Sweden is our Country of the Week. Perhaps known by some simply for Vikings, Ikea, meatballs and its beautiful inhabitants this Scandinavian country has so much more to offer. Sweden has been consistently rated as one of the best countries in the world to live in, and counts itself among Europe’s most prosperous countries so it is no wonder that it has become one of Europe’s top tourist destinations.
Sweden was once a military powerhouse but fought its last war about 200 years ago. Today the inhabitants of Scandinavia’s largest country prefer to fill their days with skiing, saunas, fine dining, art, culture, and, of course, hockey. Over 85% of Swedes speak English which is about the same number of English speakers in Canada – so asking for directions and making friends with the locals shouldn’t be too difficult.
Sweden is roughly split into three regions: Norrland which encompasses the northern 2/3 of the country; Svealand, a narrow strip in the middle of the country which includes Stockholm; and Götaland which covers the remaining southern portion of the country, including Malmo.
Sweden has mild summers and frigid winters so most tourists prefer the summer months to explore this exciting country. If you do choose to visit in winter then you’ll be able to enjoy skiing, skating, ice fishing, and warming up in country’s cozy pubs and restaurants. Swedes are fond of meatballs, pickled herring and other hearty meals that are sure to stave off the cold. If a filling Swedish meal can’t warm you up, or if you just want to experience the nightlife, then a shot of Absolut Vodka – one of Sweden’s most popular exports – is a local favourite.
What to see and what to do
Stockholm is routinely ranked as one of world’s most beautiful cities. It’s packed with a millennia of history and Swedes like to boast that the country’s biggest city has all the amenities of a major metropolis without the downsides. On the forefront of technology, fashion and culture, Stockholm is a clean modern city with old world charm. Stretching out into the Baltic is the Stockholm archipelago, made up of 30 000 islands which can be reached via the city’s iconic white boats for trips lasting an afternoon, a day or even longer.
Drottningholm Palace sits around 11km west of Stockholm – about a 45 min boat ride – on the island of Lovö. The palace is the official home of the Swedish royal family and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Vassa museum
The Vassa museum, Sweden’s most popular museum, is located near Stockholm. Since it opened in 1990 the museum has been enjoyed by more than 20 million guests. The centerpiece of this museum is The Vassa, a battleship which sunk in the early 17th century but remained preserved by the icy waters until it was salvaged and displayed in 1961. The ship now sits largely intact inside the museum on display.
The Stockholm Subway
That’s right, one of Sweden’s most popular tourist destinations is Stockholm’s subway, described as “the world’s longest art exhibit” full of paintings, mosaics, sculptures and installations.The subway’s bedrock walls and ceilings have been graced by some of Europe’s best artists since the 1950’s. Today, more than 90 subway stops stretching over 110 km have been elaborately adorned by artists.
Liseberg Theme Park
With nearly 3 million annual visitors Liseberg is one of Sweden’s most popular attractions. Home to all of the rides, stalls, shows and fun of amusement parks around the world with a tinge of Swedish charm this theme park is a great choice for visitors – especially those with kids.
Malmö and Skåne
Malmö is the largest city in Skåne and is known as one of Sweden’s most vibrant, multicultural urban centers. Reflective Malmö’s bohemian nature is the fact that it was the country’s first ‘fair trade’ city, so you can enjoy guilt free shopping and dining. Some of the country’s best organic restaurants are spread throughout Malmö.
About 15 minutes from the Malmö city center is the Oresund Bridge which connects Sweden to Copenhagen, Denmark and, therefore the rest of Europe. The bridge became a modern marvel when it was completed in 1999 and has become the subject of a hit Swedish/Danish television program appropriately called ‘The Bridge’.
Also in Skåne sits Lund Cathedral. Built by the Danish King Canute IV in the late 10th century, the awe-inspiring holy site is Sweden’s oldest Romanesque building. Sweden is often associated with Vodka but you may be surprised to learn that the country has begun to produce wine from grapes grown in vineyards in Skåne!
Lapland occupies Sweden’s northernmost point and is home to the country’s most northern city: Kiruna. Bordering Finland and Norway, Kiruna is a Nordic melting pot which enjoys daylight running until midnight (or later!) from May to mid-July. Just over 15 km away sits Jukkasjärvi, home of the world’s first ice hotel.
100km west of Kiruna is Abisko National Park, showcasing some of the most pristine and stunning Nordic landscapes on offer. Abisko is the perfect place to hike and camp under the midnight sun or see the northern lights in all their glory.
How much does it cost?
Flying into Stockholm is generally cheaper than other major European cities, but a round trip from Pearson would still likely cost over a grand. Despite being part of the EU Sweden has retained its own independent currency – the Swedish krona. Swedes enjoy a high standard of living but this comes at a price. Expect to spend around $170 per day (or $70 for a budget traveler and about $400 for a luxury vacation) including a minimum of around $80 for accommodation (unless you couchsurf or rent an apartment with some friends) and $40 a day on food if you eat out. Most of Sweden’s major cities and tourist attractions are on the southern third of the country but transportation can still be expensive within and between cities so expect to spend about $50 per day on transportation. Visiting Sweden doesn’t have to be very expensive if you stick to a budget. The Swedish government recommends that tourists sign up for a Stockholm Card in order to gain free access to over 80 museums and attractions and free public transit.
Health and Safety
Sweden is one of the worlds safest countries. As long as you exercise the same degree of caution that you would here in Canada then you’ll be fine! None of Sweden’s cities have ‘bad’ neighborhoods but in the country be aware that moose pose a danger to drivers.
From Stockholm to Malmo to Lapland, Sweden is packed full of history, culture, museums and tourist attractions. It may be a bit more pricey than other European destinations but Sweden’s charm, stunning scenery and high quality of life make it a must-see!
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