Scandinavian Cities

Gothenburg city water

Urban areas in Scandinavia are defined by their unique architecture, green spaces, efficient public transit systems and an overall approach to sustainability.

No one city is particularly big in world terms. In fact, international visitors to the region are often shocked at how compact and easy to get around the urban areas are.

Biggest cities in Scandinavia

It can sometimes be difficult to discuss precise population figures because of issues like students, whether to count the wider metropolitan area or the city proper, and what to do with neighbouring cities.

However, we've done our best to bring you this list of the region's biggest 12 cities, defined by the population living in the principal urban area.

12. Aalborg, Denmark

The city of Aalborg, Denmark

Population 130,853. Denmark's fourth largest city is best known for its modern waterfront district on the Limfjord, the body of water that slices through Jutland. The striking designs of modern buildings such as the Utzon Center and the futuristic House of Music draws in fans of modern architecture.

The airport is the third largest in Denmark. Nordic airlines Norwegian and SAS operate regular flights between Copenhagen and Aalborg, while Norwegian also offers direct flights from selected European cities.

11. Uppsala, Sweden

Uppsala Church

Population 140,454. Sweden's fourth largest city is the birthplace of the Celsius scale for temperature. An important education centre for centuries, Uppsala boasts several important institutions. The city is also home to Scandinavia's largest Cathedral, pictured above.

The city is a great spot for fans of art and architecture. Options include Gamla Uppsala's royal burial mounds and museum for 2,000-year-old pagan kings, and the 17th century Augsburg Art Cabinet.

10. Trondheim, Norway

Budget hotel in Trondheim

Population 169,972. The former capital of Norway was founded in 997 by Viking leader Olav Tryggvason, whose legacy lives on to this day. The picturesque city's downtown area is best known for its colourful wooden warehouses lining the river, above, and the striking Nidaros Cathedral.

Modern-day Trondheim is a thriving student city and the technology capital of Norway. NTNU University is the country's primary science and technology university, and it turns out thousands of problem-solvers every year, many of whom choose to stay in the city.

9. Odense, Denmark

Odense Denmark

Population 172,512. The birthplace of fairytale extraordinaire Hans Christian Andersen, Odense makes the most of the association with museums and even pedestrian crossing lights featuring his silhouette. The country's best zoo, a fascinating museum of historic houses, and several art galleries also feature.

A striking feature of the city is its open green spaces, perfect for taking a relaxing break during a sightseeing trip. Kongens Have was laid out as a Baroque garden in the 1720s, while the waterside Munke Mose is a popular family destination.

8. Stavanger, Norway

Stavanger travel guide

Population 203,771. It might be known as Norway's oil capital but that doesn't put off the tourists. In fact, many of them visit the city's petroleum museum, which is much more interesting than it sounds. Stavanger also serves as a great base for exploring the nearby Lysefjord.

Stavanger is also known around the globe for its street art scene. The annual Nuart street art festival is a highlight on the calendar, but the art – from giant murals to tiny stencils – can be enjoyed at any time of the year.

7. Bergen, Norway

View across Bergen city centre, Norway

Population 247,731. Norway's second city and former capital is best known for being one of the rainiest places in Europe. Its historic Hanseatic heritage and proximity to Norway's spectacular fjord region make this one of the busiest tourist destinations in the entire country.

The UNESCO-listed Bryggen wharf attracts incredible numbers of tourists. To escape the crowds and discover the area's true charms, slip into the alleyways behind. Here you'll discover beautifully restored architecture home to modern independent boutiques and galleries.

6. Aarhus, Denmark

Aarhus Old Town

Population 264,716. Pictured above is the simply spectacular old town of Aarhus, a must for any visitor to Denmark's second largest city. Despite its size the city centre is surprisingly compact, with harbour, forest, shops, restaurants, hotels and beaches all within walking distance.

Also within walking distance is the annual 3-day NorthSide music festival, which along with the city's thriving restaurant and bar scene, has helped to put it on the cultural map with a younger generation. Direct Ryanair flights to London have helped increase international tourism significantly in recent years.

5. Malmö, Sweden

Öresund Bridge in Malmö, Sweden

Population 301,706. The city itself might be small but Malmö part of a much wider urban area. Not only do almost one million people live within easy reach of the city, the wonderful Öresund bridge links the conurbation with Copenhagen. The city's population skews young, with almost half under the age of 35.

When it comes to tourism, Malmö inevitably lives in the shadow of its more famous neighbour across the water, but the Swedish city offers a lot to tempt travellers across the bridge.

Originally built as a minor citadel in 1436, Malmöhus Castle is Sweden's oldest renaissance castle. Its lively history is a must for anyone interested in Scandinavian history.

4. Gothenburg, Sweden

Gothenburg Palm House

Population 581,822. Sweden's second city has a different feel from the capital. Best known for its Dutch-style canals and leafy boulevards, Gothenburg also has a large student population. The gardens and amusement park at Liseberg draw tourists in great numbers, as does the Gothenburg Film Festival, held in January every year.

Yet the city has a more chilled-out vibe than you might expect, with plenty of green space to relax and a riverside walk perfect for watching the city at work. Don't miss Haga, Gothenburg's charismatic old town, and the shipyards of the harbour.

3. Oslo, Norway

Guarding the Oslofjord

Population 942,084. Norway's capital city itself has grown remarkably in recent years, drawing immigrants from all around the world and from other parts of Norway. The city itself has a population of around 600,000, but the entire metropolitan area around the inner Oslofjord swells to well over a million.

Oslo is best known for its access to nature, from the islands a short boat road away to the forest that almost encircles the city. Holmenkollen ski jump is the centrepiece of a world-class ski arena. Getting there is half the fun, and the views back across the city make the trip worthwhile.

2. Copenhagen, Denmark

Typical Copenhagen city scene

Population 1,295,686. From the magnificent Christiansborg Palace and the Renaissance-era Rosenborg Castle to chilling by Nyhavn quay in a pavement cafe, Copenhagen offers something for everyone. The Danish capital draws design lovers from across the world with its world famous design district and shopping opportunities.

The city is also a paradise for cyclists, with outstanding infrastructure including traffic lights that favour cyclists over cars. There's absolutely no need to hire a car in Copenhagen. You can see much of the city on foot, and for the rest you can take the city's excellent public transportation, or simply do as the locals do and hire a bike.

1. Stockholm, Sweden

A Weekend Trip to Stockholm, Sweden

Population 1,515,017. Sweden's capital and the largest city in both Scandinavia and all the Nordic countries, Stockholm is big enough to offer distinct districts that appeal to all tastes. Tourists fill the narrow alleyways of Gamla Stan, while trend-setters flock south to the Södermalm district.

Yet it's outside of the city where Stockholm's true charms lie. Around 25,000 islands of all shapes and sizes make up the Stockholm archipelago, an incredibly popular area for summer recreation among the city's residents.

A boat trip here is an unforgettable experience, and reminds you that even citizens of Scandinavia's biggest cities love the outdoors lifestyle.

What's your favourite Scandinavian city?

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The Biggest Cities of Scandinavia: Sweden, Denmark and Norway

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About the Author: David Nikel

Originally from the UK, David now lives in Trondheim and was the original founder of Life in Norway back in 2011. He now works as a freelance writer for technology companies in Scandinavia.


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