Scandinavia is known for its breathtaking natural beauty and vibrant culture. Whether you’re looking for a quick city break or considering a permanent move, both Sweden and Norway offer a unique set of experiences that are sure to leave a lasting impression.
But how do you choose between these two stunning destinations? Both countries are steeped in rich history, boast gorgeous landscapes, and offer endless opportunities for adventure and exploration.
In this article, I’ll take a closer look at the pros and cons of visiting or even moving to Sweden vs Norway, so you can make an informed decision about which is the best choice for you.
From bustling cities to breathtaking fjords, from culinary delights to outdoor activities, I’ll cover everything you need to know to help you make your decision with confidence.
Table of Contents
Norway vs Sweden: Geography and Population
Norway and Sweden are two long countries, each with its own unique charm and breathtaking landscapes. With a population of just over 5 million, Norway is a little smaller than Sweden, which has a population of over 10 million, but both offer an abundance of natural beauty and cultural heritage.
Driving from the south to the north of either country can take anywhere from 21 to 38 hours, depending on the route, so it’s important to keep this in mind when planning your trip. This also means that both countries have a lot to offer, with substantial geographic variety and a diverse range of regions to explore.
From Norway’s wild west coast to Sweden’s long eastern coastline facing the Gulf of Bothnia, each country has its own distinct coastal charm. Norway’s frost and fjords provide a stunning backdrop for your next adventure, while life in Sweden is great if you love to explore the great outdoors.
So, rather than just visiting “Norway” or “Sweden,” think about exploring specific regions within each country. This way, you’ll be able to fully immerse yourself in the unique beauty and culture of each location.
Whether you’re a nature lover or a culture enthusiast, both Norway and Sweden offer an experience you’ll never forget.
The capital cities of Norway and Sweden
Both Norway and Sweden are home to some of the biggest cities in Scandinavia, each offering a unique and unforgettable experience.
Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, is a global city with a Scandinavian twist. Here, you can explore the gorgeous old town, Gamla stan, and visit world-class museums like the Vasa museum and ABBA museum. With its 14 islands, Stockholm, which is easily one of the best places to live in Sweden, is never far from the water and is the perfect place to experience the natural beauty of Scandinavia.
On the other hand, Oslo, the rapidly growing capital of Norway, is another must-see city. With its easy access to the forests and islands of the Oslofjord and the fascinating sculpture parks, Oslo is a city that shouldn’t be overlooked.
It’s got a lively waterfront, contemporary architecture, and a vibrant restaurant and bar scene, making Oslo the perfect destination for those looking for a more relaxed city vibe.
Both Stockholm and Oslo are fantastic cities to visit, but I have to say that if you’re looking for sheer city beauty, Stockholm takes the prize. Known as one of the most attractive cities in Europe, Stockholm is perfect for a visit in both summer and winter, with an Insta-worthy view on almost every street corner.
You may also be interested in: Stockholm vs Copenhagen: Which Is Better to Visit?
What to see in Sweden and Norway
Norway and Sweden both offer an array of breathtaking experiences that will leave you in awe. While Norway is famous for its dramatic landscapes, Sweden is known for its lush greenery and cultural attractions.
In Norway, you can witness the awe-inspiring beauty of the fjords, glaciers, and mountains. Some of the must-visit places include the Lofoten Islands, Tromso, and the Sognefjord area.
The Lofoten Islands are a great place to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights, while Tromso is known as the “capital of the Arctic.” Sognefjord is a fjord area that is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a popular destination for hikers and nature enthusiasts.
Other popular tourist attractions include the Viking Ships Museum in Oslo, Bygdoy Bryggen Hanseatic Wharf in Bergen, and the Atlantic Ocean Road.
While Norway may be all about jaw dropping nature, Sweden, on the other hand, will let you immerse yourself in the rich cultural heritage of the country. The Vasa Museum in Stockholm is the country’s most popular museum, displaying the best-preserved 17th-century ship in the world.
The old town of Stockholm, known as Gamla Stan, is a must-visit destination that offers a glimpse into the medieval history of the city. The Drottingholm Palace is another historic landmark located just a short distance from Stockholm.
Additionally, the country is home to innovative designers who are focused on sustainability, and you can sample some delicious local food, like the smorgasbord, and seafood. As I’ll go through below, the food scene in Stockholm is second to none.
And if you’re looking for a unique experience outside of the capital, make sure to visit the Liseberg Theme Park in Gothenburg and Lund Cathedral. The country is also home to the Oresund Bridge in Malmo, which connects Sweden and Denmark and offers a chance for a day trip.
