Scandinavia and the Nordic region are so often portrayed in global media as the poster child for everything from modern design to wellness models and even happiness. In the decade leading up to the pandemic, this image translated into economic benefits. The interest of American travelers in visiting Scandinavia has grown rapidly, particularly in Norway.
With Scandinavian culture so important, it would be easy to think that Denmark, Norway and Sweden are one. But despite their close collaboration, the three countries are distinct from a tourism point of view.
So, to have a true Scandinavian travel experience, you first need to define exactly what this means to you. Here is an introduction on what to expect in the Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Norway and Sweden.
Design in Denmark
Denmark is really the odd one out in Scandinavia. Unlike Norway and Sweden, the country is relatively small and extremely flat. In fact, Denmark’s highest point is just 561 feet above sea level.
Just after Stockholm in Sweden, the capital of Denmark, Copenhagen, is the main tourist attraction. Danish style and design play a big role in its popularity. Copenhagen Fashion Week is the leading event of its kind in the Nordic region, while the Design Museum is the best place to delve into the history behind the worldwide popularity of Danish and Scandinavian design.
Monocle magazine recently named Copenhagen the world’s best design city for its remarkable architecture and town planning: “Without resorting to trademark wars or architectural gimmicks, Denmark’s capital is, in simple terms, designed for life. “
With a generally milder climate than much of Scandinavia, Copenhagen is indeed a city designed for outdoor living. Taking a stroll through the lush parks and along the harbor promenade is the best way to understand why the city is so often called the homeland of happiness.
Of course, Denmark is not limited to its capital. The country’s flat terrain and world-class cycling infrastructure lend themselves to a cycling break. For inspiration, discover the 510 km long Baltic Sea Route, where you will find country lanes, quiet beaches and cyclist-friendly ferries. The route is divided into 14 sections and is fully marked, so it is suitable for professional cyclists and avid tourists.
Nature in Norway
Norway’s natural landscape is undoubtedly the number one tourist attraction in the country. Norway’s terrain ranges from high peaks and plateaus to world-famous fjords that have been carved out of the earth by glaciers.
One of the best ways to experience the fjords – and over a thousand miles of Norway’s epic coastline – is by taking the coastal ferry, which doubles as a cruise ship. Hurtigruten and newcomer Havila both run the popular 12-day round-trip trips from Bergen to Kirkenes and back. Depending on the time of year, the trip also offers passengers the experience of the midnight sun or the opportunity to glimpse the Northern Lights.
Of course, the big red flag when planning a trip to Norway is the cost. While each Nordic country is expensive to visit compared to the UK or US, Norway tops the charts. High salaries drive up the cost of low-value goods and services such as fast food, but high-end experiences remain competitive.
The key to saving money is to plan ahead for food, transportation, and accommodation. Self-catering in log cabins beats full-service hotels in both price and authentic Norwegian experiences.
The cities of Sweden
Although it shares the vast Scandinavian peninsula with Norway, Sweden is very different. The Scandinavian mountains line the Norwegian border, but the rest of Sweden has fewer towering peaks and more lakes and forests.
But perhaps what defines Sweden best are its cities. With over 10 million inhabitants, Sweden’s population is almost double that of Denmark and Norway. Much of this population lives in the south of the country, in or very near a handful of major cities.
Almost a million people live in the capital, Stockholm, with the same number within easy commuting distance. But despite its size, Stockholm is equally known for its islands. Much of the city is built on fourteen islands, while the neighboring archipelago offers tranquility to locals and tourists alike on thousands of islands, many of which are a short ferry ride from the bustling capital.
The grittier side of Swedish towns has been put in the spotlight with a series of successful Scandinavian detective stories. Stockholm was the setting for the popular Millennium series of books and films beginning with The girl with the dragon tattoo, while Malmö has hosted many scenes from The bridge.
Small Swedish towns are not immune to the spotlight either. With a population of only 20,000, peaceful Ystad was the charming setting for anything but peaceful events in Wallander.