Scandinavia and the Nordic region is a historical and geographical region covering much of Northern Europe. Extending from above the Arctic Circle to the North and Baltic Seas, the Scandinavian Peninsula is the largest peninsula in Europe. Nordic countries consistently rank in the top ten happiest countries on the United Nations' World Happiness Report. In 2019, four Nordic countries took the top four spots. But which countries are actually apart of Scandinavia and the Nordic region?
Today, most define Scandinavia and the Nordic region to include the following countries:
Rarely, Greenland is included among the Scandinavian or Nordic countries.
What Is the Difference Between Scandinavia and Nordic Countries
Scandinavia historically encompassed the kingdoms of Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. Formerly, Finland was part of Sweden, and Iceland had belonged to Denmark and Norway. There has been a long-standing disagreement as to whether Finland and Iceland should being considered Scandinavian countries or not. Geographically speaking, Finland and Iceland are not a part of the Scandinavian peninsula, and therefore not truly Scandinavian countries. To fix the divide, the French stepped in to diplomatically smooth out the terminology by dubbing Finland, Iceland, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, Nordic countries.
All of the countries, with the exception of Finland, share a common language branch—Scandinavian languages that stem from the Germanic family. What makes Finland unique is that its language aligns more with the Finn-Uralic family of languages. Finnish is more closely related to Estonian and lesser-known languages spoken around the Baltic Sea.
Because of Nordic countries' location, they have rather long daylight hours in the summer and very short ones in the winter. Northern Norway and Finland experience almost no darkness during June and July. Several Nordic countries are also great for seeing the Northern Lights because of the location and lack of light pollution. For more information on how to see the Northern Lights in Sweden or where to see them in Norway, check out our complete guides.
The southernmost Scandinavian country, Denmark, consists of the Jutland peninsula and over 400 islands, some of which are linked to the mainland by bridges. Almost all of Denmark is low and flat, but there are many low hills as well. Windmills and traditional thatched cottages can be seen everywhere. The Faroe Islands and Greenland both belong to the Kingdom of Denmark. Bicycling is an integral part of Danish culture and most of the country is cyclist friendly. The official language is Danish, and the capital city is Copenhagen.
Norway is also called "The Land of Vikings" or "The Land of the Midnight Sun," The northernmost country in Europe, Norway has a jagged expanse of islands and fjords. The maritime industry sustains the economy. The official language is Norwegian, and the capital city is Oslo.
Sweden, a land of numerous lakes, is the largest of the Scandinavian countries both in land size and population. The car companies Volvo and Saab both originated there and are a big part of the Swedish industry. Swedish citizens are independently minded and highly regard their people-oriented social programs, especially women's rights. The official language is Swedish, and the capital city is Stockholm.
With a surprisingly mild climate, Iceland is Europe's westernmost country and the second largest island in the North Atlantic ocean (Greenland is the largest). Flight time to Iceland is 3 hours, 30 minutes from the European mainland. Iceland has a strong economy, low unemployment, low inflation, and its per capita income is among the highest in the world. The official language is Icelandic, and the capital city is Reykjavik.
Another country where the weather is better than many tourists expect, Finland has one of the lowest immigration rates in the world. It also has the highest per capita consumption of coffee in the world (consuming an average of 26 pounds of coffee each year). Finland was a part of Sweden for around 700 years and as a result the two countries have similar legal, economic, and social systems. The official language is Finnish, which is also called Suomi. Swedish is also recognized as an official language. The capital city is Helsinki.