If you’re trying to decide which Scandinavian country to visit next, you may have to choose between Denmark or Sweden. We love both these countries, so you shouldn’t be disappointed wherever you go. Each has fun and colorful capital cities that attract millions of visitors every year, along with plenty more to do besides…
From the stunning coastline on the Jutland peninsula to the picturesque streets of Copenhagen, there is plenty to see in Denmark. It’s also a getaway into Scandinavia, and not only in geographical terms but also cultural. Then there is Sweden, which extends from the Baltic coast in the south to the Arctic Circle in the north. With no shortage of vast wilderness, it’s a paradise for outdoorsy travelers.
In this guide to Denmark or Sweden, we’ll take a look at the most important aspects of traveling to these destinations. From the ease of travel to costs, the best cities to nature, we’ll help you decide which place is better for you this year.
Denmark or Sweden for ease of travel?
Denmark spreads across the Jutland peninsula, Zealand, and the Funen islands, as well as many smaller isles across the Baltic and the North seas. Thanks to a large land border with Germany, and bridge connections from the mainland to the major islands, Denmark is the gateway to Scandinavia by road.
If you’re traveling from further afield, flying is the easiest way to get there. The largest international hub is the capital’s Copenhagen Airport, which has direct connections to many European, North American, and even Asian destinations. There are also several direct trains to Copenhagen from Hamburg, Berlin, Stockholm, Malmo, and Gothenburg.
Sweden is a much larger and more isolated country than its southwestern neighbor. Driving the length of the country takes over 20 hours without any stops, so getting around this vast Scandinavian state can be tricky and time-consuming.
The good news is that if you’re planning a trip to one of Sweden’s major cities, you won’t have much trouble getting there by plane. There are four international airports around Stockholm, so it’s no surprise it’s a popular weekend breakaway destination for Europeans. Other international airports include Gothenburg and Malmo. To avoid flying, you will often have to travel through Denmark first.
Winner: Denmark thanks to the road connections.
Denmark or Sweden for cities?
Comparing cities in these parts mainly comes down to Copenhagen vs Stockholm – probably the two coolest Scandinavian capitals of all. Sorry Oslo!
From colorful waterfront townhouses in Nyhavn to the vibrant nightlife in the industrial Meatpacking District, art galleries and hip underground bars in Vesterbro to charming architecture in the Latin quarter, there is no shortage of great neighborhoods in Copenhagen to discover.
The capital is known for lively nightlife and some of the best Michelin-star restaurants in Europe. Even though Copenhagen is by far the most vibrant of Danish cities, it’s not the only place worth a visit. Aarhus is the largest city on the Jutland peninsula, offering charming architecture and a thriving cultural scene. And there are plenty of great museums in Odense – the birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen.
But the Swedish capital, Stockholm, can easily rival Copenhagen when it comes to the best cities in Scandinavia. From the historical Gamla Stan to the hipster Södermalm are, there are cool districts around Stockholm to match its Danish counterpart. The city is generally known for its beautiful architecture and picturesque archipelago, as well as great cafes, bars, and museums.
Then there is Gothenburg, a vibrant student city with great architecture and lively nightlife. And there’s Malmo, where a strong foreign influence brings international foods and unique historical sights.
Winner: Draw, mainly because it comes down to Copenhagen vs Stockholm and we love them both!
Denmark or Sweden for nature?
Scandinavia is well known for the great outdoors, vast undeveloped landscapes, and rugged coastlines. Sweden has loads of that! Large parts of the country are covered by forests and lakes. In fact, nearly 70% of Sweden’s land is forested and there are nearly 100,000 lakes.
From the icy Arctic Circle in the north to beautiful beaches in the south and vast lakes in the center, Sweden has no shortage of natural beauty. There are 30 national parks across the country, with plenty of picturesque hiking trails for outdoor lovers. Some of the most remarkable parks include mountainous vistas in Sarek and Abisko, and the stunning coastline of the Stenshuvud.
Denmark is much smaller than Sweden and doesn’t stretch anywhere near as far north as the rest of Scandinavia. That is if we talk about metropolitan Denmark – the part that doesn’t include Greenland and Faroe Islands!
But, even though the area of Denmark proper is relatively small, there are five beautiful national parks across the country. From rugged coastlines in Thy National Park to the hilly hiking trails and forests of Mols Bjerge National Park, Denmark can offer something to nature buffs.
Denmark or Sweden things to do?
You’re never too far from the sea in Denmark, so if you’re lucky enough to get sunny weather during your visit head to one of the beautiful sandy beaches on the west coast. Lønstrup, Søndervig, and Bisnap are only a few sandy bays on the Jutland peninsula. Hikers will enjoy the picturesque trails in Thy National Park and families with children shouldn’t miss the original Legoland in Billund.
