Scandinavian Peninsula

Where is the Scandinavian peninsula? A complete guide to Northern Europe’s furthest reaches

The term Scandinavia seems simple when you break it down; officially, it’s just the countries of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. However, it often gets overcomplicated as many people bunch Finland and Iceland into the equation. And if we talk about the Scandinavian peninsula, you’re potentially opening a whole new can of worms (or, if you’re in Sweden, surströmming).

In truth, the Scandinavian peninsula is easy to define. However, this corner of Northern Europe is pretty diverse, and the land area is huge. Much of it is uninhabited, largely due to a harsh climate and a terrain that is sometimes challenging to get around.

But you will find beaches, mountains, deciduous forest, and much more.

So, what exactly does the Scandinavian peninsula consist of? How different is the climate throughout the region, and how do the Scandinavian countries differ from the nearby Baltics?

Map of the Scandinavian peninsula

We’ll discuss the Scandinavian peninsula’s geography in more detail shortly. But to begin with, it’s worth checking out a map of the region:

Where is the Scandinavian peninsula?

Situated across the North Sea from Scotland, the Scandinavian peninsula is in Northern Europe. Its westernmost area consists of the mainland territories of Norway and Sweden — plus part of the northwestern area of Finland. The Norwegian Sea is off part of the coast.

The Scandinavian peninsula is northwest of the Baltic countries, and much of the region lines along the shores of the Baltic Sea — along with the Gulf of Bothnia, which further down forms into the Gulf of Finland.

If you look at the peninsula from space, it looks like a larger version of Italy reversed; despite the size of the Iberian, Balkan and Italian peninsulas, none of them are larger than the Scandinavian one.

Many of Scandinavia’s largest cities are situated around the shores of the Scandinavian peninsula, including Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Malmö. Oslo is at the tip of the Oslofjord, which branches out into the Kattegat and Skagerrak seas between Norway and Denmark.

Much of the Scandinavian peninsula is in the Arctic Circle, which fluctuates in terms of latitude each year. However, it’s usually around the 66º north mark.

In the parts of Scandinavia above the Arctic Circle, the sun usually doesn’t rise for at least one day in the winter months — and it stays up for at least one day in the summer.

Even outside periods where the sun doesn’t rise or set beyond the horizon, northern parts of the Scandinavian peninsula have extreme daylight in the summer and intense darkness during the winter.

The same is true for the whole peninsula; even in Malmö, the sun doesn’t rise before 08:30 on the year’s shortest day.

Believe it or not, the Scandinavian peninsula was once connected to mainland Europe by land. During the Ice Age, the water you see around it went away.

Is Denmark part of the Scandinavian peninsula?

While Denmark is part of Scandinavia, it does not form any section of the Scandinavian peninsula. Instead, much of Denmark is part of a different body of land named Jutland — which is connected to Northern Germany.

Copenhagen, the country’s capital and largest city, is not in Jutland. Instead, it’s on the island of Sjælland — which is separated from Sweden by the Øresund. You can travel from Copenhagen to Southern Sweden in less than an hour by train or car.

The Scandinavian peninsula’s latitude and longitude

The Scandinavian peninsula starts at around 55º north and 13º east; these are the coordinates for Malmö.

The northernmost part of the Scandinavian peninsula is Nordkapp in Norway, which is also the northernmost point in Europe. Its coordinates are 71 degrees north and roughly 25.7 degrees east.

Why is the Scandinavian peninsula important?

The Scandinavian peninsula forms the largest part of the Scandinavia region, which is one of Europe’s wealthiest regions. Norway and Sweden are particularly attractive for foreign workers in terms of GDP per capita and median incomes.

The Scandinavian peninsula’s geographic position makes it an important area for trade. Norway has enjoyed huge success since discovering oil in the North Sea in the 1960s, and the oil and gas sector forms one-fifth of the country’s economy.

Norway is an important trading partner for several European countries, including the UK, Germany, and France.

