Europe : Scandinavia
Scandinavia is a European region north of the Baltic Sea. At almost 1.2 million square kilometres (463,000 square miles) it's the largest region in Europe, but home to only around 14 million people, accounting for a mere 2.5% of the population.
- Faroe Islands — administered by Denmark
- Svalbard — administered by Norway
- Åland — administered by Finland
- Greenland is sometimes associated with Nordic Europe, because of its relationship to Denmark and its membership in the Nordic Council. Technically and culturally it is part of (native) North America.
There is a constant and long going rivalry between Copenhagen and Stockholm over which city can claim the title as Scandinavia's unofficial capital. Depending on how you count, both cities are the largest, most visited, and the target of most investment. However, after the completion of the Øresund bridge, and subsequent integration of Copenhagen and Malmö - Sweden's third largest city, this region is fast emerging as the main urban centre in Scandinavia, while Stockholm arguably grabs the title as the most beautiful.
- Copenhagen, Denmark
- Aarhus, Denmark
- Stockholm, Sweden
- Gothenburg, Sweden
- Oslo, Norway
- Bergen, Norway
- Helsinki, Finland
- Vaasa, Finland
- Reykjavík, Iceland
The name Scandinavia comes from the Skandage body of water that lies sandwiched between Norway, Sweden, and the Jutland peninsula of Denmark. Strictly speaking, the term covers only those three countries, but here we use it in its broader sense to cover all of Nordic Europe (Norden).
The Scandinavian nations share many cultural traits including similar flags and many related languages. The region is known for its natural beauty and more recently its liberalism. Denmark, Finland and Sweden are EU members. Oil and gas rich Norway and Iceland are not.
The Nordic countries all enjoy a relatively strong economy. Norway and Iceland has in particular profited from an abundance of natural resources. Sweden and Finland also have their share of natural resources but are in the international marketplace mostly famous for strong brands like Volvo, Saab, Ericsson (Sony Ericsson) and Nokia. Alhough Denmark has developed sophisticated business in a number of industries, it is above all the leading agricultural country in Scandinavia. Strong economies and relatively small social differences translates into high prices for visitors.
Elaborate welfare states are a common characteristic of the Nordic countries. Most things are generally highly organized and tourists should expect everything to proceed according to plans, rules and timetables. According to Transparency International, the Nordic countries are the least corrupt in the world (matched only by a handful of countries including Canada, New Zealand and Singapore).
Denmark borders on Germany, while Finland and Norway border on Russia, but otherwise the Nordic countries are separated from their neighbors by the Baltic, the North Sea or the Atlantic itself. An abundance of land, water and wilderness is a common characteristic of the Nordic countries (except Denmark where most of the country is farmland or settlements). For example, Sweden is one of the largest countries in Europe in area but only has some 9 million inhabitants. The landscapes and nature does however vary across the Nordic countries. Denmark is a flat lowland like the Netherlands and Northern Germany. Iceland is both vulcanic and arctic. Norway and Sweden share the Scandinavian peninsula which is highest on the Atlantic coast and gradually becomes lower until Sweden meets the Baltic sea. The Scandinavian mountains running from Southern Norway and passed Tromsø in Northern Norway are steep and rugged on the Atlantic side, gentle on the Eastern side. Finland is relatively flat and characterized by lakes scattered over the entire country. Large parts of Sweden and Finland (as well as parts of Norway) are covered by deep pine tree forests that are essentially the western branch of great Russian taiga. Galdhøpiggen in Norway's Jotunheimen national park, is with it's 2.469 meters the tallest mountain north of the Alps, while Kebnekaise, 2104 meters tall, is the highest mountain in Sweden.
Due to the high latitude, summer nights are very short and in the northern most part there is even midnight sun in the summer. While central parts of Scandinavia (the Oslo-Stockholm-Copenhagen triangle) are more densely populated, vast areas in the north or in the mountains are hardly populated at all. Sweden is in fact one of Europe's largest countries in terms of area, and Norway is the size of Germany, despite its modest population of some 4.5 million. Because of this, space, light and nature are key characteristics of Scandinavia (except Denmark).
Despite the high latitude central parts, the Nordic countries have a mild climate, at least much warmer than would be expected at this latitude. Northern parts have subarctic climate, while southern parts and coastal areas enjoy a temperate climate. Denmark and coastal areas of Southern Norway, Iceland and Western Sweden experience only occasional frost and snow during winter. Summers in Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland are pleasantly warm with day temperatures 15 to 30 degrees C. In the mountains and along western coasts, the weather is generally more unstable. Finland has the most stable sunny weather in summer. In general, the further inland, the bigger the difference between summer and winter. The Baltic side is generally colder in winter than the North Sea side. Western Norway and the Atlantic Islands have the smallest difference between summer and winter.
