The 5 Capitals of Scandinavia

Norway, Flakstad Island, Tourist hiking on Mt Ryten
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These five capitals of Scandinavia are known for their shared Nordic history, natural surroundings, and modern sensibility.

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Copenhagen, Denmark

People walking through old archways in Copenhagen

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

Copenhagen is Denmark's capital, and it is by far the largest city in this Scandinavian country. Copenhagen is a modern city but still shows its rich history. The long harbor faces Oresund, the 10-mile wide waterway that separates Denmark from Sweden. The Oresund Bridge takes you across the water from Copenhagen to Malmo, Sweden.

Copenhagen started out as a fishing village in the 12th century, and that watery heritage is still evident in the many canals in Copenhagen, which provide a scenic choice for tours of the city by boat. Denmark is known for its open-mindedness and renowned for its influence on modern design and architecture, and you'll see evidence all around Copenhagen of those twin sensibilities. Its most famous attraction is Tivoli Gardens, commonly called simply Tivoli. It's an amusement park and garden that opened in 1843, making it the second oldest in the world.

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Stockholm, Sweden

Old churches in Stockholm

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre 

Stockholm is the capital of Sweden and also its largest city, and it is also the largest of the five capitals of Scandinavia. That might be why it calls itself the capital of Scandinavia, though other countries might disagree. This beautiful and historic city is built on 14 islands, and you can see the city from the vantage point of the water. It's a city filled with museums, palaces, top-shelf restaurants and bars, a happening nightlife scene, and abundant music venues and shows. It prides itself as a place that welcomes all viewpoints and ideas, and everyone should feel welcome in Stockholm.

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Oslo, Norway

The changing of the guards in Oslo

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

The city center of Oslo, the capital of Norway, is at the end of the scenic Oslo Fjord. The Oslo Fjord is best visited in summer when it's a magnet for boaters, but it is a singular attraction no matter what time of year you visit. You can close your eyes and imagine Viking ships sailing out of the fjord to distant lands. From the fjord, the city sprawls out both to the north and to the south on both sides of the fjord, which gives the city area a slight U-shape.

Although Oslo's population is small compared to most European capitals, it occupies a large land area covered by forests, hills, and lakes. It boasts sites and museums that testify to its 1,000-year history, like the Viking Ship Museum and the Museum of Oslo. And if you're a foodie, you'll revel in Oslo's many restaurants, bars, and pubs. Norwegians are serious about their coffee, and you'll find an abundance of coffee bars and shops in Oslo.

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Helsinki, Finland

Helsinki Market Square
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Helsinki, Finland's capital, is in the south of the country by the Baltic Sea (Gulf of Finland). Helsinki is relatively small and a great walking city for visitors. The city has large parks, lots of trees, and an appealing coastline, so you are never far from nature here. Helsinki is party central on the weekends, so get ready to rock out at musical events or enjoy the cocktails and atmosphere in a sophisticated lounge. You'll find many bars and clubs close to one another, so you can easily choose one or several if you like to bar-hop. Then there are the islands; the archipelago of Helsinki includes about 330 of them, and you can reach some by ferry. 

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Reykjavik, Iceland

Cityscape of Reykjavik at dusk, Iceland
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Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, is close to the Arctic Circle and is the northernmost capital in the world. Because of the city's far north location, sunlight is sparse in the winter but abundant in summer, giving travelers many more hours of daylight to explore Iceland and its biggest city at that time of year. There's a reason they call it the land of the midnight sun; on June 21, the sun sets a bit after midnight and rises a little before 3 a.m., and there's daylight at midnight from May through July. In the winter, the reverse is true, and the sun barely makes an appearance, with the longest daylight in mid-December about four to five hours. Reykjavik is off the beaten path, and the combination of the light and closeness to nature make it a photographer's dream.

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Mapes, Terri. "The 5 Capitals of Scandinavia." ThoughtCo, Sep. 2, 2021, Mapes, Terri. (2021, September 2). The 5 Capitals of Scandinavia. Retrieved from Mapes, Terri. "The 5 Capitals of Scandinavia." ThoughtCo. (accessed January 30, 2023).