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If you’re planning a trip to northern Europe and are tight on time (or funds!), you might be wondering which one is better for visiting: Denmark or Finland?

After all, both of these countries are known for their natural beauty, rich cultures, and high standards of living, making them popular destinations for travelers. 

Well, whether you’re looking for a city break, a nature adventure, or a cultural experience, you’ll find something to love in both Denmark and Finland. 

That said, there are some points that could lean in favor of one country or the other – and that may help you decide which of these two amazing countries is the right fit for your next trip.

(Although, of course, there’s always the option of visiting both!)

Denmark and Finland flags

Denmark vs Finland: What’s the difference?

Geography and climate

Denmark is a small, flat country located between the North and Baltic seas with an area of approximately 43,094 square kilometers.. It’s known for its green pastures and rolling hills, as well as its long, picturesque coastline.  

Finland, on the other hand, is a much larger country with an area of approximately 338,424 square kilometers, making it the eighth largest country in Europe. It has a long, rugged coastline combined with a diverse landscape that includes forests, lakes, and mountains. 

This makes it great if you’re looking for a vacation where you can get away from it all and experience all that mother nature has to offer – especially if you time your trip to see the northern lights, which are much more common in Finland than Denmark.

History and culture

Both Denmark and Finland have rich cultural traditions and a long history. Denmark was once a powerful Viking kingdom, and its capital, Copenhagen, is home to many historic landmarks and museums. 

Find out more: 11 Best Places in Denmark For Viking Experiences

On the other hand, while there were Vikings in Finland, they weren’t quite as established as in Denmark. Nevertheless, Finland was actually under Swedish and Danish rule for centuries, despite the fact that many don’t consider Finland as being part of Scandinavia.

That said, don’t make the mistake of considering them as being the same. For instance, in the early 19th century, Finland came under Russian rule which continued for over 100 years, until Finland became independent in 1917. 

Today, it’s clear that centuries of foreign influence continue to shape Finnish culture and society.

In addition, both countries are also known for their rich literary traditions. Notably, Denmark is the birthplace of the well known author Hans Christian Andersen (all those mermaids in Denmark have to be based on something, right) while Finland is the home of authors like Tove Jansson and Juhani Aho.

Language and society

Denmark and Finland both have their own official languages, Danish and Finnish, respectively. However, English is widely spoken in both countries and is often used as a second language. 

Related: What Do People in Denmark Speak – and Can You Speak English There?

In terms of society, both countries are known for their high quality of life, strong welfare system, free education and low levels of corruption – all features that are key aspects of all of the Nordic countries..

Economy

Denmark and Finland both have stable, developed economies that are largely based on trade and exports. 

At the same time, both Denmark and Finland have high tax rates compared to other countries. In Denmark, the average tax rate is around 45%, while in Finland it’s around 50%. These high tax rates are used to fund the strong welfare systems of both countries, which provide a range of benefits and services to citizens.

Nevertheless, each country’s strong economies are also reflected in their similarly high salaries (although this corresponds with a very high cost of living in both Denmark and Finland). This is despite the fact that neither Denmark nor Finland has a federally mandated minimum wage. There are strong unions though, which ensure that wages are consistently aligned with the overall high cost of living in the country.

Is Finland cheaper than Denmark?

While it will depend on where you are in each country, overall, Finland is cheaper than Denmark. This is especially the case in the capitals, with rent, food and other expenses being much higher in Copenhagen than Helsinki. That said, both countries are quite expensive compared to the rest of the EU.

When visiting each country as a tourist, you’ll need to make sure you’ve saved up well as neither of them will offer a particularly budget-friendly trip. Of course, there are more affordable options in each country – for example, you don’t need to eat in world-renowned Noma to have a Nordic cuisine experience in Copenhagen.

Northern lights in Finland

Similarly, you don’t need to stay in an exclusive igloo hotel to see the northern lights in Finland.

As such, with some planning, you can certainly make it work.

Is Denmark richer than Finland?

Denmark is richer than Finland overall. For example, Denmark’s GDP is higher than Finland and Danish salaries also tend to be slightly higher than Finnish ones. However, both have very strong economies, much like all of the Nordic countries, especially compared to others in the EU.

The high taxes in each country certainly reflect this by the fact that people can afford these, although noting that they do receive a lot from the government for this, including free education and healthcare.

Currency

The currency of Denmark is the Danish krone while the currency of Finland is the euro, meaning that Finland is a member of the eurozone . 

Nevertheless, the value of the krone is pegged to the euro.

Language

Denmark and Finland both have their own official languages, Danish and Finnish, respectively. These languages are part of the Germanic and Finno-Ugric language families, respectively, and are therefore very different from each other. 

