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  Nordic Countries 

Nordic Countries
A Brief Introduction, Naturist Websites, Denmark, Sweden & Norway, Finland


A Brief Introduction
             ← Click the map for a more detailed view.

The Nordic countries of mainland Europe are Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden. Three of these countries—Denmark, Norway and Sweden—comprise the cultural region known as Scandinavia and are closely linked by language. Danish, Norwegian and Swedish are all Germanic languages that share a high degree of mutual intelligibility, and they are distantly related to German, Dutch and English. Finland is often mistakenly labelled as a Scandinavian country, but it is not. While Finland is a cultural crossroads between Scandinavia and Russia, the Finnish language is neither Germanic nor Slavic. In fact, Finland is one of just three countries in all of Europe whose official language does not fall under the very large Indo-European language umbrella. (The other two are Estonia and Hungary.) Here's how to say "I love being naked" in Danish, Norwegian and Swedish, respectively: Jeg elsker at være nøgen, Jeg elsker å være naken and Jag älskar att vara naken. In Finnish, the same sentence looks rather different: Minä rakastan olla alasti. English speakers need not fret about any of these languages with their peculiar ø's and å's. English is remarkably widespread in all Nordic countries. Among mainland European countries, Norway, Sweden and Denmark rank first, second and fourth in English proficiency (the Netherlands is third), with upwards of 85% of the people in each country familiar with at least basic English. The percentage drops to about 63% in Finland, but that still puts it in fifth place (ahead of Germany, Switzerland and France).

Denmark (in Danish, Danmark) is the southernmost and the flattest of the Nordic countries, and it is the only Nordic country that does not have a land border with any of the other three. About twice the size of New Jersey, Denmark is the smallest of the Nordic countries in land area. It consists of a large peninsula (Jutland, or Jylland in Danish), several large islands (most notably Zealand, or Sjælland, which is the location of Copenhagen) and numerous small islands. The various land masses of Denmark separate the North Sea from the Baltic Sea. These two seas separate Denmark and the rest of mainland Europe from the other three Nordic countries. Since 2000, Denmark has been connected to Sweden by a 15-kilometer-long roadway that is an underwater tunnel part of the way and a bridge the rest. Sweden (in Swedish, Sverige) is the middle of the three countries of the Fenno-Scandia region of Europe that is mostly separated by water from the rest of the continent. To the west of Sweden is Norway (in Norwegian, Norge), and these two countries share a land border that is well over 1,000 kilometers long. To the east of Sweden is Finland (in Finnish, Suomi), and these two countries also share a land border, but for the most part they are separated by a large arm of the Baltic Sea called the Gulf of Bothnia. Collectively, Sweden, Norway and Finland are somewhat larger than Texas and California put together. About 38% of that combined area is Sweden, 33% is Norway and 28% is Finland. These three countries, thickly forested and dotted with thousands of lakes, all have intricate and rugged coastlines, and Norway in particular is especially notable for its mountains and deep fjords.

To get a grasp of how far north the Nordic countries are, it helps to know that Copenhagen—Denmark's capital city—is farther north than Edmonton, which is Canada's northernmost major city. The capital cities of the other Nordic countries—Oslo, Stockholm and Helsinki—are all at similar latitudes, and all three cities are a bit farther north than Juneau, Alaska but not quite as far north as Anchorage. Roughly a quarter of the land area of Norway, Sweden and Finland is above the Arctic Circle. Denmark, Norway and Finland have similar populations, each with about 5 to 5.5 million residents. Sweden is more populous, with about 9.3 million people. While the population of Denmark is dispersed throughout the country, the populations of the other three Nordic countries are very heavily skewed toward the south.


Naturist Websites
Naturism is generally popular and very well accepted in the Nordic countries of Europe, and the three Scandinavian countries in particular offer an unexpectedly high number of nude beaches, especially considering that these countries are so far north and have such short summers. On this website, we have chosen not to cover Nordic naturist sites in depth since there are already two excellent websites that provide detailed and nearly exhaustive coverage (in English) of naturism in Nordic countries, complete with Google Earth files that can be downloaded. These two websites are:

      www.naturistnet.org (The Scandinavian Naturist Portal)

      www.strandguide.dk

The Scandinavian Naturist Portal (SNP) is a general jumping off point for all for Nordic countries, while Strandguide.dk is specifically about Denmark. As you begin exploring these websites, you'll see that most of the detailed content of SNP concerns Sweden and Norway. SNP includes Finland mostly as an addendum since Finland has relatively few public naturist locations. There is some useful general information about Denmark, but for specifics about beaches the site links to Strandguide.dk.

