6.3: Northern Europe

Scandinavia (Northern Europe)
Scandinavia (Northern Europe)
Lonely Planet: Introducing Scandinavia

Northern Europe has traditionally included Iceland, Finland, and the three Scandinavian countries of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark (including the Faroe Islands which are part of Denmark). These countries are often referred to as the Nordic countries. Scandinavia is sometimes used as a synonym for the Nordic countries, but that term more properly refers to the three monarchies of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden.

Snow Cover Across Scandinavia.
Snow Cover Across Scandinavia. In this mostly cloud-free true-color scene, much of Scandinavia can be seen to be still covered by snow in March. 

All these countries were influenced by Viking heritage and expansion.

The Vikings! – Crash Course World History 224

Their capital cities are also major ports. Click on the images to see them in a larger format, if you want. 🙂

Stockholm, the capital of Sweden
Stockholm, the capital of Sweden
Copenhagen is the capital of Denmark and is another port city.
Copenhagen is the capital of Denmark and is another port city.
Oslo is the capital of Norway.
Oslo is the capital of Norway.
Notice how Stockholm is a port city surrounded by water.
Notice how Stockholm is a port city surrounded by water.
A Copenhagen waterfront lined by colorful houses
A Copenhagen waterfront lined by colorful houses
You can see how Oslo is along the water.
You can see how Oslo is along the water.
Optional video: Rick Steves’ Stockholm
Note: This video is 25 minutes long.

The Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Icelandic and Faroese languages are all rooted in Old Norse, and Danish, Norwegian and Swedish are considered mutually intelligible.  Almost all elementary school children in the Nordic countries are taught English as a second language.

Most of Iceland’s inhabitants are descendants of Scandinavian Vikings. An ethnic group that lives in the region is the Sámi people.

The Sámi people live in Sápmi, a cultural area that stretches over 4 Nordic countries: Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia.
A  Sámi  man and his reindeer
A Sámi man and his reindeer

These countries were kingdoms, and their royal families remain highly regarded members of society.

TheTalko: Inside The Lives Of The Swedish Royal Family

You can watch another video about the Danish royal family by clicking here.

The colder northern climate has helped shape the cultural activities and the winter sports that are part of the region’s heritage. Peripheral isolation from the rest of Europe because of their northern location and dividing bodies of water have allowed the northern culture to be preserved for centuries and shape the societies that now exist in northern Europe.

Human rights, education, and social concerns are high priorities of the governments of northern Europe, and the quality of these elements rank highly by global comparisons. Standards of living are among the highest in Europe. In the World Happiness Report, Finland, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, and Sweden consistently rank in the top 10 countries. There are quite a few books that cover this subject that you may find interesting to read!

Isolation in northern Europe does create an element of economic cost, and transportation technology has been leveraged to address this.

Why is Scandinavia so expensive? | CNBC Explains

The Øresund Bridge has been constructed across the Baltic Sea from Denmark to Sweden to increase the flow of people, goods, and materials between the Scandinavian Peninsula and mainland Europe.

Let Me Know: Denmark’s ‘Disappearing Road’ Is Really An Awesome Underwater Highway

Scandinavian cuisine is traditionally simple. Fish (particularly herring), meat, potatoes, and dairy products play prominent roles without many spices. In Iceland, due to the island’s climate, fruits and vegetables are not generally a component of traditional dishes, although the use of greenhouses has made them more common in contemporary food.

Some foods of the region include:

Cinnamon rolls originated in Denmark and Sweden.
Lingonberries are common in Finland and the other Scandinavian countries.
Gravlax is a Nordic food that is made from salmon cured with dill, salt, and sugar.
 A traditional Swedish 
A traditional Swedish 
smörgåsbord consists of both hot and cold dishes. Bread, butter, and cheese are always part of the smörgåsbord.
Smørrebrød  is a traditional Scandinavian open-faced sandwich.
Smørrebrød is a traditional Scandinavian open-faced sandwich.
"Småkager" - Danish butter cookies
Småkager” – Danish butter cookies

Northern Europe is known for its concern for the social welfare of its citizens. Their strong egalitarian ideals have contributed to extensive advancements in free medical care, free education, and free social services for all, regardless of nationality or minority status.

PragerU: Is Denmark Socialist?

Civil rights for minorities, women, and other groups is assured and protected. Denmark doesn’t have a legal age for consumption of alcoholic beverages, though tradition sets the age at about fourteen. Culture and the arts are well developed; examples include everything from the Nobel Peace Prize to Hans Christian Anderson to the 1970s chart-topping pop group ABBA. Sweden has become a major exporter of music worldwide.

Abba – Dancing Queen

Iceland is the most remote of the Nordic countries. Its small population—less than a half-million people—is connected to Europe by sea and air transportation and communication technologies.

