When the last Ice Age finally melted across Sweden 8,000 years ago, it revealed an incredible jagged, dramatic land full of lakes and streams, sweeping coniferous forests, mountains, glaciers and fjords. Along its 7,000 kilometre coastline there are five main archipelagos containing thousands of tiny islands. Capital Stockholm counts around 24,000 islands in its picturesque archipelago.
Combine these epic landscapes with surprisingly vibrant cities, beautiful, medieval villages and sunny (in summer at least) beaches and you have a country well worth visiting. A sixth of the country is above the Arctic Circle which tourists visit in summer to experience the midnight sun and in winter to see the magical Northern Lights. Not to mention a reindeer-sleigh visit to meet Father Christmas in Lapland for families.
Getting there/getting around Sweden
Ryanair has flights to Stockholm, Vaxjo, Malmo and Gothenburg from London and in some cases, Glasgow. Scheduled airlines that fly to Sweden include BA and SAS. Oresund Suspension Bridge connects Malmo to Danish capital Copenhagen so those wishing to drive through Europe can get to Sweden more easily. There are ferries from Newcastle to Gothenburg if you wanted to take your car away with you.
Getting around large cities like Stockholm, Malmo and Gothenburg is easy with public transport. If you want to explore the large distances of the north or visit a couple of cities you could look at hiring a car, or consider the extensive rail network which would allow you to better enjoy the remarkable scenery. You can also explore by boat, a popular mode of transport for many Swedes.
Beaches in Sweden
With so much coastline, so many islands and so many lakes, Sweden is not short of beaches. Couple this with the surprisingly warm summers and you have the perfect recipe for a beach holiday. Beaches in Sweden include the islands of Gotland and Oland, most popular with Swedes for their long hours of sunshine. Consequently, they do tend to get crowded in summer.
The 250-mile Golden Coast from Laholm to Stromstead has flat, sandy beaches, scatted with rocks and pretty meadow encircled fjord-like inlets. Halland is a long, skinny province stretching out along the picturesque west coast with miles of pine-fringed sandy beaches. The province of Bohuslan has an irregular coastline dotted with islands and beaches.
Sightseeing in Sweden
Stockholm has been described as Europe’s most picturesque capital city and is a captivating mix of medieval and modern architecture spread across 14 islands linked by numerous bridges. It’s easy to explore on foot or you can take a boat trip around the different islands. Start your exploration in historic Gamla Stan (the old town) where you’ll find the imposing Royal Palace, Storkyrkan, the city’s 13th century cathedral and royal museums like Livrustkammaren (Armoury) and Skattkammaren (Treasury). Or simply wander around its medieval streets which are packed with tiny shops, restaurants and bars.
Fjallgatan in Sodermalm district is a picturesque street that offers great views of the city. In Skansen there is an amazing open-air museum of historic Sweden, while the The Vasa Museum on pretty Djurgarden Island showcases a perfectly preserved 17th century warship.
To get a feel for the more compact and eclectic city of Gothenburg, wander down Kungsportsavenyn (Avenyn), a long pedestrianised parade of al fresco restaurants, bars and street vendors. Museums include Konstmuseet, a collection of contemporary modern art and Stadsmuseum, which has the country’s only Viking ship. Modernists will enjoy the riverside Opera building and red and white Skanska House, while traditionalists can take a boat out to the Alvsborgs Fastning fortress, built in the 17th century to protect against Danish invasion.
Malmo is a cultural centre of learning with a world-renowned symphony orchestra, art gallerys, beautiful parks and a popular annual summer festival. The island of Gotland has more than 100 medieval churches and the walled town of Visby is listed by UNESCO. Lapland has beautiful mountain scenery and is the place to experience Sami culture, while Kiruna, the most northerly Swedish town is where most tourists fly to to pay Father Christmas a visit.
Family attractions in Sweden
Sweden’s most visited tourist attraction is Liseberg amusement park in Gothenburg which has 35 adrenaline-pumping rides including Balder, named the best wooden rollercoaster in the world. At the Universeum science and technology museum families can explore the underwater worlds of the Baltic Sea.
Younger visitors will enjoy Stockholm’s Junibacken, with its storybook worlds of iconic Swedish children’s author, Astrid Lindgren (of Pippi Longstocking fame).
Day trips around Sweden
Visit the famous Ice Hotel which is rebuilt every year in Jukkasjarvi near Kiruna, go hiking, cross country skiing or climbing in major mountain resorts such as Abisko, Bjorkliden and Riksgransen or visit one of the country’s many national parks to experience the beauty of untouched wildernesses. These include Abisko, which has 440 kilometres of marked trails and Sarek, intersected by the bright green glacial Rapapaato River and is full of moose, bear, lynx and wolverine.
Take a boat trip out to Stockholm or Gothenburg’s picturesque archipelagos to drink in the magnificent scenery and spot wildlife.
Eating out in Sweden
Traditional Swedish food is based around sea food so you’ll find all sort of fish, pickled and cured in numerous ways. Pickled herrings, gravlax (salmon marinated with dill), potato salads and meatballs (kottbullar) will all be served up if you go for a traditional (albeit slightly outdated) smorgesbord (buffet). A quick and filling fast food that is incredibly popuar in Sweden is tunnbrodrulle, a thin tortilla filled with mashed potato, hot dog, salad and various sauces, it’s much yummier than it sounds.
Foodies should take time to visit the famous fish market in Gothenburg, which is housed in a church-like building on Rosenlundsgaten, where there are several places to eat. Food can be expensive so look out for ‘dagens ratt’ (meal of the day) which is an inexpensive, wholesome choice aimed at locals.
Nightlife in Sweden
There are countless bars and clubs, some with live bands, in Sweden’s main cities although bear in mind that alcohol is very expensive and you could pay up to £7 for a pint of lager and £30 for a mediocre bottle of wine.
Stockholm has a fantastic variety of bars and clubs. Sodermalm just south of the city centre has a young, bohemian feel to it, while bigger night clubs can be found around Kungsgatan and Stureplan. The latter has a trendy, preppy vibe and you can sometimes spot Princess Madeleine (third in line to the Swedish throne) out there. In Gothenburg, everyone heads to Avenyn of an evening to eat, drink and be merry. The only place you can buy wine and spirits over the counter is in state-owned shops called Systembolaget.
Shopping in Sweden
Swedish shops are great for clothes and there are numerous home-grown H&Ms in bigger towns plus plenty of Ikeas if you want to stock up on cheap home decor. Gothenburg has Norstan, the largest indoor shopping centre in Sweden for when it’s a bit nippy outside. Otherwise hit the antique halls of Vastra Hamngatan 6 for some classic Swedish folk art and simple furniture pieces.
In Stockholm, touristy shopping with lots of cheap and not-so-cheap souvenirs can be found in Gamla Stan, or head to Sodermalm for genuine curio and antique shops. Big department stores include NK, Ahlens and PUB, and shopping arcades include Gallerian and Sturegallerian. The H&M flagship store is found on Hamngatan.