From Latvia and Lithuania to Norway and Iceland, there are ten sovereign nations in Northern Europe. Here’s everything you need to know.

The United Kingdom crosses European boundaries. Stretching into the frigid waters of the North Sea, my home country is a firm part of Northern Europe. Equally, the UK could be placed in Western Europe – for a wide range of historical, geopolitical and cultural reasons – showing just how tricky it is to define this European region.

But that’s exactly what I’m going to attempt to do in this article. Northern Europe, a region shaped by its northern latitude and distinctive cultural, historical and geographical features, is home to at least ten sovereign nations. The exact number of countries included in Northern Europe can vary depending on the criteria used, but typically, this region is associated with the Scandinavian countries, the Baltic States, and often, the British Isles.

Keep reading, as I delve into the complexities of defining Northern Europe and provide a comprehensive overview of the number of countries that are commonly included in the region.

How many countries are in Northern Europe?

The exact number of countries considered part of Northern Europe can vary depending on the definition used, and, if you’ve been reading my European countries series, you’ll quickly see how there are several major overlaps (the Baltics can be classified as both Northern European or Eastern European, for example). A typical definition includes ten primary countries, with the potential inclusion of a few others (or not) based on specific contexts.

The core countries in Northern Europe are the following:

  1. Denmark: Located on the Jutland Peninsula and numerous islands, Denmark is a key country in the region with a rich Viking history and modern welfare state.
  2. Estonia: One of the Baltic States, Estonia has a distinct language and culture influenced by both Nordic and Eastern European traditions.
  3. Finland: Known for its vast forests and thousands of lakes, Finland shares cultural ties with Scandinavia and a significant history of interaction with Russia.
  4. Iceland: A North Atlantic island nation, Iceland is renowned for its volcanic landscape, geysers, and strong Norse heritage.
  5. Latvia: Another Baltic State, Latvia’s history is marked by various occupations, which have shaped its unique cultural landscape.
  6. Lithuania: The southernmost of the Baltic States, Lithuania has a history that intertwines with both Northern and Eastern Europe.
  7. Norway: Famous for its fjords and mountainous terrain, Norway has a strong maritime tradition and is a major player in regional politics.
  8. Sweden: The largest country in the region by land area, Sweden is known for its progressive policies, historical significance, and economic strength.
  9. United Kingdom: Geographically northern and culturally linked through historical events such as the Viking invasions, the UK is often grouped with Northern Europe.
  10. Ireland: Although often considered part of Western Europe, Ireland’s geographical location in the northwestern part of Europe can place it in Northern Europe in certain contexts.

In a broader context, Northern Europe can also include the Faroe Islands and Greenland, which are autonomous territories of Denmark (and so technically not sovereign nations in their own right). Lists may also include countries like Germany, which has a long coastline along the Baltic Sea and many cultural links to other nations in Northern Europe. In this same respect, Poland could also be seen as Northern European.

It’s these cultural and historical ties which influence the definition of Northern Europe. For example, the historical connections through the Viking Age, the Hanseatic League, and the Protestant Reformation link many of these countries. The British Isles, while geographically further west, have historical ties to the Scandinavian countries through the Viking invasions and shared cultural heritage. Similarly, the Baltic States have cultural and historical connections with both Northern and Eastern Europe, influencing their inclusion in different contexts.

Map of Europe. Photo credit:

Read more: How Many Countries Are in Europe? Everything You Need to Know.

Where is Northern Europe, exactly?

Northern Europe encompasses the northernmost parts of the European continent, including the British Isles, Scandinavia and in many definitions, the Baltics. This region is characterised by its northerly climate, diverse landscapes, and strategic positioning between several significant bodies of water, like the North Sea and the Baltic Sea.

Geographically, Northern Europe is bordered to the west by the North Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea, to the east by the Baltic Sea, and to the north by the Arctic Ocean. The region includes the Scandinavian Peninsula, which consists of Norway and Sweden, the Jutland Peninsula (home to Denmark), the Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) and the island nations of Iceland, the Faroe Islands and the British Isles (comprising the United Kingdom and Ireland). Finland, which borders Russia to the east and Sweden to the west, is also a significant part of Northern Europe.

The Scandinavian Peninsula is notable for its rugged terrain, with Norway’s fjords and mountainous landscapes contrasting with Sweden’s extensive forests and numerous lakes. Denmark, situated on the Jutland Peninsula and its surrounding islands, features a relatively flat landscape. Iceland, an island nation in the North Atlantic, is renowned for its volcanic activity, glaciers and geothermal features.

The UK, comprising England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, is characterised by a variety of landscapes, from the highlands of Scotland to the rolling hills of England. Ireland, known for its lush greenery and coastal cliffs, further enhances the region’s geographical variety. The Baltic States, consisting of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, are situated on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea. These countries have varied landscapes, from Estonia’s many islands and coastal areas to Latvia’s dense forests and Lithuania’s plains.

Northern Europe’s climate ranges from maritime in the western coastal areas to continental in the eastern parts. Countries like the UK, Ireland, Norway, Iceland, and Denmark experience milder, wetter climates due to the influence of the North Atlantic Drift. In contrast, Finland and the Baltic States have more pronounced seasonal variations, with colder winters and warmer summers.

