Sweden is a Scandinavian nation with thousands of coastal islands and inland lakes, along with vast boreal forests and glaciated mountains. Its principal cities, eastern capital Stockholm and southwestern Gothenburg and Malmö, are all coastal. As progressive and civilised as it may be, Sweden is still a wild place with scenery ranging from barren moonscapes and impenetrable forests in the far north to sunny beaches and lush farmland further south.
Long shunned by travellers on a shoestring budget, Sweden is now somewhat more affordable - although not yet exactly cheap. But pay the odd kronor or two extra, to be able to feast your eyes on the beautiful countryside, swig some of the excellent aquavit and party all night in Stockholm’s nightclubs.
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SWEDEN QUICK FACTS
- Capital: Stockholm
- Government: Constitutional Monarchy and Parliamentary Democracy
- Currency: Swedish Krona (SEK)
- Area: 450,295 km2
- Population: 10,23 million (2019)
- Language: Swedish, large Finnish speaking minority (470 000, RUAB 2005), most people speak apprehensible English
- Religion: 23% theist (mainly Lutheran with Muslim and Catholic minorities), 76% non theist (including 23% atheist)
- Electricity: 230V/50Hz (European plug)
THE SAMI IN SWEDEN
Europe’s only indigenous people, the ancestors of the Sami migrated to the north of present-day Scandinavia, following the path of the retreating ice, and lived by hunting reindeer in the area spanning from Norway’s Atlantic coast to the Kola Peninsula in Russia, collectively known as Sápmi. By the 17th century, the depletion of reindeer herds had transformed the hunting economy into a nomadic herding economy.
Sami beliefs and mythology have traditionally revolved around nature, with the noaidi (shamans) bridging the gap between the physical and the spiritual worlds. From 1685, the Sami were forcibly converted to Christianity and Sweden’s policies regarding the Sami were tinted with social Darwinism, deeming them to be an inferior race fit only for reindeer herding, up until after WWII, when the Sami began to actively participate in the struggle for their rights, forming numerous associations and pressure groups.
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SWEDEN PUBLIC HOLIDAYS
- 5 January, Eve of Epiphany
- 6 January, Epiphany
- 30 April, Feast of Valborg (Valborg’s Eve)
- 1 May, May Day
- 6 June, National Day
- 23 June, Midsummer’s Eve
- 24 June, Midsummer’s Day
- 1st Friday in November, All Saints Eve (All Hallow’s Eve)
- 1st Saturday in November, All Saints Day
FESTIVALS IN SWEDEN
- Snöfestivalen - In the last week of January, this festival is focused on snow sculpting. The tradition began in 1985 as a space-themed snow-sculpture contest to celebrate the launching of a rocket from nearby space base, Esrange. It now draws artists from all over to create ever more elaborate and beautiful shapes. The festival also features Sami reindeer-sled racing and other activities.
- Göteborg International Film Festival - One of Scandinavia’s major film festivals, with flicks spanning all continents and genres. It’s usually held in late January.
- Smaka På Stockholm - A five-day celebration of the Stockholm area’s food scene during early June. The program includes gourmet food stalls (including representatives from several archipelago restaurants), cooking demos and entertainment on Kungsträdgården. It's free to get in, and food offerings tend to be good value.
- Kiruna Festival - The big one of the Kiruna party scene, this four-day music festival features top acts in late June or early July.
- Medeltidsveckan - Weeklong medieval festival held in early August throughout the streets of Visby, with axe throwing, archery, live music and feasting.
- Stockholms Kulturfestival - This festival during mid-August is one big party week, with everything from sidewalk opera to street theatre and dancing in and around Sergels Torg. Free admission.
- Way Out West - In early August, Way Out West is a mighty three-day music festival in Göteborg, pulling in big guns like the Pixies, Ryan Adams, Major Lazer, Regina Spektor, Band of Horses and the Shins.
- Malmö Festival - Malmö’s premier annual event during mid-August - with an average of some 1.5 million visitors – is the weeklong Malmö Festival. The mostly free events include theatre, dance, live music, fireworks and sizzling food stalls.