Iceland is an island country.
Iceland is an island country.

Most Icelanders are descendants of Norse and Gaelic settlers. Even though it’s closer to Greenland, an island of North America, it’s generally included in Europe for geographical, historical, political, cultural, linguistic and practical reasons.

Iceland is highly geologically active with many volcanoes. With the widespread availability of geothermal power and the harnessing of many rivers and waterfalls for hydroelectricity, most residents have access to inexpensive hot water, heating, and electricity.

A small hot spring in the Icelandic countryside.
A small hot spring in the Icelandic countryside.

The climate of Iceland’s coast is subarctic, but the warm North Atlantic Current ensures generally higher annual temperatures than in most places of similar latitude in the world.

Icelandic turf houses
Icelandic turf houses were the product of a difficult climate, offering superior insulation compared to buildings solely made of wood or stone, and the relative difficulty in obtaining other construction materials in sufficient quantities.

Centuries of isolation have helped to insulate the country’s Nordic culture from external influence; a prominent example is the preservation of the Icelandic language, which remains the closest to Old Norse of all modern Nordic languages.

Holiday Extras Travel Guides: How to speak Icelandic – The Icelandic language Basics

Egalitarianism is highly valued among the people of Iceland, with income inequality being among the lowest in the world. As in other Nordic countries, equality between the sexes is very high; Iceland is consistently ranked among the top three countries in the world for women to live in.

Iceland Vacation Travel Guide | Expedia

There are more islands in this part of the world besides Iceland. The Faroe Islands belong to Denmark and are about halfway between Norway and Iceland. The name of the islands translates to “Islands of Sheep.” These islands are a group of 18 islands that are rugged and rocky with some low peaks; the coasts are mostly cliffs.

Faroe Islands
Faroe Islands
Topographic map of the Faroe Islands
Topographic map of the Faroe Islands

The islands are home to a notable independence movement that has seen an increase in popularity within recent decades.  The following video will tell you all about these islands:

Phantom Power: NATION 1 Faroe Islands – the connected nation
Note: This video is about 30 minutes long.

Key Takeaways:

✎ Northern Europe has traditionally included Iceland, Finland, and the three Scandinavian countries of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark.
✎ These countries have a Viking heritage.
✎ Iceland is the most remote Nordic country known for its volcanoes.
✎ The Faroe Islands belong to Denmark, but there has been a noteable movement for independence.

Next: 6.4: Southern Europe

We want to know what you thought of what you just read and watched! Leave us a comment! Please also let us know if a link or video isn’t working. 🙂

Image and additional information credits:

Scandinavia map
By Peter Fitzgerald, Stefan Ertmann, Júlio Reis, User:Mjchael – File:Scandinavia regions map.svg, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24485850
Nordic country information
Sami people map
By File:BlankMap-Europe.png, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=53461
Sapmi information
Sami man
By Ernmuhl at lb.wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15857923
Scandinavia in winter
By Image courtesy Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Land Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC – Moderate-resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS), flying aboard NASA’s Terra satellite.http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/NaturalHazards/natural_hazards_v2.php3?img_id=2611, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=111556
Stockholm rail map
CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7622197
Copenhagen buildings
By GuoJunjun – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21634869
Oslo tram map
CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=924581
Cuisine info
Cinnamon rolls
By Frankie Fouganthin – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39867193
By Anders Porter – julbord! janssons frestelse, köttbullar, sill, prinskorv och ost!, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=58445797
By Photo: Philip Gabrielsen, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1220179
Danish open sandwich
By Nillerdk – Own photo. The chef is a friend of mine., CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4379942
By Aarno at English Wikibooks, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9703991
Danish cookies
By Constantin Barbu – originally posted to Flickr as Cookies, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10324988
Iceland info
Turf roofs
By Tord Dellsen – Own work, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=86571828
Hot spring Iceland
By Hansueli Krapf (User:Simisa) – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1023576
Faroe Islands
By Europe-Jersey.svg: *Europe-Northern_Cyprus.svg: *Europe-Serbia.svg:derivative work: Chipmunkdavis (talk)Jersey_Map.svg: Ichwan Palongengiderivative work: Chipmunkdavis (talk)derivative work: Chipmunkdavis (talk) – Europe-Jersey.svg, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13641881
Faroe Island info
Faroe Islands map
By Oona Räisänen (Mysid) – Self-made in Inkscape by User:Mysid.Coastline, roads, place names, and summits based on File:Faroe map with villages, streets, straits, firths, ferry harbours and major moutains.png.Topography based on public domain GLOBE data from NOAA (http://www.ngdc.noaa.gov/mgg/topo/gltiles.html).Relief shading is an embedded PNG raster, derived from the GLOBE data using Perl.Bathymetry from NGDC ETOPO2 (low resolution raster with a “blur” property)., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5812896

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