Norway doesn’t get to have all the natural fun though, as Sweden is known for its beautiful landscapes, with over 90,000 lakes and a thriving forest that’s teeming with wildlife. You’ll be able to explore the lush greenery and check out waterfalls and lakes that look like they belong in a fairy tale.
On the other hand, Norway is really one of the best destinations in the world for those looking for an adventure. With its challenging terrains, like those you’ll find surrounding fjordside towns like Undredal Norway is a great place for hikers and those looking for a new experience.
You can visit UNESCO World Heritage sites like Geirangerfjord and witness amazing waterfalls. Norway is also a great place for photographers and wildlife enthusiasts, and you might even be able to see whales in some areas.
While it can get a little colder in Norway, it’s worth noting that the country is known for being one of the happiest places in the world, with the longest road tunnel in the world and a cheerful population.
Ultimately, both Norway and Sweden offer unique experiences that cater to different interests. Whether you’re looking for a cultural escape or an outdoor adventure, these countries have it all and are sure to leave you with unforgettable memories.
Costs in Norway vs Sweden
Clearly, Norway and Sweden are two countries with a lot of similarities, but the cost of living can vary greatly between them. While Norway may offer more opportunities for career advancement, the cost of food and restaurants can be up to 35% higher than in Sweden.
Similarly, rent in Norway can also be a staggering 32% higher than Sweden on average, let alone how much houses cost in Norway to buy.
Perhaps unsurprisingly based on this, Sweden has a slight edge in purchasing power, making it a more budget-friendly option for tourists. From cabin stays to outdoor activities, there are many ways to save money while exploring the beautiful country.
In comparison, Norway may have the edge when it comes to natural beauty, wildlife tours, and extreme sports, but be prepared to spend more money on your adventure.
Don’t get the impression that Sweden is cheap – it definitely isn’t, especially when compared with other European destinations. But it is slightly cheaper than Norway overall.
No matter whether you choose to visit Norway or Sweden, just make sure to do your research and budget accordingly.
Food in Sweden and Norway
Forget the stereotypes of Scandinavian cuisine being limited to pickled herrings, salmon, and meatballs – Nordic cuisine is a treasure trove of diverse and rich flavors waiting to be discovered.
And when it comes to Sweden, the centerpiece of its gastronomic offerings is the famous smorgasbord. Translated as “bread and butter table”, it features a spread of delicious homemade food that ranges from beef, meatballs, and smoked fish.
On the other hand, Norway’s cuisine is heavily influenced by its abundant seafood, with its extensive coastlines and fjords providing an abundance of salmon, mackerel, cod, and of course, the famous Norwegian herring.
While both countries have delicious food, my not-so-inner foodie loves the added variety that Sweden has to offer.
Bar and restaurant scene in Norway vs Sweden
While Copenhagen may be better known internationally as the capital of Nordic cuisine, the other Scandinavian countries aren’t far behind.
For instance, in Stockholm, you’ll find a thriving bar and restaurant scene, especially on the last Friday of the month when the entire country is paid. From Gastrologik to Meatballs for the People (just in case you want Swedish meatballs that are both stylish and delicious!), you’ll never run out of options.
Don’t miss the street food scene in Stockholm either, for a quick smak (basically a snack) while you sip on your drink while taking in breathtaking views across the city’s 14 islands.
Of course, some of the best things to do in Oslo include some of its amazing restaurants. Check out Arakataka for a great glass of red wine on a chilly night or go for something with more of a modern Scandi twist at Kontrast.
One thing to keep in mind is that you won’t be able to dance the entire night away in either Norway or Sweden. In particular, you can find bars open until 5am in Sweden’s largest cities and until 3 am in Norway on a weekend night. That might be more than enough for you – it certainly is for me these days! – but it’s at least good to be aware of this.
Great outdoors of Sweden vs Norway
Here’s the main reason both countries are on anyone’s list of places to visit: the breathtaking landscapes of Norway and Sweden.
Start with the UNESCO-recognized west Norwegian fjords, where you can witness the magnificent merging of nature and culture. If you have the time (and the budget), consider taking a cruise along the stunning coastline and explore the charming fishing villages and towns.
And don’t miss the Lofoten islands in Northern Norway, famous for their dramatic scenery and stunning photography opportunities.
For the more adventurous visitors to Norway, challenge yourself with extreme sports like paragliding, glacier skiing, white-river rafting, and ice-climbing. Climb to the top of the Preikestolen cliff, rising 604 meters above the Lysefjorden, or to Trolltunga rock for a panoramic view of the region.
