Scandinavia and the Nordic countries are so often portrayed in global media as the poster child for everything from modern design to welfare models and even happiness. In the decade before the pandemic, this picture translates into economic benefit. The interest in visiting Scandinavia from American travelers so rapid growth, especially in Norway.
With such a prominent Scandinavian culture, it would be easy to believe that Denmark, Norway and Sweden are the same. But despite working closely together, the three countries differ from a tourist perspective.
So to get a true Scandinavian travel experience, you must first define what it means to you. Here is an introduction to what to expect in the Scandinavian countries Denmark, Norway and Sweden.
Design in Denmark
Denmark is really the odd one in Scandinavia. Unlike Norway and Sweden, the country is relatively small and extremely flat. In fact, Denmark’s highest point is only 561 feet above sea level.
Second to Sweden’s Stockholm in size, Denmark’s capital Copenhagen is the biggest tourist attraction. Danish style and design play a major role in its popularity. Copenhagen Fashion Week is the leading such event in the Nordic region, while Design Museum is the best place to immerse yourself in the history behind the global popularity of Danish and Scandinavian design.
Monocle The magazine recently named Copenhagen the world’s best design city for its remarkable architecture and urban planning: “Without resorting to branding wars or architectural gimmicks, Denmark’s capital is simply designed for life.”
With generally milder weather than much of Scandinavia, Copenhagen is truly a city designed for outdoor living. Walking through lush parks and along waterfront promenades is the best way to understand why the city is so often called home to happiness.
Of course, there is more to Denmark than the capital. The country’s flat terrain and world-leading cycling infrastructure are suitable for a cycling break. For inspiration, check out the 510 mile long Baltic Sea route, where you will find country roads, quiet beaches and bicycle-friendly ferries. The route is divided into 14 sections and is fully signposted, making it suitable for both cyclists and avid tourists.
Nature in Norway
The natural landscape in Norway is without a doubt the country’s biggest tourist attraction. Norway’s terrain varies from high mountain peaks and plateaus to the world-famous fjords that were cut out of land of glaciers.
One of the best ways to experience the fjords – and more than a thousand miles of Norway’s epic coastline – is on the coastal ferry, which also serves as a cruise. Both Hurtigruten and the newcomer Havila run the popular 12-day journeys around Bergen to Kirkenes and back. Depending on the season, the trip also gives passengers the experience of the midnight sun or a chance for a glimpse of the northern lights.
Of course, the big red flag when planning a trip to Norway is the price. While each Nordic country is expensive to visit compared to the United Kingdom or the United States, Norway is on the top list. High wages increase the cost of otherwise cheap goods and services such as fast food, but advanced experiences remain competitive.
The key to saving money is food planning, transportation and accommodation. Self-catering in wooden cabins beats hotels with full service both in terms of price and authentic Norwegian experiences.
The cities in Sweden
Although it shares the large Scandinavian peninsula with Norway, Sweden looks and feels very different. The Scandinavian mountains lie along the Norwegian border, but the rest of Sweden is smaller towering peaks and more lakes and forests.
But perhaps what best defines Sweden is its cities. At more than 10 million people, Sweden’s population is almost twice as large as both Denmark and Norway. A large part of this population lives in the southern part of the country in or very close to a handful of major cities.
Nearly one million people live in the capital Stockholm, with the same amount within easy commuting distance. But despite its size, Stockholm is just as well known for its islands. Much of the city is built over fourteen islands, while the nearby archipelago offers tranquility to both locals and tourists on thousands of islands, many of which are within a short ferry ride from the bustling capital.
The grittier side of Swedish cities has been thrown into the spotlight thanks to a series of Scandinavian crime hits. Stockholm was the setting for the popular Millennium series of books and movies starting with The girl with the dragon tattoo, while Malmö had hosted too many scenes in The bridge.
Sweden’s smaller cities do not escape the limelight either. With a population of only 20,000, peaceful Town was the charming setting for anything but peaceful events in Wallander.