Denmark v Norway: Two Scandinavian Countries Compared

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Denmark and Norway are so very similar, but perhaps that's why the differences stand out so much! A Dane living in Norway explains.

People often mix up Norway and Denmark. I understand why. Danes would say that Norwegians are the people we are the most alike.

A Norway-Denmark flag handshake.

We share a long history, Norway was a part of Denmark for more than two hundred years, we (mostly) understand each other's languages, the cross flags look alike and our Scandinavian society structures and welfare systems are also quite similar.

But some of the differences between the two countries are big. I have lived in both countries and I’m currently living in Norway. Here are some of the differences I have experienced as a Dane living in Norway.

Alcohol culture 

Denmark has a much more relaxed relationship to alcohol, whereas the approach to alcohol in Norway is way more strict. You can buy hard liquor, beer and wine in any kiosk or grocery shop in Denmark. The freedom to drink is a big part of Danish culture.

During the summer the Danes sit in parks and harbours and enjoy alcohol. Danes are also really fond of beer and they are willing to share this appreciation with others.

Danish beer Carlsberg bottles on ice
Denmark has a more relaxed relationship with alcohol than Norway. Photo: monticello / Shutterstock.com.

At festivals and bigger football matches it is common to experience how Danes suddenly throw beer up in the air as a special form of cheering. And it’s not unusual that Danes serve beer and liquor at baptism parties while this would be socially unacceptable in Norway.

Read more: Fun Facts About Denmark

In Norway the state has a monopoly on selling alcohol and selling is limited to shops called Vinmonopolet.

In Norway, drinking alcohol is not allowed in public places and you may end up getting a fine. Also a tap beer costs around $5 in Denmark while you have to pay an overwhelming $14 in Norway, and it's super Danish to point out how expensive it is to purchase a drink in Norway.

Use of nature

Compared to Norway, Denmark is as flat as a pancake. Norway has mountains and big national parks and so many opportunities for hiking and skiing. Norwegians are way better than Danes to use nature all year around. They are more outdoorsy and used to unpredictable weather and wild nature.

Learning Norwegian on a hike
The Norwegian love of the outdoors is not so strong in Denmark.

It makes me happy to see how Norwegians of all ages and shapes get outside and enjoy great nature experiences. On hikes where I’m out of breath, I’m overtaken by Norwegians with small kids and small dogs heading smoothly up the rocky, steep path to the mountain.

Read more: Friluftsliv: The Norwegian Love of the Outdoors

It is common to see Norwegians hiking with a baby in a backpack. For a Dane that’s mostly familiar with sandy beaches, this is a very rare sight.

Be careful on your bicycle

Danes love bicycling as a means of transportation, whether it is to work, school or getting around in the city. In Denmark we have bicycle lanes everywhere and of course this is easier when you are in a flat country. It’s both safe and easy to get around by bicycle in Denmark.

I thought it would be manageable in Oslo as it is quite flat in the city center, so I tried to bicycle in Oslo and I was terrified. Suddenly the bicycle lanes just stopped and I was zig-zagging to avoid hitting pedestrians, people on scooters or myself being hit by a car.

Bicycle use in Copenhagen is very high.

In Norway you most likely have to share the road with other types of traffic, and those are not always familiar with bicycles in traffic.

Danish and Norwegian traditions

Norwegians do take traditions seriously compared to Denmark! A good example would be the celebration of the Norwegian Constitution Day, the 17th of May. It’s a public holiday where Norwegians dress up in national costumes that cost a fortune.

In Denmark, national costumes are not for anything other than folk dancing. Danes will consider you as silly if you suddenly approach a party in this outfit.

On the special day in Norway, people are celebrating with parades and music and they wave with the Norwegian flag pretty much everywhere – even on mountain peaks. For Norwegians the 17th of May is bigger than Christmas and New Years.

Some years I didn't even notice the constitution day in Denmark. It is not a public holiday, you are not dressing up nor is it a big celebration.You can hear some political speeches here and there and that’s pretty much it.

Quality of food in Denmark and Norway

The quality of food is not that great in Norway – sorry Norway. In Denmark the selection of food is wider and you have a bigger and more affordable selection.

Norwegians like a quick meal and sometimes it seems as if Norwegians are only eating because they have to. I was surprised the first time I went grocery shopping in Norway, the wide selection of pizzas, fast meals and taco seemed enormous.

Grandiose frozen pizza in Norway. Photo: SiljeAO / Shutterstock.com
Grandiosa frozen pizza in Norway. Photo: SiljeAO / Shutterstock.com.

A good thing in Norway is the selection of fish, however. Even though Denmark is surrounded by the sea, Danes don’t eat that much fish, and the variety of fish they eat tends to be on the sad side.

Norwegians enjoy their fish and eat it multiple days a week. In Norway fish is considered more affordable and you can buy fresh fish in many grocery stores.

Avoid chit-chat

Danish people are known for their open, direct style of communication. Danes tend not to lie or make excuses for why they say things. This can cause some problems as some Norwegians are more cautious in what they say and do.

Read more: The Best of Copenhagen, Denmark

Norwegians are more reserved and seem to be happy if they can avoid chit-chatting. For example it’s not always you get a “hi” back if you say hello to a Norwegian in an elevator. Oh, this feels so awkward when you share the elevators for five floors.

I try my best not to be regarded as a rude Dane so sometimes I have to hold my tongue so I don't say anything that leads to misunderstandings or creating some uncomfortable situation.

But when you get that Norweiagen friend – it can take a while – the Danish humor and approach will not be something to consider.

Even though we sometimes misunderstand each other, Norwegian and Denmark are like siblings. We love to compare and measure things up against each other and we like to tease each other with the differences in our languages and culture.

This article is opinion based and I expect that people have other opinions. Because I have only lived in Norway for a short duration, I believe more differences and similarities will show up later on. Without a doubt I can say that both countries are absolutely great to live in!

About Michelle Madsen

Michelle lived and worked as a journalist in Denmark before she moved to Norway for the adventure and mountains areas. She now lives in Oslo and works as a freelance journalist and translator.

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1 thought on “Denmark v Norway: Two Scandinavian Countries Compared”

  1. Jeg elsker deg Norge. I’m an Englishman living in Germany with a German wife.
    Before when still living in England I dated a Norwegian woman living in Oslo. I liked being there and actually miss it.
    After her I dated a Danish woman living outside of Copenhagen. Different cultures with different attitudes. Norway to much pizza and tacos, Denmark too much beer and sex. 😳🤣


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