For those who prefer a gentler pace, go for a hike in the mountains and take in the beauty of Gaustatoppen, considered one of the most beautiful in Norway.
Sweden isn’t to be outdone when it comes to nature and hiking. With almost 100,000 lakes, Sweden is a paradise for outdoor sports and relaxation.
Enjoy a cozy cabin life by a lake, or take a long-distance hike on the Kungsleden, also known as the King’s Path. Stretching over 400 km through diverse Arctic landscapes, from alpine terrain to low-lying mountain birch forests, this summer hike is considered one of the most beautiful in the world.
You should also leave some time to discover the fantastic stretches of coastline in Sweden, including the archipelagos around Stockholm and Gothenburg.
With excellent infrastructure for both short trips and multi-day tours, both Norway and Sweden have something to offer for everyone, whether you’re an adrenaline junkie or just looking to immerse yourself in nature.
Is Norway or Sweden a better place to live?
Are you considering a long-term move to Scandinavia? Choosing between Sweden or Norway can definitely be a tough decision, especially both countries have quite a few similarities.
Starting with the money, both Sweden and Norway have some of the highest average salaries in the world. Norwegians tend to earn a little more, with an average of around $51,500 a year, while Swedes earn around $50,500.
However, it’s important to note that both countries also have a high cost of living, including very high taxes. At the same time, you get a lot for what you pay, including free healthcare, education (including university) and more.
In fact, when it comes to health, both countries rank in the top 20 for life expectancy. Norway comes in at 14th place, with an average life expectancy of 82.3 years, while Sweden takes the 11th spot with an average of 82.7 years.
One of the main draws to these Scandinavian countries is their incredible quality of life. Both Norway and Sweden are known for their excellent work-life balance, cultural happiness, and sense of community.
While you’ll find that both Norwegian and Swedish people speak English at an incredibly high level, it can be a good idea to brush up on your language skills if you decide to live in either country.
If you live in Stockholm or Oslo, you won’t necessarily need to learn Swedish or Norwegian for daily life, but this may become more of a necessity in smaller towns – and it’s also a great thing to do if you plan to stay there for some time!
Find out more: 34 Beautiful Swedish Words and Sayings (You Need to Learn)
On the bright side, the reasons for moving to Sweden or Norway are all excellent given the many perks, such as excellent healthcare coverage, fantastic education opportunities, and a strong commitment to environmental protection. In fact, Norway is the world’s leading country for environmental friendliness and Sweden ranks near the top as well.
Both countries are also low on crime and welcoming to new residents, so you won’t have to worry about fitting in. And when it comes to exploring the great outdoors, both Norway and Sweden offer the freedom to roam, with the Right of Public Access.
What this means is that, in Sweden, you can camp and walk anywhere you like, while in Norway you can walk around freely, with restrictions on camping and one-day stays.
While there are a few differences between the two countries, both also share many similarities, such as their folklore of trolls and magical creatures.
So, whether you choose Sweden or Norway, you’ll have the opportunity to experience the best of nature and the Scandinavian way of life.
Is Norway better than Sweden?
Making the choice between Norway vs Sweden, whether it’s for a visit or a longer stay, is a tricky decision to make given that both have a lot to offer in terms of natural beauty, culture, and cuisine.
First, let’s take a look at Sweden. This country boasts a warm and inviting atmosphere, making it perfect for tourists who want to soak up the local culture. Whether you prefer a more low-key experience, like taking a leisurely walk through the forest, or a more fast-paced adventure, like visiting museums and shopping districts, Sweden has something for everyone.
And let’s not forget about the food! With delicious fish-based meals, buffet-style foods, and refreshing drinks, your taste buds will be in heaven.
Now, let’s turn our attention to Norway. This country is known for its breathtaking scenery, particularly the unforgettable fjords.
In fact, in Norway, you’ll find a more dramatic selection of experiences and scenery, but keep in mind that it may take more time and money to fully explore all that this country has to offer.
Despite the challenge of traveling to all the best attractions, Norway is home to friendly locals and a delicious selection of food and drinks that are sure to leave a lasting impression.
Ultimately, the choice between Sweden and Norway depends on what you’re looking for in a holiday. If you’re searching for a quick city break with plenty of things to do in a short amount of time, Sweden is the way to go. However, if you’re looking for a breathtaking, once-in-a-lifetime adventure with stunning natural landscapes, Norway is the destination for you.
Regardless of your choice, both countries are sure to leave a lasting impression and provide unforgettable memories.