Stockholm, Copenhagen and Oslo vie for attention, but which stands tallest?
Of course, it's a ridiculous question really, like asking what is the capital of Europe. Brits would say London, the French would claim Paris, Spaniards Mardid, Italians Rome, and Germans Berlin. Brussels has a claim as the home of the EU political class, but the biggest European city in terms of population is actually Istanbul, which also has historical claims and a strategic position as the gateway to Asia.
However, Governments, city councils, tourist boards and the like continue to argue over the capital of Scandinavia. So with that in mind, where does one begin? After my visit to Copenhagen earlier this month, I've now spent time in all three.
Sweden's capital city ranks first in terms of population of the city (847,073) and urban area (1,372,565).
In Stockholm's favour is this – the city simply feels like a capital.
It's large, historical, and I would say the most naturally beautiful of the three cities. If you like water, you'll love Stockholm. Built on 14 islands, the city offers endless watery views and the opportunity to tour the archipelago by boat.
As for the economy, Stockholm is dominated by finance and high technology. The Scandinavian publishing giant Bonnier is based here too.
Stockholm is the self-proclaimed Capital of Scandinavia:
There are many reasons why Stockholm is the natural Capital of Scandinavia. One is that Stockholm is positioned at the heart of the region, and enjoys the benefits of a world-class transport infrastructure. Another is that Stockholm is the largest city in the largest country in Scandinavia. It is also where you find the most multinational companies, the largest stock market and, not least, the most visitors.
The Swedes are considered to be the most arrogant of the Nordic population, so it's perhaps no surprise they were first to come out with an advertising slogan like this. Read more about Stockholm.
Copenhagen's population is a little smaller (city 569,557, urban area 1,230,728) but competes well with Stockholm in other areas. It holds the title of European Green Capital for 2014, and is of course the home of world-famous Danish design like the egg chair.
Where Copenhagen really shines is transport. Every year over six million vehicles cross the Öresund Bridge, which links Denmark's capital with the Swedish city of Malmö. The combined urban area has a population of 2.5m. On top of this, Copenhagen Airport is the busiest airport not just in Scandinavia, but the whole Nordic region. It's the main hub of Scandinavian Airlines, and has a considerably higher percentage of international traffic than its rivals in Oslo and Stockholm.
Finally, Copenhagen is home to the headquarters of the Nordic Council. Read more about Copenhagen.
Oslo is the underdog, albeit one whose bark is a lot louder these days.
If Oslo's bid to bring the Winter Olympics back to Scandinavia for the first time since Lillehammer 1994 goes ahead and succeeds, the eyes of the world will fall on the city in 2022, no doubt filling Stockholm and Copenhagen with envy.
But even if not, Oslo has a lot going for it these days. It's one of Europe's leading maritime centres and an important base for many Norwegian oil & gas companies. In the fDi Magazine report “European Cities of the Future 2012”, Oslo was ranked number one among large European cities in economic potential, and ranked 2nd in business friendliness, behind Amsterdam.
Oslo also enjoys a growing reputation in the arts, while new hotels like THE THIEF attract a new kind of tourist to the city. Here is our guide to living in Oslo, and a destination guide for travellers.
The Capital of Scandinavia
You can probably guess where I'm going with this one: Scandinavia doesn't need a capital.
Germany has several major cities with different strengths: Government and hi-tech in Berlin, media in Hamburg, finance in Frankfurt, etc. Likewise, the Scandinavian region has three thriving cities drawing different kind of visitors, businesses and opportunity into the region.
If you extend the definition to include the other major Nordic cities, Helsinki and Reykjavík, the collective strength increases further. Rather than arguing about which city is better than the other, let's celebrate the unique strengths of each, and this wonderful region as a whole.