folklore of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, Finland, and the Faroe Islands
Travel topics > Cultural attractions > Nordic folk culture

Midsummer redirects here. For white nights see Midnight sun.

The Nordic countries are famous for their folk culture, including expressions such as music and dance, crafts, farming, folk architecture, costumes, fairytales, folklore and festivals. The Nordic countries were forerunners in creation of open-air museums to commemorate the rural cultural expressions.

Nordic countries
Denmark (Faroe Islands, Greenland), Finland (Åland), Iceland, Norway, Sami culture, Sweden
BoatingCuisineFolk cultureHikingMusicNordic NoirRight to accessWinter
Nordic history: • Vikings & Old NorseDanish EmpireSwedish EmpireMonarchies


See also: Vikings and the Old Norse, Nordic history

While the folk is synonym to all people and culture could include more or less all human customs, folk culture is usually defined as arts and lifestyle of peasants of yore. Folk culture excludes Royal courts, the nobility, the church, the cities, and modern cultural expressions since around 1900; which have always had clear influences from the rest of Europe. While folk culture has never been totally isolated from neighboring provinces and countries, they have preserved many customs for centuries. The word folkminne/folkeminde (folk memory) is used synonymically in Nordic language, as well as the English folklore (though this latter might specifically mean tales, myth and legends).

As Norway and Finland became independent only in the 20th century, folk culture is the foundation of their respective national identities.

Re-enactment of the Viking Age and other parts of Nordic history is prevalent in the Nordic countries and elsewhere. In contrast to these events, there is still a living tradition built on the Nordic folk culture, which often represents the rural lifestyle of the 19th century. Nostalgia events representing the mid-20th century has added a new layer of Nordic heritage, not described by this article.

Hembygdsgård is an old farm which is run by a local organization to preserve local heritage, and to host public events.

The peasants' cultural identity has mainly been based on the parish (socken in Swedish, sogn in Danish and Norwegian bokmål, sokn in nynorsk) and on the province (landskap in Swedish).

National identities consolidated only in the 19th century, and many customs perceived as traditional for the whole country, were established later than that. For instance, while the Dala Horse was attested since the 17th century, it became famous as a Swedish icon at the 1939 New York World Fair.


While grand houses in the Nordic countries are built in a mainstream European fashion, the Nordic folk architecture stands out as more austere.

In Denmark and southern Sweden, farm houses were typically built in timberframe, in a style similar to central Europe. The inland parts of Norway, Sweden and Finland have plenty of wood, and log houses are common. Swedish farmhouses are traditionally painted with Falu red, a paint manufactured in Falun.

Clothing and textilesEdit

The Norwegian bunad, a dress with accessories, is commonly worn by girls and women of all generations.

Traditional Nordic textiles are wool and flax.

Many Nordic provinces have local folk costumes traditionally used by wealthy peasantry for festivities. Some folk costumes can be attested since the 17th century, and most folk costumes in current use are reconstructions of genuine ones from a certain region (often on parish level), mostly containing a bit of guesswork.

Modern folk costumes have been designed during the 20th and 21st centuries, to represent countries, provinces or towns without a traditional costume. A prevalent example is Sverigedräkten (the Swedish costume) which was designed in 1902, and came into widespread use as late as the 1970s, promoted by the Royal family.

Today, folk costumes can be worn for traditional holidays such as Christmas or Midsummer. They can at times substitute formal dress (white tie).

Myth and legendEdit

See also: Fringe phenomena, Horror fiction
Trolls are Nordic legendary creatures depicted very differently. John Bauer's illustration of folk tales are among the most iconic.

Nordic folk tales have traces of Nordic paganism, but is also marked by a millennium of Christianity and the Protestant Reformation. The word saga is ambiguous; in Old Norse and contemporary Icelandic, it means "history"; in contemporary Swedish it means "fairy tale".

Nordic folk tales have inspired fiction, such as the H C Andersen's works, JRR Tolkien's legendarium, Nordic Noir and Astrid Lindgren's works.

Music and danceEdit

See also: Nordic music

Nordic folk music is associated with the spelman, an instrumentalist who plays the fiddle; sometimes the accordion, the bagpipes or the nyckelharpa. Folk dance is commonly the main attraction of folk culture events.

Festivals and eventsEdit

See also: Winter in the Nordic countries

Nordic holidays are based on a combination of folk belief, Christianity and secular traditions. Most holidays are celebrated on the eve; the day before the holiday proper.

Christmas, jul, is the most important Nordic holiday. Many towns have Christmas markets.

Midsummer is a major holiday in the Nordic countries held around the summer solstice in late June. In Christianity it is John the Baptist's day, and known as sankthans in Norway and Denmark. In rural Sweden, in particular in Dalarna, Midsummer is a major holiday with folk music and dancing. In Finland Midsummer is still publicly celebrated in many places, with bonfire, dance and (in some regions) raising a maypole, but most people gather at a summer cottage among friends, with sauna, bonfire, food and drinking. Into the 1990s cities tended to be deserted in Midsummer, but now more people stay there, and there are public Midsummer celebrations in many cities.

Nordlek. Nordiskt Förbund för Folkkultur arranges massive 5-day gatherings of folk musicians and folk dancers from the Nordic countries. The proper Nordlek gatherings are arranged every three years, with smaller gatherings in the intervening years. Some performances are arranged in public.  


