Last updated on October 17, 2023 by Wandering our World
The Nordic nations are famed around the world for their high quality of life, friendly people, and spectacular scenery. Unsurprisingly then, the likes of Finland and Sweden rank among the most popular vacation destinations in the whole of Europe, attracting families, couples, groups of friends, and solo travelers from far and wide.
But, if you only have time to visit one of Finland or Sweden, which should you choose? Well, that’s a dilemma that a lot of travelers have to contend with, each and every year. And there are lots of arguments on both sides. You’re sure to have a great time, no matter which one you pick, but you may find that one nation is better-suited to your tastes and personality than the other.
Finland, for example, is well-known for its relaxing saunas, distinctive culture, and wonderful natural scenery, with dense pine forests and tens of thousands of crystal clear lakes. Sweden, meanwhile, is the bigger and busier nation, with larger and more exciting cities, combined with a classic Scandinavian vibe.
There’s a lot to love about both of these countries, and they have quite a lot in common, especially in terms of their typical weather conditions and majestic natural expanses. But there are also a few key differences separating Finland and Sweden from one another. And, by digging into those differences, you may find it easier to pick your next destination.
And that’s what this guide is here for. In this Finland vs Sweden comparison, we’ll take an in-depth look at both of these Nordic nations, comparing them in a range of key categories like attractions, cities, outdoor activities, nightlife, food, and affordability. By the end, you should have a much clearer idea of which one is right for you.
- A Quick Overview Of Finland vs Sweden
- Which Has The Best Weather?
- Which Is Best For Activities?
- Which Is Best For Cities?
- Which Is Best For Nature And Outdoor Fun?
- Which Is Better For Shopping?
- Which Is Better For Nightlife?
- Which Is Better For Food?
- Which Is Best For Families?
- Which Is Best For Couples?
- Which Is Best For Backpackers?
- Which Is Cheapest?
- Finland vs Sweden: Which Is Better?
A Quick Overview Of Finland vs Sweden
Finland: A Quick Overview
Finland, or the Republic of Finland, is a Nordic Nation in Northern Europe. It has borders with Sweden, Norway, and Russia, and extends across 130,559 square miles, with an estimated population of around 5.6 million people. Its capital and largest city is Helsinki, and its main language is Finnish, although around 5% of the population speak Swedish natively.
The history of Finland goes back thousands of years, and it has passed under the control of various people and countries over the years. It was part of Sweden for many years from the 13th century onwards, later becoming part of the Russian Empire, before gaining independence in 1917. As a result, it has a unique culture, with a mix of Russian and Nordic elements.
Like other Nordic nations, large parts of Finland are covered with pristine wilderness, with dense taiga forests and vast wetlands. Indeed, there are so many trees in Finland that it’s one of the biggest producers of wood in the world. The country is also famed for its lakes, with over 187,000 of them in total.
Finland is also a fantastic vacation destination, especially with those who are seeking a relaxing, indulgent escape, or adventures in nature. A peaceful, picturesque haven, this country is beloved by many for its soothing sauna culture, cozy coffee shops, quiet but friendly people, enormous national parks, and cute little towns.
Sweden: A Quick Overview
Sweden is one of the Scandinavian nations in Northern Europe, bordering Norway and Finland, with a bride-tunnel connection to Denmark, too. Extending across 172,752 square miles, Sweden is the biggest nation in the Nordic region and the fifth-largest in all of Europe. However, its population is just 10.5 million, giving it a very low population density. Its capital is Stockholm.
Just like Finland, Sweden has been host to various people over the years, most famously the Vikings, who controlled Swedish lands and waters from the 8th century to the 11th. Centuries later, the Swedish Empire formed, becoming a powerful force in Europe until the 18th century. In the modern era, Sweden is known for its growing diversity and high quality of life.
Geographically, Sweden has a range of diverse landscapes, with a very long coastline, towering mountains, and massive forests, with around two thirds of the landmass covered in trees. Valleys, lakes, rivers, and islands can also be found around the country, but Sweden also has some impressive big cities, like the buzzing capital of Stockholm and trendy Malmo.
Sweden is also the second most-visited Nordic nation, just behind Denmark in terms of the number of visitors each year. There are many reasons to visit this wonderful part of the world, from its charming, romantic cities to its delicious food, terrific shopping scene, and thrilling Viking history.
Which Has The Best Weather?
The Nordic and Scandinavian countries are known for their frosty weather, and since they’re neighboring nations, Finland and Sweden have pretty similar climate conditions. In general, summers tend to be quite short and mild, with cooler temperatures soon rolling in and frosty temperatures extending across large parts of the year.
