Fancy a trip to Scandinavia, but you don’t know which country to visit?
Both Denmark and Finland are great choices, but which is better for a first-time visitor?
Although Denmark and Finland are similar in some ways, the two are distinctly different places that would take months, if not years, to fully explore.
We’ll go over the main differences here – from what you can see, to how much things are likely to cost when you arrive – and help you decide which country to visit.
What to see and do
Cost of life
First of all: which country is the biggest?
Geographically, Finland is bigger than Denmark – MUCH bigger!
Finland covers 338,439 square kilometers (about 130,672 square miles) and is the second largest country in Scandinavia, just after Sweden.
Denmark’s size is only a fraction of that of Finland, totaling just 42,951 square kilometers (16,584 square miles).
So if you want to ‘see’ Finland properly, from the cities in the south to the wilderness in the north, you’ll need a lot more time to get around.
Population of Denmark vs Finland
When it comes to population, there is actually not much difference between the two countries.
Finland has about 5.5 million inhabitants, while Denmark has about 5.8 million inhabitants. So they are quite close, but as you would expect, Denmark is more densely populated.
This may not seem like a big deal, but it will definitely shape your experience of each country.
So, although Denmark is not overcrowded, it feels more built up and you will come across large towns and cities more often during your travels.
And conversely, Finland’s big cities seem very scattered, and it’s incredibly easy to find ‘real’ nature almost anywhere you go.
What about the climate?
Both Denmark and Finland have cold winters and mild, comfortable summers. So whichever country you choose, you will need to pack the right clothes for the season.
Summer temperatures in both countries can reach 25°C (77°F) on sunny days, while winter temperatures in Copenhagen and Helsinki can drop below freezing for days.
And while the climate in different parts of Denmark remains quite stable, there can be huge differences between northern and southern Finland, even on the same day.
While Helsinki in winter can be chilly, it’s not uncommon for Finnish Lapland to experience temperatures of -20c (-4F) – or even colder in the darkest depths of winter, when the sun sets barely rises above the horizon.
These guides have more about the weather in Finland and Denmark.
What to see and do: Denmark vs Finland
Denmark and Finland are both amazing places to visit, with plenty to offer first-time visitors.
They offer very different types of vacations though, and the one you choose will depend a lot on what you want to spend your time doing – whether that’s hanging out in cool towns or exploring real wilderness areas that are increasingly difficult to navigate. find in Europe.
Most tours to Denmark and Finland begin in the capitals – Copenhagen and Helsinki, respectively.
Copenhagen is best known for its colorful waterfront buildings, famous neo-Nordic cuisine, cycling culture and laid-back vibe hard to find in other parts of Scandinavia.
There’s a much more continental feel to Copenhagen compared to other Nordic capitals like Helsinki, especially during the summer when people flock to the waterfront for the beers of the day.
Many tourists start by getting their bearings on one of the canal cruises, which offer great views of the city.
Copenhagen is also home to the historic Tivoli Gardens: a large amusement park with thrill rides, arcade games and live music. You can get entrance tickets here!
Other Danish cities worth visiting include Aarhus, Odense and Aalborg, but for culture, food and just about everything else, Copenhagen should be your first stop.
In Finland, Helsinki is the natural center of Finnish art, music and culture. Major tourist attractions are relatively rare, beyond a few fine churches, parks and historic sites, but it’s the perfect base for excursions into the surrounding countryside.
Many tourists stay in hotels in the city center and go out during the day to visit the islands of Helsinki on guided boat trips.
Helsinki also has a good bar and club scene, with everything from karaoke and live music venues to themed bars.
Other major Finnish cities worth visiting include Tampere, Turku and Oulu, but if you’re only visiting Finland for a few days and want to mix city center sightseeing with some time in nature, Helsinki is a safe bet.
Denmark is a flat country, spread over several islands, so you won’t find any mountains here.
However, you will find picturesque landscapes with lush green farmland and crystal clear water beaches.
This means that a rural holiday in Denmark is more likely to focus on lazy bike rides and quaint villages, rather than true back-to-nature experiences.
Finnish nature is much more diverse, with dense forests and a huge number of lakes – more than 188,000 in total.
If you visit northern Finland during winter, you also have a good chance of seeing the Northern Lights, which is usually not possible in Denmark. In summer you can also see the midnight sun!
Finland also has plenty of other winter activities to try, from dog sledding and reindeer farm experiences to a visit from Santa Claus in Lapland.
There are also unique places to stay, like the Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort, where you can sleep under the Northern Lights – in an igloo!
Speaking of snow and igloos, Finland is also famous for its many winter sports like skiing, snowboarding, and snowmobiling.
The big question: which country is the cheapest to visit?
Well, no matter where you travel in Northern Europe, it’s going to be expensive. Scandinavia is famous (or infamous!) for being one of the most expensive regions in Europe.
There is not a big difference between the two countries, but Denmark is generally more expensive than Finland – if you plan to live there, or just visiting.
And as a general rule, things are usually much more expensive in the cities – accommodation and food are particularly expensive in Copenhagen, for example (here are some tips for free and cheap things to do instead!).
If you want to find cheap accommodation in Denmark, Booking.com is a great place to start. There are also plenty of great hostels in places like Copenhagen. Just be sure to book ahead to get the best value.
Finland isn’t exactly a cheap destination either; in recent years it has become one of the most expensive countries in the EU, behind Denmark and Ireland.
One thing to consider is that because Finland is so much bigger than Denmark, transportation might end up costing you more.
Finland also has a lot more organized tours (like this epic snowmobile tour), which are well worth the effort, but can quickly add up.
Which country is safer: Denmark or Finland?
Denmark and Finland rank among the safest countries in Europe. But which is safer?
When comparing crime, the two countries rank almost identically. In mid-2022, the crime index was 26.23 in Denmark and 26.52 in Finland.
Of course, it’s always important to be aware of your surroundings. But generally speaking, you won’t have to worry about your safety in either country.
What about the language?
The Danish and Finnish languages are very, very different!
They are each part of a different language family: Danish is a Germanic language, while Finnish is an Uralic language.
Danish is closely related to Swedish, Norwegian, German and English. Meanwhile, Finnish is closely related to Estonian and Hungarian.
Danish is by far the easiest language to learn if you are an English speaker. The same cannot be said for Finnish: Finnish is said to be one of the hardest languages to learn as an English speaker.
The Finnish language is very complex and introduces concepts that don’t really exist in English. For example, a single word can be an entire sentence.
Moreover, it uses double vowels and double consonants. An example of this is “kuunnella”, which means “to listen”. Or ‘hyvää iltapäivää’, which means ‘good afternoon’.
It is also important to note that if you are in the southeastern region of Finland, you may hear a lot of Swedish in addition to Finnish.
Do Danes and Finns speak English?
Now, if you’re visiting relatively soon, it’s unlikely you’ll be fluent in Danish or Finnish in time for your trip.
But the good news is this: most Danes and Finns speak English with disarming fluency, and you should have no trouble getting by with English alone, especially if you stick to the big cities!
So, should you visit Denmark or Finland?
Denmark and Finland have a lot to offer visitors.
- If you are looking for nature activities and a real feeling of “getting away from it all”, Finland is the best option.
- If you’re looking for cool cities, world-class cuisine and a relaxed vibe, Denmark is the way to go.
Whichever country you decide to visit, you won’t regret it. Our honest advice, if your budget allows, is to try both.
Nordic vs Scandinavian: what’s the difference?
Sweden vs Norway: which one should you visit?