Map of Nordic folk culture


  • 1 Frilandsmuseet (Open Air museum), Kongevejen 100, Lyngby (Copenhagen's northern suburbs). This is one of the world's largest museums in terms of area covered. It houses more than 50 authentic relocated historical farms, houses, and windmills, and sometimes live activities like making butter are performed inside the houses.    
  • 2 The Funen Village (Odense). An open-air museum.    
  • 3 Den Gamle By (The Old Town), Viborgvej 2 (Århus). Open-air museum village comprising a collection of 75 original Danish buildings from 1597 to 1909 gathered from all corners of the country. There are historical shops and eateries, most true to the period. A few staff members and volunteers dressed up in historic clothes adds to the ambience, and sometimes events are arranged.    


  • 4 Kuralan kylämäki (Turku). A village of a few farms, telling about countryside life in the 1950s. Period toys and playing equipment. Livestock. Experimental archaeology workshop and related activities.  
  • 5 Luostarivuori Handicraft Museum (Klosterbacken) (Turku). An open-air museum in a former poor residential area. Artisans knowing a period craft get to use the workshops while agreeing to act as guides on it.    
  • 6 Seurasaari (Fölisön) (Western Helsinki). An island with houses collected from all over the country. In summer many buildings have museum staff who practice crafts in traditional dress.  
  • 7 Siida (Inari). The Finnish Sámi museum. Outside the museum building is a 7 ha open-air museum including also an archaeologic site.    


  • 8 Þjóðveldisbærinn Stöng (Suðurland). A replica of an ancient Icelandic farm.    


  • 9 Norsk Folkemuseum (Oslo). Founded in 1894 and built in parallel with Skansen in Stockholm, during the Swedish-Norwegian union. Contains several indoor exhibition as well as farms from most Norwegian provinces.    
  • 10 Sverresborg Trøndelag Folk Museum, Sverresborg Alle 13 (Trondheim, bus 18 to Trøndelag Folkemuseum), +47 73 89 01 00. daily 10:00–17:00 (reduced hours in low season). At Sverresborg, with lots of old houses depicting lifestyle in old days. In a very beautiful park area overlooking the city, and truly worth a visit! Activities for children on Sundays. Eat at the nice inhouse-cafe, or at the next-door "Tavern" dating from the 18th century. Adults kr 125 (kr 70 in low season).    


  • 11 Skansen (Djurgården, Stockholm). Founded in 1891, Skansen is the world's oldest open-air museum, containing a zoological garden specializing in Nordic fauna. It features over 150 historic buildings from previous centuries, from all parts of Sweden. Interpreters in historic costumes further enhance this attraction, and demonstrate domestic crafts such as weaving, spinning, and glass blowing.
  • 12 Nordiska Museet (The Nordic Museum), Djurgårdsvägen 6-16 (Djurgården, Stockholm). A museum of cultural history from 1520 to our days, in an impressive 1907 cathedral-like building on Djurgården. Exhibitions focus on Swedish handicraft, customs and traditions.    
  • 13 Torekällbergets museum, Kvarnbacken 8, Södertälje, +46 8 523 014 22. The museum first opened in 1929 when the landmark windmill and a few other buildings were moved to the site. In connection with the redevelopment of the city centre in 1961, many old buildings were moved to Torekällberget. The museum is divided into the environments "Staden" (English: the City) and "Landet" (English: the Countryside). The urban environment is built around the main square Tenngjutartorget, where markets often are held. The square is surrounded by buildings from the 1700-1800s. Several species of domestic animals are kept at the museum. The environment conveys a picture of life in rural farms around Södertälje in the 1800s and earlier. There is also a stage where ballroom dancing and performances are often arranged during the summer months.  
  • 14 Kulturen, Tegnérsplatsen 6, Lund. An open-air museum founded in 1892, encompassing two blocks in central Lund. It has many preserved buildings from the Middle Ages to the 1930s, and some 20 exhibitions. While some are farmhouses, this open-air museum is dominated by urban buildings.    
  • 15 Norra Berget Friluftsmuseum, Gustaf Adolfsvägen 18 B (Sundsvall). "Skansen" or open-air museum of country life.  
  • 16 Tällberg. A town in Dalarna famous for its Midsummer celebration.    
  • 17 Såguddens Museum, Sågudden, 671 32 (Arvika). An open-air museum with a number of farm buildings that were moved there from the area around Arvika.  
  • 18 The Museum of Legends (Sagomuseet) (Ljungby). A museum for oral narration, fairy tales, and folklore.    
  • 19 Bungemuseet (Northern Gotland). Open-air museum with farm yards from the 17th, 18th and 19th century, and buildings representing history up to the 1980s, including a school museum.  
  • 20 Gällivare hembygdsområde (Gällivare). An open-air museum with many Sami buildings.  
  • 21 Borås Museum (Borås). An open-air museum.  
  • 22 Jamtli (Östersund). Jamtli is an interactive museum about the history of Jämtland. During summer and high season there are over 120 live actors performing and staging 19th-century Östersund.    
  • 23 Härjedalens friluftsmuseum (Funäsdalen). An open-air museum.  
  • 24 Gamla Linköping and Valla fritidsområde (Old Linköping), Tunnbindaregatan 1, Linköping. An open-air museum west of the city centre with buildings relocated from the centre of Linköping. Here you can practically enjoy life of Linköping in the 19th century. The citizens of Linköping enjoy taking part of the life and you can see people actually dressed up and working as citizens of Gamla Linköping. Also remember to buy locally produced chocolate and candy to reduced prices. In total the areas have some 20 museums.  
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