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Where is Scandinavia: Mapping out the Scandinavian countries

We’ve all heard of Scandinavia. It’s one of the most beautiful regions on the world — and it’s home to the happiest communities on earth.

Yet, somehow, there are countless people out there who don’t know much about the countries in Scandinavia, or where exactly it is.  

“Where is Scandinavia?” is a shockingly common question. 

It’s a query that might have caught you out during your last pub quiz, or just popped to mind in your afternoon shower. If you don’t have the answer to this question in mind — don’t feel bad. It’s tougher than you’d think. 

The way that people define Scandinavian countries differs depending on specific circumstances. If you’re talking about geography the Scandinavian nations might be quite different to when you’re talking about politics, culture, or language, for example. 

If defining Scandinavia wasn’t tricky enough to begin with, there are often extra questions to think about too. For instance, you might wonder, “Which countries are considered Nordic?” or start questioning where the term “Scandinavia” came from in the first place. 

Today, we’re going to clear up some of the most significant patches of confusion around Scandinavia, and “where” it is.

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Where is Scandinavia? Defining the Scandinavian nations

Let’s start with the basics. 

Before we start discussing what countries make up Scandinavia, it’s worth covering where this area is actually located. Scandinavia is part of Northern Europe. That’s a fact that doesn’t change depending on who you ask. 

Where things start to get complicated, is figuring out where the borders of Scandinavia lie. 

For instance, depending on your thought process, you might answer the question: “Is Iceland part of Scandinavia?” differently to someone else. 

In most circumstances, Scandinavia is the term we use to refer to the Scandinavian Peninsula. This is the cluster of countries that exists in Northern Europe and is overlooked by the Scandinavian Mountains. 

Looking at a map or globe, you can see that locations like Norway and Sweden clearly belong to Scandinavia. 

However, the north-eastern border of the Scandinavian Peninsula is harder to define. Finnish Lapland and Northern Finland do reach into the Scandinavian Mountains, but things start to get a little blurry in some places. 

Here are a few facts to keep in mind when answering the question: “Where is Scandinavia”: 

  • The most Northern point of Scandinavia is Nordkap in Norway.
  • The South of Norway is home to Scandinavia’s tallest peak, known as the Galdhøpiggen.
  • The definition of Scandinavia differs depending on how you’re answering the question.

What does the word “Scandinavian” mean?

When you’re trying to define the countries in Scandinavia, it can help to figure out where the term “Scandinavia” comes from. This term arose in the early 18th century as a result of Swedish and Danish universities celebrating the shared mythology, culture, history, and art of Norway and Sweden. 

The base of the movement was that Scania — the southern province of Sweden. This led to a rise in the use of the term Scandinavia. It’s worth noting here that until 1814, both Norway and Denmark were part of the same kingdom. 

This means that connecting Norway and Sweden also lead to a connection with Denmark too. 

Norway did eventually obtain independence in 1905, but it continues to appear as part of the Scandinavian Peninsula in a lot of definitions of the term today. The meaning of Scandinavia as a word, therefore, is a group of countries. 

This group of countries had the same shared history and culture. However, they were also located in a similar region. 

The fact that some people define Scandinavian countries by their background and culture, and others define this landscape by location make it easier to see why there’s a lot of confusion around the term.

What is the Scandinavian Peninsula

If you’re starting to feel a little confused again, let’s take a step back. 

Usually, when people are referencing geographic regions with the Scandinavian Peninsula, they’re referencing three countries: Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. These are the three countries that were united when the term Scandinavia first emerged. 

Greenland, which is now a territory of Denmark, and the Faroe Islands, which is a self-governed part of Denmark, also form a part of that list. Geographically, the Scandinavian Peninsula does not include Iceland and Finland. 

Scandinavia, and the Nordic area (we’ll come back to this shortly), is a geographical and historical environment that covers a large portion of Northern Europe. The Scandinavian Peninsula stands out as the largest Peninsula in Europe. 

The Scandinavian Peninsula is technically made up of Norway and Sweden, and it measures around 1,150 miles long. The location extends southward from the Northern Barents Sea, into the Norwegian sea in the west and the Baltic Sea and Gulf of Bothnia to the East. 

Skagerrak and Kattegat separate the Peninsula from Denmark, and Norway lies towards the East, while Sweden is on the West. 

Where things start to get a little strange, is that geographically, there are only 3 Scandinavian countries to list in any definition of the region. However, from a cultural perspective, if you consider the heritage and nature of the countries, there are 6 locations to consider. 

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Countries in Scandinavia: What countries are part of Scandinavia? 

So, which countries are a part of Scandinavia? Once again, the answer to this question depends on who you ask. You could just focus on geographical location, but that can be a little limiting. 

After all, if you’re looking at the Nordic countries that consistently rank as some of the happiest places in the world, then you can look beyond Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. 

The United Nations World Happiness Reports actually lists 4 countries highlighted as Scandinavian areas, which doesn’t make much sense of you only count 3 countries in the region. 

Let’s take a closer look at the countries that usually come up when talking about Scandinavia and the Nordic region:

Is Denmark part of Scandinavia? 