- Stockholm International Film Festival - A major celebration of local and international cinema whose guest speakers include top actors and directors. (November)
BEST TIME TO VISIT SWEDEN
Sweden’s proximity to the North Atlantic and prevailing south-westerly to westerly winds result in a climate that is mild in the winter months. The northernmost part of the country, however, has a subarctic climate with long, cold and snowy winters.
- June to August - Summers are short but intense, and the ‘white nights’ beyond the Arctic Circle magical.
- September & October - Nothing’s open, but the countryside is stunning in autumn.
- March & April - Winter sports and the aurora borealis (northern lights) keep Norrland towns buzzing.
In general, May to September is the best time to visit Sweden – north or south. Summer weather in Sweden is similar to that in southern Britain, alhough there are more hours of sunshine and less rain. By the end of August, the leaves in northern Sweden start to change colour and night frosts are not uncommon; the first snows fall in September. In Stockholm, snow can fall in October but doesn’t generally settle; by November, though, the ground is usually covered in a blanket of snow, which will last until the following March or even April, when there can still be snow showers. Winters in the south of Sweden are often mild whilst in the north you’re likely to encounter snow until well into May and temperatures can fall to -30C.
SWEDEN WEATHER SYNOPSIS
Sweden’s proximity to the North Atlantic and prevailing south-westerly to westerly winds result in a climate that is mild in the winter months. The northernmost part of the country, however, has a subarctic climate with long, cold and snowy winters.
SWEDEN TOURIST SEASONS
Most destinations have different times of the year when they’re more or less popular with tourists.
Off Peak Season
SPORT & ACTIVITIES
SNOW SPORT IN SWEDEN
The snow sports season in Sweden can start as early as November and lasts until April. The busiest period is from mid December through to February, with the lesser crowded times in November, March & April.
HIKING & CYCLING IN SWEDEN
The best time for outdoor activities in Sweden is from May to August, as September and October can be cold and wet.
BEACH OPTIONS IN SWEDEN
While Sweden may have some beautiful beaches, even the summer months have very moderate temperatures and don't really get hot.
SURFING IN SWEDEN
While it may be possible to surf at a few secret spots in Sweden, opportune weather conditions are rare and it can be really cold!
KITESURF IN SWEDEN
Sweden can have good winds for both windsurfing and kitesurfing from June to October, with schools for both activities. It's just not going to be very warm!
For more details on kite surfing in Sweden expand this section!
HEALTH RISKS IN SWEDEN
Be aware of possible health risks in
Yellow fever - The yellow fever virus is found in tropical and subtropical areas of Africa and South America. The virus is spread to people by the bite of an infected mosquito. There is no medicine to treat or cure an infection. To prevent getting sick from yellow fever, use insect repellent, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants, and get vaccinated.
Zika Virus - Zika is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These mosquitoes bite during the day and night. Zika can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus. Infection during pregnancy can cause certain birth defects. There is no vaccine or medicine for Zika.
Malaria - Malaria is a serious and sometimes fatal disease caused by a parasite that commonly infects a certain type of mosquito which feeds on humans. People who get malaria are typically very sick with high fevers, shaking chills, and flu-like illness. Although malaria can be a deadly disease, illness and death from malaria can usually be prevented.
Dengue - Dengue is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These mosquitoes bite during the day and night. About one in four people infected with dengue will get sick. For people who get sick with dengue, symptoms can be mild or severe.
SWEDEN TRAVEL COSTS
Sweden is expensive. There are just no two ways about it!
Accommodation Cost in Sweden:
Hostels start around 250 SEK ($30 USD) per night for a dorm and about 650 SEK ($75 USD) for a private room. A budget hotel will begin around 700 SEK ($82 USD) for a basic double room. Cheaper options are available but you might have to share a bathroom with other guests. Airbnb apartments or a house will cost you between 600-1,200 SEK ($70-145 USD) per night. Expect to pay more in Stockholm compared to the rest of the country. Most campsites have modern facilities, including toilets and showers - with plots costing around 200 SEK ($23 USD) per night. Wild camping is a great budget option as it is legal to camp almost anywhere in Sweden. You’ll need to make sure you are not camping near someone’s house, that you take all trash with you when you leave, and that you aren’t in a farmer’s field or garden. But other than that, you can pretty much throw your tent anywhere - as long as you do not stay longer than a single night in one location.
