Sweden Travel Guide – Everything You Need to Know

Sweden, a Scandinavian gem nestled in Northern Europe, is a captivating destination known for its stunning natural landscapes, rich history, and modern urban centers. From the pristine lakes and dense forests of the north to the vibrant cities of Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Malmö in the south, Sweden offers a diverse range of experiences for travelers. Whether you’re seeking outdoor adventures like hiking and skiing, cultural immersion in historic towns and museums, or simply a taste of Swedish hospitality and cuisine, this enchanting country has something to offer every visitor. Explore Sweden’s picturesque archipelagos, embrace the concept of “lagom” (the Swedish philosophy of balance), and embark on a journey through a land where tradition and innovation coexist harmoniously. Welcome to Sweden, where the beauty of nature meets the modernity of Scandinavian living.

What’s the Best Time to Visit? 📅

The best time to visit Sweden as a tourist largely depends on your interests and the type of experience you seek. Sweden experiences distinct seasons, each offering unique attractions:

  1. Summer (June to August):
  • Best for: Outdoor activities, festivals, and sightseeing.
  • Summer is the most popular time to visit Sweden. The weather is mild, with long daylight hours, making it perfect for exploring the stunning landscapes, hiking, biking, and water activities. The famous Swedish “Allemansrätten” (right of public access) allows you to camp and enjoy the outdoors freely.
  • Midsummer’s Eve (around June 21) is a significant Swedish holiday celebrated with traditional festivities, including dancing around maypoles.
  1. Autumn (September to November):
  • Best for: Fall foliage, cultural experiences, and fewer crowds.
  • Autumn in Sweden is marked by beautiful foliage, making it an ideal time for nature lovers and photographers. The crisp air and fewer tourists provide a tranquil atmosphere for exploring cities, museums, and historic sites.
  1. Winter (December to February):
  • Best for: Winter sports, Northern Lights, and holiday festivities.
  • If you enjoy winter activities like skiing, ice skating, or dog sledding, visit Sweden during the winter months. The northern parts of Sweden offer opportunities to witness the mesmerizing Northern Lights. Christmas markets and holiday celebrations add a festive touch to your visit.
  1. Spring (March to May):
  • Best for: Wildlife watching, cultural events, and milder weather.
  • Spring in Sweden brings the awakening of nature, with flowers blooming and wildlife becoming active. It’s an excellent time for birdwatching and seeing migrating birds along the coasts. Cultural events and exhibitions often kick off in the spring.
  1. Northern Lights Season (September to March):
  • Best for: Aurora borealis enthusiasts.
  • If your primary goal is to witness the Northern Lights, plan your visit during the dark, clear nights of autumn, winter, and early spring in northern Sweden, such as Abisko or Kiruna.

Keep in mind that Sweden is a vast country, and weather conditions can vary significantly from north to south. Coastal areas are milder due to the influence of the Gulf Stream, while the northern interior experiences colder temperatures. Be sure to pack appropriate clothing and plan your activities based on the season you choose for your visit. Ultimately, Sweden offers something special in every season, so the best time to visit depends on your preferences and interests.

What’s the Best Way to Get Around? 🚌

Getting around Sweden as a tourist is relatively straightforward, thanks to the country’s efficient and well-connected transportation network. Here are the best ways to get around Sweden:

  1. Public Transportation:
  • Trains: Sweden’s train system is extensive and efficient, making it one of the most convenient ways to travel between major cities like Stockholm, Gothenburg, Malmö, and Uppsala. High-speed trains, such as the X2000, offer comfort and speed.
  • Buses: Regional and long-distance buses connect cities and towns that may not have direct train routes. Bus travel can be a cost-effective way to explore the country’s diverse regions.
  • Local Transport: In cities like Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Malmö, efficient local public transportation systems include trams, buses, and subway systems.
  1. Car Rentals:
  • Renting a car is an excellent option for exploring Sweden’s more remote areas, including the countryside and national parks. The road infrastructure is excellent, and roads are well-maintained. Just be prepared for tolls on some highways and remember that driving in winter conditions requires special care.
  1. Bicycles:
  • Sweden is a bike-friendly country with numerous dedicated bike lanes and cycling routes. In cities, you can rent bicycles for short trips, while in some regions, like Gotland, bike rentals are an excellent way to explore.
  1. Ferries and Boats:
  • Sweden’s extensive coastline and archipelagos make ferry and boat travel popular for island hopping and exploring coastal regions. Ferries connect Stockholm to the Stockholm Archipelago and nearby islands.
  1. Domestic Flights:
  • For long distances within Sweden, domestic flights can be an option, especially for reaching the northernmost parts of the country. Airports are well-connected to major cities.
  1. Swedish Rail Pass:
  • If you plan to travel extensively by train, consider purchasing a Swedish Rail Pass. This pass allows unlimited travel on Sweden’s train network for a specified duration.
  1. Taxi and Ride-Sharing:
  • Taxis are available in cities and towns, but they can be expensive. Ride-sharing services like Uber are also available in some cities.
  1. Walking:
  • Many cities, especially Stockholm’s old town (Gamla Stan), are pedestrian-friendly. Walking is a great way to explore historic areas and take in the local culture.

