Finland, Sweden, and Norway are three beautiful Nordic countries. They all have stunning nature, rich economies, and some of the happiest people on the planet. But is one country better than the others?
Probably not, but let’s compare them and see! In this detailed comparison of Finland, Sweden, and Norway, I’ll try to cover all the important things and help you decide which of these countries is the best fit for you. I’ll talk about the cost of living, culture, language, fabulous nature, and all the other things that make these three Nordic countries so irresistible to travelers!
Norway is known as the land of fjords, mountains, and trolls. The landscape of this country is exceptionally beautiful even without colorful lights dancing in the night sky. But they certainly help enhance it.
Such a diverse landscape invites people to explore it, so Norway is known as the land of hikers and outdoor lovers. It’s also a reason why Scandinavian architecture boasts such large windows – the outdoors are just too pretty to look at.
Sweden is known as the land of endless forests. And IKEA! The country is 57% forest, so really is anyone surprised that they came up with IKEA? It’s also one of the richest economies in the world, and a lot of people perceive it as a modern utopia.
Swedes love to hike, build their own furniture, and take coffee breaks. They love their coffee breaks so much they have a special word for it – fika. So, if you ever get invited to one of those, don’t miss out!
Finland is known as the land of the thousand lakes, which is probably the biggest understatement in the world. There are about 188,000 lakes in Finland, so you see why that statement is not exactly appropriate. But so many lakes and so much forest makes for great hiking, that’s for sure!
It’s also one of the coldest countries in the world, so it’s no surprise that Finns are huge coffee drinkers. They’re number one in the world actually, with an average consumption of 10kg per capita. The cold is also the reason why they’re so into saunas – the country has more than 2 million saunas for its 5 million people!
The Nordic languages all sound the same to outsiders, but there are many differences between them. There are two distinct groups of Nordic languages – North Germanic and Finno-Ugric. The North Germanic category includes Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, and Icelandic, while the Finno-Ugric category includes only the Finnish language.
In practice, this means that Swedes and Norwegians can understand a little bit of each other’s languages even if they don’t necessarily speak it, but they won’t understand a word of Finnish – that’s how different the language is.
In some companies in Sweden and Norway, the jobs require you to speak just one of the two languages, regardless of the country you’re in. English is also widely spoken throughout Nordic countries, with as many as 90% of the population speaking it in Sweden. It’s estimated that around 70% and 80% of people speak English in Finland and Norway, respectively. And most of those are fluent speakers, so it’ll be very easy to make friends. On top of that, various dialects are also spoken throughout Sweden, Norway, and Finland, and they’re different from standardized languages.
When it comes to culture, these three countries share more similarities than differences. Sure, there are certain traditions and norms that are unique to each country, but they’re generally more similar to each other than to other European countries. Norwegians have their brown cheese, Swedes have their fika (coffee break), and Finns have their saunas, which are just some of the things that are staple for each country.
Something that most Nordic people share is a love for the outdoors. Who can blame them – all three countries are so incredibly beautiful that it’s a shame to waste time indoors, even if it’s extremely cold outside. Most people who live in Sweden, Norway, and Finland are good at winter sports, especially skiing. And that makes sense, considering that all three countries have parts that are covered with snow throughout the year.
And it’s not just skiing that Nordic people like to do in the winter. They’re a crazy bunch – they like to go surfing in the winter because that’s when they get the highest waves. This is especially common in Norway, so in case you’re also crazy and you want to surf in ice-cold water while it’s freezing outside, you will fit in perfectly!
The love Nordic people have for the outdoors results in a very high percentage of environmentally conscious people in all three countries. It’s ingrained in them from the start, and recycling, eco-friendliness, and sustainability are all extremely important in Norway, Sweden, and Finland.
Another thing that is ever-present in all three countries is a great work/personal life balance. One could argue that is the exact reason why people are so happy to live there, and why the living standards are so high in all three countries. And it’s not just the balance, it’s the entire work culture – there’s just much less stress and rush. It’s common for businesses to close down for the entire month of July because that’s when the weather is the nicest and it’s the best time for a vacation.
Finally, you should get used to boats. Sweden, Norway, and Finland are the top three countries (respectively) by the number of islands they have. Sweden has more than 267,000 islands, and a measly 984 of those are inhabited. Hundreds of islands are without road connections, so a lot of people just use boats to get around. Ferries are also common, especially in Norway.
All three countries have very high living standards so they’re all expensive. It’s expensive to visit them, and unless you’re making serious money, you shouldn’t even consider moving to one of these countries permanently.