In addition to oil, the Scandinavian peninsula is home to an abundance of other natural resources. Both Sweden and Norway have acres of coastline; Norway’s is the second-largest in the world behind Canada.

As such, fishing is a crucial part of both countries’ economies. The region also has an abundance of timber and is an important place for machinery manufacturing.

Despite its small population, the Scandinavian peninsula has also nurtured talent over the years. ABBA is perhaps the most famous example, but plenty of other music stars from this part of the world have gone global.

A small selection includes:

  • Avicii (Sweden);
  • Astrid S (Norway);
  • Swedish House Mafia (Sweden);
  • Sigrid (Norway);
  • Basshunter (Sweden).

This part of Scandinavia is an excellent place to do business, and some of the world’s most important companies are based here. IKEA, Spotify, and Volvo all have their headquarters in Sweden, while Norsk Hydro, Telenor, and Kahoot are all based in Norway.

Scandinavian Peninsula
Credit: Thomas Landgren

The geography of the Scandinavian peninsula

Being such a large peninsula, this part of Scandinavia is very diverse in terrain. Rather than writing a huge block of text, we figured that you’d find it easier to digest everything by breaking this section into smaller subheadings.

Southern Sweden

Southern Sweden has plenty of similarities to neighboring Denmark culturally, and this isn’t surprising since modern-day Scania (Skåne) was a key part of the Kalmar Union and part of Denmark. Geographically, it’s also pretty similar to Denmark.

Much of Southern Sweden is flat, and its cities — especially Malmö — are very bike-friendly. Throughout the region, you’ll find several beaches that are popular with locals and tourists alike during the summer.

Southern Sweden also has plenty of cliffs, and Kullen is a popular hiking trip for both Swedes and Danes. The region also has forests and national parks, such as Söderåsen National Park. 

Western Sweden

Sweden’s west coast is one of Northern Europe’s best-kept secrets. The region is defined by its several skerries and islands, many of which are easy to reach from Gothenburg – the country’s second-largest city.

Besides Gothenburg, which you should devote a good of time to in your itinerary, Western Sweden is home to plenty of other picturesque towns. Marstrand is particularly popular with the locals, especially during the summer.

Scandinavian Peninsula

Stockholm

We’re going to include Stockholm in a separate category because the city isn’t really in Central Sweden, nor is it in the south. Sweden’s capital has quite a hilly terrain, making for several vantage points over the picturesque Old Town.

When you visit Stockholm, you’ll quickly notice how much of the city’s geography is defined by water; the center itself is built over 14 islands. Kayaking is a popular sport here, and you’ll also find several places to go swimming year-round.

Close to Stockholm, you’ll discover luscious green forests and lakes that are within easy reach by public transport; Tyresta National Park is one place to be at one with nature. The region is also well-known for its archipelago, which branches out into the Baltic Sea.

Central Sweden

Central Sweden is frequently overlooked by tourists, many of whom head north or spend most of their time in Stockholm. Much of the area is defined by forests, which turn into picturesque snowy winterscapes during the colder months.

During the winter, many people flock to Åre to take to the ski slopes.

Sweden is home to roughly 100,000 lakes, and the country’s central regions are arguably the best place to see them.

Sweden’s east coast

When we talk about Sweden’s east coast, we’re discussing the stretch of the country north of Stockholm. Much of this area is known for the popular High Coast hiking route, the second-largest trail of its kind in Europe.

The High Coast is 130 kilometers long, and you’ll find several hills, lakes, forests, and beaches. All of these are a recurring theme for the rest of Sweden’s east coast, which also includes intriguing cities like Umeå and Sundsvall.

Scandinavian Peninsula

Swedish Lapland

The Swedish Lapland is the country’s northernmost area, and much of it is in the Arctic Circle. It’s home to the Sámi people, which is Europe’s last indigenous population. The region itself consists of Norrbotten, Västerbotten, and Jämtland counties.

Sweden’s Lapland is characterized by rivers, lakes, forests, and mountains.