Food Cost in Sweden:
It is possible to eat for cheaper from outdoor street vendors - starting at 50 SEK ($6 USD) - though options might be few and far between. Your best bet for cheap food (when it comes to restaurants) will be Thai and Middle Eastern restaurants where you should find meals for around 65 SEK ($8 USD). Grocery shopping in Sweden will cost around 650 SEK ($80 USD) per week, however, if you cut down on meat and cheese ( which can be some of the most expensive items in Sweden!) you can lower your costs significantly. Some convenience stores and cafes offer pre-packaged sandwiches and meals for if you’re on the go and want a quick bite. The cheapest grocery store chain is Willy’s, but ICA and Lidl might have good deals. Whole pizzas begin around 65 SEK ($8 USD) and most nice sit-down restaurant meals begin at 200 SEK ($24 USD) for a main dish.
SWEDEN TRAVEL TIPS
While Sweden may not be the most budget-friendly destination, there are still plenty of ways to save while you’re here. It takes some work and you won’t be able to eat or drink out a lot but it can be done:
- If you have to drink, go for beer - Alcohol isn’t cheap in Sweden as it is heavily taxed but beer is relatively affordable. In a bar you might find beer priced as low as 40 SEK ($ USD) and if you buy your beer from the Systembolaget (the government-run store that sells alcohol) you can save even as much as 50%.
- Book transport in advance – If you reserve your train or bus ticket three to four weeks in advance you can save 40-50% off the intra-day prices. Swebus, SJ, and MTR are the major companies you’ll want to consider, with MTR being the cheapest train company. Flixbus is a budget-friendly option as well if you’d rather take the bus over the train.
- Use a refillable water bottle – The tap water in Sweden, as in all of Scandinavia, is perfectly drinkable. We always have our refillable water bottles with us when we travel. They save you money, are good for the environment and it’s good to ensure that you stay hydrated when travelling.
- Buy a city tourism card – These tourist passes give you access to a city’s public transportation system and free entrance into 99% of the museums and attractions. If you plan on seeing the majority of attractions and museums, these cards can save you a bundle.
- Skip the restaurants – Eating out in Sweden is very expensive, especially if you are going to a sit-down restaurant. If you want to eat out, stick to the outside food vendors you see on the street.
- Go for a lunch buffet – Lunch is the best time to eat out in Sweden as some restaurants have set meals for workers. It’s the best deal you can find and one utilized a lot by locals. Don’t miss Hermitage in Stockholm for a cozy, home cooked meal!
- Avoid clubs – Most clubs will have a cover charge.
- Get a metro card – Each region of Sweden has its own public transportation operator, and transportation cards will include buses, trams, subways, and boats. If you will be in a city for a few days, a tourist pass might offer better value.
- Check for special deal – When you’re shopping for groceries, check the flyer first and pay attention to what’s on sale.
SIGHTS & HIGHLIGHTS OF SWEDEN
- Stockholm - Tour the urban waterways, explore top-notch museums and wander the labyrinthine Old Town.
- Jukkasjärvi - Hike through wild landscapes, spot herds of reindeer, absorb Sami culture and sleep in the world-famous Ice Hotel.
- Gothenburg - Dig into the art, fashion and originality that make Sweden’s ‘second city’ first-rate.
- Visby - Join the feasting, archery and other medieval fun and frolics in this historic town.
- Kiruna - Race a dog-sled under the northern lights.
- Lake Siljan - Celebrate Midsummer in the heartland villages surrounding this lovely lake.
- Arvidsjaur - Take a car for a spin on a frozen lake.