I mean you can consider it, but it’s unlikely you’ll actually get citizenship. Norway, Sweden, and Finland all accept a lot of asylum seekers, and they’ve had some trouble with immigrants in the past few years. It was difficult to get a work visa before, and it’s almost impossible now unless you already got a job or are making enough money to sustain yourself.
It’s worth noting that the exact cost of living heavily depends on the city/village you’re living in. Naturally, it costs a lot less money to live in a quaint seaside village than in the capital city, but you’ll have fewer things to do. Consider living in the big cities if you enjoy going out to bars and restaurants, walking around museums, and just being in the center of all action.
On the other hand, if you prefer to live in a more peaceful setting with as few neighbors as possible, you could benefit from staying in a small town or a village. Especially if you love being outdoors, hiking, trekking, mountain biking, and everything else that comes with it.
Also, if you were to move to one of these countries, you would eventually need to get a car, preferably an all-terrain vehicle. They’re very common in Nordic countries because they’re pretty much the only way to get around when the winter comes.
What about the cost of travel? The Nordic countries are extremely expensive for tourists, but they’re worth every single penny. Norway is the most expensive for travelers with high accommodation prices and tourist experiences. Also, the country’s diverse landscape and rugged coast make it extremely difficult (and expensive) to get around the country. It’s worth noting that AirBnBs are much more affordable than hotels, so consider staying in one if you’d rather not blow your entire budget on accommodation.
If you’re trying to travel north from Oslo, the cheapest option is to fly there. Trains aren’t that popular in Norway, buses can get you to some places but not to all, and driving is common but very expensive. Norwegians have tolls for driving inside cities, they have toll roads and bridges, and gas prices are some of the highest in the world. Car rental is also expensive with outrageous fees if you want to pick up the car in one town and leave it in another.
Sweden and Finland are not as expensive as Norway, but they’re still very expensive. Naturally, the exact amount of money you need to visit one of these countries depends on what you want to do. If you just want to rent an Airbnb in the mountains and spend your time exploring the outdoors, you’ll need a lot less money than if you want to stay in the center of Stockholm or Helsinki and go out every night. It’s generally cheaper to stay in places that are not as frequented by tourists, so small towns and villages.
It’s worth noting that Sweden (Stockholm in particular) has one of the best public transportation systems in Europe. It’s fairly easy to get around the country, and even driving is easier than in Norway. Buses are the most common form of public transport in Finland, especially for connections between smaller cities. Trains also run between major towns in the south, but the railway network in the northern parts of Finland is pretty much non-existent.
On the other hand, even some of the smaller towns can have extortionate prices if they’re close to popular tourist locations. If you’re considering renting an apartment outside of a big city and then traveling to that big city every day, don’t do it. You’ll spend so much money on transportation costs that you might as well pay for the expensive big city apartment.
It’s also worth noting that the prices depend on the season. The southern parts of all three countries see more tourists in the summer when the weather is warm enough that swimming in the sea is an option. As a result, the prices of accommodation and tourist packages are higher during this period, and even some transportation options see an increase in prices.
The northern parts of all three countries and Lapland in particular get more tourists in the winter. The places above the Arctic Circle are ideal for Northern Lights viewings, and hordes of people flock to Sweden, Finland, and Norway to chase the Aurora. Again, the increased influx of tourists results in higher prices of accommodation and tourist packages.
Exploring the Nordic countries on a budget means visiting in the off-season. Spend the summer in Tromso and see the Midnight Sun instead of the aurora, and head to Helsinki in the winter and learn to love the saunas.
The Nordic countries are generally perceived as cold, but that’s not entirely true. Sure, all three countries have very cold winters, but the exact temperatures and conditions depend a lot on your exact location. All three countries also have different climates in different regions, with the coldest climates in the north and warmest in the south.
Sweden reaches south the furthest – all the way to Denmark – and it’s the warmest out of these three Nordic countries. It also helps that Norway shields it from the Atlantic Ocean and its cold winds.
Sweden can be divided into three regions with distinct climates. Central and southern Sweden is the first region, with cold but short winters and mild summers similar to those of southern England. The crucial difference is that Sweden gets a lot more hours of daylight, which actually makes those summers much more enjoyable.
Northeast Sweden has much colder winters, but the summers are still surprisingly mild. The far north of the country has the most extreme winters, with sub-zero temperatures in the double digits. Summers in this part of the country are short and the weather changes a lot, but temperatures often reach a comfortable 20 degrees Celsius.
Norway extends furthest to the north out of these three countries, and it’s actually home to the northernmost point in Europe that is accessible by car – the North Cape. The climate in Norway is very similar to the climate in Sweden, but there are a few differences to note. For one, Norway doesn’t extend as far south, so it’s going to have a slightly colder climate even in its southernmost parts.
