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If you’re planning a trip to Scandinavia, you’ve heard all the rumors: it gets cold in winter, it never gets dark in the summer and everything is expensive.
So when is the best time to visit Scandinavia?
Well, whenever you get the chance. Each season has its advantages and disadvantages.
Go in in the winter and you’ll probably freeze and catch a cold, but on the bright side, you might catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights.
Go in the summer and you might be overwhelmed by all the tourists, but you’ve got 24 hours of daylight to see the sights, instead of 12.
Two of the most popular destinations in Scandinavia are Norway and Sweden. They’re both beautiful and similar in many ways and that’s probably why it’s so hard to choose.
Whether you’re looking to settle down for a few months or planning a quick city break, Norway and Sweden are both great choices and if you have the opportunity to visit them both, that’s even better!
Keep reading to see which country I think is the final winner!
Northern lights from the Lofoten Islands in Norway
From its stunning fjords to its spectacular mountains and glaciers, Norway is all about amazing scenery. Some of the top tourist attractions are…
- Lofoten Islands, one of the best places to see the Northern Lights
- Tromso, the largest city in Northern Norway, also known as the “capital of the Arctics”
- Pulpit Rock (Preikestolen)
- Viking Ships Museum, Oslo
- Bygdoy Peninsula
- Bryggen Hanseatic Wharf, Bergen
- Vigeland Sculpture Park, home to 650 sculptures created by Gustav Vigeland
- Atlantic Ocean Road
- Akershus Fortress, Oslo
- The Sognefjord Area
With its rich history and varied landscapes, Sweden will not let you down when it comes to amazing destinations:
- Vasa Museum, Sweden’s most popular museum
- Gamla Stan (Old Town)
- Drottningholm Palace, located 11 km west of Stockholm city center
- Stockholm City Hall, one of Sweden’s most famous buildings
- Visby, Gotland
- Liseberg Theme Park, Gothenburg
- Lund Cathedral
- Sarek National Park
- Ales Stenar
- Oresund Bridge, Malmo
I feel like it wouldn’t be fair to pick a winner when it comes to tourist attraction because both countries offer an amazing experience. While Norway focuses more on amazing landscapes and nature, Sweden offers a lot of cultural and medieval attractions that you won’t find anywhere else. I loved both, so it’s up to you to decide which is closer to your style.
Norway vs Sweden Tourist Attractions Winner: Tie
Old town of Gamla Stan in Stockholm, Sweden
Ease of Tourism
Being a tourist in a new country means that unless you’re planning on renting a car, you’re limited to public transport.
As much as I love Norway’s amazing landscapes, most of the attractions are in the middle of nature or in the Northern part of the country.
Some attractions like Tromso or Lofoten Islands are impossible to reach by public transport and you will need to rent a car or even catch a plane.
For example, there are 960 km from Oslo to Lofoten Islands, so if you don’t want to spend your whole trip on the road I recommend a flight to a closer destination, like Bodo, and then taking the ferry to the islands.
Sweden’s most attractions are easily reachable by public transport and don’t require extra efforts like catching a plane or renting a car and because of this, I consider Sweden the winner of this category.
Norway vs Sweden Ease of Transportation Winner: Sweden
Hiking in the Lofoten Islands in Norway
Nature and Hiking
When I was talking about ease of tourism, I excluded Norway because most of the attractions were in the middle of the mountains or surrounded by fjords. So it’s safe to assume that when it comes to nature and hiking, Norway could easily be on the top of the list.
One of the most popular attractions in Norway is the Preikestolen cliff, which rises 604 meters above the Lysefjorden.
There’s also the Trolltunga rock, Gaustatoppen, the highest mountain in the Telemark county and considered one of the most beautiful in Norway.
That doesn’t mean that Sweden does not offer amazing hiking and landscapes.
They’ve got the King’s Trail (Kungsleden) which is considered one of the most beautiful hiking trails in the world. Stretching more than 400 km through dark forests, it usually takes a whole month to walk the entire trail, but if you have a solid backpack and enormous dedication to hike it, you’ll find plenty of like-minded travelers along the way.
Norway vs Sweden Nature and Hiking Winner: Norway
Djurgårdsbron, Stockholm, Sweden
When it comes to nightlife, the winner between Norway and Sweden is Denmark.
But joking aside, if you’re into partying, neither Sweden nor Norway is going to be great for you. They both have pretty early ‘last calls’ when it comes to bars and nightclubs.
While in Norway the bars usually close at 3 a.m on a weekend night, in Sweden’s largest cities you can find bars open until 5 a.m.
Both countries are very strict when it comes to buying alcohol and the prices are very high. Because of this, most people prefer to gather their friends at home and organize house parties instead of going out.
Norway vs Sweden Nightlife Winner: Sweden
Fresh bread at a bakery in Stockholm
When thinking of Scandinavian cuisine, many people think of pickled herrings, salmon, and meatballs at Ikea. However, Nordic cuisine is quite rich and diverse with distinct differences between countries and even regions.
You can’t talk about Swedish cuisine without mentioning the smorgasbord. Literally translated as “bread and butter table”, the word traditionally describes a table spread of home-cooked food such as beef, meatballs, and smoked fish.
Compared to Sweden, the cuisine in Norway is more heavily based on fish. Its coastlines and many fjords produce vast quantities of varieties such as salmon, mackerel, and cod, and of course, the Norwegian herring.
I loved the food in both countries, and since I’m no expert, they tasted pretty similar. But, I felt like there was more variety in Sweden.
Norway vs Sweden Food Winner: Sweden
Oslo Opera House
And the Norway vs Sweden Travel Winner is…
Although it’s difficult to choose since everyone values different things on their holiday, I feel like Sweden is a more touristy destination.
Norway is stunning with amazingly beautiful scenery, but you will need a lot of time, money and flexibility to be able to visit all the great attractions. If you’re looking for a quick city break with lots of things to do in a short time, Sweden is the place to go.
I hope my Norway vs. Sweden comparison gives you a bit of insight into what both countries provide. Good thing is, they are so close together you can easily visit them both if you plan smartly!
Nick is a programmer turned backpacker who loves to travel and explore both famous and off-the-beaten-path destinations. He is sharing his tips and experiences as the founder of Global Backpackers.
This article is part of the EU Smackdown series. Read the rest below:
Then, check out the complete Country Comparison series for more showdowns from around the world.
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I’ve been traveling full-time for three years, these are the resources that make it happen:
➤ I exclusively use Airbnb for savings and security on long-term stays in furnished apartments.
➤ I use Booking.com for short-term stays in hostels and hotels on weekend trips.
➤ Upwork allowed me to take the leap to travel full-time because they make it so easy to find freelance clients in any field.
➤ The Superstar Blogging Travel Writing Course launched my travel writing career and helped me become a contributor at sites like Cincinnati Refined and International Living, and even get published in the Boston Globe.