When traveling around Sweden, consider using a combination of transportation methods that best suit your itinerary. Public transportation is efficient, especially between major cities, but having a car or bicycle can offer flexibility and access to more remote areas. Additionally, be sure to check the schedules and availability of transportation options, especially if you plan to visit during peak tourist seasons.

What’s the Official Language?

The official language of Sweden is Swedish. While many Swedes, especially in urban areas, speak English fluently, it’s always appreciated when tourists make an effort to learn a few basic Swedish phrases. Here are some useful Swedish words and phrases for tourists:

  1. Hello – Hej (pronounced “hey”)
  2. Good morning – God morgon
  3. Good afternoon – God eftermiddag
  4. Good evening – God kväll
  5. Goodbye – Hej då
  6. Please – Snälla (used when making a polite request)
  7. Thank you – Tack
  8. Yes – Ja
  9. No – Nej
  10. Excuse me – Ursäkta mig
  11. I’m sorry – Förlåt
  12. Do you speak English? – Talar du engelska?
  13. How much is this? – Hur mycket kostar det här?
  14. Where is the restroom? – Var är toaletten?
  15. I need help – Jag behöver hjälp
  16. Food – Mat
  17. Water – Vatten
  18. Beer – Öl
  19. Coffee – Kaffe
  20. Menu – Meny
  21. Bill/check – Nota
  22. Hotel – Hotell
  23. Taxi – Taxi
  24. Train – Tåg
  25. Bus – Buss
  26. Airport – Flygplats
  27. Hospital – Sjukhus
  28. Police – Polis
  29. Help! – Hjälp!
  30. I don’t understand – Jag förstår inte

Swedes are generally appreciative when tourists try to communicate in Swedish, even if it’s just a few basic words. However, you’ll find that English is widely spoken and understood in Sweden, so you should have no trouble getting by with English alone.

Where to Stay? 🏨

Sweden offers a wide range of accommodation options to suit every traveler’s preferences and budget. Here are some popular types of accommodations and places to stay in Sweden:

  1. Hotels: Sweden has a variety of hotels ranging from budget-friendly options to luxury establishments. Major cities like Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Malmö have numerous hotels in different price ranges.
  2. Hostels: Hostels are a cost-effective choice for budget travelers. They are common in cities and tourist areas and offer dormitory-style and private rooms.
  3. Bed and Breakfast (B&B): B&Bs provide a more personal and cozy experience. They are often located in charming countryside settings or historic towns.
  4. Vacation Rentals: You can find vacation rentals, such as apartments and cottages, on websites like Airbnb and Vrbo. This option is great for those who prefer more space and the ability to cook their meals.
  5. Camping: Sweden’s Right of Public Access (Allemansrätten) allows you to camp in many natural areas, provided you follow the rules and respect the environment. There are also organized campgrounds and caravan parks.
  6. Rural Retreats: Experience the tranquility of the Swedish countryside by staying at a rural retreat or farm stay. These accommodations often offer a chance to interact with local hosts and experience rural life.
  7. Treehouses and Unique Lodgings: Sweden offers unique accommodations like treehouses, igloos, and cabins in picturesque locations, such as the Treehotel in Harads.
  8. Lodges and Wilderness Cabins: In remote and wilderness areas, you can find lodges and cabins that provide access to outdoor activities like hiking, fishing, and skiing.
  9. Ice Hotels: In places like Jukkasjärvi, you can stay in an ice hotel during the winter months, a truly unique and immersive experience.
  10. Historic Hotels: Sweden has a rich history, and you can find historic hotels in old castles, manors, and former industrial buildings.
  11. Luxury Resorts: If you’re looking for luxury, Sweden has high-end resorts and spa hotels, particularly in scenic locations like the Stockholm Archipelago or the Swedish Lapland.
  12. Budget Chain Hotels: International budget hotel chains like ibis, Scandic, and Clarion Collection have a presence in Sweden’s major cities.