SNP includes a few Google Earth downloads. There is one for nude beaches (in Sweden and Norway, with a few in Finland), one for naturist camping/resorts (in Denmark, Sweden and Norway; there are none in Finland), and one that is a combined file. The combined file can be downloaded from the front page of the website by clicking "Google Earth Locations." Strandguide.dk includes a Google Earth file under GPS information. If you download it along with the combined file from SNP, you'll have more information than you ever would have dreamed existed. Who knew there were that many nude beaches that far north?


Denmark
Denmark is the Nordic country where flat, sandy beaches are most widespread, and Danes have what may be the world's most liberal policy regarding nudity at the beach. There are just a few beaches in the country where nudity is specifically prohibited. There are also just a few beaches that are specifically set aside for naturists. Otherwise, nudity is in theory permissible on all other Danish beaches since nude bathing is not by law regarded as indecent behavior. In practice, you will not find nudists on every beach. Danish naturists by and large are circumspect about choosing where to be naked. Almost all nude bathing occurs on beaches with strong naturists traditions or on remote or peripheral areas of other beaches. Even though punitive anti-nudity forces are absent in Denmark, naturists still tend to prefer doffing their duds among like-minded people, and there is an unwritten cultural rule that nude bathers defer to the sensibilities of textiles occupying the same general area. In Denmark, it is not likely that you will encounter nudity in areas where it would be considered inappropriate due to a preponderance of textiles. It is also unlikely that a nude bather who made an error in judgment would face a reprimand harsher than a suggestion to seek out a more secluded area.

Strandguide.dk describes about 100 naturist places in Denmark. Almost all pages of the website are available in Danish, English and German. Of the places described, a handful are naturist camping establishments, while the rest are beaches, and the sites range from lightly visited beaches with naturist potential to popular and well established beaches. If you find the amount of information overwhelming, here are a couple of useful tidbits pertaining to Copenhagen (København in Danish), which is Denmark's capital and most-visited city. The closest well-established nude beach to Copenhangen is Bellevue Strand, which is about 10 kilometers north of the city center. However, Copenhageners who are able to escape the city generally prefer to head to the nude beach in the rural coastal town of Tisvilde, about 63 kilometers northwest of Copenhagen. Both these locations are listed under Greater Copenhagen Area at Strandguide.dk. (Note that there are two Tisvilde listings, but they are both part of the same large beach.) Here is another tip: while Strandguide.dk is the essential source pertaining to nude beaches in Denmark, information about Denmark's small number of naturist camping establishments gets swallowed up in the large number of nude beach pages. It is much easier to assess Denmark's half dozen or so naturist camping establishments at the Dansk Naturist Union website.


Sweden & Norway
While just about any beach in Denmark can theoretically be considered a nude beach, Norway and Sweden follow a more usual model of having some beaches specifically designated for nudity and others where nudity is unofficially tolerated. The Scandinavian Naturist Portal website provides detailed information about many nude beaches in Sweden and Norway, and just about all pages of this extensive website are available in four languages: Swedish, Norwegian, English and German. For Norway, 17 beaches are detailed (most are described as official nude beaches) along with three naturist camping establishments. For Sweden, over 70 beaches are detailed (just under half are described as official nude beaches) along with eleven naturist camping establishments. Norway's offerings include five nude beaches that are in or in the immediate vicinity of the capital city of Oslo, and Huk Beach—located about 7 kilometers west of the city center—is the most popular nude beach in Norway. Sweden has a bigger selection of nude beaches which are roughly evenly divided between coastal locations and interior lakeshore locations. There are about a dozen nude beaches within a 50 kilometer radius of the capital city of Stockholm, including several that are within the city proper.


Finland
Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland are often grouped together, but examine facets of these countries individually and it quickly becomes apparent that one of these things is not like the others. As touched on previously, the Finnish language is nothing like Danish, Swedish or Norwegian. The practice of naturism in Finland is also a departure from what is typical in other Nordic countries. To understand Finnish attitudes about nudity, it is essential to start with the sauna, which is inextricably woven into Finnish identity.

The genesis of the sauna is rather murky, but it is generally believed that the first wooden saunas originated in Finland at some time during the first millennium A.D., and the word "sauna" is itself of proto-Finnish origin. In fact, "sauna" is the only common word in English that is borrowed from Finnish, and the word "sauna" is also spelled the same or with minor variations in most major world languages. Finnish saunas have spread throughout the world, but the sauna remains more revered in Finland than anywhere else. Some sources claim there is a sauna for every three people in Finland, while others offer a more conservative estimate of one sauna for every five people. Whatever the exact ratio is, that's a lot of saunas, and most Finns have a sauna session at least once a week. There are some public saunas, but sauna bathing occurs mostly within the private sphere. Just about all detached houses have saunas, and apartment blocks often have shared saunas that residents reserve for private use.