Due to its northern proximity, the Swedish Lapland is a popular destination for observing the Northern Lights.

Northern Norway

Northern Norway stakes a huge claim for being the Scandinavian peninsula’s most beautiful region. Much of this area consists of ragged peaks, with Senja being perhaps the most famous example. Off the coast of mainland Norway, you’ll also find the stunning Lofoten Islands.

Like Sweden’s Lapland region, the Sami people also reside in Northern Norway. If you visit Tromsø, you can learn more about their way of life and even get up close with reindeer!

As you’ll find in many other parts of Norway, the country’s northerly region is home to various fjords — such as the Lyngenfjord. Northern Norway wraps around much of the top of the Scandinavian peninsula; Vardø, its easternmost town, is further east than Istanbul.

Northern Norway is also home to the Lyngen Alps mountain range.

Western Norway

When people outside Scandinavia picture Norway, they’re usually thinking of its West Coast. This part of the country is home to some of the most famous fjords, including the Hardangerfjord and Lysefjord.

Western Norway is home to two of Norway’s most important cities: Bergen and Stavanger. Bergen’s name translates from Norwegian to “the mountain” in English, and the city — which is Norway’s second-largest – is surrounded by seven of them.

Off the coast of Stavanger, you’ll find several picturesque islands close to the city — many of which you can reach by public transport. Western Norway is also famed for its mountains and national parks, such as Jotunheimen National Park.

A good way to taste Western Norway’s geography is to take the scenic train ride from Oslo to Bergen, which takes around seven and a half hours.

Southern Norway

You could technically class Stavanger as Southern Norway, but we’re not going to for the sake of simplicity. Instead, we’re going to term this region as south of Oslo.

Southern Norway misses the radar of many foreign tourists, but the region is well-known among Norwegians. This part of the country has several beaches that are great to enjoy the country’s long summer days.

Much of Southern Norway resembles Sweden’s west coast. You won’t find crazy high peaks, but you will find plenty of outdoor experiences nonetheless — including a whole batch of island-hopping.

Oslo

Oslo isn’t as pretty as Copenhagen or Stockholm, but it’s worth visiting — despite its hefty price tag. The city itself has plenty of interesting cultural experiences, but arguably its biggest pull is its natural surroundings.

Oslo’s geography is defined by the mountains surrounding its city center, which offer great views of the Norwegian capital and skiing opportunities during the winter. You’ll also find various forests and lakes nearby, many of which you can reach by the metro; the area around Sognsvann is a local favorite.

Central Norway

Central Norway is popular with skiers, and it also has some of Europe’s most beautiful mountains — many of which you’ll see on the trip from Oslo to Bergen.

Closer to the coast, you’ll find Trondheim — Norway’s third-largest city and perhaps the most enjoyable to visit. Besides the lovely wooden houses in the older part of town, you’ll also find the Trondheimsfjord nearby.

Scandinavian Peninsula

Climate of the Scandinavian peninsula

Many people believe that the weather in Scandinavia is the same regardless of where you go. But while much of the Scandinavian peninsula shares cold winters and agreeable summers, the temperatures and precipitation vary depending on where you go.

Northern Norway

The climate of Northern Norway differs depending on where you are. During the winter, places like Tromsø and Lofoten usually stay relatively mild temperature-wise — though it’s still cold, and you’ll usually get significant snowfall.

Bodø is windy year-round, making the temperature feel colder in the winter than the thermometer suggests.

If you go inland, which you probably will if you watch the Northern Lights, winter temperatures in Northern Norway can be brutal. For example, January temperatures in Karasjok often range from -11ºC to -22ºC; the coldest temperature ever recorded here was -51.2ºC in 1999.

During the summer, Northern Norway doesn’t usually get too warm. Temperatures typically range from 11ºC-17ºC, which is true for many other parts of Northern Norway.

Winter usually begins early in Northern Norway, so it’s important to pack accordingly if you plan to visit.