Most people, though, stay or at least pass through the vibrant capital, Copenhagen. That has plenty of attractions within its borders. Enjoy café hopping in the colorful docks of Nyhavn and soak up some culture in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek art museum.
Sweden, on the other hand, is a paradise for outdoor lovers with its vast wilderness and picturesque landscapes. In the summer, hike the long-distance King’s Trail (or parts of it if you haven’t got a whole month!). In winter, head to the ski slopes of Åre – the best in the region.
You also get plenty of things to do in the capital, even for those not so keen on outdoor activities. Take a tour around one of the museums such as Skansen or Vasa, enjoy great coffee in one of the cool cafes in Sodermalm, or sample meatballs at the local restaurants.
Winner: Probably Sweden for the outdoors.
Denmark or Sweden for nightlife?
Scandinavia hasn’t got the wildest nightlife scene in Europe. That’s mainly because of the high prices of alcohol and strict restrictions on bar opening times.
That said, the Danish capital, Copenhagen, has it better than most cities across the region. There is no shortage of bars and clubs in the Meatpacking District and in Vesterbro. There are also plenty of places along the docks of Nyhavn, but things tend to be on the pricy side there.
The large student and international crowds living in the capital really keep things going, and bars and clubs are usually packed over the weekends. Alcohol, especially beer is also cheaper here than across the border in Sweden, so it’s not uncommon for people to take a train to Copenhagen if they’re staying in Malmo.
The only place in Scandinavia that can rival Copenhagen for nightlife is Stockholm. There is no shortage of trendy clubs and hipster cafes here, especially around SoFo in Sodermalm and Medborgarplatsen. You will also find plenty of places in Gamla Stan that attract international visitors but they are expensive.
Gothenburg is also a good place to visit for nightlife, too. It’s largely a student city, which means there are term-time parties over there galore. Although Sweden is generally cheaper than Denmark, alcohol is an exception to the rule. That means that whether you go to Stockholm or Gothenburg, drinks will cost you more than in Copenhagen.
Denmark or Sweden for food?
Swedes love meatballs (kottbullar). If you’ve ever been to Ikea, you might have already noticed that. They go especially well with mashed potatoes and lingonberry jam. But that’s not the only thing that Swedish cuisine is about. The New Nordic cooking movement has influenced the food a lot, which means that you will find minimalistic dishes made from fresh, local ingredients. It’s especially present in the capital of Stockholm. So, if budget allows, try to hit a Michelin-star restaurant there – Ekstedt and Sushi Sho are especially worth a mention.
Meanwhile, traditional northern cooking involves meats such as reindeer, while old southern cuisine revolves around fresh veg. Smoked salmon known as gravlax and pickled herring known as sill are local dishes you should try when visiting the coast.
Traditional Danish cuisine involves a lot of rich meats and fish. The most popular national dishes are smørrebrød, a type of open sandwich, stegt flæsk, a fried pork belly served with potatoes, and Danish pastries (that actually don’t originate from Denmark).
However, since the beginning of the 21st century, cooking has been highly influenced by the New Nordic movement. That’s revolutionized many of Denmark’s restaurants and now Copenhagen is a culinary hotspot where you can eat the work of some of the best Nordic chefs out there. It’s home to some world-famous restaurants such as Noma and Geranium, both holders of three Michelin stars!
Denmark or Sweden for prices?
Denmark is relatively small, and the majority of visitors spend most of their time in and around Copenhagen. The Danish capital is amongst the top ten most expensive cities in the world, so you will need to budget a lot for your trip there, especially if you decide to dine at the fancier restaurants. You won’t find many hostels below $60 a night and the average hotel room for two people costs around $150. The rest of the country isn’t much cheaper, either, with average double rooms costing around $140 a night. A typical traveler should budget around $160 per day, which means that a seven-day trip will cost over $1,100 per person!
Sweden is also a typical Scandinavian country when it comes to prices, but most things will cost you a little less than in Denmark, apart from alcohol. The truth is that Sweden is one of the cheapest places in Scandinavia, but that doesn’t mean that it’s backpacker-friendly at all. You will still need to budget around $130 a day on average, though things do get cheaper the further you go from the capital. The cheapest double accommodation starts at around $30 a night, but the most luxurious stays often cost way beyond the $300 mark.
Denmark or Sweden: The conclusion
If you’re trying to decide between Denmark or Sweden, then it’s a tough choice. Both countries have beautiful nature and fun cities to offer, especially the capitals. A lot comes down to deciding between Copenhagen and Stockholm, the two most tempting cities in Scandinavia. On one hand, Sweden is cheaper and has a bit more to offer in terms of the outdoors. On the other hand, Denmark is easier to access, and the capital city has some of the best nightlife in the region.