11 Intriguing Truths About Living in Northern Europe

Have you ever wondered what it’s like living in Northern Europe? Maybe you’ve considered moving to one of the Baltic states or the Nordic countries for work, studies, or other reasons. How does living in Northern Europe differ from living in other parts of Europe or the world?

Discover eight ways life in the Northern European countries stands out.

1. Having Multiple Coats Is Necessary

People who live in Northern Europe are used to having multiple options for outerwear, and some will tell you that’s still not enough. Some of the outerwear choices people in this region of the world may find useful include:

  • A light jacket or sweater for cool evenings or days
  • A dedicated raincoat
  • A heavy coat for very cold days and nights
  • A dressier coat or jacket for evenings
  • Short and long versions of coats
  • An all-weather coat with wind- and waterproofing and other high-tech features.

Dressing for the seasons in the Baltic or Nording countries is always an adventure!

Winter coats on a sales rack
Photo 101291685 © Kobackpacko | Dreamstime.com

2. Fresh Produce May Be Disappointing, but Root Vegetables Are in Abundance

Northern Europe has a short growing season, so fruits and vegetables are important during much of the year. Some produce is grown in greenhouses or must travel long distances to reach the destination country.

These factors often leave fruits and vegetables in supermarkets looking wilted or bruised. Less variety is available during winter, too.

However, root vegetables and winter vegetables feature strongly in regional cuisines because they’re abundant in Northern Europe. Think potatoes, beets, and carrots. Cabbages, cauliflower, and related vegetables are also often of better quality than other produce choices. 

A colorful grouping of winter vegetables
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3. Duvets Are the Norm

As in other parts of Europe, Northern Europeans prefer a duvet with a cover rather than a single sheet and comforter set for their bedding. A duvet may be a great choice for snuggling into sleep on a cold winter’s night, but it can also be a recipe for overheating.

If you’re used to the sheet-and-comforter set, you can always pair your duvet with a single sheet if you want to have the option of throwing off the heaviest layer in the middle of the night.

Duvets and pillows on a bed for living in Northern Europe
Photo 251241003 © Tatiana Golmer | Dreamstime.com

4. People Are Used to Living Close to Nature

Living in Northern Europe means living close to nature. Hikes in the forest, mushroom or berry hunting, skiing, swimming in lakes, or even just regular walks in the local park are typical pastimes of people who are often both environmentally conscious and culturally acclimated to spending time in the outdoors.

Furthermore, some people have garden patches or houses in the countryside that they enjoy going to on weekends or for long spans of time during the summer. These houses may be in a quiet village, in a wooded area, or by a lake.

Colorful summerhouses in a landscape in Northern Europe
Photo 212036938 © Roberto Rizzi | Dreamstime.com

5. Sauna Culture Is Important

Going to the sauna is a well-established tradition in many parts of Northern Europe, surrounded by traditions and beliefs about the health-giving properties of many of the practices.

In some parts of Northern Europe, it’s common for people to have at-home saunas that they can enjoy whenever they like, but saunas are also common in spas and gyms.

Often, people will beat themselves with branches to improve circulation. Time in the sauna may be followed by a dip in cold water or a cold shower, which closes the pores opened by the warm air and is a way to get a healthy glow to the skin!

Traditional sauna with herbs, bucket, and towel
Photo 249878859 © Andrii Borodai | Dreamstime.com

6. People Tend to Be Reserved

People in Northern Europe are often described as introverts, but introverts and extraverts exist in every culture. It’s more accurate to say that culturally, people living in Northern Europe tend to be more reserved with their emotions, facial expressions, and even sometimes their opinions and about themselves.

It can also feel difficult to make friends in such cultures as a visitor or an expat. In fact, when we look at statistics, expats have a hard time settling in to their new Northern European home, with cultures being described as “closed.”

The best advice it to join local activity groups as well as reach out to the expat community to find likeminded people.

If you come from an extraverted culture, this reservedness can come as a surprise, and it can even feel isolating or unfriendly. However, such behavior may not have anything to do with rudeness, disinterest, or mistrust—it’s simply how many Northern Europeans are naturally.

7. In Summer, Days Are Loong, and in Winter, Nights Seem to Never End

The extremes of the seasons can be an adjustment for anyone who wants to live in Northern Europe. Long summer days, when the sun sets very late at night or not at all, have a feeling of celebration about them as people try to eke out the most enjoyment from the summer months.

Midsummer festivals, therefore, are popular, with people embracing the pagan spirit from the past. Flower wreaths, bonfires, dancing, and singing often play a part in this seasonal celebration of the sun and fertility.

On the flip side, the long nights and short days of winter can feel oppressive. However, Northern Europeans often combat the ensuing potential frustration with lack of sunlight by relying on candles, holding festivals of lights, crowding into cozy restaurants and bars, and making sure their homes are comfortable and pleasant places to spend time in.

Leaves and flowers woven into a symbol of Midsummer
Photo 250267164 © Rolf52 | Dreamstime.com

8. Air Conditioning Is Rare

Due to the lack of need for air conditioning for the greater part of the year, most houses or apartments lack air conditioning. Furthermore, in many public buildings, hotels, or restaurants, air conditioning is hardly ever as cold as what many Americans are used to.

People in Northern Europe are used to opening their windows, using fans if they must, and spending time outdoors during the warmest times of year. Some will also escape to the seaside, where the breeze and water provide a natural cooling effect.

Unfortunately, due to climate change, unusually warm summers may mean that air conditioning for residents becomes more popular. For example, recent summers have seen temperatures over 90 degrees F for several days in a row in some locations.

Because buildings in Northern Europe are often built to keep heat in rather than let heat out, several days of such temperatures mean that buildings trap heat even after the hottest period has subsided.

Sand dunes with walking trails in Northern Europe
Photo 252984497 © Zigmunds Dizgalvis | Dreamstime.com

9. University Education Is Common

A good percentage of the population in Northern European countries is university educated. All the countries of this region have a higher-than-average percentage of people with a university education, with the average percentage in the EU being 30%.

A well-educated population means many people speak several languages, have multiple degrees, and enjoy careers in highly skilled areas.

10. Comensated Parental Leave and Support for Parents Is Typical

Parental leave, while not typically compensated 100% is still well compensated in Northern Europe, and most countries offer paternity leave as well as maternity leave.

Formal childcare options are widely available for parents, with a good percentage of parents taking advantage of those services.

11. Northern Europe Ranks High for Happiness

Finland and Denmark topped the list of the World Happiness Report for 2022. The main indicators of this report include “caring, freedom, generosity, honesty, health, income and good governance.”

The report takes into account life expectancy at birth, level of social support, freedom to make life choices, perceptions of government and business corruption, and other factors. It’s no wonder people living in Northern Europe are generally happy.

Unfortunately, while the Nordic countries enjoy high positions in this report, the Baltic countries do not make it into the top 10 spots.

The word "happiness" on a graph on a chalkboard
Photo 148058536 © Ivan Ushakovskiy | Dreamstime.com

Living in Northern Europe has its pros and cons. The region is also diverse culturally, linguistically, and geographically, so while some aspects are true for the general region, many differences can also be identified. However, it’s no wonder that the factors they have in common are often related to climate—the latitude and average temperatures in Northern Europe dictate their relationship to the world around them.

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