In fact, while Danish is often considered to be mutually intelligible with nearby Swedish and, to some extent, Norwegian, that’s nowhere near the case with Finnish. 

Find out more: What Do People in Denmark Speak – and Can You Speak English There?

It’s also worth mentioning that both countries provide official status, to some extent, to the languages of their indigenous populations. Specifically, both Greenlandic and Faroese are minority languages in Denmark that have official status in Greenland and the Faroe Islands respectively. 

In Finland, there are several official minority languages, including certain variants of Sami, Romani and Karelian. While Russian is the third most spoken native language in Finland, it doesn’t have any official status.

Main tourist destinations

Denmark is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Nordic region, with many visitors attracted to its charming capital, Copenhagen. The city’s picturesque canals lined with colorful houses, historical center and thriving Nordic cuisine scene make it a natural choice for many tourists.

Finland, meanwhile, has a number of beautiful and interesting places that are worth visiting, even if Helsinki itself isn’t always at the top of everyone’s list. 

Where Finland really shines though is with its natural offerings, that easily dwarf Denmark’s. Lapland, for example, is the northernmost region of Finland known for its unique landscapes and the chance to see the Northern Lights.

Main city sights outside of the capital

In Denmark, some of the main towns or cities outside of the capital, Copenhagen, that people should visit include Aarhus, the country’s second largest city, known for its vibrant cultural scene and beautiful beaches, and Odense, the birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen and home to many museums and historic landmarks. 

Related: 9 Best Cities to Live in Denmark (For Your Best Life)

Outside of Helsinki, you could consider visiting Tampere, a city known for its industrial heritage and beautiful lake, and Turku, Finland’s oldest city and home to many historic landmarks and cultural attractions.

Main music acts known internationally

Denmark has produced a number of successful musicians and bands that are known internationally. Some of the most famous include MØ, Aqua, and The Raveonettes. 

Finland, meanwhile, has a thriving music scene that includes many talented artists and bands. Some of the most well-known Finnish acts include HIM, Nightwish, and The Rasmus.

Politics

In terms of politics, both countries have democratic governments and are considered to be relatively progressive and socially liberal. 

One key difference of Denmark vs Finland here though is that Denmark is a monarchy, with Queen Margrethe II as head of state. Finland, on the other hand, is a republic and thus its head of state is the President.

presidential palace of Finland

International relations

Both Denmark and Finland are members of the European Union (EU) and the Nordic Council. For those who don’t know, the Nordic Council is a regional intergovernmental organization that brings together the five Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden) to promote cooperation in areas like culture, education, and the environment. 

In addition, Denmark is a member of NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, while Finland isn’t, although has been discussing joining in recent times.

Are Denmark and Finland friends?

Denmark and Finland are definitely friends, with both countries having a long history of strong diplomatic relations. With both being members of the Nordic Council, they frequently work together on policy issues affecting both countries and the wider region.

The only time this may not be the case is if they play each other in football or handball – but they somehow manage to get past these diplomatic concerns once the final whistle is blown.

Population

Denmark has a population of about 5.8 million people, making it one of the least densely populated countries in Europe (although not as much as Finland, as you’ll see in a moment). Its capital, Copenhagen, is the largest city and home to about a third of the country’s population. 

Finland, meanwhile, has a population of about 5.5 million people, making it the most sparsely populated country in the European Union. Its capital, Helsinki, is the largest city and home to about a quarter of the country’s population.

Level of unemployment

Both Denmark and Finland have relatively low levels of unemployment. In Denmark, the unemployment rate is currently around 4%, while in Finland it’s around 6.5%. 

These rates are lower than the average for the European Union and reflect the strong and stable economies of both countries. 

employees from Denmark and Finland

Gender balance

Both Denmark and Finland are known for their strong commitment to gender equality. In both countries, women have the same legal rights as men and are well represented in politics, business, and other areas of public life. 

(Actually, at the time of writing this, both countries have female Prime Ministers, just as one example of their representation in politics.)

Of course, like many other countries, Denmark and Finland still have work to do in order to achieve full gender equality. Nevertheless, they are certainly doing better than many other countries.

Weather

Denmark has a temperate climate with mild winters and cool summers, although Copenhagen often hovers around freezing during winter. The country experiences a lot of rainfall, especially in the west, and can be quite windy due to its location between the North and Baltic seas. 

Finland, meanwhile, has a colder climate due to its northern location. The country experiences long, dark winters and short, cool summers. It also has more extreme weather, including snow and freezing temperatures.