Also, Norway has a much larger coast than Sweden, and these parts of the country generally enjoy a milder climate than the inland areas. I’m talking about the western coast – the far northern coast of Norway boasts a cold climate with extremely cold winters and barely existent summers.
Finland is the coldest of the three countries, with a predominantly subarctic climate. The southern coast has a mild continental climate with enjoyable summers and temperatures that are between 20 and 30 degrees Celsius in the summer. However, in the north of the country, the night temperature frequently drops below 10 degrees Celsius even during the warmest months.
The Finnish Lapland is particularly cold, with temperatures that often drop below -20 degrees Celsius in the winter. The proximity to Russia is one of the reasons for such a cold climate since the weather in Finland is heavily influenced by cold air masses from Russia. Because of that, the northern and eastern parts of the country that border with Russia are the coldest areas of Finland.
When it comes to the prices of meals, drinks, movie tickets, and more, all three of these countries are very expensive when compared to the rest of Europe. A meal for two at a mid-range restaurant will set you back 80-100 Euros, a glass of beer is anywhere from 6-10 Euros, and a cappuccino is between 3-5 Euros in most cafes.
It’s worth noting that these are the average prices in Oslo, Helsinki, and Stockholm – going out in smaller towns is certainly going to be cheaper. I’m sure you can find cheaper restaurants even in the capital cities, but I can’t speak to the quality of service you’ll get in those locales.
You can save hundreds, if not thousands of Euros a month if you just cook at home instead of eating out, no matter which of these countries we’re talking about. Finland and Sweden have similar prices of groceries, and Norway is about 20% more expensive than both.
Another thing worth mentioning here is that all three countries offer countless ways to entertain yourself that are entirely free of charge. I’m talking about hiking trails, mountain peaks, lakes, and all the other amazing nature waiting to be discovered. You don’t have to spend a dime – just put on your best hiking boots and find the nearest trailhead. It’s a great way to explore more of the country you’re in, you get to enjoy some magnificent views, and you’re discovering new things as you go.
I haven’t even mentioned the most entertaining thing about all three countries, which would be the Aurora Borealis. It’s pricey to chase the aurora for visitors, but if you’re living in Scandinavia and you own a car, it costs nothing (except for gas) to go and chase the dancing lights on your own. Millions of people visit these countries each winter just to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights, just imagine how awesome it would be to live in a country where you can literally wake up to that sight.
Winter sports are also very popular in all three countries and you really should get some skiing lessons if you decide to move permanently.
You should visit all three countries if you can – they are all incredibly beautiful in their own way, and each has something special to offer to visitors. But if you can only visit one of them, it really should be Norway.
The fjords, the Northern Lights, and the spectacular mountains are just something you need to see with your eyes. Norway boasts a more diverse and attractive landscape than the other two countries, which is what makes it the perfect destination for people who enjoy spending time outdoors. If you’re into camping, hiking, swimming, mountain biking, and pretty much anything that takes place outside, you should go to Norway.
Also, Norway has some of the best places in the world to see the Northern Lights, so it’s easily the top option if that’s the type of trip you are planning. Tromso in particular is widely regarded as a great place to chase the Aurora thanks to its location above the Arctic Circle.
And they have their fair share of stunning architecture, interesting museums, and unique attractions. Visit an old Viking longhouse, spend the night in a hotel built out of ice, and go on a reindeer sleigh ride to see what it feels like to be Santa for an evening!
Finland is the best country to live in and for one crucial reason – it was rated as the happiest country in the world for four years in a row, which beats living expenses, scenic landscapes, and popular landmarks by a mile. If you’re going to pack your bags and move to a Nordic country where it’s always cold, you might as well live among happy people.
It’s worth noting that all the Nordic countries are in the top ten of the World Happiness Report 2021. It’s related to the unique balance of work and private life that people have in these countries, which isn’t that present in the rest of Europe. Great welfare, paid leave, and shorter workdays are just some of the reasons, but they’re obviously impactful enough to make people living in these countries some of the happiest in the world.
Sweden is a close second, and it should be the first choice for families and couples who want to have children. Their education system is amazing, both parents get up to 16 months of parental leave, and they have an excellent healthcare system that’s mostly funded by taxpayers. Sweden is one of the best countries in the world for women because they take equal pay and gender equality in general seriously.
Anna is the co-owner of expert world travel and can't wait to share her travel experience with the world. With over 54 countries under her belt she has a lot to write about! Including those insane encounters with black bears in Canada.