Where you choose to stay in Sweden will depend on your interests, budget, and the regions you plan to visit. In major cities, you’ll find a wide array of options, while rural areas offer unique opportunities for quiet retreats and outdoor adventures. Be sure to book accommodations in advance, especially during the peak summer tourist season, to secure your preferred choice.

What to Eat? 🍽️

Swedish cuisine offers a unique blend of flavors and traditional dishes that reflect the country’s culture and heritage. While in Sweden, be sure to try these must-try foods and dishes:

  1. Swedish Meatballs (Köttbullar): Perhaps the most famous Swedish dish, meatballs are made from a mixture of ground meat (usually a combination of beef and pork) seasoned with spices like allspice and served with lingonberry sauce and creamy gravy. They are often accompanied by potatoes and lingonberry jam.
  2. Herring (Sill): Herring is a staple of Swedish cuisine and comes in a variety of pickled and marinated preparations. Try it with different flavored sauces, onions, and crispbread.
  3. Gravlax: This is a type of salmon dish where raw salmon is cured with a mixture of sugar, salt, and dill. It’s thinly sliced and typically served with mustard sauce and rye bread.
  4. Smörgåsbord: A traditional Swedish buffet, the smörgåsbord features an array of dishes, including herring, cured meats, cheeses, bread, and various hot and cold dishes. It’s a quintessential Swedish dining experience.
  5. Surströmming: For the adventurous eater, try surströmming, fermented herring. It has a strong odor but is a unique delicacy often eaten with soft flatbread, potatoes, and onions.
  6. Pea Soup (Ärtsoppa): This thick and hearty soup is a favorite lunch dish, especially on Thursdays, served with a dollop of mustard and often accompanied by pancakes with lingonberry jam.
  7. Pitepalt: Hailing from northern Sweden, pitepalt are dumplings made from grated raw potatoes and filled with a mix of fatty pork and onion. They are typically served with lingonberry sauce and butter.
  8. Swedish Caviar (Kalles Kaviar): A popular breakfast item, Kalles Kaviar is a creamy fish roe spread often eaten on crispbread or sandwiches.
  9. Crayfish (Kräftor): Crayfish parties are a Swedish tradition in late summer when Swedes gather to eat crayfish, often boiled in dill and served with bread and cheese.
  10. Cloudberries (Hjortron): Try cloudberries, a unique Swedish berry, in desserts like cloudberry jam or served with ice cream.
  11. Kanelbulle: These cinnamon buns are a beloved Swedish pastry. They’re often enjoyed with a cup of coffee or tea and are perfect for a fika, a Swedish coffee break.
  12. Prinsesstårta: This iconic Swedish cake consists of layers of sponge cake, pastry cream, and whipped cream, all topped with a green marzipan layer.
  13. Reindeer Meat: In northern Sweden, you can savor dishes made from reindeer meat, such as reindeer stew or smoked reindeer.
  14. Västerbotten Cheese (Västerbottensost): A tangy and flavorful cheese from the Västerbotten region, this cheese is often used in savory dishes and salads.
  15. Wild Mushrooms: In late summer and early autumn, try dishes featuring wild mushrooms, such as chanterelles and porcini.

Don’t forget to pair these dishes with traditional Swedish beverages like snaps (aquavit), Swedish beer, and lingonberry juice. Exploring Swedish cuisine is an integral part of experiencing the country’s culture and traditions.

What to See? 🔍

Sweden boasts a wealth of must-see places that encompass stunning natural landscapes, historic cities, and cultural attractions. Here are some of the top must-see places in Sweden for tourists:

