If it’s come down to you deciding where to visit in Scandinavia, you may be wondering which is better, Norway or Sweden. We love both of these countries, and we don’t think either will disappoint. Whatever you choose, Norway or Sweden are both great destinations, especially if you’re the outdoorsy type…
With its jagged mountain tops and icy glaciers, mystic fjords, and wild coastline, it’s hard to find another place as beautiful as Norway. The scenery in Sweden may not be quite as dramatic but it’s nonetheless amazing. With nearly 70% of the country covered in forests, Sweden is certainly a great place to escape the city.
In this guide, we will take a look at the most important aspects of traveling to these destinations. From the best cities, the incredible nature that’s on offer, and all the outdoor activities, to what your trip will cost, we can help you decide where to go on your next Scandinavian adventure.
Norway or Sweden: Getting there
Whether you are planning to travel to Norway by air, land, or sea, you’ll find plenty of options to get there. With direct flights from all over the world, and low-cost connections from all over Europe, it shouldn’t be tricky to find your way into this beautiful Scandinavian country. You will likely land in one of the country’s many well-connected airports, either Oslo, Bergen, Stavanger, or Tromsø. However, if flying is not your cup of tea, you can reach Norway by train, bus, or ship. Most overland connections run through Denmark, Sweden, or Finland.
Although getting to Norway is not too difficult, Sweden is a bit more accessible to the rest of the world. Sweden’s hip capital city, Stockholm, has been a popular weekend destination for visitors from all over Europe for a long time. That means that it’s super easy to get there, especially with the four international airports on offer, serving over 30 million passengers every year. Plus, there are other large international airports in Gothenburg, and in Malmö (a city that is also easily accessible from Copenhagen in Denmark). Flying is the easiest and the cheapest way to reach Sweden, but you can also get there overland by train, ship, bus, or car.
Norway or Sweden: Cities
Norway is one of the most beautiful countries on the planet when it comes to nature. However, although it is mostly known for its jagged mountains, endless fjords, and the great outdoors, there are also some cool cities waiting for urban explorers.
- Bergen – Nestled between the mountains and fjords, Bergen is Norway’s second largest city. The UNESCO World Heritage site, Bryggen, features rows of colorful wooden houses on a historical harbor. It’s a magical place, especially in the winter.
- Tromsø – With 24 hours of sunshine in the summer and spectacular Northern Lights in the winter, this arctic city is truly incredible. And it’s bustling with life, offering more bars and clubs per capita than anywhere else in the world, apparently!
- Oslo – It may not be the most popular capital of the Scandinavian trio, but Oslo has a lot to offer. With plenty of art galleries, museums, bars, and restaurants, it is an up-and-coming cultural destination.
For us, though, there is no doubt that the Swedish capital is more picturesque than Oslo, and there are other cities in Sweden worth dropping into:
- Stockholm – The buzzing capital, sprawling across fourteen islands. Each area of Stockholm has its own unique character. There is Gamla Stan, the historical center, home to the royal family, and there is Södermalm, an artsy island with plenty of bohemian cafes and stylish shops and restaurants.
- Gothenburg – The vibrant city of Gothenburg is the second largest in the country. With beautiful architecture and a youthful vibe, this is a great city to visit.
- Malmö – Connected by a long bridge to Copenhagen, this Swedish city is much closer to Denmark’s capital than to its own. It has been influenced by many cultures, so it’s a great place to taste some eclectic food and explore art and history.
Winner: Sweden, mainly because of Stockholm.
Norway or Sweden: Things to do
Both Norway and Sweden have perfect environments for outdoor activities. From hiking and mountain climbing to kayaking and wild swimming, there are loads of adrenaline pursuits on offer in these Scandinavian locations.
Thanks to the northerly locations both countries enjoy great snow conditions throughout the winter. Both have hosted the Winter Olympics and offer some fantastic skiing conditions. Trysil is the largest ski area in Norway with over 75km of slopes. Sweden’s best ski resort is Åre, with 91km of pistes.
But if you’re not the outdoorsy type, there are also plenty of other things to do in Sweden. Enjoy the amazing café culture, known as fika, and try the famous meatballs in Stockholm, or visit one of the amazing museums like Skansen, Vasa, or the Ikea Museum for design enthusiasts.
In Norway, you could check out Oslo’s amazing dining scene. It’s one of the homes of New Nordic cooking. Alternatively, pay a visit to the National Museum of Art, Architecture, and Design for intriguing exhibits. Norway is also the best place in Scandinavia to watch the fantastic Northern Lights. The prime spots include Tromsø, Kirkenes, The Lofoten Islands, North Cape (Nordkapp) and even remote Svalbard.