Denmark is an indisputable part of Scandinavia, both from a cultural and historical perspective. The southernmost country in the Scandinavian Peninsula, Denmark includes over 400 islands, as well as the Jutland Peninsula. 

Almost all of the Danish region is low and flat, but you might find some small hills too. 

Because both the Faroe Islands and Greenland belong to Denmark, they also fall into the Scandinavian melting point — we’ll come back to that shortly. People living in Denmark speak Danish, and the capital city for the country is Copenhagen. 

For those unsure about exactly where you can find Denmark, it borders Germany to the North. 

Denmark has over 4,500 miles of coastline, and it’s also one of the most beautiful regions in the world. The climate is usually temperate here, with mild winters and humid summers that don’t get too hot.

Is Sweden part of Scandinavia? 

Forget Disney world, Sweden is apparently the happiest place on earth. This Scandinavian country is the largest in the Scandinavian Peninsula, both in terms of population and land size. Stockholm, the loveliest city in Scandinavia, is the capital. 

Just like other countries in Scandinavia, Sweden sits along the Baltic sea as well as the Bothnia Gulf. The location covers a lot of space — around 173,860 square miles. 

Additionally, the topography of Sweden is packed full of interesting sites to see. You’ll find scattered mountains across the Western region, closer to Norway. 

The Swedish people have their own language (Swedish), and the location provides a mix of temperate and subarctic climates depending on where you’re visiting.

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Is Norway part of Scandinavia?

Norway is the third of the countries in Scandinavia that never come under question. Otherwise known as the land of the Vikings, this area delivers a host of unique experiences. You can find things like the Midnight Sun in Norway, as well as the Northern lights. 

Norway is the most Northern country in Europe, and it sits on the Scandinavian Peninsula, between the Atlantic Ocean and North Sea. The space covers around 125,020 square miles, with a huge amount of coastline for sea lovers. 

Within Scandinavia, Norway promises one of the most varied topography experiences. There are jagged mountains to explore, as well as plenty of fertile plains and valleys. The coastline comes with a number of amazing Fjords to check out too. 

In terms of climate, Norway offers temperate weather along the coast, though inland it’s often wet and quite cold. 

Is the Faroe Islands part of Scandinavia? 

Here’s where answering the question “Where is Scandinavia” starts to get a little tricky. 

The Faroe Islands are unique because they’re a self-governing entity, so it’s easy to assume that they wouldn’t be part of the Scandinavian nations. However, the Faroe Islands are still part of Denmark. 

This means that both politically and geographically, the Islands still belong to the Scandinavian culture.

One area where the Faroe Islands set themselves apart from the region is in culture. The location takes a very unique approach to life that doesn’t align 100% with Denmark. It’s also worth noting that the people here don’t speak Danish, despite being a part of Denmark. 

Faroese communities speak a North Germanic language instead. This may be another reason why people often forget this area when looking at Scandinavia. 

Is Greenland part of Scandinavia?

If you’re looking at Scandinavia from a geographical and political perspective, then you’d definitely include Greenland. Similar to the Faroe Islands, Greenland appears to be separate from the Scandinavian Peninsula at first. 

However, Greenland, like the Faroe Islands, also belongs to Denmark. Greenland is a Danish territory. Both the Faroe Islands and Greenland teach Danish as a mandatory language. However, Greenland also has its own Eskimo-Aleut language called Greenlandic too. 

Greenland is a beautiful place, and also the largest island in the world, located just between the Atlantic and Arctic oceans. This region is most famous for its huge glaciers and incredible arctic tundra. 

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Is Finland part of Scandinavia? 

We’ve covered two Countries in Scandinavia that often create confusion among globe trotters. So, where do Nordic countries like Finland fall into the mix? Geographically and politically, Finland is definitely a component of the Nordic region. 

However, this takes us to another debate in the geographical realm. Just because a country is Nordic, doesn’t mean it’s also Scandinavian. Linguistically, Finland is an outlier. Most of the country’s official language is disconnected from Indo-European and Scandinavian languages. 

However, Finland does have a lot of Swedish speakers too — this makes Swedish another official language of the region. Although many people do not include Finland within the Scandinavian nations, it certainly fits into the area from a cultural perspective. 

The history of the space, as well as the design and welfare traditions in Finland all mimic the rest of the Scandinavian countries. For the most part, unfortunately, Finland is not included as part of the Scandinanvian experience.

Is Iceland part of Scandinavia? 

Finally, we come to our last head-scratcher: Iceland. 

When you’re looking at Scandinavia as geographic or political region, Iceland doesn’t really fall into the mix. Just like Finland, Iceland is in the Nordic region. Linguistically, the locals speak Icelandic, which is part of the North Germanic language list. 

Iceland used to be a very obvious part of Scandinavia because it belonged to Norway. However, the region gained its recognition as a sovereign state in 1918. By 1944, Iceland was a fully independent country. 

Obviously, this indicates some significant ties to Scandinavian culture and history. However, it also makes it difficult to connect Iceland to the region today. 

