The Northern Lights, midnight sun, Viking history, fjords and mountains, remote islands and adorable fishing villages - these are just some of the myriad reasons to visit Scandinavia. But what exactly are the Scandinavian countries? Can we refer to them as Nordic? And what about the Baltics? Let’s dive in. 

Geographically speaking, Scandinavia comprises Norway, Sweden and Denmark. A section of northern Finland can be considered part of the Scandinavian peninsula as well, but it is not typically included in the geographical Scandinavia designation. Nordic countries cast a wider net, including Norway, Sweden and Denmark, but also Iceland and Finland. 

Confused yet? If we step away from geographical boundaries and view the region through a culturally historic lens, we’ll learn the kingdoms of Norway, Sweden and Denmark changed hands and leadership enough times to make anyone’s head spin. At one point Finland was part of the Kingdom of Sweden and Iceland once belonged to Denmark. It stands to good reason that those not intimately versed in the region’s history would simply refer to the whole area as Scandinavia. 

So Where Should I Go? 

For travel purposes, we urge you to visit all of it! No matter its political or geographical category, the Scandinavian and Nordic countries of northern Europe hold incredible appeal. Let’s take a quick glance at each:

Sweden: Known for its many lakes, Sweden is the largest Scandinavian country both by landmass and population. The capital is Stockholm. 

Norway: Land of the Midnight Sun, fantastic fjords and the Arctic Circle, Norway is the northernmost European country. The capital is Oslo. 

Iceland: Land of fire and ice, Iceland intrigues visitors with its Blue Lagoon (and many other hot springs), geysers and Gullfoss Waterfall. The capital is Reykjavík.

Finland: Perhaps the least-touristed of the Nordic countries, Finland enjoys a mild climate and a diverse landscape. It’s known for saunas, reindeer, Santa Claus village and its numerous lakes. The capital is Helsinki. 

Denmark: Known for its numerous UNESCO World Heritage Sites, pretty villages and stunning castles, Denmark is also a favorite of cyclists. Biking is an integral part of everyday life here. The capital is Copenhagen. 

What Are the Baltic Countries?

Shall we add to the mix? The Baltic countries - the three young republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania - share Baltic Sea coastline with Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Poland and Russia. Within that region, you also have Greenland, which politically belongs to the kingdom of Denmark (despite being closer to America than Europe). Both the Baltic group and Greenland are not considered Nordic or Scandinavian. Culturally speaking, however, the Nordic countries, the Baltics and Greenland have strong ties. The Baltics, and some of Greenland’s heritage, have been strongly influenced over the centuries by the Scandinavian countries.

What About Lapland? 

Lapland covers northern Sweden, Finland, Norway and part of Russia’s Kola Peninsula. With Finland itself, it’s about one-third of the country’s total area, making it a region, yes, but not its own country. 

And Svalbard?

Svalbard is a visa-free archipelago that is part of Norway. It is the northernmost year-round settlement in the world. 

How Can I Explore Scandinavia, the Nordic Countries and the Baltics? 

On to the good part - how to see these fabulous northern European countries. Three great ways are by small-ship cruise, road trip and rail journey. Let’s look at the highlights of each (the variations on these trips are endless): 

Small-Ship Cruising in Scandinavia

  • Visit four countries on one trip
  • Explore the Swedish archipelago
  • Visit the marine biosphere of the Koster Islands 
  • Visit the northernmost point of Denmark, the southernmost point of Norway and the westernmost lighthouse in Sweden 
  • Transit the 61-mile Kiel Canal 
  • Time to explore Oslo, Norway
  • The Telemark Canal 
  • Pulpit Rock 

Small-Group Road Trip in Scandinavia and the Baltics 

  • Helsinki, Finland
  • Tallinn, Estonia 
  • Overnight sailing to Stockholm, Sweden 
  • Private walking tour in Copenhagen 
  • Guided tour of Oslo 
  • Ride aboard the famous Flam train in Norway
  • Fjord cruising

Rail Journey Through Scandinavia 

  • Exploring Copenhagen 
  • Dining on Michelin-starred cuisine in Gothenburg 
  • Strolling through Stockholm’s charming Old Town and visiting Gamla Stan and the Royal Palace 
  • Visiting Oslo’s cathedral, Kon-Tiki Museum and Akershus Fortress
  • First-class rail service and upscale accommodations 

Visit one Nordic or Baltic country, or visit them all! Let's chat. Request a consultation here or sign up for my weekly newsletter below.