Where in Scandinavia? Denmark or Norway to visit this year?

Denmark or Norway to visit
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Denmark or Norway to visit? This is a choice between two of Scandinavia’s most incredible countries. The first is one of the most southerly in the region, touting the hip and happening capital of Copenhagen, along with fairy-tale villages and some seriously stunning coastline. Then you have the great Scandi backbone of Norway, which runs south and north from the icy North Sea to the Arctic Circle in a symphony of fjords, glaciers, and jaw-dropping nature.

We think every traveler should visit both at least once in their life. However, if you can only choose one for your trip this year, then read on…

This in-the-know guide will run through seven key features of both places. It will take a look at the history, the sightseeing, the prices, and the ease of traveling, all so you can make an informed decision as to whether it’s going to be Denmark or Norway for your great northern adventure. Let’s get a-going, shall we?

Denmark or Norway to visit for ease of travel?

Norway town
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There are a couple entry points to Norway from the air, which is the way most people arrive since getting here by land can involve a tricky jaunt through northern Europe. Low-cost carriers like Ryanair have colonized the airport at Sandefjord. It’s just over 110km north of the capital and is probably going to be the cheapest place to fly to if you’re already in Europe. Long-haulers will almost certainly have to look to the Gardermoen airport, which is also known as Oslo Airport. That’s the largest in the country and has plenty of transatlantic arrivals from the states in the mix. Trondheim Airport is better for getting to the remote north of the country.

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We have to say, it’s generally much easier to get to Denmark. That’s not only because the main airport here – the Copenhagen Airport Kastrup – is about three times busier than its counterpart in Oslo, but also because the country has WAY better links to central and Western Europe. First off, it has direct roads leading into Germany. Secondly, there are daily train services from Hamburg to Copenhagen, and from Malmo (in Sweden) to Copenhagen. You also get cross-Baltic ferries that link to the Polish coast and up to Latvia and Lithuania further east.

Winner: Denmark.

Denmark or Norway to visit for things to do?

Quaysides in Copenhagen
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In Denmark, you’ll want to start in the capital of Copenhagen. It’s a truly wonderful city, focused on an old town that even comes with its own theme park, the Tivoli Gardens. the capital also has the colourful quaysides of Nyhavn and the off-beat alt district of Freetown Christiania, a hippy haven that’s filled with interesting art galleries. Venture beyond and you’ll find rural idyls on the isle of Funen, the wind-blasted beaches of Grenen up north, and mysterious Viking burial grounds at Lindholm Hoje. We’d also put a stopover in the upcoming culture hub of Aarhus on the menu. It’s the second city and a real student gem.

When it comes to Norway, the focus switches from cities to nature. Norway is loaded with some of the most dramatic shoreline anywhere on the planet. Fjords carve inland to glaciated mountains, giving rise to a world of gushing waterfalls and stunning seascapes as they go. The best of them includes the legendary Geirangerfjord and the Sognefjord, which is said to be the king of the lot. Adventurers can also conquer the eye-watering Atlantic Ocean Road (said to be one of the world’s most scenic drives) and go seeking for glimpses of the Northern Lights. And that’s not even mentioning the history of Bergen town, with its enchanting port areas and cobbled streets.

Winner: Draw – this is a personal choice between culture and outdoors adventure.

Denmark or Norway to visit for towns and cities?

A square in Denmark
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Oslo is the capital of Norway. It’s known for its cutting-edge art galleries and architecture. Incredible Oslo Opera House starts the ball rolling on that front with its ice-white and glass design, which is said to resemble a glacier meeting the North Sea. Other sights in the big town include the amazing Holmenkollen ski jump and the exhibits of the Nobel Peace Center, the home of its namesake prize. Bergen deserves a special mention for its medieval Bryggen area, now a UNESCO site. As does Tromso, which surely has to be one of the most audaciously placed towns on the planet!

We think Denmark pulls through here, though. That’s mainly down to the cosmo buzz that carries in the Copenhagen. Seriously, this is one cool capital. Beer halls like BRUS rub shoulders with Turkic kebab joints on the multicultural north side of the town, while jazz bars and elegant Parisian cafes occupy the cobbles near Nyhavn further south. Bolstering that is a doozy of a second city in Aarhus. An all-new modern art museum, the ARoS Aarhus Art Museum, and a big student population helps to keep that one vibrant and edgy in its own way.

Winner: Denmark.

Denmark or Norway to visit for beaches?

Danish beaches
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Don’t go thinking that just because these places are so far north in Europe that beaches are out of reach. Not so. Denmark is ringed by mile upon mile of uninterrupted white- and yellow-sand beach. Its best spots are probably around Skagen in the far north of the country. They include the famous Nordstrand, which hits a pinnacle at the point where the Baltic and the North Sea meet. On top of that, you can head down to Blavand in West Jutland to see seals lazing on sands, visit Blokhus near Lokken, where it’s possible to do 4×4 trips along the coast, or wander the lonely dunes of Romo. For its part, Copenhagen also has some lovely sand stretches within easy reach of city limits.