  1. Stockholm: Sweden’s capital and largest city, Stockholm is known for its picturesque archipelago, historic old town (Gamla Stan), and modern attractions. Must-see sites include the Royal Palace, Vasa Museum, Skansen open-air museum, and the ABBA Museum.
  2. Gotland: Located in the Baltic Sea, Gotland is Sweden’s largest island and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Explore the charming medieval town of Visby, known for its well-preserved city walls and cobblestone streets.
  3. Kiruna and Icehotel: Located in Swedish Lapland, Kiruna offers a unique experience with opportunities for Northern Lights viewing and ice-related activities. The Icehotel, made entirely of ice and snow, is a remarkable place to stay.
  4. Swedish Lapland: This northern region is a winter wonderland offering dog sledding, snowmobiling, and the chance to stay in cozy cabins. Visit the Icehotel, take a dip in an ice bath, and experience the Sami culture.
  5. Abisko National Park: Known for its clear skies and prime Northern Lights viewing, Abisko National Park is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. Hiking trails and the famous Abisko Sky Station await.
  6. Gothenburg: Sweden’s second-largest city is famous for its canals, parks, and seafood. Explore the Liseberg amusement park, Universeum science center, and the charming Haga district.
  7. Göta Canal: This historic canal, stretching from Gothenburg to Stockholm, offers boat cruises and scenic biking routes along the waterway, passing through charming towns and countryside.
  8. Malmö: Located in southern Sweden, Malmö is known for its modern architecture, including the Turning Torso skyscraper. Don’t miss the iconic Øresund Bridge connecting Sweden to Denmark.
  9. Visiting the Archipelago: Sweden’s vast archipelago stretches along the east coast, offering thousands of islands to explore. Take a boat trip to discover charming fishing villages, remote islands, and pristine nature.
  10. Uppsala: Explore the historic city of Uppsala, home to Uppsala University and the Uppsala Cathedral. The Gustavianum museum and Linnaeus Garden are worth a visit.
  11. The High Coast: This UNESCO World Heritage Site boasts a unique landscape shaped by post-glacial rebound. Enjoy hiking trails, picturesque fishing villages, and the iconic Höga Kusten Bridge.
  12. Drottningholm Palace: Located just outside Stockholm, this royal palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to the Swedish royal family. Explore the palace, its gardens, and the Chinese Pavilion.
  13. Lapland Wilderness: For an unforgettable wilderness experience, venture into the untouched landscapes of Swedish Lapland. Try winter activities like snowmobiling, ice fishing, and staying in a remote cabin.
  14. Lund: This historic university town is known for its charming medieval streets, Lund Cathedral, and the fascinating open-air museum, Kulturen.
  15. Siljan Lake: Located in central Sweden, Lake Siljan is surrounded by picturesque villages like Mora and Leksand. Enjoy water activities, explore traditional red cottages, and visit the Zorn Museum in Mora.

These must-see places in Sweden offer a diverse range of experiences, from vibrant cities and cultural attractions to pristine natural wonders and historic sites. Whether you’re interested in urban adventures or serene landscapes, Sweden has something for every traveler.

What to Do? 📸

When visiting Sweden, there are numerous must-do activities and experiences that will allow you to immerse yourself in the country’s culture, nature, and traditions. Here are some top things to do as a tourist in Sweden:

  1. Northern Lights Watching: Head to Swedish Lapland, such as Abisko or Kiruna, during the winter months to witness the mesmerizing Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) dance across the night sky.
  2. Explore Stockholm’s Archipelago: Take a boat trip to explore the thousands of islands that make up the Stockholm Archipelago. Enjoy island-hopping, swimming, and picnicking in this picturesque region.
  3. Hike in the Wilderness: Sweden offers fantastic hiking opportunities. Explore national parks like Abisko, Sarek, and Kungsleden Trail for breathtaking wilderness experiences.
  4. Stay in a Red Cottage: Experience traditional Swedish living by renting a charming red-painted cottage in the countryside. This is a great way to enjoy the serene natural surroundings.
  5. Fika: Embrace the Swedish tradition of fika, which involves taking a coffee break and enjoying pastries or cookies. Visit local cafes and bakeries to savor Swedish treats.
  6. Visit an Icehotel: In Kiruna, you can spend a night in an Icehotel, a unique accommodation made entirely of ice and snow. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
  7. Midsummer Celebration: If you’re in Sweden around June 21st, join in the Midsummer festivities. Watch the maypole-raising, partake in traditional dances, and enjoy a smorgasbord of Swedish delights.
  8. Experience Sami Culture: Learn about the indigenous Sami culture by visiting museums, attending cultural events, and experiencing activities like reindeer sledding.
  9. Try Swedish Cuisine: Sample iconic Swedish dishes like meatballs, herring, gravlax, and Swedish pancakes. Don’t forget to have a taste of lingonberry sauce and Swedish caviar.
  10. Go Wildlife Watching: Sweden is rich in wildlife. Join guided tours to spot moose, beavers, reindeer, and a variety of bird species in their natural habitats.
  11. Stay in a Treehouse: Book a night in one of Sweden’s treehouse accommodations, such as the Treehotel in Harads, and enjoy the unique experience of sleeping among the treetops.
  12. Cruise the Göta Canal: Take a leisurely cruise along the historic Göta Canal, passing through locks and picturesque countryside.
  13. Visit Vasa Museum: Explore the well-preserved Vasa warship, a 17th-century ship that sank on its maiden voyage and was salvaged centuries later. The museum in Stockholm showcases this maritime treasure.
  14. Attend a Traditional Crayfish Party: In late summer, join a crayfish party (kräftskiva) to savor freshly caught crayfish, accompanied by singing and schnapps.
  15. Relax in a Swedish Sauna: Enjoy the traditional Swedish sauna experience, which often includes a dip in a cold lake or a roll in the snow during the winter.

