Scandinavia is the largest region in northern Europe, basically anything north of the Baltic Sea. In terms of countries, Scandinavia consists of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway.

In a broader term, Scandinavia is the part of Nordic countries. The Nordic region also includes  Finland and Iceland. That said, all of the Nordic and Scandinavian countries share history, culture, and boundaries to a varying degree.

Read Next: Nordic Countries Travel Guide

Map of Scandinavia_PD

Territories

  • Faroe Islands — an autonomous territory of Denmark
  • Greenland — an autonomous territory of Denmark and member of the Nordic Council, also part of the Nordic Countries. Geographically (but not culturally) part of North America
  • Svalbard — administered by Norway, it is a land frozen all year round, except during its short summers, which lasts for just 3 weeks, in that time it becomes a wild life’s paradise
  • Åland — an autonomous territory of Finland, but culturally belongs to Sweden with a majority of native Swedish speakers

Top 10 Cities

There is a constant and long-standing rivalry between Copenhagen and Stockholm over which city can claim the title as Scandinavia’s unofficial capital. So both cities are a “must-visit”.

Depending on how you count, both cities are the largest, most visited, and the target of most investment.

However, after the completion of the Øresund bridge, and subsequent integration of Copenhagen and Malmö – Sweden’s third-largest city – this region is fast emerging as the main urban center in Scandinavia, while Stockholm arguably grabs the title as the most beautiful.

  • Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Stockholm, Sweden
  • Helsinki, Finland
  • Oslo, Norway
  • Reykjavík, Iceland
  • Aarhus, Denmark
  • Bergen, Norway
  • Trondheim, Norway
  • Gothenburg, Sweden
  • Vaasa, Finland

Top Destinations

  • Bornholm — Scandinavia in a nutshell. Denmark’s famous holiday island containing a rich medieval history
  • Elsinore — The famous hometown for Shakespeare’s Hamlet
  • Gotland — island in the Baltic Sea with the city of Visby and Visby City Wall, both parts of a Unesco World Heritage Site
  • Jostedalsbreen — the largest glacier on the European mainland
  • Kullaberg Nature Reserve
  • Mývatn — a lake region near Akureyri in the North of Iceland
  • Nordkapp — this cliff is the northernmost point of continental Europe. Excellent place to experience the midnight sun
  • Nuuksio National Park
  • Saariselkä
  • Skagen — Florence of Scandinavia. Classic summer destination, which for decades attracted artist, who was inspired by the famous ‘light of Skagen’
  • Stevns Cliff
  • Sydfynske Øhav — incredibly beautiful archipelago including some of Denmark’s most beautiful towns
  • Þingvellir National Park — National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage site
  • Åre — a ski resort in Northern Sweden. Also popular in the summertime for hiking

History of Scandinavia

Scandinavia was covered by an ice sheet around 10.000 BC. As the ice pushed the land down, it is still rising from the sea, at a rate near 1 cm a year.

While the north Germanic peoples populated southern coastal areas, Finns and Sami migrated from the Ural Mountains. From around AD 700, Norse sailors known as Vikings ventured across the Atlantic and European rivers, reaching as far as present-day Canada, Morocco, and the Caspian Sea.

Christianity did not get a grip on Scandinavia until around AD 1000. The 16th to 19th centuries, Denmark and Sweden fought for domination of northern Europe in 11 wars. Norway, Finland, and Iceland regained independence during the early 20th century.

Top Things To Do In Scandinavia

As we have discovered so far that Scandinavia is a vast region that is thinly populated and this combination makes it one of the best regions to explore for nature lovers. There are plenty of things that would qualify for a “must-do”.

See the Northern Lights

Iceland and Sweden are popular for northern lights (in terms of tourism infrastructure). But you can see Northern Lights in Finland and Norway as well.

Northern Lights_Vik_Iceland_PD

Christiania, Copenhagen, Denmark

Visit the unusual free city of Christiania in Copenhagen.

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Viking Ship Museum

Visit a Viking Ship Museum in Oslo or Roskilde. Also, check out our blog Top 50 Viking Sites in Northen Europe.

Theme Parks

Visit the famous Tivoli Gardens theme park in Copenhagen, Denmark or Liseberg theme park in Gothenburg, Sweden.