Nudity has always been and remains an intrinsic part of the authentic Finnish sauna experience. Clothing of any kind is taboo, and sauna goers usually do not wrap themselves in towels. Public saunas are likely to have a sign at the sauna door indicating that swimwear is prohibited (usually a pair of shorts with a big "X" superimposed). In the private realm, Finns sauna only with those with whom they are comfortable being naked. Do men an women sauna together? Sometimes. Public saunas are single sex (unlike Germany and the Netherlands, where mixed-gender sauna nudity is the norm). The mixing of genders in private saunas usually occurs in a family context, with parents and children in the sauna in the nude all at once. When children reach adolescence, they are more likely to attend the sauna only with relatives and friends of the same gender, but some families are comfortable with mixed-gender nudity even among adult relatives, extended family and even close friends. Among groups of friends, sauna sessions are likely to be segregated by gender, with men and women taking turns in the sauna.

Saunas are important in the home, and they are also important when Finns take a vacation break (at least when they stay within Finland). While the sauna is an essential element in Finnish notions of relaxing and unwinding, so is the concept of a cabin in the woods. Finland has countless lakes and lots of rural woodland, and the countryside is dotted with many thousands of cabins and cottages that are not permanent residences. Such a cabin is called a mökki in Finnish, and just as there are wildly varying estimates of the number of saunas in Finland, estimates of the number of vacation cabins are similarly variable. 200,000? 500,000? A lot. (Remember that Finland has just 5.4 million people.) A vacation cabin almost always includes a bit of private lakefront and a detached sauna near the water. Many Finns own such idyllic cabins as second homes that are visited year round. Others rent a cabin when they can. A sauna session in a cabin setting invariably includes nakedness in and out of the sauna. Sauna goers typically endure the heat as long as they can then burst outside and jump naked into the lake... or perhaps roll around in the snow, depending on the time of year. It is the quintessential Finnish sauna experience. Here is a link to a video that is an account of an American's experience visiting a mökki in Finland.

Certainly in the context of sauna culture, Finns have a very relaxed attitude about nudity. However, what is a bit surprising about a country where most everyone sheds their clothing for a communal naked experience on a regular basis is that there are almost no public naturist places. There are just two formally designated nude beaches in the entire country, and there are no naturist camping establishments. Although Finns sauna and swim naked perhaps more than any other people in the world, it happens almost exclusively within the private realm. To experience it for yourself, you'll need to befriend a Finn and be invited to the family mökki... or perhaps rent one of your own.

The Scandinavian Naturist Portal website details two nude beaches in Finland, both of which are officially designated for naturism. One is on the eastern of the two islands that constitute Pihlajasaari (Map It), which is just offshore from Helsinki and accessible by passenger ferry. (The two islands of Pihlajasaari are connected by footbridge, and a "Naturistiranta" sign points the way from the ferry dock.) The other nude beach is part of Yyteri Beach (Map It), which is about 260 kilometers northwest of Helsinki near the town of Pori. While the nude beach at Pihlajasaari is a rocky ledge, Yyteri offers lots of thick golden sand, which is a rarity in Finland since its coastline is mostly rocky. (Note: The Google Earth file from the SNP website labels Pihlajasaari by its Swedish name—Österrönnskär.)

There are a couple of other places in Helsinki that are of potential interests to naturists, but both are gender-segregated naked places. One is a rocky beach on an island called Seurasaari (Map It), which is connected to the mainland by a footbridge. The Seurasaari beach is sort of Finland's third official nude beach, but it is often not listed with the other nude beaches since there is no mixed-gender bathing. A fence splits the beach down the middle. One side is for women; the other is for men. Another site in Helsinki is the Yrjönkatu Uimahalli (Map It). Uimahalli means "indoor pool," and this elegant swimming hall that is open to the public dates to 1928. For decades, swimming was in the nude only. In 2001, the policy changed, and it is now swimwear optional, with most patrons preferring nudity. However, there is no mixed-gender swimming. Check the website for men-only and women-only days and hours.

A final potential naked place in Finland is an unofficial nude beach on the island of Ruissalo (Map It), which is bridged to the city of Turku. This beach is toward the far western end of the island, just south of Ruissalo Camping, but we have not been able to find many concrete details about this rather obscure site.