Iceland is often referred to as a part of Scandinavia. Is this true? Well, opinion often varies, even among Scandinavian people! Evidence suggests there is one right answer. Many don’t realize some people make specific distinctions between Scandinavian and Nordic countries. Looking at a map of Scandinavia, it’s understandable why there’s some confusion. All of these northern European countries have some overlap, both culturally and linguistically. In the eyes of some, there are differences. Let’s look at a definition of Scandinavia, which countries make up Scandinavia, and see if Iceland is actually a Scandinavian country.

Scandinavian flags of Norway, Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, and the Faroe Islands

What is the Definition of Scandinavia? 

The first recorded use of the word “Scandinavia” originated around the late 18th century. The word was born from the popular Scandinavian movement which was growing popularity throughout Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. The ideology was simple. Denmark, Norway, and Sweden would cooperate and support each other given their close proximity, shared culture, and similar language. They realized that they could accomplish much more if they banded together and helped each other. So, now we know the driving force behind the word and a semi-official list of Scandinavian countries. Where did the word itself come from? What is it’s etymology?

Scania: The First Map of Scandinavia

Scania was historically a region of modern-day Sweden ruled by the Danes. The Danish King Harald Bluetooth took control of the region in the 10th century. Scania is a low land coastal area that is much different than the other mountain regions of Sweden. Land disputes over Scania fueled the fire for the decades-long wars between the Swedes and the Danes. This land was eventually returned to the Swedes and is a favorite region of the country.

Sunset in Sweden

It’s important to note, that all of the peoples of mainland Scandinavia originated from a handful of Germanic tribes on the peninsula. Norway, Denmark, and Sweden collectively form the geographic peninsula of Scandinavia. This is generally the traditionally accepted definition of where Scandinavia is. The languages of these countries (and Iceland) also originated from the same Germanic tribes. 

Difference Between Nordic and Scandinavian

So now we must answer the question: Is Iceland a Scandinavian country or something else? That is a hard question answer, as there is much debate around the subject. Swedes and Danes might say one thing. Icelanders might say another. And even not all Icelanders are on board with Iceland being a part of Scandinavia. See, Scandinavia is most often a geographic and cultural classification. All three members of Scandinavia have languages, traditions, religions, and histories that are very closely related. Some consider Iceland not to be Scandinavian, even though it shares many of these linguistic, historical, and religious ties.

Iceland is an island nation, like Greenland, the Faroe Islands, and other provinces. Technically these island nations aren’t Scandinavian due to their geography. But there are plenty of cultural, historical and linguistic ties that do put Iceland in the category of being a Scandinavian country. Confusing things even more, Finland is connected to Scandinavia but isn’t Scandinavian. This is mainly because the history, language, and culture of Finland are wholly different from its neighbors to the west.

Fjords like this one in Norway are a popular feature of Scandinavian countries

Finland isn’t a part of Scandinavia because of the vast linguistic and cultural differences between the peninsula and Finland. Yet, Iceland, Greenland, and other nations have very similar cultures but aren’t “Scandinavian”. These other countries, along with the Scandinavian countries, are Nordic. Nordic is a bit of a catch-all phrase in my opinion. Scandinavians would argue that Iceland is Nordic, due to it not being centrally located or connected to Europe. However, they would also say that while Finland neighbors Sweden, and shares other similarities, Finnish is just too different from Danish, Norwegian, or Swedish. I know, it is confusing.

So, Is Iceland Scandinavian Or Not?

There is no real conclusive answer, and I think it depends on the person. Again, you must remember we are speaking about geographic and cultural constructs that hold no real weight in reality. Many Icelanders are fiercely proud of our culture. We also know that our forefathers originated in Scandinavian countries. In fact, Denmark ruled Iceland up until the early 1900s. So, when some think we are not a part of that culture it can upset some people. Some say Nordic, while other say Scandinavian. For me, personally, I say that Icelandic culture, history, and language is too closely tied to that of Scandinavia for us not to be Scandinavian. But, that’s just me. What do you think?

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  1. I think that Iceland, Greenland and the Faeroe Islands are Nordic. Except for regionalisms, inflections and some slang Swedish, Danish and Norwegian are mutually intelligible among whose who speak them. Riksmål (Official Norwegian) in print is nearly identical to Danish. Icelandic is not fully intelligible to those same people. They may get the gist of something, but cannot be said to understand it.

    One example of a significant cultural difference is in last names. If the father is Lars Anderson (or Andersen), his children will have the same last name. In Iceland they will carry the last name Larson or Larsdottir.

    It’s true that the first European settlers of Iceland and Greenland were Norsemen, but the same is true of Kiev and Canada.

    It does get more complicated when considering the Åland Islands; although their tourist bureau uses Nordic it could be argued that they really are Scandinavian.

    Does it really matter? I think not, this mostly is an academic exercise with no practical consequences.

    I became interested in this because PBS currently is promoting a new series, Wild Scandinavia, with footage of volcanoes. No active ones exist in Sweden, Norway or Denmark.


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