Beautiful capital cities are no rarity in Europe, but Stockholm must surely be near the top of the list for sheer loveliness. The saffron-and-cinnamon buildings that cover its 14 islands rise starkly out of the surrounding ice-blue water, honeyed in sunlight and frostily elegant in cold weather. The city’s charms are irresistible. From its movie-set Old Town (Gamla Stan) to its ever-modern fashion sense and impeccable taste in food and design, the city acts like an immersion school in aesthetics. Although the city centre and other neighbourhoods are easily walkable, the excellent transport system, comprising trams, buses and metro, is the best way to cover the city’s more far-flung sights.
Stockholm In Two Days
Beat the crowds to the labyrinthine streets of Gamla Stan, the city’s historic old town. Watch St George wrestle the dragon inside Storkyrkan, the old-town cathedral, and join a tour of the royal palace, Kungliga Slottet. Then trek to Södermalm for dizzying views from the Söder heights. See what’s on at the photography gallery Fotografiska – you can grab a bite here, too. If the weather’s nice, party at the bars in Medborgarplatsen. Spend the next day exploring the outdoor museum Skansen.
Stockholm In Four Days
On day three take a guided boat tour of Stockholm’s waterways. Visit the impressive Vasamuseet, then stroll up to Hötorgshallen for a big bowl of fish soup and speciality-food browsing. Next day, head to Drottningholm Slott in the morning, then spend the afternoon doing what Stockholmers do best: shopkg. Start with pedestrianised Biblioteksgatan off Stureplan, then transition to Drottninggatan for souvenirs.
- Mention the archipelago to Stockholmers and prepare for gushing adulation – well-deserved, too. Buffering the city from the open Baltic Sea, it’s a mesmerising wonderland of rocky isles carpeted with deep forests and fields of wildflowers, dotted with yachts and picturesque red wooden cottages. You can see most of the islands on day trips, but it's worth staying overnight if you have the time. Most have good boat connections, provided you check timings in advance.
- There are plenty of reasons to come to Vaxholm, the most obvious being that this is the closest archipelago island to Stockholm and thus provides a charming taster to this extraordinarily diverse array of pine-clad islands and islets. Vaxholm is more than just a gateway, however. With cobbled sloping streets flanked by well-preserved wooden houses painted in candy-coloured pastels, plus a slew of excellent restaurants and idiosyncratic family-owned shops, it holds its own as a charming place to visit.
- Just 40km northwest of Stockholm, Sigtuna is one of the cutest, most historically relevant villages in the area. Founded around AD 980, it’s the oldest surviving town in Sweden, and the main drag, Storagatan, is very likely Sweden’s oldest main street. Around the year 1000, Olof Skötkonung ordered the minting of Sweden’s first coins in the town, and ancient church ruins and rune stones are scattered everywhere.
This area, the birthplace of Sweden, offers evidence of the region’s long history, including rune stones so plentiful you might stumble over them. Pre-Viking burial mounds in Gamla Uppsala light the imaginations of myth-builders and history buffs. There’s also the trip into the bowels of the earth at the old mine in Falun, which accidentally provided the red paint for all those little cottages dotting the landscape. And in Mora, the definitive Swedish king’s path towards the crown is still retraced today, by thousands of skiers each year in the Vasaloppet.
Lake Siljan Region
It's difficult to imagine that 377 million years ago the area around picturesque Lake Siljan bore the brunt of Europe’s greatest meteor impact, when a giant lump of space rock hit with the force of 500 million atomic bombs, obliterating all life and creating a 75km ring-shaped crater.
Today, the area is a picture of tranquillity just a few hours' drive from Stockholm and is close to the hearts of many Swedes for whom it's a favoured summer destination. The 354-sq-km lake and its surrounding countryside combine sparkling waters with lush green landscapes, outdoor activities galore, a rich tradition of folk arts and some of Sweden's prettiest villages. If outdoor pursuits aren't your thing, you'll be able to see Swedish folk-art Dala horses being hand painted in Nusnäs, learn about the life of one of the nation's best-loved artists, Anders Zorn, in Mora, or just relax and enjoy life in lovely Tällberg.