However, with Sweden being larger and extending further south, it has a slightly more diverse range of weather conditions. Visitors will notice that temperatures tend to be a little warmer in Sweden’s big cities, like Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Malmo, compared to Helsinki and Turki in Finland. So, if you want a bit more warmth, pick Sweden.
Which Is Best For Activities?
Sweden and Finland are both thrilling countries to explore, with lots of different attractions and ways to spend your time. They have several big similarities, and are both particularly appealing to nature lovers and outdoor adventures, but each one also has its own unique landmarks and activities you won’t find anywhere else.
Finland: The Activities
In Finland, a lot of the focus is on nature, and many visitors to this country particularly enjoy the snowy Lapland region. There, families and couples can have a truly magical experience, meeting Santa and his elves, going on husky or reindeer rides, visiting ice hotels, and exploring snow-capped forests on long, peaceful hikes.
There are lots of grand national parks elsewhere around Finland, too, like the wondrous Urho Kekkonen – a fairy tale-like location of cozy wooden huts, and one of the best places to see the aurora borealis – or Oulanka National Park, with its mixture of rough river rapids, pristine forests, and challenging hiking and climbing routes.
With tens of thousands of lakes, Finland is also a terrific destination for kayaking and other water activities. And if you ever get a little tired from all those hikes and adventures, you can always soothe your tired muscles in one of Finland’s traditional saunas. Saunas are a huge part of Finnish culture, and you can find almost everywhere across the country.
Of course, Finland also has some big cities and charming towns to explore, with Helsinki being the most obvious example – the Finnish capital has a great art and design scene, super food, and some great places to shop. For a more historic urban experience, head to Old Rauma, the Nordic Nations’ biggest wooden medieval old town.
Sweden: The Activities
While Finland is very nature-oriented, Sweden has a few more big, dynamic cities to enjoy. Most visitors will start their adventure in the beautiful, romantic capital of Stockholm. Easily one of the prettiest cities in Europe, Stockholm has lots of museums, historic buildings, and fascinating attractions, from its old town “Gamla Stan” area to its trendy Sodermalm neighborhood.
Other big cities worth checking out in Sweden include Gothenburg, a lively and vibrant port city, famed for its Amsterdam-style canals and charming streets, along with Malmo – this coastal city is just over the water from the Danish capital of Copenhagen and has its own 16th century castle, cute cobblestone streets, and a great craft shopping scene.
Along with the aforementioned Malmo Castle, there are many more grand palaces and historic homes to admire across Sweden, from the Royal Palace of Stockholm to Skokloster Castle and the awe-inspiring Bohus Fortress, just north of Gothenburg. Then, there are all the Viking museums and experiences, giving history fans so much to do.
Of course, Sweden is also a very beautiful country with lots of stunning wilderness, just like Finland. So, if you want to escape into nature, you’ll find no shortage of islands to hop across, lakes to swim and canoe in, trails to hike, canals to cruise, and routes to cycle. There are even some fantastic road trip routes to follow, perfect for those who love to explore.
Overall, the experiences in Sweden and Finland are both similar and different, all at once. Both countries offer breathtaking natural scenes and peerless outdoor adventure opportunities, but Finland has a quieter, calmer feel, even in its cities. Sweden, meanwhile, has more to offer in terms of urban activities, with more museums, live entertainment, palaces, and galleries.
Which Is Better For Cities?
If the excitement of a big city is something you simply can’t do without on your trips and vacations, you’ll love Sweden. Stockholm is easily one of the best cities to visit in the entire Nordic region, offering some truly iconic attractions, like the Vasa Museum, with its grand old 17th century warship, or the Royal Palace – the official residence of the Swedish royals.
Then, there’s Gothenburg, the trendy west-coast city that some Swedes argue is even better than the capital. Feeling like a mixture between Amsterdam and Paris, with a dash of Scandi style, Gothenburg has great food and shopping scenes. There are also great historic towns across Sweden, like coastal Karlskrona and rural Linkoping.
Over in Finland, the capital, Helsinki, is by far the biggest city in the country. It’s a special place, showcasing some of Finland’s Russian influence and storied past in its distinctive architecture, with grand cathedrals and some intriguing museums to learn about Finnish history and lifestyles, like the National Museum.
Beyond Helsinki, most of Finland’s other urban areas have more of a small-town feel, but several are still worth visiting. There’s Turku, for example, which is a very historic location with lots of centuries-old landmarks, along with scenic Savonlinna, home of a medieval castle, surrounded by tranquil lakes and forests.
Overall, Sweden is the better destination for those seeking to spend time in big cities. It’s got the larger and more dynamic cities of the two countries, with more going on and a wider range of urban activities.
Which Is Best For Nature And Outdoor Fun?
