7 Common Misconceptions about the Nordics

Having lived in and explored the Nordics quite extensively over the past few years, I often forget that not everyone is quite as crazy about snow and hygge as I am. In fact, it seems that not everyone even knows what the Nordics really are!

Since that’s (sort of) mind-boggling to me, I’ve decided to do something about it and bust 7 common misconceptions and myths about the Nordics in this article!

Do you believe these 7 common myths about the Nordics?

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1. “Iceland and finland are part of scandinavia”

This is something I stumble upon over and over again - along with statement 2 that follows in a second - so, let me just give you the short explanation for now:

Neither Iceland nor Finland are part of Scandinavia!


2. “scandinavia & The nordics are the same"

Scandinavia is made up of Norway, Sweden and Denmark. That’s it, just the three.

While Iceland and Finland have a similar culture and similar landscapes to the three Scandinavian countries, they still aren’t part of Scandinavia itself. The reason for that is mostly a historic one: Norway, Sweden and Denmark were joined as one in the so-called Kalmar Union in the 15th century.

And yes, Iceland was part of Denmark once, and Sweden and Finland were in a union together, but neither one of them has close ties with all the three Scandinavian countries.

Helsinki is amazing but if you’d like to go on a    “Scandinavian” city trip   , you better stick to Oslo, Stockholm and Copenhagen…

Helsinki is amazing but if you’d like to go on a “Scandinavian” city trip, you better stick to Oslo, Stockholm and Copenhagen…

You might also argue that the languages of the countries in question are similar to each other, but actually, not really. While Icelandic is similar to Norwegian, Swedish and Danish (as all of them are considered North Germanic languages); Finnish as a Uralic language is not related to the Scandinavian languages at all and actually bears more resemblance to Hungarian.

For those (and a couple more) reasons, Scandinavia consists of Norway, Sweden and Denmark while the Nordics are made up of Scandinavia (together with the Faroe Islands and Svalbard), Finland (together with the Åland Islands), Iceland and Greenland.


3. “it’s freezing cold wherever you go”

This too is a common misconception about the Nordics but in reality, just because the countries are situated in the North of Europe, this doesn’t mean that each region is freezing cold. Denmark, for instance is situated in the very south of the region and here, winters are quite mild with very little snow, while summers are quite warm.

Then again, the coastal areas of Norway at the North and Norwegian Sea, despite their northern location, actually experience relatively mild winter temperatures as well - thanks to the Gulf Stream! Inland and in the mountains is where it gets really cold - regardless of latitudes.

Ruka-Kuusamo, Finland    - Looks and feels very “arctic” but is actually situated below the Arctic Circle!

Ruka-Kuusamo, Finland - Looks and feels very “arctic” but is actually situated below the Arctic Circle!

The average March temperature at Gaustatoppen, a mountain in the Telemark region in Southern Norway, for instance, is -12 degrees Celsius. The average March temperature in the city of Bodø, which is situated above the Arctic Circle in Northern Norway, is only -2 degrees Celsius, though.

Thus, how much warm clothing you need to bring when visiting, heavily depends on where you go and when! One thing the Nordic countries have in common, however, is quite unstable weather that can change quickly, leaving you to experience (sort of) all 4 seasons in one day.


4. “you can only find fjords in norway”

Every summer, thousands of people flock to the west coast of Norway to experience “the fjords”, leaving locals suffocated and wanting to leave their homes for the entire summer in search of peace and quiet.

Thus, I’ll let you in on a little secret (that’s actually not a secret at all): Fjords don’t only exist in Norway! You can find fjords in Denmark (granted, they are a little less spectacular than what you find in Norway), but also in Iceland and Greenland.

Cruising down Kobbefjord close to Nuuk, Greenland

Cruising down Kobbefjord close to Nuuk, Greenland

Having been on a fjord cruise in Greenland, I can tell you that they absolutely look like their Norwegian counterparts - if not even more stunning! So, maybe consider visiting Greenland next summer instead?


5. “All Scandinavians are descendants of the vikings”

This is a bit of a tricky one as the term “Viking” is widely used to describe all Scandinavians during the Viking age, which would in theory make present day Scandinavians descendants of the Vikings too.

Vikings, technically, were Scandinavian seafarers and warriors who travelled across Europe to find new places to settle or simply to trade. Norwegian Vikings went on to conquer the North-West of Europe (places like Iceland, Greenland, Scotland and Ireland), while Danish Vikings commonly settled in England and France, and the Swedes commonly made their way to raid Eastern Europe.

are all scandinavians vikings

Not all Scandinavians during the age of the Vikings went to explore new territories, though. Also, not everyone who lived in Scandinavia at that age was of Germanic origin. The Sami people (the indigenous people of Sweden, Norway, Finland and North-Eastern Russia - also known as the north of “Fennoscandia”) have lived in the region long before the Age of the Vikings.

Long story short: The only people who can actually claim Viking heritage for their entire nation would be Icelanders as Iceland was uninhabited when the Vikings first settled down there.


6. “Scandinavians are tall and blonde / Sami people are short and have dark hair”

Oh those stereotypes… I’m not sure where they came from but they are so wrong! As in every culture, you may find people that conform to stereotypes in Scandinavia and you may find people who don’t. I guess that’s all I want to say about this topic.

Oh, besides two things:

1. The majority of girls I see in the streets clearly are fake blondes - sorry!
2. My boyfriend Simon is Sami. He is 185 cm tall and has ash blonde hair, so…


7. “The Northern Lights can be seen all over the nordics”

Certain destinations like to use pictures of the Northern Lights in their marketing material, even though the destination can’t really be described as a hotspot for aurora safaris - and I kinda get it. A picture of Bergen or Oslo at night with the Northern Lights dancing in the sky looks better than a picture without the lights (or at the very least, it looks more spectacular).

Northern Lights over Stockholm - it happens but you shouldn’t visit in the hope of catching them!  Photo by Micael Widell

Northern Lights over Stockholm - it happens but you shouldn’t visit in the hope of catching them!
Photo by Micael Widell

It maybe happens once or twice a year that you can actually see the Northern Lights in the south of Northern Europe as well! Yes, I’ve personally seen the lights here in Stavanger once, but I would never ever recommend you to visit if all you want to do is see the aurora.

If that’s what you’re looking for, you have to visit the Arctic Circle and stay for a minimum of 4 nights - regardless of what you’ve seen on Instagram or elsewhere, sorry!