Given that it’s located further north, this means that the Finnish climate can certainly be colder and more extreme than that of Denmark. In fact, in Finnish Lapland, it’s not uncommon for temperatures to get as low as -20C (-4F).

Most popular sports

Football (soccer) is the most popular sport in both Denmark and Finland. Both countries have national teams that compete in international competitions, and both have a strong domestic league with many professional clubs. 

In addition to football, handball is definitely one of the more popular sports in Denmark while in Finland sports like ice hockey, bandy, and pesäpallo (a Finnish version of baseball) are also popular.

someone palying football from Denmark or Finland

Hiking and camping

Denmark and Finland both offer many opportunities for hiking and camping. In Denmark, the country’s flat, green landscapes and long coastline make it a great place for hiking and biking, while its many forests and nature reserves are perfect for camping. 

In Finland, the country’s diverse landscape includes forests, lakes, and spectacular mountains, providing many opportunities for hiking and camping in a variety of different environments. 

Both countries have a well-developed network of trails and campsites, making it easy for visitors to explore the outdoors.

Food

Denmark and Finland have their own unique culinary traditions that reflect their history and culture, although both countries have a lot of fish-based dishes, reflecting their strong maritime histories. 

Some of the main food dishes in Denmark include smørrebrød, open-faced sandwiches made with a variety of toppings, and frikadeller, meatballs made from minced pork or beef. And of course, you can’t forget Danish pastries and other great Danish bread products!

For Finnish cuisine, check out lihapullat, small meatballs made from minced beef, and muikku, a small fish that is often fried or smoked. In addition, berries like lingonberries and cloudberries are often used in cooking and baking.

Danish bread and coffee

If you’re a real foodie, you’re probably interested in visiting the region to embrace Nordic cuisine. This is a style of cooking that originated in the five Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden) and is characterized by its use of local ingredients like fish, game, and berries. 

This type of cuisine has gained popularity in recent years, thanks in part to the success of the New Nordic Food movement, which promotes the use of fresh, local ingredients and a return to traditional cooking techniques.

Denmark is often considered to be the most famous of the Nordic countries when it comes to cuisine, thanks to its rich culinary heritage and the success of Danish chefs like René Redzepi, who runs the world-renowned restaurant Noma in Copenhagen. In fact, it’s one of the things that Denmark is famous for

However, all of the Nordic countries have their own unique culinary traditions and are known for their high-quality ingredients and creative approach to cooking.

Cycling

When it comes to bike riding, both Copenhagen and Helsinki are known for their strong cycling cultures. In Copenhagen, more than half of all residents own a bicycle and the city has a well-developed network of bike lanes and other infrastructure to support cycling. 

In Helsinki, meanwhile, around 40% of all trips are made by bike, and the city has also invested in improving its cycling infrastructure in recent years. Overall, both cities are considered to be very bike-friendly and are great places to explore by bike.

Skiing 

Finland definitely has an edge in terms of the quality and variety of ski resorts, as flat Denmark can’t offer much in this regard.

But Finland’s many lakes and forests provide many opportunities for skiing, both downhill and cross-country. In addition, Finland has a number of well-developed ski resorts, including Levi and Ylläs, that offer a range of slopes and amenities for skiers.

Safety

Both Denmark and Finland are considered to be safe countries with low levels of crime and corruption. In Denmark, the crime rate is relatively low, and the country has a strong tradition of trust and social cohesion.

In Finland, the crime rate is also low, and the country is known for its peaceful and orderly society. Overall, both countries are considered to be good places to live and visit due to their safe and stable environments.

Main industries

The main industries in Denmark include agriculture, fishing, and tourism. The country is also known for its strong technology and engineering sectors, as well as its innovative design and architecture. 

Finland, meanwhile, has a strong economy that is based on a range of industries, including technology, manufacturing, and forestry. The country is also known for its thriving education and research sector.

Engineers from Denmark and Finland

Healthcare system

Denmark and Finland both have universal healthcare systems that provide free or low-cost medical care to all citizens. In both countries, healthcare is funded by taxes and administered by the government. 

Both systems are considered to be high-quality and effective, with a range of services available to patients.

Education system

The education systems of Denmark and Finland are both highly regarded and considered to be among the best in the world. In both countries, education is free and compulsory for children between the ages of 7 and 16. 

Both countries also have a range of universities and other higher education institutions that are known for their high standards and strong research.

Welfare system

Denmark and Finland both have strong welfare systems that provide a range of benefits and services to citizens. In Denmark, the welfare system includes free healthcare and education, as well as unemployment benefits, pensions, and other support for those in need. 

In Finland, the welfare system is similar, with a range of services and benefits available to citizens. Both systems are considered to be among the best in the world and are a key part of the high quality of life enjoyed by the people of Denmark and Finland.

