The Scandinavian Countries

Reindeer in north Scandinavia

Norway, Sweden and Denmark are the three Scandinavian countries. Finland and Iceland are sometimes included in a broader definition by some, but the correct term for all is the Nordic countries.

The words Scandinavia, Nordic and northern Europe are used interchangeably by many. But they are in actual fact three distinct regions of Europe.

Norway and Sweden share the Scandinavian peninsula, which stretches from way north of the Arctic Circle down to the shores of the Baltic Sea, covering a total area of around 289,500 square miles. Let's take a closer look at the three Scandinavian countries:


The terrain of Norway varies hugely, from high mountain plateaus down to fjords that were carved out by retreating and melting glaciers.

The viewpoint at Reine, Lofoten

Some glacial ice still remains on higher ground. The extensive coastline runs for more than 15,000 miles (25,000 km) and is known for its countless fjords and islands.

Although Norway's climate is like the rest of northern Europe quite cold and wet, it is not as cold as some expect due to the warming effect of the Gulf Stream.

Norway's economy is driven by its massive petroleum, gas and energy industries, but shipping and fishing are especially important, with seafood being the country's second biggest export after energy.

A sculpture in Vigeland Park, Oslo

The population of roughly 5.3 million enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world thanks in parts to the wealth amassed in the government's Oil Fund.

The Norwegian capital city is Oslo, home to around 600,000 people, but more than one million live in the surrounding region. The Vigeland Sculpture Park (pictured above) remains a huge tourist draw and is rated as the number one free tourist attraction in the country.

Barcode building in Oslo

Over the past fifteen years, the city's ugly waterfront has been transformed with staged redevelopment including new apartments, shopping malls, walkways, cycle paths, a new business district, and an iconic Opera House.

A series of new museums and a new waterfront residential district are completing the new-look of Oslo.


Although it shares the vast peninsular with Norway, Sweden looks and feels quite different. Mountains line the western border, but much of the rest of the country is flat and known for its huge number of lakes.

A Weekend Trip to Stockholm, Sweden

Its population of almost 10 million makes it easily the biggest Scandinavian country. Much of that population lives in the southern part of the country, in or around the major cities.

The country's economy is driven by manufacturing, timber and energy, but technology is playing an ever more important role.

Although agriculture and farming are only of partial importance, the nation does produce plenty of barley, wheat, meat and dairy products.

Vaxholm Hotel in Sweden

The capital of Sweden is also the biggest city in the entire Nordic region. Almost 1 million people live in the municipality with a further half a million in the wider urban area.

Stockholm is the seat of Swedish government, the highest court in the country, and the centre of culture, media and business for Sweden.

Despite its urban nature, Stockholm is just as well known for its fourteen islands and the astonishing archipelago of thousands of islands.


Last but not least, Denmark occupies the land known as the Jutland peninsula, immediately to the north of Germany. It is the only one of the Scandinavian countries not to have any land on the Scandinavian peninsular.

A beach in Denmark

At just 16,638 square miles (about 43,000 square km), Denmark is also the smallest of the three countries.

The country is distinct from its northerly neighbours as it's largely made up of low, flat plains. The highest point in the nation is only 561 feet (171m) above sea level.

Denmark's economy is modern with a high-tech agricultural sector and advanced manufacturing operations. It is home to world-leading companies in pharma, maritime and renewable energy, and is a net exporter of food, oil and gas.

A Copenhagen canal scene in Denmark

Around three-quarters of a million people live in Copenhagen, with around two million people living either in the city or within commuting distance. It is hugely popular with tourists, not least because of the popularity of modern Danish design.

Recent years have seen a boom in modern architecture in Copenhagen and the city was even named as the best design city in the world by Monocle magazine.

The Faroe Islands

A set of autonomous islands within the Kingdom of Denmark, the Faroe Islands are sometimes included within the definition of Scandinavia as they share currency, culture and to a certain extent, language.

Faroese is the official language while Danish is taught in schools and can be used by the Faroese government in public relations.

Faroe Islands

A self-governing country since 1948, the Faroes have an independent trade policy and can establish trade agreements with other states, they have their own representation in the Nordic Council, and their own national football team that competes in international competitions.

Beyond Scandinavia

Nordic nations Finland and Iceland are sometimes included in a broader definition of Scandinavia, but this is not technically correct. The correct term for the overall group is the Nordic region.

All the Nordic countries share much in common. Both Finland and Iceland use Nordic cross flags and share a certain amount of culture and history in common with the Scandinavian countries. While not all are EU members, the group of countries cooperates through the Nordic Council.

At just under 5.5 million people, Finland has a similar population to Norway. Capital city Helsinki is home to the 18th-century Suomenlinna sea fortress, the mega-hip Design District and fascinating range of museums.

Helsinki flights to Finland

Although the country shares much with its neighbours to the west, the Finnish language is completely different. As such, most Finnish schoolchildren learn Swedish as a second language, and are also fluent in English by the time they become adults.

With a population of less than half a million people, Iceland is the smallest of the principal Nordic nations by quite some way.

Yet despite this, the country somehow manages to punch way above its weight. Tourism is a massive draw to the island, in particular to the world-famous Blue Lagoon geothermal spa and to a lesser extent the westfjords region.

Which is your favourite Scandinavian country?

If you love Scandinavia, why not share that love on Pinterest? It's one of our favourite places to plan a trip. We've got just the pin for you:

The Scandinavian Countries: Norway, Sweden, and Denmark are the three countries of Scandinavia.

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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 professional writer on all things Scandinavia.


  1. It is Soo amazing, how cheerful and loving Scandinavian countries are United. An evident demonstration of love and unity, definitely a good place to visit or even live. Soo much to learn from these countries!

  2. I love to visit these countries and was recently in Copenhagen and hope to visit Oslo soon. Have been in Tromso and Stockholme in the last 3 years and Gottenborg.

  3. Northwestern part of Finland is geographically on the Scandinavian peninsula, Denmark is not. Finnish language is, however, completely different from the Scandinavian languages, though Finland is officially bilingual and has a Swedish speaking minority.

  4. The Finnish language is not Indo-European but is Finno-Ugric. This group contains Estonian and some minority groups speaking related Baltic languages The Finno-Ugric group has similarities with Hungarian and all belong to the Ural-Altaic family of languages which includes the Turkic group of languages and these can be traced to Mongolian territory. One province in Finland is Swedish speaking.

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