Despite not being an official country of Scandinavia, Iceland shares a lot of elements with its Scandi brethren. Icelandic design follows a lot of the rules and expectations of Scandinavian design, including functionality and minimalism.

What countries are considered Nordic?

One of the reasons that people have so much trouble defining the countries in Scandinavia, is that they don’t know the difference between a Nordic or Scandinavian country. Historically, Scandinavia covered the nations of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. 

Because Finland was part of Sweden, or Iceland belonged to Denmark, all of these locations had a connection. However, since the map has evolved, and countries have gained independence, there have been a series of changes. 

There’s a long-standing disagreement today as to whether Iceland and Finland are truly Scandinavian or not

From a purely geographic perspective, Iceland and Finland aren’t part of the Scandinavian Peninsula, and they’re not Scandinavian countries. To overcome that divide, the French were the people to stand in and say that all five nations were Nordic countries. 

All of the countries mentioned above share a common branch of language (except Finland). These languages stem from the Northern Germanic language family. 

Finland is a little different because its language aligns with the Finn-Uralic family instead. Finnish links a little more to lesser-known languages connected to the Estonian region and linguistics from the Baltic sea. 

Another thing that connects the Nordic countries is their unusual seasons and daylight cycles. Nordic countries often have exceedingly long daytime hours during the summer, followed by very short days in the winter. 

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Finland and Norway’s northern regions have the most severe winters and summers. During the months of June and July, you might experience no darkness at all here. 

The Nordic countries have a very popular tourist attraction in common too. The unique location of the region means that you can see the Northern lights from many of these beautiful countries. 

The key to success is finding a space with almost no light pollution. Traveling a little outside of the cities in Iceland should bring you face-to-face with this natural wonder. 

Exploring the Nordic Council

Perhaps the most significant component connecting all Nordic countries is something called the Nordic Council. For most of Scandinavian history, the region fell to the whims of the rivalry between Sweden and Denmark. There were countless battles all the way up to the 19th century. 

Fortunately, the fighting did eventually come to an end. Most of the countries within Norther Europe are allies. However, there are different views on the European Union among various Nordic regions. 

For instance, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway were originally founding members of the free trade organization. Finland and Iceland quickly joined the EFTA too. 

In 1995, both Sweden and Finland became EU members. Norway and Iceland, alongside Liechtenstein and Switzerland are still part of the EFTA. The Nordic Council emerged in 1952, with a headquarters in Copenhagen. 

This council contains Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden, and Iceland. The autonomous areas such as Greenland, the Faroe Islands, and Aland are also members. Baltic countries like Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania also play an important part in the Nordic Council. 

While the decisions made by the Nordic Council aren’t binding for the nations within, the Council is a valuable instrument of cooperation between the locations. 

What about the Nordic cross?

Most people assess the countries in Scandinavia by examining them from a geographic or political background. There are other people who prefer to view the term Scandinavia as a cultural and historical one. This allows for more connections through things like language and heritage. 

One question that you might be left wondering after seeing all the countries in Scandinavia, is why there are so many regions with similar flags if only a handful of the nations are really connected. 

You’ve probably noticed that in Northern Europe, the flag design is very consistent. The flags of Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland all feature something called the Nordic cross. 

Also known as the Scandinavian cross, this flag design creates even more confusion. You can even see the same cross on the Finnish Island of Aland, the Faroe Islands, and some regions of the UK too. So, where does this design come from?

The Nordic Cross started life in Denmark. Like most crosses throughout history, the flag represented Christianity. Some Danish legends say that the flag fell out of the sky during the battle of Lindanise in the 1200s. 

After the flag apparently appeared out of nowhere, the Danes managed to win a battle that, up until then, seemed to be lost. 

Though there’s no historical evidence to back stories like that, there is a lot of historic proof showing that the Danes used this flag since the 14th century. Throughout the years, the Danes introduced new similar flags for regions like Iceland and Norway. 

Remember, those two countries were following Danish rule until the 19th and 20th century. 

Sweden introduced its version of the Nordic Cross in the 16th century — clearly inspired by the design of the Danish, and the close connection the two countries have. Although this design appears constantly throughout Scandinavia, it’s not a guarantee that any nation is part of Scandinavia. 

It seems as though the Nordic flag has more of a Baltic heritage, appearing in various flags within Latvia and Estonia. In the UK, the flags of Orkney and Shetland also have the Nordic cross design. These regions used to belong to Norway. 

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The mystery of the Scandinavian nations

At first, the question “Where is Scandinavia?” seems simple enough. 

The Scandinavian Peninsula is clear on any map, and there are countless articles out there to tell you which countries formed Scandinavia originally. However, people don’t always define regions by their geographical location or history. 

With things like the close connection between Nordic and Scandinavian countries to consider, and so many similar flags to confuse you, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. 

Hopefully, this article has helped you to understand what countries make up Scandinavia from a variety of perspectives. If you want to learn more about the Scandi lifestyle, check out some of our other articles here at Scandification.

Scandification. Discovering Scandinavia.

Scandification explores and celebrates the magic of Scandinavia. Stay tuned and we’ll bring the essence of Scandinavia to you.

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