Skåne (Scania) is Sweden at its most continental. Connected to Denmark by bridge, its trademark mix of manors, gingerbread-style abodes and delicate, deciduous forests are a constant reminder that central Europe is just beyond the horizon. Dominating the scene is metropolitan Malmö, defined by its cosmopolitan culture and striking, twisting tower. Further out, velvety fields, sandy coastlines and stoic castles create one of Sweden’s most bucolic landscapes. Add to this the fact that Skåne is often dubbed Sweden’s larder and you have yourself one scrumptious Scandi treat. Lund is an essential day trip from Malmö and an excellent base for stays in Skåne.
- Gregarious, chilled-out Gothenburg (Göteborg) has considerable appeal for tourists and locals alike. Neoclassical architecture lines its tram-rattled streets, locals sun themselves beside canals, and there's always an interesting cultural or social event going on.
- A resort, fishing harbour and spa town, Strömstad is laced with ornate wooden buildings echoing those of nearby Norway. There are several fantastic Iron Age remains in the area, and some fine sandy beaches at Capri and Seläter. Boat trips run to the most westerly islands in Sweden, popular for cycling and swimming.
- Forward planning and Swedish design smarts stepped in at the right time to cleverly redevelop Norrköping defunct historical mills and canals into a hip posse of cultural hang-outs and Manhattan-style lofts against a backdrop of fringing waterfalls and locks. As Stockholm grapples with a high cost of living and little room for growth, nearby cities like Norrköping are coming on the radar.
- Most famous for its mighty medieval cathedral, Linköping fancies itself as Norrköping’s more upmarket rival. While quite the modern, industrial city today (manufacturer Saab is the major employer), pockets of its past survive in its churches, castle and museums and in the picture-perfect streets around Hunnebergsgatan and Storgatan.
- Vadstena is a wonderfully quiet and pretty lakeside town with a hell of a lot of charm. There's something about the place that, if you've come for a day trip, you will wish you were spending the night.
The province of Småland isn't small at all, but it occupies some 30 thousand square kilomters of dense forests, glinting lakes and bare marshlands from the Baltic Sea coast, deep into the Swedish interior. In fact, it's so big that its broken up into five smaller counties or län: Kalmar, Östergötland, Jönköpings, Kronobergs and Halland, of which Kalmar is the largest and Östergötland the most populous.
Historically, Småland served as a buffer between the Swedes and Danes who were forever having territorial tussles. Today, it's known for its Glasriket 'Kingdom of Glass' (think Orrefors and Kosta Boda glassware), the scenic Lake Vänern towns of Jönköping-Huskvarna, Gränna and Vadstena, and as the jump-off point for island explorations to Öland (from Kalmar, with its magnificent castle) and Gotland (from Oskarshamn, with its hulking ferries). From nature to history and culture, Småland has a lot to offer – plan for a few days here if you can.
Gotland is the largest island in the Baltic Sea (2994 sq km in diameter), situated off Sweden’s southeastern coast. Archaeological finds have revealed that the history of human life on the island predates the Christian tradition, stretching back some 8000 years. Sparsely populated and barely developed, considering its long history of occupation, the charm of the island is its tranquil, almost haunting, beauty.
Gotland's capital Visby, with its intact city walls, is a medieval marvel, magnificent in its authenticity. From the hilltop behind its striking cathedral, overlooking the Baltic, you could easily believe you were somewhere in the Mediterranean, or if you've an active imagination, that you've slipped way back in the annals of time. Come for Medieval Week, when everyone dresses the part, and it's even easier to believe.
Outside Visby, wheels are essential for exploring the island's diverse landscapes – sandy shores, grassy meadows, secluded coves and historical hamlets.
In Norrland, the northern half of Sweden, the population is sparse – reindeer outnumber cars, and much of the landscape consists of deep-green forest. It’s a paradise for nature lovers who enjoy hiking, skiing and other outdoor activities; in winter in particular, the landscape is transformed by snowmobiles, dog-sleds and the eerie aurora borealis. The north is home to the Sami people, and it’s possible to take part in traditional Sami pastimes, such as reindeer herding.