The Baltic Sea is a key geographical feature shared by many countries in Northern Europe. Photo credit:

Read more: How Many Countries in Central Europe? Everything You Need to Know.

Where does Southern Europe begin?

The division between Northern and Southern Europe is not strictly defined by exact geographical lines but rather by a combination of cultural, historical, climatic, and geographical factors. Generally, Southern Europe begins where Northern Europe ends, with a transition zone that is often defined by significant natural features and cultural distinctions.

Northern Europe is characterised by its northern latitude, colder climates, and longer winters. As you move southward, the climate becomes warmer and more Mediterranean. The boundary often falls around the latitude of the Alps and the Pyrenees mountain ranges, which serve as significant natural dividers.

Southern Europe typically includes countries such as Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, and the southern parts of France and the Balkan Peninsula. These regions share a Mediterranean climate, cultural heritage, and historical influences from ancient civilisations like Greece and Rome.

Countries like Germany, France, and Switzerland often serve as transitional zones, and these nations are typically classed as either Western or Central European. While northern parts of these countries exhibit characteristics typical of Northern Europe, their southern regions align more closely with Southern European attributes. This transition is not abrupt but gradual, with mixed cultural, climatic, and geographical features.

The Alps mark the divide between north and south. Photo credit:

Read more: How Many Countries in Southern Europe? Everything You Need to Know.

Where does Eastern Europe begin?

The exact boundaries of Eastern Europe can vary, but there are generally accepted markers that help delineate where Eastern Europe begins. Eastern Europe is typically considered to start east of the Baltic Sea and the Adriatic Sea, extending to the Ural Mountains in Russia, which form the conventional eastern boundary of Europe.

The Carpathian Mountains and the Dinaric Alps also serve as natural boundaries that mark the western edge of Eastern Europe. Eastern Europe has been influenced by a range of historical powers including the Byzantine Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The region’s history is marked by a mix of Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Islamic influences.

The impact of the Soviet Union in the 20th century also significantly shaped the political and cultural landscape of Eastern Europe. Countries under Soviet influence during the Cold War are often included in the definition of Eastern Europe.

The Carpathian Mountains divide Western and Eastern Europe. Photo credit:

Read more: How Many Countries in Eastern Europe? Everything You Need to Know.

A brief history of Northern Europe

Here’s a brief history of Northern Europe to help you better understand the cultural and geopolitical divides that distinguish the region from other distinct continental zones:

Prehistoric and Early History

  • Ice Age to Neolithic Period: Northern Europe was largely uninhabitable during the Ice Age. As the ice receded, early human settlements emerged. The region’s prehistoric period saw the rise of various hunter-gatherer cultures, eventually transitioning to agricultural societies.
  • Bronze and Iron Ages: The introduction of bronze and iron tools facilitated the development of more complex societies. The British Isles saw the construction of megalithic structures like Stonehenge.

Classical Antiquity

  • Roman Influence: The southern parts of the British Isles were incorporated into the Roman Empire in 43 AD, becoming the province of Britannia. In contrast, most of Scandinavia and the Baltic region remained outside the sphere of Roman control, inhabited by various tribal groups.

The Viking Age (8th to 11th Century)

  • Viking Expansion: Originating from modern-day Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, the Vikings conducted raids, trade, and colonisation across Northern Europe and beyond. They established settlements in the British Isles, Iceland, and parts of Greenland.
  • Cultural Exchange: The Viking Age facilitated significant cultural and economic exchange, leading to the integration of Norse culture into local societies in the British Isles and the founding of cities like Dublin and York.

Read more: What Are the Nordics? Everything You Need to Know.

Medieval Period

  • Christianisation: The spread of Christianity began in earnest during the early medieval period. Missionaries from the British Isles played a crucial role in converting Scandinavian and Baltic peoples.
  • Political Structures: The formation of kingdoms and political entities began to take shape. In the British Isles, this period saw the consolidation of various Anglo-Saxon kingdoms and the establishment of the Kingdom of England.

The Hanseatic League (13th to 17th Century)

  • Trade Networks: The Hanseatic League, a powerful economic and defensive alliance of merchant guilds and market towns, dominated trade in the Baltic and North Seas. This period marked significant economic growth and urbanisation in Northern Europe.

Read more: Where Are the Baltics? Everything You Need to Know.

Reformation and Early Modern Period:

  • Protestant Reformation: The 16th century brought the Protestant Reformation, which had a profound impact on Northern Europe. Martin Luther’s ideas took strong hold in Scandinavia and the British Isles, leading to religious and political upheaval.
  • Union of Crowns: In 1603, the Union of the Crowns unified the Kingdoms of England and Scotland under a single monarch, James VI and I, though the countries remained legally separate entities.

19th and 20th Centuries

  • Industrial Revolution: The British Isles, particularly England, spearheaded the Industrial Revolution, profoundly transforming the economy and society of Northern Europe. Scandinavian countries and the Baltic region also industrialised, albeit at different paces.
  • World Wars: Northern Europe, including the British Isles, was significantly affected by both World Wars. The interwar period and the aftermath of WWII led to significant political changes, including the independence of the Baltic States and the establishment of the welfare state model in Scandinavia.