Parental leave benefits

Both Denmark and Finland have generous parental leave policies that allow parents to take time off work to care for their children. 

In Denmark, parents are entitled to 52 weeks of paid parental leave, which can be taken by either parent or shared between them. On the other hand, in Finland, parents are entitled to up to 16 months of paid parental leave, which can also be taken by either parent or shared.

Parents and children from Denmark and Finland

Annual leave laws

In both Denmark and Finland, employees are entitled to a certain number of days of paid annual leave each year. 

For the Danes, the standard amount of paid annual leave is 25 days per year, plus an additional 13 public holidays. In Finland, the standard amount of paid annual leave is 30 days per year, plus an additional 11 public holidays. 

However, these amounts can vary depending on the terms of an employee’s contract and other factors.

Education

Education is free in both Denmark and Finland, including both primary and secondary school as well as university. This means that parents don’t have to pay for their children to attend school or university, and students don’t have to pay tuition fees. 

Both countries have a strong emphasis on education and are known for their high-quality education systems.

Quality of life

Both Denmark and Finland rank highly in terms of quality of life and protection of human rights. In the 2021 World Happiness Report, Denmark was ranked as the second happiest country in the world, while Finland was ranked as the fifth happiest. 

Protection of human rights

Both countries have strong records on human rights and are known for their commitment to equality and social justice. There has been some (justified) criticism of Denmark with respect to its laws pertaining to refugees though, which is certainly an ongoing issue.

In particular, they both have a strong record on LGBTQ rights, with Denmark and Finland considered as being amongst the most LGBTQ-friendly countries in the world. Denmark was the first country in the world to legalize same-sex civil unions, and both have strong anti-discrimination laws that protect LGBTQ people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. 

A judge from Denmark or Finland

Which is the better country for expats to live in

Both Denmark and Finland are attractive options for expats looking to live in a new country. Both countries have strong economies and a high quality of life, although Denmark may be the better option overall for expats, as it has a more diverse economy and a larger expat community.

This higher degree of internationalism tends to make it easier to find work and build a social network in Denmark. That said, it’s worth doing your research, especially with respect to job opportunities, as some industries are stronger in one country than the other.

It’s also worth noting that you can’t really go wrong in choosing one over the other and it’s going to, as always, come down to your personal preferences and requirements. Both countries have strong economies, high-quality healthcare and education systems, and a high standard of living.

They’re also both known for their beautiful landscapes and rich cultural traditions. In addition, Denmark and Finland are both relatively safe and peaceful countries with low levels of crime and corruption.

Does Denmark or Finland speak more English?

Both Denmark and Finland are known for their strong English-language skills. In both countries, English is widely spoken and is often used as a second language. However, Denmark may have an edge in terms of English proficiency, as the country has a larger expat community and more international connections.

This, in turn, has led to a higher level of English proficiency among its citizens, with 86% of Danes reporting that they speak English as a second language. 

That said, English is also very widely spoken in Finland, so I wouldn’t be too concerned on this point if I were you.

What are the downsides of living in Finland?

One potential drawback to living in Finland is the cold weather and dark winters. The country is located at a high latitude and has a relatively short summer season, with long, cold winters that can be challenging for people who aren’t used to the cold. 

In addition, Finland is a large country with a relatively small population, which can make it feel isolated and remote in some parts of the country.

Another potential downside is the lack of job opportunities in some parts of the country. While Finland has a strong economy and a high standard of living, not all parts of the country are equally prosperous.

dining room of a house in Denmark or Finland

What are the downsides of living in Denmark?

One downside to living in Denmark is the high cost of living and thus you need to ensure your salary will cover this. As mentioned earlier, Denmark has a high average cost of living, especially in Copenhagen, combined with high income taxes. 

This can make it difficult for people on a tight budget to afford to live in Denmark, especially in the larger cities. As such, if you’re considering a job there, make sure you do the math on what your proposed salary will cover.

Another potential drawback is the long, dark winters. Like Finland, Denmark has a relatively short summer season, with long, dark winters that can last from October to April. While perhaps not as cold as many parts of Finland, it can still be difficult for people who aren’t used to the dark and cold, and it can lead to feelings of isolation and depression.

Finally, Denmark’s strict immigration policies can be a deterrent for some people. The country has strict rules for obtaining a work visa or permanent residence, and it can be difficult for non-EU citizens to move to Denmark and find work. This can be frustrating for people who are looking to move to Denmark but aren’t able to do so due to the country’s immigration policies.

Nevertheless, there are certainly ways to make this work – all of the foreigners you see in Copenhagen (including me!) got there somehow, after all!