Just as you might expect of the country that hosts the fantastic fjords of northern Europe, Norway’s beachscapes are pretty darn impressive. The most impressive of the lot a probably around the far northern Lofoten region. By summer, that string of islets connected by a wiggling roadway has turquoise waters and shimmering white sands that you almost won’t believe to be Scandinavian stuff. You’ll want to check out boulder-ringed Uttakleiv and mountain-shrouded Haukland for certain! On the West Coast, fjords ensure that the topography is a little steep for sands. That said, you can get some little urban beaches and coves around the town of Bergen and near Oslo.

Winner: Probably Norway, but you will have to put some effort in to region the most stunning beaches.

Denmark or Norway to visit for nature and adventure?

Norway nature
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Norway isn’t hailed as the great outdoorsy playground of Europe for nothing. The country spans a mega 1,160 miles from tip to tail, linking the base of Scandinavia with the polar Arctic Circle. What you get along the way is sure to make the jaw drop. We’ve already mentioned those uber-incredible fjords – the Sognefjord, the Geirangerfjord, the Lysefjord among them. But what about the glaciers? There are 2,500 of them, from Svalbard to the accessible Jostedalsbreen that you can canoe right up to! Throw in heather-clad highlands in Hardangervidda, the islands of Tromso, and the positively wild regions of Stabbursdalen and you begin to get a flavor for what this is all about.

Denmark’s countryside is a whole load more accessible than Norway’s but nowhere near as dramatic. The shores here aren’t cut by mighty fjords but rather dashed by sand spits. The backcountry isn’t capped by ice sheets and crevasses. It’s mainly beech and oak woods that roll down to meadows filled with cows and sheep. Basically, it’s more family friendly but not for the Bear Grylls of us out there!

Winner: Norway.

Denmark or Norway to visit for nightlife?

A Norwegian town at night
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It’s Copenhagen that leads the way on the nightlife front in Denmark. It doesn’t party every night, but weekends can bring out the student and local crowd to power up the brewhouses and pubs of Norrebro. That’s where we’d recommend starting, in places like BRUS and the slick Olsnedkeren. Afterwards, move south to the Nyhavn docks, which pulse with al fresco jazz bars and beer terraces when the weather’s good. Indre By (the old town) always has pubs on offer, too, but it’s Christiania that gives the more off-beat vibes and alt clubs.

The main obstacle to partying in Norway is going to be the cost of booze – you’re looking at over $10 a pint in most places in these parts, you know? When people do go out, they spread between the western districts and the center. The latter has life on Karl Johan Avenue, where beer halls spill from the old buildings and get lively early on Friday afternoons. The former offers more underground clubs and pubs in Vika and Frogner. Bergen is probably better for partying, though, with student bars that pop up on the Torget quays and behind during term time.

Winner: Denmark.

Denmark or Norway to visit for cost?

A house in Norway
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We’re not going to pretend that either of these countries is good value for money. Neither is a place to go if you’re on tight budget. That said, Norway takes things to all new dizzying heights when it comes to prices. Some say this is the most expensive travel destination on the planet right now! Most estimations put it at about 10% costlier than Denmark in general. We’d say that the restaurants are about 7% more expensive and groceries up to 40% more expensive. You’ll also find that hotels in Norway, especially in sought-after places like Oslo and near the Northern Lights, cost a premium compared to Danish hotels.

Sadly, Denmark is hardly a place for those on a shoestring. It’s still pricier than the UK, France, and the USA, with soaring rates for booze in bars ($7-10 for a drink is normal) and costly meals out (don’t expect to get away with anything below $50 a head, even in a midrange place). Hotels can easily slide to over $100 a night, and even hostels command rates close to $90 a night in the peak season.

Winner: Denmark is cheaper, but we’d actually avoid both places if you’re traveling on a budget.

Denmark or Norway to visit? – our conclusion

There are plenty of reasons to visit both Denmark and Norway. The first is the home of Hans Christian Andersen, a country of wonderful beaches on the North Sea, and intriguing design museums packed into the cultural capital of Copenhagen. The second is famed for the fjords – you 100% HAVE to visit those eye-watering spots where mountains crash into the ocean. It’s one of Europe’s most naturally gifted countries, rich in Viking history, and blessed with polar regions where you can see the Northern Lights.

Overall, we’d said Norway is the choice for those into nature and Copenhagen is the one for those who prefer culture and history. However, neither is a good pick if you’re on a tight budget or if you’re looking for out-and-out and nightlife destinations.

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Joe has been a freelance travel writer for over nine years. His writing and roaming have taken him from the colonial towns of Mexico to the chowks of Mumbai to the Southern Alps of New Zealand. When he's not putting together the next epic blog on the best Greek islands or ski fields in France, you can usually find him surfing or hiking – his two top hobbies.