Tivoli Gardens_Italy_PD

Vasa Museum, Stockholm

See the amazing Vasa Museum in Stockholm, displaying an entire flagship that sunk in the harbor nearly 400 years ago.

A 400 year old Ship at Vasa Museum_Stockholm_PD

Blue Lagoon, Iceland

Relax in one of the many hot springs in Iceland. Blue Lagoon is the most popular but you have plenty of choices in Iceland and all of them are great!

blue lagoon hot springs_Iceland_PD

Watch the Midnight Sun

Enjoy the endless summer days under the midnight sun in the north. This has to be on every serious traveler’s bucket list.

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Midnight Sun in Norway

Cross the Arctic Circle

Experience the Arctic climate and the Polar bears and other arctic wildlife in the worlds northernmost settlement, Svalbard. Plus, you will have the bragging rights about crossing the Arctic circle.

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A Reindeer in Svalbard

Go skinny dipping

Go skinny dipping and then enjoy the many saunas in the Land of a Thousand Lakes in Finland.

Finnish sauna_Finland_PD

A mix of cold and hot is secret to longevity

Enjoy Skiing With Family

Go cross country skiing or hiking in the endless forests and national parks. Or, enjoy downhill skiing and snowboarding in some of Europe’s most family-friendly ski resorts. Scandinavia has many of the finest ski resorts.

girl skiing_family_fresh snow_PD

Legoland, Denmark

As the name suggests, it is a giant Legoland. Relive your childhood.

Legoland Denmark_PD

Relive your childhood in Legoland

Enjoy a Cruise

Cruise around the thousands of scenic islands in the Swedish and Finnish archipelago. Moreover, Cruise a Norwegian Fjord, Geirangerfjord is a world-famous beauty while Sognefjord is the largest.

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Cruise at a port in Norway

Best Time to Visit

The northern parts of Norway, Sweden, and Finland, as well as most of Greenland, are within the Arctic.

Due to the high latitude, winter days are really short. Likewise, summer nights are very short and in the northernmost part, there is even midnight sun in the summer.

Midnight Sun in Norway_PD

Midnight sun in Norway

Despite the high latitude central parts, the Nordic countries have a relatively mild climate, at least much warmer than would be expected at this latitude. Northern parts have subarctic climate, while southern parts and coastal areas enjoy a temperate climate.

Denmark and coastal areas of Southern Norway, Iceland and Western Sweden experience only occasional frost and snow during winter. Summers in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland are pleasantly warm with day temperatures averaging above 20 degrees C.

In the mountains and along western coasts, the weather is generally more unstable. Finland has the most stable sunny weather in summer. In general, the further inland, the bigger the difference between summer and winter.

The Baltic side is generally colder in winter than the North Seaside.

Language

Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish are closely related and mutually intelligible to varying degrees, especially in writing, although some spoken dialects (mostly prevalent in Norwegian) can be quite incomprehensible.

As these are all Germanic languages, if you speak German or Dutch, you will find many cognates, and even English speakers will be able to recognize the odd word once they get their heads around the phonetic spelling.

For example, “school” (in English) is Swedish “skola” (in Swedish) and “skole” (in Danish/Norwegian). Another example would be, “first” (in English) is “först” (in Swedish) and “først” (Danish/Norwegian).

Icelandic and Faroese, while also related, have been kept in a linguistic freezer since the 13th century, and are largely unintelligible to other Germanic speakers.

The real outlier is Finnish, which belongs to the Finno-Ugric family and is entirely unrelated to the other Nordic (and Indo-European) languages. That said, all Finns learn some Swedish in school.

As Finnish is related to Hungarian and Estonian, speakers of those languages will recognize several cognates. The Saami language also belongs to the Finno-Ugric family and is an official language in some municipalities of Lapland.

The Nordic alphabets use a few special letters: å, ä and ö in Sweden and the phonetically identical å, æ and ø in Norway/Denmark (and others in Icelandic). As these are letters in their own right, proper spelling of Nordic names is much appreciated by Nordic peoples.

However as far as most foreigners are concerned, communicating in Scandinavia is easy, as virtually everybody under 65 speaks at least basic English, and younger people tend to be fluent. Most students also study a third major European language, such as German, French and increasingly Spanish.

Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark have some of the world’s highest English proficiency rates among countries where English is not an official language.

July 17, 2019 8:11 pm Published by

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