Communicating in Scandinavia is easy, as virtually everybody under 50 speaks at least basic English, and younger people tend to be near-fluent. German is also fairly widely spoken, especially in Denmark.
Danish, Norwegian and Swedish are closely related to each other and mutually intelligible to varying degrees. Icelandic and Faroese, while also related, have been kept in a linguistic freezer since the 13th century and are largely unintelligible to other Scandinavians.
The outlier is Finnish, which belongs to the Finno-Ugric family and is entirely unrelated to the Scandinavian languages. However, Finland has a 5% Swedish minority and all Finns learn Swedish in school. The Sami language also belongs to the Finno-Ugric family and is an official language in a few municipalities in the far North.
Due to the large distances and the water surrounding most of the Nordic area, airplane is often the most effective way of getting to the Nordic countries. All the main cities have international airports, and even smaller cities like Haugesund and Ålesund serve some international flights. Almost all European airlines service Scandinavian airports.
- SAS Scandinavian Airlines  (Denmark, Norway Sweden) - Scandinavia's largest carrier and the flag carrier of all 3 countries, main hubs is Copenhagen and Stockholm Airports.
- Finnair  (Finland) - Finland's flag carrier, flying out from i's main base in Helsinki, with a strong presence on Asian routes.
- Icelandair  (Iceland) - Leverages on its strategic location midway between Europe and North America to maintain a strong presence on North American routes.
- Atlantic Airways  (Faroe Islands) - Flies to many destinations in the North Atlantic, including Britain, Greenland and Iceland.
Besides the regional airlines, there are also serveral major international airlines which offers direct routes to Scandinavia. Singapore Airlines and China Eastern fly to Copenhagen, Air China and Qatar Airways to Stockholm, while US Airways, PIA (Pakistan), Thai, Delta, and Continental Airlines all service several intercontinental routes to Scandinavia. Alternative low cost airlines in the region include Blue1  in Finland, Norwegian  in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, Cimber Sterling  in Denmark and Iceland Express  on Iceland. All of these airlines has routes to one of the London airports, and hence London is a good entry point, if you can find a cheaper flight there, which is often the case. Many of the low cost airlines mainly service routes between the cold Scandinavia and the sunny Mediterranean, hence you can also often find bargain flights from Spain, Italy, etc.
Denmark is well-connected to the German rail network. The direct connection to Copenhagen is, however, by the Puttgarden-Rødby ferry. Sweden is connected to Danish railways via the Øresund bridge between Copenhagen and Malmö or to the German capital by a bi-daily night train during the summer, bypassing Denmark via the Trelleborg - Rostock ferry. Due to the barrier provided by the Baltic sea, the only other connection to the European mainland, is via Moscow or St Petersburg in Russia. For interrail pass holders most of the ferries crossing the Baltic and North seas offers discounts (25-50%), but only the Scandlines ferries are completely included in the pass (see By ferry section).
Norway is served by ferries from Denmark and Germany. To Sweden, there are ferries from Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland. Iceland is connected to Denmark and the Faroe Islands by ferry. To Finland there are ferries from Estonia.
Denmark is directly connected to the continental road network. From Denmark it is possible to cross to Sweden over the Öresund bridge. There are also many ferry connections from Denmark, most of them takes cars. The only overland alternative to the Öresund bridge is to enter via Russia to Finland or Norway. Save a few short stretches of regular road, you can drive all the way to Stockholm or Oslo on highway from the German ones, but keep in mind that the tolls on the two Danish highway bridges, you need to pass to get to Sweden are heavy, and you could easily be saving money taking a more direct route with a ferry. Speed limits are uniform, 50kph in cities and 80kph on rural roads unless otherwise indicated. Motorways range from 100 in Norway, 110 in Sweden, 120 in Finland to 130 in Denmark, again unless other speed limits are signposted.