Northern Sweden

Northern Sweden’s climate isn’t too different from Norway’s. Inland temperatures are much colder, and temperatures often remain below -10ºC in Kiruna and Jokkmokk during January and February. Coastal cities like Luleå are a little more temperate, but not by much.

During the summer, the weather in Northern Sweden is relatively stable. You typically won’t get many rainy days compared to Norway, though it may frequently be overcast. While it can get windy, Northern Norway is worse in this respect.

Scandinavian Peninsula

Oslo

Oslo has four distinct seasons, and summers in Norway are particularly pleasant; if you’re lucky, you might enjoy days of over 30ºC!

Like much of Norway, Oslo has pretty harsh winters, and snowfall is common. You can expect the temperature to remain below freezing for much of the period between December and early March, and it’s usually -5ºC or below during the night.

You’ll usually have to deal with a few days each winter where the mercury falls below -10ºC, but these aren’t as common or prolonged as other parts of the country.

Spring in Oslo usually starts around early to mid-April, depending on the year. The summer season lasts from June to August, and daytime temperatures are often between 20ºC and 25ºC – though you might still experience some cold nights or rainy weather.

Autumn is perhaps the most beautiful season in Oslo, and you can still get some daytime temperatures in double figures. However, winter is ready to set in by the end of October.

Western Norway

Western Norway has a much more temperate climate than the rest of the country. Although you will need to deal with consistent precipitation; Bergen gets 239 days of rain per year.

While summers aren’t too warm, you can still get some pleasant days where the thermometer reads higher than 20ºC. In the winter, the daytime temperature often remains above freezing — though some bitterly cold days occur, and snowfall is also frequent.

Thanks to its location, Western Norway can also get quite windy.

Southern Norway

Like Western Norway, the country’s southern region doesn’t have winters as cold as other parts of the country. However, it’s nowhere near as rainy; you can expect reliable weather for most of the summer if you plan to visit Kristiansand and its beaches.

While winters aren’t as cold as, say, the north of Norway, you can still experience lower temperatures than you would in the west; sub-zero nights are not uncommon.

Stockholm

Stockholm’s climate is similar to Oslo’s, though it perhaps rains less on average throughout the year. You can sometimes get horrible winds that make it feel much colder than it is, but such storms aren’t particularly common.

Winters in Stockholm are long, cold, and dark. Snowfall often begins in November, and the weather is at its coldest between December and February.

The temperature does stay above freezing for much of the time, but it’s just as common to get sub-zero temperatures; you’ll probably experience a fair share of early mornings below -5ºC if you spend a winter here.

Spring usually starts in late March or early April, with summer lasting for June, July, and August. During these months, you can expect consistent sunshine and temperatures in the low to mid-20s during the day.

Around the beginning of September, the mornings are noticeably chillier. Autumn usually begins toward the end of the month and is a short but picturesque season.

Western Sweden

The climate of Sweden’s west coast bears a resemblance to its Norwegian counterpart, only colder during the winter. Gothenburg is pretty temperate compared to much of the country, and snow often melts quickly if it does fall.

Summer temperatures are a little lower than in Stockholm on average, but it still doesn’t rain as much as in Bergen. Spring begins in late March, and autumn gets underway around early October.

Scandinavian Peninsula

Southern Sweden

Sweden’s south is the mildest part of the country, and its climate is almost identical to Copenhagen in coastal areas. Malmö’s daytime temperatures hover from 1ºC to 4ºC during the winter, though colder periods can occur. You’ll also experience a lot of wind here.

Summer temperatures in Malmö are usually consistent, ranging from the mid to high 20s. If you’re lucky, you might enjoy days above 30ºC.

Autumn in Malmö usually begins in October, but it lasts longer than in other parts of Sweden. If you go further inland, snowfall is more common during the winter.

What are the Scandinavian and Baltic Sea countries?