Sweden may take the win when it comes to cities, but in the nature stakes, Finland vs Sweden is much harder to call. Both countries have got vast expanses of picture-postcard forests, lakes, rivers, and more, and both of them rank among the very best places to visit in Europe for those who adore nature and spending time outside.
Sweden is the bigger of the two, with more diverse geography. You can travel from one end of this nation to the other and see all sorts of natural sights as you go. It’s also got more islands than any other country, with over 200,000 in total, providing an almost endless array of scenic coastal hikes and trails.
Over in Finland, meanwhile, you ‘ll find endless acres of dense pine forests and more lakes than you could visit in a lifetime. With so much water, this country is ideal for water sports, like kayaking and canoeing. There are also mountains to climb and lots of picturesque national parks to spend hours exploring.
Overall, it’s tough to call a winner in this category. Both countries are equally well-suited for nature lovers, and both are great for hiking and seeing the northern lights, or having up-close experiences with deer and moose.
Which Is Better For Shopping?
If you want to spend a little time shopping for souvenirs before heading back home from your Nordic escape, you’ll find a lot to love in Sweden. This is, after all, the nation that gave the world the retail giants of IKEA and H&M, and it’s one of the best places to shop for all those stylish Scandi décor items, high-end fashion, and fabulous accessories.
In Stockholm, shopaholics and fashionistas can find everything from vast malls to open-air markets, cozy bookshops, extraordinary antique emporiums, and long lines of luxury boutiques. Other big cities, like Malmo and Gothenburg, are also great for shopping, and popular Swedish gifts include jewelry, Christmas ornaments, mittens, and traditional food.
Over in Finland, the best shopping can be found in Helsinki. There, you can find grand department stores selling clothes, accessories, and homeware of all shapes and sizes, as well as big shopping centers and even some fun flea markets. However, beyond some craft stores and souvenir shops, the other Finnish towns and cities don’t have the best shopping scenes.
Overall, Sweden is the better place to shop, with more stores and a wider range of places to pick up souvenirs and goodies galore.
Which Is Better For Nightlife?
In terms of nightlife, Sweden is, once again, a terrific place to be. Stockholm is particularly well-known for its dynamic, energetic evening scene, with lots of thumping clubs and fun pubs where you can while away the hours, deep into the night. Other cities, like Karlstad and Gothenburg, also boast some surprisingly lively nightclubs.
The general vibe across Finland is a little more laid-back and quiet, but Helsinki still has a solid nightlife scene, with popular clubs in the city center that draw in big crowds around the weekends. Live DJ performances can be found here, with music to keep you dancing all night. Or, for something more laid-back, Finland has plenty of cozy, traditional bars.
Overall, Sweden once more takes the crown, as it’s a busier and livelier place all around, but you can still find a few fun places to party in Helsinki.
Which Is Better For Food?
When it comes to food, the battle between Finnish cuisine and Swedish cuisine is a tough one to call. In the end, it’ll ultimately come down to personal preference, and travelers will have to decide which country’s meals sound more appetizing.
When most people think of Swedish food, they think of meatballs. And it’s true that meatballs are beloved by Swedes, but there’s lots more to enjoy here, with everything from fermented fish and reindeer pate to rich seafood soups and meaty stews. The big cities, like Helsiniki, also have quite diverse dining scenes, with various Asian and European restaurants.
Over in Finland, there’s a lot of focus on breads, cheeses, and meat. This country makes some really tasty pasties, pies, and other baked goods, and lots of dishes involve big chunks of pork, beef, or reindeer. However, thanks to the many Finnish lakes, it’s also possible to find fantastic fish dishes in many parts of Finland.
Overall, the best country for cuisine will depend on your culinary tastes. Swedish food tends to be a little more appealing to most people, but there are lots of great dishes on the average Finnish restaurant menu, too.
Which Is Best For Families?
Both Sweden and Finland can also be terrific destinations for a family vacation. Regardless of how old your children are and how many you’re traveling with, there’s lots to love about both of these nations.
Finland, of course, has Lapland. That’s where little children can have the magical experience of meeting Santa himself, or taking a reindeer ride through the snow. There are also several amusement parks in Finland, like Linnanmaki, as well as Moomin World, dedicated entirely to the cute cartoon characters created by Finnish illustrator, Tove Jansson.
Sweden, meanwhile, has various amusement parks of its own, like Liseberg in Gothenburg, which is the biggest theme park in all of Scandinavia. Kids can also enjoy the Viking-themed attractions of Sweden, along with the vast natural areas, wildlife parks, and museums dedicated to everything from science to naval history.
Overall, Sweden is a little better for most families, as it’s got larger cities with more attractions to keep everyone entertained. Finland is quieter and simpler, but may appeal to families who simply want to escape into nature.
Which Is Best For Couples?
