Thinking about a Nordic vacation, but cannot decide between Norway or Finland? No worries! In this article, we have gathered all the necessary information about these beautiful Nordic nations.
Norway is known as the land of waterfalls, fjords, deep valleys, and majestic mountain peaks. Whether you wish to see the Northern Lights and other natural attractions or get to know the Scandinavian culture and cuisine, there is plenty to look forward to when visiting Norway. Then, there is Finland. With thousands of lakes, this Nordic country is well known for its breathtaking landscapes. It has 2 million saunas and 5 million people. Yes, Finns are obsessed with saunas! Nature lovers will instantly fall in love with Finland’s forests, waterfalls, and national parks.
Without further ado, here is a comparison of these two fabulous Nordic countries.
Norway or Finland: Culture
Being Nordic nations, Norway and Finland have similar cultures. However, some key differences make each country unique and different. Norway is a highly tolerant Scandinavian country towards other nationalities and cultures. Their lifestyle is known to be extremely healthy, so it comes as no surprise that Norway has the second-best life expectancy in the world, right after Japan.
The Norwegian language has two written forms: Bokmål and Nynorsk. However, most people use Bokmål. An interesting fact is that majority of the population speaks fairly fluent English because of the exceptional education system.
Finland is actually not part of Scandinavia, but it shares the larger Nordic culture with countries like Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. Many Finns love nature and are fond of physical activity. Some of the most popular outdoor activities in Finland include hiking, skiing, camping, sailing, and ice hockey. The sauna plays an important role in the lives of people from Finland. The entire sauna experience for Finns is expected to be quiet and peaceful. How do I greet Finns in formal situations? A handshake is fine. If you are visiting from Mediterranean countries, keep in mind that cheek kissing is not common in Finland.
Norway or Finland: Nature
Something that most people in northern Europe share is a love for the great outdoors. Both Finns and Norwegians are huge fans of nature and wild camping is allowed pretty much anywhere in these countries. With plenty of stunning waterfalls, mountain peaks, and hiking trails, Norway is one of the best places in Europe to enjoy nature.
Make your way to Hardangervidda, the largest national park in Norway. This beautiful park is home to various hiking and cycling trails where you can spot some seriously awesome wildlife. If you wish to enjoy magnificent views, head out to Trolltunga which is situated about 1,100 meters above sea level. Keep in mind that the hike to the summit is not for the faint-hearted, as it lasts for about 10 to 12 hours.
Norway is also home to many iconic fjords that provide travelers with scenic views. The most popular fjords in Norway include Nærøyfjord, the Sognefjord, the Lysefjord, and the Geirangerfjord. If you wish to see the spectacular Northern Lights in Norway, visit popular locations such as the Lofoten islands, Hammerfest, Lyngenfjord, and Narvik. Along with fjords and towering mountains, travelers can also explore cascading waterfalls around Norway such as Vettisfossen, Langfoss, and the Seven Sisters.
European Union’s most sparsely populated nation, Finland is a haven for nature lovers. Spend a day at Kurjenrahka National Park. Located about 40 km outside the city of Turku, this national park is an ideal destination for a short weekend trip. No visit to Finland is complete without visiting the Finnish Lake District and the fourth-largest lake in Europe, Saimaa. You will find charming spots along its shores such as Savonlinna and Linnansaari National Park.
One of the most popular tourist destinations in Finland, Lapland is a place where travelers are surrounded by breathtaking Arctic landscapes. Visit the cute village of Utsjoki and explore the snow-covered landscape in Lapland with a snowmobile. To sum it all up, both Norway and Finland are ideal for visitors who wish to enjoy nature.
Norway or Finland: Things to do
There is no shortage of fun things to do in both Norway and Finland. Thrill-seekers can head out to Preikestolen (or Pulpit Rock) in southern Norway and enjoy panoramic views from the edge of a 1,982-foot-high cliff. If you are into skiing, you’ll be pleased to hear that Norway boasts countless ski resorts ranging from paths at Jotunheimen national park to Hafjell.
You can also visit the islands of Svalbard in Norway and enjoy activities such as snowmobile safari, ice caving, and husky sledding. In Finland, you can explore one of the oldest zoos in the world. Located on Korkeasaari Island, Helsinki Zoo is home to more than 150 different species of animals including camels, monkeys, lions, wolverines, and bears.
If you are visiting Finland with children, spend a day at Särkänniemi Amusement Park in Tampere where you can enjoy fast-paced rides and varied family-friendly attractions. The park is also home to a large planetarium and aquarium.
Norway or Finland: Cities
When it comes to cool cities worth visiting in Norway and Finland, you are spoiled for choice! Norway’s capital and the third-largest city in Scandinavia, Oslo is home to world-class museums and postcard-perfect parks. The city center of Oslo is best explored on foot. Explore the main street Karl Johans, see brilliant artworks at the National Gallery, and pay a visit to Oslo Opera House which is one of Scandinavia’s most iconic modern buildings.