Winner: It’s a draw.
Norway or Sweden: Nature
Scandinavia is known for its outstanding natural beauty, and Sweden is no different. Almost 70% of the country is covered in forests, more than anywhere else in Europe. From high mountain peaks in the north to spectacular beaches in the south, there is no shortage of natural beauty in this part of the continent.
There are over 100,000 lakes across the country, with the largest one being Lake Vänern, which stretches for over 145km in length. There are also 29 national parks in Sweden, with perhaps the most spectacular ones being Sarek and Abisko National Parks up in Lapland.
When it comes to natural beauty, though, it’s hard to find another place like Norway. From snowcapped, jaggy mountains and icy glaciers to mystic fjords and stunning coastline, this remote Scandinavian country is a nature-lover’s paradise.
There are 47 national parks and over 3,000 protected areas of unspoiled nature. So, it is no wonder that so many people visit Norway for the outdoors. The majority of the parks are covered by mountains, from rolling hills to rocky summits, making it a true hiker’s mecca.
You can hike around the highest peaks in Jotunheimen National Park, with the highest Galdhøpiggen looming over the horizon. You can enjoy the vast wilderness in Hardangervidda National Park, the largest of the lot. Also, don’t miss Rondane National Park, the oldest park, and an important place for the populations of reindeer. Finally, there’s the youngest park, Lofotodden National Park, with stunning views across the iconic Lofoten archipelago.
Norway or Sweden: Hiking
Is it Norway or Sweden when it comes to hiking? Well, both countries offer plenty of amazing walking trails, so you won’t be disappointed with either.
From plenty of challenging and dramatic peaks that reward you with some breathtaking mountain vistas and green valley walks, to coastal routes and forest trails, Norway is a hiker’s paradise. The iconic Pulpit Rock and the picturesque trails in Romsdalseggen ridge are some of the most popular in the country, at least in our humble opinion.
Sweden may not be as dramatic as Norway but also offers plenty of top-notch hiking. From long-distance, multi-day hikes such as the 440km King’s Trail in the northern part of the country to wooded trails around Hovdala by Finjasjön Lake, Sweden is a great place for lacing up the boots.
Winner: Norway – there’s just more wilderness to hike through.
Norway or Sweden: Prices
It is no secret that visiting anywhere in Scandinavia will cost you some big bucks, and Norway and Sweden are no exception. When you compare the two, however, Sweden is significantly cheaper than Norway, but it is still pricy, nonetheless.
Eating and drinking out in Norway is especially expensive when you compare it with the rest of Europe. You should also be prepared to pay a premium for anything from accommodation to transport, so it really isn’t the most budget-friendly destination on offer. But it doesn’t mean that visiting Norway cannot be done on a tighter budget. Choosing campsites, hostels, or cheap guesthouses over luxurious hotels and cabins can save you a lot of cash.
When it comes to Sweden, you’re actually looking at one of the cheapest countries in Scandinavia. That doesn’t mean it’s cheap, but your budget will stretch further than across the border in Norway. Everything from accommodation to food and drinks is more affordable. In fact, prices are more comparable with those in the UK and Germany.
Norway or Sweden: Nightlife
When it comes to nightlife, both countries place big restrictions on alcohol prices and bar opening times. That means that you will need a lot of cash in your pockets to enjoy the best parties in Norway and Sweden, and you will find it hard to find places open beyond 3 am.
If money isn’t an object, then you won’t be disappointed with Oslo’s wild nightlife scene. From bohemian cocktail bars to stylish nightclubs and live-music venues, the Norwegian capital has a lot up its sleeve. The city center is a great area to stay in if you want to enjoy the best of Oslo’s nightlife.
If you choose Sweden over Norway, however, you might have more options to choose from. Both Stockholm and Gothenburg have strong nightlife scenes with plenty of places that stay open a bit longer than those in Norway’s capital.
A long street on Stockholm’s Södermalm, Götgatan, is dotted with a number of the best nightlife venues, ranging from hipster music bars to craft beer halls and cocktail bars. Other good places around there include the trendy SoFo and Medborgarplatsen.
If you’re staying around Malmö, you can also take a 20-minute train across the border to Copenhagen to enjoy some of the best nightlife that Denmark has to offer.
Norway or Sweden: The conclusion
If it’s come down to deciding between Norway and Sweden, the choice isn’t going to be easy. Norway will deliver on those dramatic mountain vistas and undoubted natural beauty. Sweden, on the other hand, is cheaper and easier to get to. It probably has the more immersive cities and more vibrant nightlife.