Major coastal cities of the Baltic Sea are connected with ferry lines; e.g. Turku-Stockholm and Helsinki-Tallinn. Many of the ferries are large and quite elaborate. Some of the Major routes are
- Copenhagen, (Denmark) - Oslo, (Norway)
- Frederikshavn, (Denmark) - Göteborg, (Sweden)
- Hirtshals, (Denmark) - Larvik, (Norway)
- Hanstholm, (Denmark) - Thorshavn, (Faroe Islands) - Seyðisfjörður, (Iceland)
- Stockholm, (Sweden) - Helsinki, (Finland)
- See also: Rail travel in Europe
Trains are an adequate way of traveling around Scandinavia. International connections between Denmark, southern Sweden and southern Norway are good, but up north services are sparse and there's a short gap in the network between northern Sweden and Finland, although most railpasses allow free use of the connecting bus service. Iceland has no trains at all.
The previous night train connection between Copenhagen and Oslo has been retired, and this route now requires a change in Gothenburg, on the other hand day time connections has become much more frequent after the opening of the Øresund bridge (8½ hours). Between Copenhagen and Stockholm up to 7 X2000 express trains runs directly every day (5½ hours), and the daily night train only requires an easy change in Malmö (7½ hours). Further north there is two daily connections between Oslo and Bodø (17 hours) - the northernmost stop on the Norwegian railway network, and two daily night trains (regular & express) between Stockholm and Umeå/Luleå (16-20 hours). In the summer Lapplandståget - Scandinavia's longest railway journey, will take you directly all the way from Malmö (& Copenhagen) in south to Narvik in the north via Sweden.
The ScanRail pass was retired in 2007, but visitors not resident in Europe can opt for the very similar Eurail Scandinavia Pass , which offers 4 to 10 days of travel in a 2-month period for €232-361. For residents of Europe, the all-Europe or single-country Interrail passes are also an option.
- Relax in a hot spring in Iceland
- See the Northern Lights (Latin: Aurora Borealis; Scandinavian: Nordlys/-ljus (Swedish: Norrsken))
- Cruise a Norwegian Fjord, Geirangerfjord is a world-famous beauty while Sognefjord is the greatest
- Experience the endless summer days, and even 24 hour sunshine in the north
- Go to Legoland in Denmark
- Hike for days in Europe's biggest landscapes.
- See the famous Tivoli Gardens theme park in Copenhagen
- Visit the unusual free city of Christiania in Copenhagen
- Go cross country skiing in huge forests
- Stay in the hostel of the af Chapman, a sailing ship moored in Stockholm, Sweden
- See the amazing Vasa Museum in Stockholm, displaying an entire flagship that sunk in the harbor nearly 400 years ago
- Visit Santa Claus in Rovaniemi, Finland
- Go skinny dipping from a sauna in the Land of a Thousand Lakes (Finland)
- Experience the Arctic in the northernmost settlement at Svalbard
Vikings were famously heavy drinkers, and despite continuing government efforts to stamp out the demon drink through heavy taxation, today's Scandinavians continue the tradition. Bring in your full tax-free allowance if you plan to indulge, since in Norway you can expect to pay up to 60 kr (€9) for a pint of beer in a pub, and Sweden and Finland are not far behind. To reduce the pain, it's common to start drinking at home before heading out to party. The drinking age is 18 in all Nordic countries, but many bars and clubs have their own age limits.
The main tipples are beer and vodka-like distilled spirits called brännvin, including herb-flavored akvavit. Spirits are typically drunk as snaps (pron. "shnapps"), or ice-cold from shot glasses.
Throughout Scandinavia, with exception of densely populated Denmark, Allemansrätten, or Every Man's Right in English, is an important underpinning of society, and guarantees everyone the right to stay or camp on any uncultivated land for one or two nights, as long as you respect certain norms, stay out of sight of any residents, and leave no traces of your visit when you leave. If you enjoy the great outdoors, this can help make the otherwise expensive Scandinavian countries, become quite affordable.
With so much incredible nature outside the doorstep, it should be no surprise that the Scandinavian countries have a well developed Hostel network, named Vandrerhjem/Vandrarhem in the Scandinavian languages - literally translating into wanderers home. While the rules are often quite strict, it's cheap, and with almost 800 hostels available, you can find one almost anywhere. The respective national organisations are called Danhostel  in Denmark, STF  or SVIF  in Sweden, Norske Vandrerhjem  in Norway, SRM  in Finland and finally Farfuglar  in Iceland.
This page was last edited at 20:30, on 26 March 2009 by Stefan Ertmann. Based on work by Jani Patokallio, cz, Peter Fitzgerald, firstname.lastname@example.org, Jakub Friedl and Sergey Kudryavtsev, Anonymous user(s) of Wikitravel and others.