Sweden is a Scandinavian country located in northern Europe, bordered by Norway to the west, and the Gulf of Bothnia and the Baltic Sea to the east. In the waters off of the eastern coast are thousands of small islands. It is connected to Denmark, its southern neighbor, by the Öresund Bridge. It is one of the largest countries by land in Europe, with large expanses of pristine natural environment characterized by forests, lakes, and rivers. 53% of Sweden’s land area is covered by forest, home to a variety of wild animals including moose, lynx, bears, wolves, foxes, and boars, to name only a few. A large number of migratory birds can be spotted in the winter, and fish thrive on the coast and in the many lakes.
According to the Swedish right known as Allemansrätten (Right of Public Access), people can wander freely on open land, and through forests, picking berries, hiking, and camping. Most of Sweden’s population live in cities, the largest of which are Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Malmö.
Situated on 14 islands, Stockholm is surely one of Europe’s most fascinating cities. All within the parameters of Sweden’s capital, sometimes referred to as the “Venice of the North,” lie a medieval old town (Gamla Stan), a modern metropolis teeming with fashionable shops, upscale restaurants, a trendy and diverse population, historic buildings, open parks, and gorgeous sea views. In addition to these interesting juxtapositions, Stockholm even has its very own National Park – Tyresta National Park – a vast area of unspoilt beauty just 20 kilometers from the city center. Stockholm is where most visitors first arrive, but truly it is only the beginning – and a grand one at that – to what lies beyond.
Just 20 minutes from the city begins the stunning archipelago, a stretch of nearly 30,000 islands extending into the Baltic Sea, which visitors can explore on foot, by bicycle, kayak, or by boat.
In northern Sweden is Lapland, home to the native Sami people, where a deep rooted culture is kept alive by these once nomadic people who still herd reindeer, wear traditional clothing, and maintain a strong oral tradition.
Nature is an integral part of the Swedish experience, for both the visitor and Swedes alike. There are ample opportunities for hiking, camping, fishing, boating, cycling, skiing, snowmobiling, and outdoor exploring. There is plenty of daylight for these experiences too, as during the summer months daylight hours can extend for nearly 24 hours at a time (indeed, in some places the sun shines for days on end).
Swedes appreciate nature and love to enjoy their beautiful surroundings. The country is sparsely populated outside of the cities, and almost everyone takes time to enjoy the slow pace of the countryside during their holiday breaks. Swedes are known for their smart fashion sense and efficiency, as well as their love of nature and ability to relax and enjoy life when the work is done. They are reasonable, kind and welcoming, and though they may not pour open their heart or their home to you upon first greeting, those who stick around and explore a little will be rewarded with a most unique and memorable experience.
The majority of the population is of Swedish ethnicity. There are also a large number of immigrants, and an ethnic Sami population. Approximately 200 ethnic groups are represented within a total population of 9.7 million.
The native Sami people have lived in what is now Sweden for hundreds of years. They reside mostly in the northern area, in Lapland, where they practice a traditional lifestyle, with reindeer herding as the central activity and livelihood. Many also fish and hunt, and some groups also sell handicrafts (duodji) and host small tourism ventures. They have a strong presence in Swedish society and maintain their culture through the passing on of knowledge from generation to generation. Many Sami dress in the traditional folk costume – kolt or gákti – which varies by region. Both children and adults wear this traditional clothing, which usually includes a hat, mittens, a wide skirt for the women, and sometimes a belt. Common colors are blue, red, yellow and green.
Besides the Sami people who mostly reside in sparsely populated Lapland, most Swedes live in cities, with Stockholm being the most highly populated. This is in contrast to say, a hundred years ago, when Sweden was largely a rural and agrarian society.
Even among city dwellers, Swedes maintain a deep appreciation for nature, and spend much time outdoors. Many children grow up picking lingonberries (the favored condiment to Swedish meatballs and so many other dishes), and many holidays are celebrated outdoors in nature. Midsummer’s Eve, for example, is celebrated at the end of June, when people all over Sweden depart for the countryside to pick wild flowers which they assemble into beautiful wreathes before dancing around a maypole in an open meadow. In August, Swede’s host crayfish parties outdoors. Picnics and day trips into the countryside, to the forests or lakes, are a regular part of Swedish life.
Swedish society values equality and well-being. There is an emphasis on environment and sustainability. Swede’s are generally not openly emotional or extroverted, and while hospitality is important, it can be somewhat formal in practice. Swede’s believe in moderation and balance. In business they are direct and to the point, and punctuality and organization are very important. They pay relatively high taxes, though the government in turn provides excellent health care and welfare services.