Couples can have very memorable, magical experiences visiting Finland or Sweden. Both of these countries are so beautiful, perfect for creating a romantic ambiance, and the right one for you and your partner will depend on your tastes and expectations.
Finland is the more peaceful option, best-suited for couples who hope to spend most of their time exploring natural spaces. If you and your partner love hiking or kayaking, for example, you’ll have a fabulous time in this nation, and the Finnish saunas are fantastic places to relax with a special someone by your side.
Sweden is a better choice if you and your partner prefer more of a thrilling, activity-filled trip, visiting museums one day and hopping across the islands the next. It’s got a wider range of things to do, so should appeal to couples of varying ages and lifestyles, and its cities are bigger and more engaging.
Which Is Best For Backpackers?
The last group we have to consider are the backpackers, the people who love to simply pack a bag and hit the road, fueled by the spirit of adventure.
Sweden can be a terrific place to backpack. Like other parts of Scandinavia, it’s pretty expensive, but if you’ve got the budget to get around, the people here are really friendly and the cities are filled with interesting attractions, landmarks, and cultural experiences. Plus, public transport is excellent in Sweden, helping you get wherever you need to go.
In Finland, getting around can be a little trickier, the prices are slightly higher, and the people tend to be a little more reserved, but you can still have a great time. Helsinki is the main place to be, perfect for diving into Finnish food and culture, and backpackers who like hiking and similar activities can head out into the national parks.
Overall, Sweden is the better place to backpack, thanks to its lower prices and broader selection of activities.
Which Is Cheaper?
If you’re planning a trip to the Nordic nations, you’ll need a decent budget. Prices in this part of the world are pretty high compared to other parts of Europe, especially in the most touristic areas, like Stockholm in Sweden or Helsinki and Rovaniemi in Finland.
However, of the two countries, Sweden is the cheaper option. It generally has lower prices for everything from accommodation to food and activities, making it more appealing for the budget-conscious traveler. However, the difference isn’t too big, and it’s perfectly possible to have a budget-friendly stay in Finland if you book in advance and choose your hotels wisely.
Where To Stay According To Your Budget
Budget: Lapland Hotels Bulevardi in Helsinki emanates an urban charm, nestling modern amenities with a rich Lappish style. Offering a tantalizing buffet breakfast and exquisite à la carte options at restaurant Kultá, guests are enveloped in authentic Lappish cuisine. Some rooms delight with private saunas, design baths, or terraces, while all provide a luxurious stay amid Helsinki’s lively boulevard, proximate to notable attractions. See photos and rates!
Luxury: Hotel Kämp in Helsinki, established in 1887, intertwines historical elegance with modern luxury, providing guests with sumptuous rooms overlooking striking city and park views. Guests can indulge in exquisite European dining at Brasserie Kämp, savor fine afternoon tea, and relax in the opulent spa featuring traditional Finnish sauna and a eucalyptus-scented steam bath, amidst other rejuvenating amenities. See photos and rates!
Budget: Hotel Frantz, exquisitely situated in Stockholm’s Södermalm district, envelops guests in a sublime embrace of elegance and convenience. The 4-star establishment treats guests to air-conditioned rooms with complimentary WiFi and private bathrooms. Savor a sumptuous buffet breakfast, enjoy refined dining in the restaurant, and unwind in the stylish bar, all under one roof. Attentive staff ensure a seamless, enchanting stay amidst the stunning surroundings of Stockholm’s rich cultural landmarks. See photos and rates!
Luxury: Grand Hôtel Stockholm, an epitome of luxury, nestles against the serene waterfront, bestowing enchanting views of the Royal Palace and Old Town. This haven provides opulent dining, a sumptuous Nordic Spa & Fitness center, and indulgent spa treatments, ensuring a stay woven with elegance and tranquility. Enjoy chauffeur-driven limousine transfers and 24-hour room service amid the awe-inspiring Swedish backdrop. See photos and rates!
Finland vs Sweden: Which Is Better?
Overall, it’s easy to understand the allure of the Nordic nations, like Finland and Sweden. They’re some of the prettiest places in the world, with the kind of perfectly pristine natural spaces that many people dream of admiring and exploring. But, we have to pick a winner, so which country should you choose?
Well, if we look back over this comparison, it’s clear to see that one country has a slight edge over the other. And it’s Sweden that takes the win. It’s a bigger and livelier place, with more cities to explore and a longer list of things to do. Whether you’re into history, live entertainment, shopping, nature, or family fun, Sweden has it all.
With that said, Finland is also worth considering. It’s a more relaxing and chilled-out destination than Sweden, making it an idyllic vacation destination when the hustle and bustle of everyday life is getting you down. It’s also exceptionally picturesque, with all those forests and lakes just waiting to welcome explorers of any age.