Travelers can also explore Bergen, Norway’s second-largest city. Nicknamed the ‘Gateway to the Fjords, Bergen has a cute old town lined with cozy cafes and stylish dining establishments. To see the world’s northernmost botanical garden, visit the city of Tromso in Norway. An outdoor sports haven, Lillehammer was home to the Winter Olympics. Here, you can visit the attractions such as the Norwegian Olympic Museum and the Lysgaard Bakken Ski Jumping Arena.
The capital of Finland, Helsinki is well-known for its stylish 20th-century modern architecture and attractions like the Market Square, the Design District, and Temppeliaukion. You can also pay a visit to one of the many Helsinki Islands. Known for its magnificent beaches, the island of Pihlajasaari is one of the most popular day trip destinations for the locals. If you wish to relive your childhood fantasies in Finland, head out to the capital of Lapland, Rovaniemi. It is the official hometown of Santa Claus! In small towns like the medieval town of Turku, Savonlinna, and Salla, you can feel the true spirit of local life.
Norway or Finland: Food and Drink
Foodies visiting Finland and Norway are in for a real treat. Both of these Nordic nations are known for their unique cuisine. In Norway, it’s quite normal to start the day with Sild (pickled herring). It is one of the most popular foods in Norway. If you are feeling adventurous, we recommend trying Smalahove, a Norwegian traditional dish made from a sheep’s head. There is also Fårikål (mutton in cabbage) and gravlaks (salmon fillets with spicy sauce).
Norwegians are also crazy about meatballs. Book a table at a local restaurant in Oslo and order Kjøttkaker, balls of minced beef rolled with ginger, pepper, nutmeg, and other spices. Aquavit is one of the most well-known alcoholic drinks in Norway. You can also try Mead (honey wine) which is often consumed with ginger biscuits.
People in Finland are also passionate about their cuisine and loyal to their culinary roots. If you ever wondered how reindeer meat tastes like, you’ve come to the right place! Try the thinly sliced reindeer meat sautéed in beer and served with mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce.
Finns are also big fans of salmon and Graavilohi is one of our favorite salmon dishes here. Travelers with a sweet tooth can try Juustoleipä, a typical dessert from the north of Finland. Many believe how Finns have a special relationship with alcohol, which means that you won’t stay thirsty here. Try Salmiakki Koskenkorva (a unique vodka cocktail), Lakka (cloudberry liqueur), and Sima (a fermented drink similar to Mead). Beer lovers can try Sahti, a traditional Finnish beer made with malted barley.
Norway or Finland: Nightlife
Although both Finland and Norway are cold countries where the temperature can often drop below zero, the nightlife in these Nordic nations is nowhere being cold and boring. Oslo has a ridiculously rich nightlife scene, with a huge range of nightclubs, cocktail bars, and casual watering holes. To find the best bars in Oslo, go to the Thorvald Meyers gate and the surrounding streets. Grønland and Tøyen neighborhoods have a more alternative vibe.
If you wish to dance the night away in a trendy bar/club in Norway, we suggest checking out Stratos! This place is located on the 11th floor and offers mesmerizing views of the city. Bergen, Tromsø, and Stavanger are among other places with happening nightlife in Norway.
In Finland, you will find nightclubs with DJ performances in Helsinki, Turku and, Tampere. In the countryside, there are also plenty of options for going out in the evening. Whether you wish to grab a post-sauna beer at an old-school bar, visit that urban craft brewery, or spend a wine in a stylish venue that serves ciders and wines, there is plenty to choose from. Apollo Live Club is definitely one of the most popular nightclubs in Finland. Located along the sea in Jatkasaari, Hotel Clarion – Sky Room Bar & Lounge is well-known for its Nordic chic interiors and artisan cocktails.
Norway or Finland: Getting Around
Thanks to their reliable, clean, and modern public transportation, getting around both Finland and Norway is super easy and fast! To see any part of Norway and Finland, just hop on a train, boat, metro, bus, small airplane, etc.
In Norway, taking a bus is the cheapest option for getting around. Since the distances between cities can be large, we recommend taking the train when traveling between cities in Norway. They don’t cost much more but are often faster than buses. One of the best ways to experience Norway’s stunning natural beauty is to hop on one of the popular railways such as Rauma Railway (from Dombås to Åndalsnes) and Dovre Railway (from Oslo to Trondheim via the Gudbrandsdalen valley).
Since Finland is a large and sparsely populated country, one would think that getting around this Nordic nation is a hassle. But, public transportation by air, rail, road, and water are comprehensive and reliable. Buses are the main form of intercity travel in Finland. For instance, a bus ride from Helsinki to Turku lasts for about 2 hours, and a one-way ticket will set you back 10 to 15 euro. Matkahuolto and OnniBus are the main bus companies in Finland. Trains in Finland are an excellent form of transportation, but slightly more expensive than buses. It is also worth mentioning that Finland is incredibly bike-friendly. You will find well-kept bike lanes and bicycle rental services in almost every village in Finland.
Norway or Finland: Final Conclusion
Choosing a winner here is simply mission impossible. Both Norway and Finland have stunning nature with plenty of winter activities to enjoy. Although both of these countries are not budget-friendly destinations, they have so much to offer and are worth splurging on.