Insights: Nordic Countries
Curious about the culture of the Nordic countries? Here's BCD's big picture, which is followed by a series of articles and interviews that offer insight and inspiration on places to go and people to meet!
The Nordic countries are a geographical and cultural region of Northern Europe and the North Atlantic, and include Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden.
Once the seat of Viking raiders and later a major north European power, the Kingdom of Denmark encompasses the Jutland peninsula, which extends north from Germany, as well as several large islands that connect the country with neighboring Sweden to its east. Danish culture can best be summed up in one word: hygge, pronounced hooga, which has been called the country's spiritual foundation. From colorful Nyhavn Canal of Copenhagan to the drifting sand dunes of the Rabjerg Mile, the spirit of hygge permeates Denmark.
Iceland is located on a rift between the Eurasian and North American plates, and as a result has unusual geologic formations that create spectacular, otherworldly scenery that includes immense waterfalls and geothermal vents. Settled in the 9th and 10th centuries by Norsemen from Scandinavia and the Celtic women they brought with them, Iceland has a spirit of fierce independence and a strong literary tradition. In 930 A.D., Iceland's national parliament--the world's first--was created at the site of what is now the national park of Thingvellir, a UNESCO World Heritage Site about 40 km northeast of Reykjavik, the country's capital. Icelanders have strong creative and storytelling traditions that can be traced to the Sagas, which chronicle the exploits of several generations of early settlers; thanks to the country's isolation and strong preservation efforts, the Icelandic language still closely resembles the Old Norse of its original settlers.
Norway's terrain is marked by spectacular fjords carved by glaciers. The Kingdom of Norway has a rich cultural heritage that folk art painting, a strong boat building tradition, and colorful regional costumes. Oslo's City Hall is an historically significant monument which represents the art movements dominating the Norwegian art scene from the 1930s throughout the 1950s. Oslo's Norsk Folkemuseum features exhibits on "rosemaling," a type of traditional decorative painting, folk dance demonstrations, and an amazing collection of 160 buildings from around the country that show how people lived in Norway from 1500 to the present. Bergen is considered the "gateway to the fjords" and Bryggen, which means "wharf" in Norwegian, is the city's harbor district, which dates to the 12th century and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Today, it is home to the workshops of talented and creative entrepreneurs.
Sweden is the largest of the Nordic countries, and borders Norway to the west, and Finland to the east, and is connected to Denmark in the southwest via a bridge. Known for its Viking heritage, maritime traditions are still very much a part of Swedish culture. The central part of Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, consists of fourteen islands that are part of the larger Stockholm archipelago of 30,000 islands and islets. The city's oldest section is "Gamla Stan" (Old Town), located on the original small islands of the city's earliest settlements and still featuring the medieval street layout. The area of Södermalm, once a working-class district, is now somewhat a district of the privileged and home of bohemian, alternative culture. A clifftop walk along Mariaberget offers stunning views of Stockholm's waterfront. Skansen is the world’s oldest open-air museum and is situated on the island of Djurgården within the city limits of Stockholm. Skansen offers views of different parts of Sweden as well as customs, traditions and the corresponding way of life brought to life by craftsmen in traditional dress such as tanners, shoemakers, silversmiths, bakers and glass-blowers demonstrate their skills in period surroundings.
Click on the photo of Iceland's Skogafoss below to access BCD's package of pieces on the cultural highlights of the Nordic countries!