Swedish food is more than Swedish meatballs and Smörgåsbord, though both are classic components to the traditional cuisine. Swedish meatballs, usually prepared with a velvety mixture of veal, pork and beef, are served with rich gravy, and with potatoes and lingonberries or lingonberry jam on the side.
Smörgåsbord refers to a spread of cured meats, bread (such as rye), cracker bread, pickled vegetables, and spreads such as mustard and fresh butter. This is a customary way of eating, which is popular in both Sweden and in neighboring countries, where other names refer to a similar spread. Items vary and often include cured salmon or other fish, herring, seasonal vegetables, and pungent sauces and dips.
Dill is a popular fresh herb, and dairy is prevalent in the Swedish diet in the form of yogurt, cream, butter, cheese and milk or filmjölk (fermented milk).
Reindeer is a popular meat in the north, where the native Sami people have herded reindeer for generations. It can be roasted and enjoyed with a simple sauce – or cured, smoked, or pickled, thus preserving the meat for months at a time.
In August, Swedes gather to celebrate the kräftskiva or crayfish party, indulging in fresh crayfish prepared with dill. This crayfish party is usually hosted outdoors, picnic style, and often includes copious amounts of aquavit (akvavit), schnapps, and drinking songs.
Strong coffee served with sweet breads, coffeecake, pastries or rich buns (sometimes deliciously enriched with saffron and raisins) is a daily ritual for many Swedes.
Currency is the krona. 1 krona = 100 öre. Major credit cards are generally accepted in big cities and tourist areas. Cash is wise to have on hand for traveling around the country, if staying in boutique hotels, and for small exchanges.
Most major European and North American airlines offer regular flights to Sweden. The main international airport is in Stockholm (Stockholm Arlanda). There are also several other smaller airports, including at least two budget airlines that operate out of Sweden (Stockholm Skavsta and Göteborg City). Another option, particularly useful if you plan to explore southern Sweden, is to fly into Copenhagen and enter Sweden via the Öresund Bridge, which connects the two countries.
Public transportation within Sweden is efficient and well organized (buses, tram, trains). Cycling is also a popular mode of transport. Cyclists will find the country very bicycle friendly.
Swedish is the official language. A few minority languages are also spoken, including Finnish and Sami. Many Swedes also speak English well, as it is taught in primary and secondary schools. Many also have at least a basic understanding of one or two other languages.
Health standards in Sweden are good. The health care system is very good, with most necessary medical services covered by state taxes (for residents). There are plenty of adequate clinics and dispensaries should you require assistance during your time in Sweden. Water is safe to drink, food is hygienic, and it is generally a very clean and healthy destination. Some crime exists in the bigger cities, so it’s wise to inquire with the locals when you arrive as to which areas may be smart to avoid.
Residents of EU countries and from the U.S., New Zealand, Australia, and Canada generally do not need a visa for visiting Sweden, and can stay in the country for up to 90 days with a valid passport (citizens of Finland, Denmark, Norway, and Iceland can stay longer). Other travelers may require a tourist visa.
When to Go
Winter is a wonderful time to visit Sweden for winter sports such as snowmobiling and skiing, though beware the days (daylight hours) can be very short, and getting around can be a bit more difficult during this time than in the busy summer season.
A great time to visit for comfortable weather and plenty of activities is from late Spring through early Fall. The midsummer months of June through August are popular for travelers from abroad and Swedes on holiday. Hotels will be most crowded during this time, though there are also plenty of discounted hotel rates during this ‘peak season’. The daylight hours are long in summer, with some places receiving continuous daylight for days on end.
Swedes are known for their good style sense. The streets of Stockholm are lined with designer stores, and the pedestrians are well dressed. Travelers will want to pack according to the season. If traveling during the winter months, pack plenty of warm winter clothing. During the summer temperatures are generally warm and pleasant with plenty of sunshine, with the exception of some areas which have snow year round.
The west, and the south of Sweden are generally warmer than the north. In Lapland, in northern Sweden, temperatures can be incredibly cold (well below freezing) for months on end during the winter. Travelers should be well prepared for such temperatures to avoid hypothermia.
Hikers may want to bring many light layers, both to be prepared for temperature variations, and to protect themselves against mosquitos, flies, and other insects, which are especially prevalent during the summer months (June-July).
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