These activities offer a glimpse into Sweden’s unique culture, natural beauty, and traditions. Whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast, a food lover, or a culture seeker, Sweden has something to offer every traveler.

Culture and Safety 🦺

Traveling to Sweden is generally safe, and the country is known for its high standard of living, well-maintained infrastructure, and a strong emphasis on safety and security. However, it’s essential to be aware of and respectful of Swedish culture and follow safety guidelines to have a smooth and enjoyable trip. Here are some tips:

1. Safety:

  • Sweden is considered one of the safest countries in the world. Violent crime is relatively low, but petty theft, such as pickpocketing, can occur in tourist areas. Be mindful of your belongings, especially in crowded places and on public transportation.
  • Sweden has strict road safety regulations. If you plan to drive, make sure you are familiar with the local traffic rules and road conditions.

2. Health and Healthcare:

  • Sweden has an excellent healthcare system. Make sure you have comprehensive travel insurance that covers medical expenses.
  • It’s a good idea to have any necessary vaccinations before traveling to Sweden.

3. Respect Local Culture:

  • Swedes value personal space and privacy. Avoid engaging in loud or disruptive behavior in public places.
  • Respect queues and lines, whether in public transportation, shops, or restaurants.
  • It’s customary to greet with a firm handshake when meeting someone for the first time. Address people by their titles (Mr., Mrs., Dr.) and their last names until they invite you to use their first names.

4. Alcohol and Smoking:

  • The legal drinking age in Sweden is 18 for purchasing alcoholic beverages at Systembolaget, the government-owned liquor stores.
  • Smoking is banned in indoor public places, including bars and restaurants. Be aware of designated smoking areas.

5. Tipping:

  • Tipping is not obligatory in Sweden, as service charges are included in the bill. However, it’s common to round up the bill or leave a small tip for exceptional service.

6. Weather:

  • Sweden experiences distinct seasons, with cold winters and mild summers in most areas. Check the weather forecast and pack accordingly, especially if you plan outdoor activities.

7. Transportation:

  • Sweden has an efficient and reliable public transportation system, including trains, buses, trams, and ferries. Familiarize yourself with schedules and ticketing options.
  • Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Malmö have extensive public transportation networks, making it easy to explore the cities without a car.

8. Language:

  • While many Swedes speak English fluently, learning a few basic Swedish phrases can be appreciated and helpful, especially in rural areas.

9. Currency:

  • The currency used in Sweden is the Swedish Krona (SEK). Credit and debit cards are widely accepted, but it’s a good idea to carry some cash for smaller purchases, especially in rural areas.

10. Emergency Numbers:
– The emergency number for police, fire, and medical assistance in Sweden is 112.

Overall, Sweden is a welcoming and safe destination for travelers. Respecting local customs, staying informed, and practicing common-sense safety precautions will ensure a pleasant and memorable trip to this beautiful country.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Sweden is a captivating destination that seamlessly blends natural beauty, cultural richness, and modern living. From its pristine lakes and dense forests to its vibrant cities and historic towns, Sweden offers a diverse array of experiences for travelers. Whether you’re exploring the picturesque archipelagos, delving into Swedish history and culture, or savoring delicious Nordic cuisine, Sweden welcomes you with open arms. Embrace the country’s sense of balance, or “lagom,” and immerse yourself in a land where tradition and innovation coexist harmoniously. Your journey through Sweden promises to be a memorable adventure filled with captivating sights and warm hospitality.