compute accordingly. For live local rock and indie talent, on which this region's music scene is arguably built, Copenhagen's Rust, near Mosaisk Kirkegard, is an intimate, off-the-beaten-track venue. Otherwise, there's the Berliner-styled Culture Box in the heart of the capital, catering to non-commercial electronica, techno, house and drum 'n' bass, with a dancefloor and a lounge.


FLY... Emirates

  • From Dubai to Copenhagen Dh5,205
  • Or try Austrian Airways from Dubai to Copenhagen via Vienna Dh3,655

The closest international airport to Malmo is Copenhagen, about 22km.

— Information courtesy the Holiday Lounge by Dnata. Ph: 04 3492886