Contemporary Period

  • European Union: The latter half of the 20th century saw many Northern European countries, including the UK (until Brexit in 2020), join the European Union, fostering greater economic and political cooperation.
  • Modern Day: Today, Northern Europe is known for its high standards of living, robust welfare states, and significant contributions to global culture, technology, and environmental sustainability.
Cities like Bergen had long Viking and Hanseatic histories. Photo credit:

Read more: How Many Countries in Western Europe? Everything You Need to Know.

How many Northern European countries are in the European Union?

There are several Northern European countries are members of the European Union (EU). Here’s a list of those countries:

  1. Denmark
  2. Estonia
  3. Finland
  4. Ireland
  5. Latvia
  6. Lithuania
  7. Sweden

These countries are part of the EU and actively participate in its political, economic, and legislative processes. Several Northern European countries are not in the EU, however:

  • Iceland: Iceland is not a member of the EU but is part of the European Economic Area (EEA), which allows it to participate in the single market without being an EU member.
  • Norway: Like Iceland, Norway is also not an EU member but is part of the EEA.
  • United Kingdom: The UK was an EU member but left the Union following the Brexit referendum in 2016, officially departing on 31 January 2020.

Seven Northern European countries are members of the EU, while others like Iceland, Norway, and the United Kingdom are not, though they maintain close economic and political relationships with the EU.

Not all Northern European countries are in the EU. Photo credit:

Read more: How Many Countries Are there in Scandinavia? Everything You Need to Know.

How many Northern European countries are in NATO?

The following Northern European countries are members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO):

  1. Denmark
  2. Estonia
  3. Finland
  4. Iceland
  5. Latvia
  6. Lithuania
  7. Norway
  8. Sweden
  9. United Kingdom

These countries are part of NATO, contributing to and benefiting from the collective security arrangement provided by the alliance. Notably, Ireland is not a NATO member.

Ireland maintains a policy of neutrality, and so is not a member of NATO. Photo credit:

So, how many countries are in Northern Europe?

The number of countries in Northern Europe varies depending on the context and criteria used to define the region. Generally, the core group of countries includes Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom. However, broader definitions may also encompass autonomous territories like the Faroe Islands and Greenland.

This diversity in definitions arises from the interplay of geographical boundaries, historical ties, cultural similarities, and political alignments. Geographically, Northern Europe spans from the Arctic Ocean in the north to the Baltic Sea and the North Sea. Culturally and historically, the region has been shaped by influences ranging from the Viking Age to the Hanseatic League, and politically, it includes various configurations of EU and NATO memberships.

FAQ: How many countries are in Northern Europe?

Here’s an FAQ on the topic, ‘How many countries are in Northern Europe?’:

Q1: How many countries are generally considered part of Northern Europe?

A1: Generally, Northern Europe includes ten primary countries: Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom. However, the exact number can vary depending on different definitions and contexts.

Q2: Why do the definitions of Northern Europe vary?

A2: Definitions vary due to differing geographical, cultural, historical, and political perspectives. Factors such as historical ties, economic groupings, political alliances, and climatic conditions all influence how Northern Europe is defined.

Q3: Are the United Kingdom and Ireland considered part of Northern Europe?

A3: In some definitions, the United Kingdom and Ireland are included in Northern Europe due to their geographical location, historical connections, and cultural ties. However, they are often more commonly associated with Western Europe.

Q4: What are the Baltic States, and why are they included in Northern Europe?

A4: The Baltic States—Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania—are included in Northern Europe due to their geographical location on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea and their cultural and historical connections with the region. These countries share similar historical experiences and political alignments with Northern Europe.

Q5: What defines the geographical boundaries of Northern Europe?

A5: Geographically, Northern Europe is typically bordered by the North Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea to the west, the Baltic Sea to the east, and the Arctic Ocean to the north. It includes the Scandinavian Peninsula, the Jutland Peninsula, the Baltic States, and various islands in the North Atlantic.

Q6: How do climatic conditions affect the definition of Northern Europe?

A6: Climatic conditions play a role in defining Northern Europe, with the region generally characterised by long, cold winters and short, mild summers. This climatic similarity helps group countries with similar weather patterns and environmental conditions.

Q7: Are there any international organisations that influence the definition of Northern Europe?

A7: Yes, international organisations such as the European Union (EU) and the Nordic Council influence the definition. The Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden) have strong political and economic cooperation, often grouping them together within Northern Europe.

Q8: Can the definition of Northern Europe change over time?

A8: Yes, the definition can evolve based on shifting political landscapes, economic developments, and cultural exchanges. Historical events, changes in political alliances, and new economic ties can all contribute to a redefinition of Northern Europe.

Q9: Is Greenland considered part of Northern Europe?

A9: Greenland, an autonomous territory of Denmark, is sometimes included in Northern Europe due to its political ties with Denmark, despite being geographically part of North America. Its inclusion depends on the specific context and perspective.