The name Scandinavia originates from the term Skåne and originally meant “dangerous island”. These days, the Scandinavian countries consist of Sweden, Norway, and Denmark; Iceland and Finland form part of the wider Nordic region. Each of them has members representing the Nordic Council.

The Scandinavian languages are very similar, and so are their cultures. Swedes and Norwegians can often talk to each other in their mother tongue, while Danish is closely-related but not as easy to understand for the other two countries.

Sweden is the largest Scandinavian country by population, followed by Denmark and Norway.

Meanwhile, the Baltic Countries are a separate part of Europe and lie south of Finland. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania form this region.

Unlike Scandinavia, the Baltic countries’ languages are very different. They all have a similar shared history under the rule of several powers, including long spells as part of the USSR.

Why isn’t Estonia Scandinavian?

In recent years, Estonia has sought to brand itself closer to the Nordic countries; if you visit, you’ll notice similarities with Finland (its language is part of the same group, though neither is mutually intelligible).

Estonia didn’t have a chance to join the Nordic Council or the Nordic Passport Union as it was occupied by the Soviet Union upon its formation. However, Denmark has controlled it in the past — and you can still see remnants of this in Tallinn.

Since the USSR broke up, Estonia has grown into a modern economy with several tech startups basing themselves in Tallinn. It also allows for digital voting and even offers a remote visa.

Despite its advancements, Estonia has a while before it’s widely considered Nordic — and for all we know, that might never happen. It’s not Scandinavian as it has little in common with Sweden, Norway, or Denmark linguistically — and it still differs from the Nordics in many ways.

For example, the country doesn’t have the same welfare state model as its northerly neighbors.

Scandinavian peninsula facts

  • People have lived on the Scandinavian peninsula for over 12,000 years.
  • The Norwegian language originated from Danish and has two written forms: Bokmål (spoken by most of Norway) and Nynorsk (spoken mainly by people living on the country’s west coast).
  • The Scandinavian peninsula is connected to Denmark by the Øresund Bridge, which opened in 2000 and handles people traveling between Denmark and Sweden daily.
  • The highest point on the Scandinavian peninsula is Galdhøppigen, which is close to the western parts of Norway. At 2,469 meters above sea level, it’s also the tallest mountain in the Nordic countries.
  • The largest city on the Scandinavian peninsula is Stockholm (population 977,000), followed by Oslo (c.675,000).
  • Countries on the Scandinavian peninsula form part of the Nordic Passport Union, allowing Nordic citizens to freely live and work anywhere in the region without obtaining a Visa.
  • The Scandinavian peninsula is roughly 1,850 kilometers long and is home to most of Scandinavia’s population.
  • The flight time from Oslo to Tromsø is just under two hours.
  • The Scandinavian peninsula varies in length from 370-805km.
  • The Scandinavian peninsula has several official languages. Sámi languages have an official language status in Norway, Sweden, and Finland; the other main spoken tongues are Finnish, Swedish, and Norwegian.
  • Swedish is one of Finland’s official languages, and
  • Haparanda, Sweden, and Tornio, Finland, form a combined Eurocity on each side of the border. Tornio is one hour ahead of Hapranda, despite only being on the other side of the river.
  • The Vikings played an important part in Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian history — but not so much in Finland.
  • The Nordic welfare model began in the 1930s, though things accelerated following the end of the Second World War.
  • Norway is not part of the EU, but it forms part of the European Economic Area (EEA). Conversely, Sweden and Finland are members of the EU.

The Scandinavian peninsula is more diverse than you might think

To the naked eye, the Scandinavian peninsula looks like one big region where it’s always cold, and reindeer roam the streets. But if you look closer, you’ll notice that each region is unique — and that their climates and terrains vary dramatically.

You could live in Scandinavia for a lifetime and still not uncover everything that this intriguing peninsula offers. Each season is different, and the best time to visit depends on the activities you want to get involved in.

We spoke a lot about forests in this article, and Scandinavia has plenty of them. Why not check out the most mythical ones and set off on an adventure?

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