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What is the Capital of Scandinavia?

Oslo capital of Scandinavia

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.

Stockholm

Open market in the Swedish capital

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

Copenhagen Denmark

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

The future of Oslo

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.

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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.

13 Comments

    1. It’s Stockholm and it’s not even arguable. It’s in the centre. It’s the biggest and most well known. List goes on & on.

  1. Bergen is the capital of Scandinavia, the largest city in the region long before the individual states were formed. Bergen’s birthright is to rule the nordic, the largest and most important city in Scandinavia for more than 800 years.

  2. Realistically, only Copenhagen would the capital of Scandianavia. The metropolitan area encompasses more than 2 million people in Denmark and Sweden and it’s quite possible to live on the Swedish side and work in Copenhagen. Stockholm might be a sort of capital of the baltic sea (?), but it’s too out of the way to be a natural capital of Scandinavia, just like Bergen. Oslo/Gotherburg would be better contenders than Stockholm in real life, but both are far less important than Copenhagen, not just by population, but also in terms of economic and cultural weight. Even if Norway hasn’t been a part of Denmark since 1814, many Norwegians still consider Copenhagen the only real contender for a “world metropolis” in the two countries…

  3. FUnny how these discussions never include the third part, “neutral” Norway. Do Norwegians anno 2016 feel culturally closer to Sweden than to Denmark? Probably, yes. Do they also feel closer to Stockholm than to Copenhagen? No. Not. At. All.

    Copenhagen was Norway’s capital for 278 years. Stockholm: never was. And… there was always the sea – Danskebåten. ALL Norwegians have been to C., whether in the 30’s. 60’s, 2016 or long before. And – C was, still is, the Norwegian gateway to the world. Stockholm was, still is, a dead end street – OK, if you struggle a little, you,’ll find a gateway to Finland… Russia… The Baltics… But the World? No…
    So, Gothenburg, also along the NorwegiAn Road to the world, might have been a half serious candidate to this Capitol status::
    ALL Norwegians have been To G…

    Yet, for a Norwegian there’s only one serious candidate.

    Stockholm: hardly a parenthesis in Norwegian history.
    Copenhagen: the Kings’ Copenhagen…never really disappeared. There’s still magic in the air…

    1. Interesting how you pretend you are a “represent” of Oslo. I can almost swar you are a typical stupid person With a lot of inferiority complexes. And where do we find these? In Denmark of course! Copenhagen is neither beautiful nor is it big. It`s actually the samlles Capital in the Whole Nordics minus Reykavik. Copenhagen is not more Capital of the Nordics than Reykjavik is, thats the brutal factts.
      There is no captial in the scandinaiva. Denmark is much more related to Germany than to the Nordics. It`s only fools that pretend there is a special Capital.

  4. It was shocking for me to see that ‘Stockholm, the Capital of Scandinavia’ writing on some walls in Stockholm, during my very first Scandinavia experience. When I searched for it, I found that this slogan is nothing more than the egoism of Sweden. According to The Economist Intelligence Unit’s where-to-be-born index, Norway ranked 3rd while Sweden is 4th, Denmark 5th, and Finland in the 11th place. (Iceland doesn’t exist in this ranking.)

    When it comes to Human Development Index, we see much more difference between Scandinavian countries in terms of this index’s criterias.
    1. Norway – 0.944

    4. Denmark – 0.923
    ….
    14. Sweden – 0.907

    24. Finland – 0.883

    I have been Stockholm and Copenhagen so far and I’m looking forward to go Helsinki and Oslo one day, but I think there can not be a certain capital city of Scandinavia, like there is no capital of Europe as dear writer said.

    Additionally, thanks for mentioning about our beloved city, Istanbul 🙂
    As some comments contain some histories of capitals, I want to tell some facts about our old capital.
    Capital of Roman Empire (from 330 to 395)
    Capital of Byzantine Empire (from 395 to 1204 and 1261 to 1453)
    Capital of Latin Empire (from 1204 to 1261)
    Capital of Ottoman Empire (from 1453 to 1923)

    Interesting fact is, when Istanbul became the capital of its last empire in 1453, the continent America were not discovered. Now, you can see the prestige of New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles etc. But even despite this history, we can’t say Istanbul is capital of Europe, Asia or somewhere else. Just capital of that country in particular times. If the biggest or oldest capital was called the capital of world, probably no one but the citizens of that country would accept that decision. Anyway, I agree with the writer: Scandinavia doesn’t need a capital. Cheers 🙂

  5. Geographically Gothenburg would be a great place for a capital. It’s in the middle of the most populated area in Scandinavia, the Oslo – Copenhagen “belt”. From Oslo down the west coast of Sweden and over to Copenhagen. Would be about 8-9 million people living in that area. If not more..

    Why they haven’t exploited that area for a speed train is beyond me.

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