Sweden offers modern cities and peaceful countryside. The sandy beaches in the south are contrasted by snowy mountain peaks in the north. Whether your bucket list includes sailing around scenic islands, enjoying unparalleled restaurant and culinary experiences, or dog sledding to view the Northern Lights, Sweden has it all. After reading this insider guide to Sweden, you’ll be ready to pack your bags for an incredible Scandinavian adventure.
Sweden is situated in Northern Europe and makes up the eastern portion of the Scandinavian Peninsula. It shares land borders with Finland to the northeast and Norway to the west. The mountainous border between Sweden and Norway is the longest, continuous land border in Europe. Sweden also connects to Denmark via the Oresund Bridge in the south. It is bordered by the Gulf of Bothnia and the Baltic Sea to the east. At 173,860 square miles, Sweden is the third-largest country in the European Union.
About 15 percent of Sweden lies above the Arctic Circle. However, despite this, the country enjoys a mostly temperate climate due to the warm Gulf Stream and the geographic positioning of the country. Summers throughout Sweden vary by only a few degrees. The summers are pleasant, with an average July temperature ranging from around 60 degrees Fahrenheit to 63 degrees Fahrenheit. Southern Sweden also experiences short, mild winters, with only brief periods of snow possible. Overall, the country is much warmer and drier than other locations at similar latitudes.
North of the Arctic Circle, the midnight sun is experienced throughout parts of the summer. Even in the capital city of Stockholm, the sun rises for a full 18 hours toward the end of June and only for around six hours at the end of December. Because of this, the Northern Lights are visible in the north from November through March.
When packing for a summer trip to Sweden, pack plenty of layers and lightweight jackets. When packing for a winter trip to Sweden, pack a full range of winter clothing. Either way, don’t forget to pack comfortable walking shoes.
The official language in Sweden is Swedish. It is a North Germanic language closely related to Norwegian and Danish. Speakers of all three languages can understand each other to a certain extent. Norwegian and Swedish speakers have the least difficulty conversing with each other in their native languages.
English has been a compulsory subject for Swedish students since around 1850, so it is not difficult to find English speakers in Sweden. Business meetings are commonly conducted in English. With that said, it’s always polite to learn a few key words before your trip. For example, “thank you” translates to “tack”.
The official currency in Sweden is the krona, represented by SEK. While the official currencies of Norway and Denmark are also called “crowns”, it’s important to note that the three currency systems are all different. Sweden is a nearly cashless nation, so bring a major debit or credit card. If cash is needed, use an ATM. Avoid using exchange services in hotels and airports.
Tipping isn’t common in Sweden. Service charges are already added to most hotel and restaurant bills. If there isn’t a restaurant service charge included, leave five to 10 percent of the total bill. In taxis, simply round up the fare.
Swedish cuisine focuses on local ingredients, traditional dishes and internationally adopted cooking styles. Beef, chicken, lamb, pork and reindeer are the most common meats. The seafood selection is extensive, thanks to the many lakes, islands and Baltic coastline. Other popular ingredients include mushrooms, potatoes, breads, pastries and dairy products. Lingonberry jam is used extensively. Of course, two of Sweden’s most recognized and exported dishes are meatballs and smorgasbord.
The meal structure in Sweden consists of a small breakfast, a light lunch and a heavy dinner. A small mid-day snack of a sandwich or fruit is also consumed. During the work days, coffee and pastry breaks called “fika” are used to help maintain the work-life balance.
The culture in Sweden is progressive and egalitarian, and the Swedes are extremely proud of their country’s beliefs. They avoid boasting or talking about their individual achievements, and doing so is considered rude. Family is at the center of the social structure, and they maintain an incredible work-life balance. Work never comes before family obligations.
Greetings in Sweden are casual and involve a handshake, eye contact and a smile. Punctuality is always extremely important. At dinner parties, toasting is a ritual. Do not drink until a toast has been given by the host.
Sweden enjoys a comparatively low crime rate, but petty theft and pick-pocketing do occur in the bigger cities and in popular tourist locations. Hotels also attract unassuming and well-dressed thieves who work in groups to target unaccompanied suitcases and purses. Always be aware of your surroundings, and don’t leave your items unattended at hotels during check-in or check-out.
Sweden’s capital city is progressive and modern, yet full of fascinating history. Spread across 14 separate islands along the Baltic coastline in central-eastern Sweden, Stockholm is widely regarded for its design and intellectual contributions. The city hosts the Nobel Prize ceremonies each year at both the Stockholm City Hall and the Stockholm Concert Hall. On the island of Djugarden, the Vasa Museum houses historical maritime exhibits. Conveniently, the open-air Skansen Museum is located on the same island. For a culinary treat, visit one of Stockholm’s numerous Michelin-starred restaurants.
The Stockholm Archipelago is comprised of approximately 30,000 islands in the Baltic Sea near Stockholm. The picturesque archipelago is best viewed and visited via ferry (skargarden). Once there, the many islands are perfect for fishing, kayaking, hiking, boating, and even ice yachting. There are also numerous well-known restaurants throughout.
Gothenburg and West Sweden
Located on the west coast of Sweden, Gothenburg is Sweden’s second-largest metropolitan area and the country’s culinary capital. Five restaurants in the beautiful coastal city hold a Michelin star. Outside of the impressive restaurant scene, the Feskekyra is an indoor fish market that more closely resembles an imposing Gothic church.
Stretching from Gothenburg to the Norwegian coast, the Bohuslan coast and islands have been named one of the world’s great wilderness areas. The region is home to both undeveloped islands and postcard-worthy seaside villages. After a long day of kayaking, indulge in fresh lobster and other shellfish.
Southern Sweden features fertile rolling hills, sandy beaches and quaint country cottages. The inland area is largely agricultural, while the coastline is popular with tourists. Varberg — an old bathing resort — is guarded by an awe-inspiring 13th-century Gothic fortress, and just south, the city of Halmstad is known for its wide beaches and vibrant nightlife.
Central Sweden is home to the province of Dalarna. Covered in dense forests and glistening lakes, the combined imagery of this region is quintessential Sweden. Red cottages speckle the green countryside, and the lakes are unbelievable blue. Central Sweden maintains folk traditions that date back to the Middle Ages. Because of this, the area is popular with cultural tourists, as well as art enthusiasts. The picture-perfect region has attracted numerous artists throughout the years. The mining area of Stora Kopparberg in the city of Falun is an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Northern Sweden and Swedish Lapland
Northern Sweden and the Swedish Lapland are unique regions in the far northern reaches of Sweden. The area is traversed by hiking, skiing, and dog-sledding trails, and the fly-fishing for salmon and arctic char is superb. The Aurora Sky Station in Abisko National Park is one of the world’s premier places to view the spectacular light show of the Aurora Borealis. From November through March, the cloud-free skies afford spectacular viewing opportunities.
For a completely unique experience, visit the Icehotel. Located near the city of Kiruna from December through April, the ice monolith is built each year with the help of numerous artists. Built entirely of ice, the spectacular project features a bar, an ice chapel, a reception hall, and 100 hotel rooms. For those who are a slightly more thin blooded, there are warm accommodations right next door.
Whether your ideal vacation involves sleeping in a room made of ice or relaxing at a resort on a sandy beach, Sweden is the place for you. The modern cities of Stockholm and Gothenburg are bordered by lush countryside full of culture and heritage, while the islands off the rugged coastline inspire kayakers from all over the world. This insider guide to the Sweden is just the tip of the iceberg.