- Infamous among certain naughty youngsters because its name sounds a lot like a Swedish swear word, Gävle (Yerv-luh) is a lively university town that’s been a prosperous industrial centre since the late 19th century, when it exported local timber and iron.
- Your first views of central Sundsvall may be one of the most pleasant (or mind-boggling) surprises of your visit to the Bothnian coast. Its main appeal lies less in any one specific sight than in the Bothnian Coast's most cosmopolitan city as a whole, complete with highly strollable boulevards and a clutch of great restaurants.
- The Höga Kusten stretches from north of Härnösand to Örnsköldsvik, and it’s a wonderful area for scenic drives along narrow, twisty roads, though you can't really say that you know the Höga Kusten without visiting its tranquil islands.
- Östersund is remote enough that if you are approaching by car, you can expect to see almost as many reindeer as cars. This pleasant town by Lake Storsjon, in whose chilly waters is said to lurk a rarely sighted monster, is a relaxed and scenic gateway town for further explorations of Norrland.
- Beautifully situated in a mountain valley by the shores of Åresjön lake, Åre is Sweden’s most popular skiing resort and visitors invade the village during the December-to-May skiing season. Things don't drop off much for summer though, as this small village is taking on the mantle of the adventure capital of Sweden.
- A youthful college town, Umeå has a long and fascinating history. The town was founded in 1622, and was home to the indigenous Sami people whom visitors can learn about at a couple of excellent museums.
- The capital of Sami culture, and the biggest handicraft centre in Lappland, Jokkmokk (meaning 'river bend' in Sami) not only has the definitive Sami museum but is also the site of a huge annual winter market gathering.
- The tiny village of Jukkasjärvi is 20km east of Kiruna, 200km north of the Arctic Circle, and is surrounded by lakes, fir trees and reindeer. It is also home to one of Sweden’s most famous attractions: the extraordinary Icehotel.
- Scarred by mine works, the ‘current’ Kiruna may not be the most aesthetically appealing city, but it's a friendly place with the highest concentration of lodgings and restaurants in the northwestern corner of Sweden. Its proximity to great stretches of hikeable wilderness and the proliferation of winter activities make it an excellent base.
- Easy access to spectacular scenery makes Abisko one of the highlights of any trip to Lappland. Hiking is the big draw here – trails are varied in both distance and terrain, and while most people come here to tackle part (or all) of the 450km-long Kungsleden.
WHAT TO PACK FOR SWEDEN
WHAT TO EAT IN SWEDEN
While new-generation Swedish chefs thrive on experimentation and inventive creations, Swedish cuisine retains firm roots in its culinary heritage. There's still appreciation for traditional offerings such as toast skagen (toast with bleak roe, crème fraiche and chopped red onion) and köttbullar och potatis (meatballs and potatoes, usually served with lingonberry jam, or lingonsylt).
Seafood staples include caviar, gravlax (cured salmon) and the ubiquitous sill (herring), eaten smoked, fried or pickled and often accompanied by capers, mustard and onion. The most contentious traditional food is the pungent surströmming (fermented Baltic herring), traditionally eaten in August and September in a slice of tunnbröd (thin, unleavened bread) with boiled potato and onions and ample amounts of snaps.
In the north of Sweden, the bounty of the wilderness enhances the menu, from reindeer and elk steak and Arctic char (fish) to mushrooms and berries (including cloudberry-based desserts).
LGBTQ IN SWEDEN
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) rights in Sweden are regarded as some of the most progressive in Europe and in the world. Same-sex sexual activity was already legalised in 1944 and same-sex marriage in Sweden has been legal since 1 May 2009, making Sweden the seventh country in the world to open marriage to same-sex couples nationwide.
In 2019, Sweden was the most predominantly LGBTQ accepting country in the EU and proudly hosts the annual Stockholm Pride Festival.