How does one describe a country that has given the world the Vikings as well as the Nobel Peace Prize, little Swedish meatballs as well as Absolute Vodka, Volvo as well as ABBA, IKEA and H&M and…well, you get the idea.
Sweden is an incredible country that is often missed by those who only venture about Southern, Central or Eastern Europe. It has a spectacular landscape, incredible cities, an educated population (most of whom speak English) and a history and culture much older than ours in North America. Up north you’ll find a pastoral landscape and dense green forests, while to the south there are all those little red island cottages scattered across the Stockholm Archipelago. In between is a pastoral countryside filled with ancient Viking burial grounds, wonderful biking and hiking paths and a heartland in which tradition is still king. And in its cities you’ll enjoy first-rate cultural opportunities, upscale restaurants and wonderful shopping.
For those who would like to explore a bit of this Swedish Smörgåsbord, here are the most-visited areas of Sweden as reported by VisitSweden.
Stockholm is widely celebrated not only as the capital of Scandinavia, but also as one of the world’s most beautiful cities, built where lake meets sea, on fourteen islands, with ten centuries of history and culture. The Swedish Royal Capital is also widely known for its remarkable modernity, progressiveness and trend sensitivity in everything from lifestyle to fashion, design, food and drink and usage of new technology. The combination of magnificent scenery, ancient history and tradition, and a pervasive innovative spirit combine to give Stockholm its truly exceptional character and charm.
Swedes like to claim that Stockholm is a city that has all of the qualities and allures of a major international metropolis but few of its usual downsides. It’s a city where it’s easy and efficient to move around, where the air is fresh and the waters clean, with vast green areas permeating the city with plenty of space for everyone to roam freely. Few other places let you experience the pleasures and enchantments of nature, urban sophistication and cultural history, all in a single day.
One of the most fantastic parts of Stockholm and Sweden is still a secret for many — the magnificent Stockholm archipelago. This maritime landscape of more than 30,000 islands, islets and skerries, of which just some one thousand are inhabited, is unique in the world both in summer and winter.
Stockholm’s archipelago is accessible from central Stockholm all year round thanks to the characteristic and historic white archipelago boats, some of which are well-preserved old workhorses dating back more than a century and still steam powered. You can choose from shorter excursions lasting just a couple of hours, to day tours or even longer excursions with overnight stays. Many boat tours also offer gourmet lunch or dinner.
City breaks don’t often come more perfect than they do in small, beautiful Gothenburg, the capital of West Sweden. Here you can discover quaint canals, the cobbled streets of historical Haga and countless green open spaces, including Sweden’s biggest botanical garden, boasting over 16,000 species. Immerse yourself in the Swedish lifestyle, soaking up the buzzing outdoor café culture with ‘fika’ (a break for coffee and a sweet bun) or indulge in the intriguing food markets, impressive museums and multitude of enticing restaurants — five with Michelin stars, including the most recent addition to the list, Thörnströms Kök. What’s more, there’s the city archipelago right on Gothenburg’s doorstep — easy to reach via a half-hour tram ride and a short passenger ferry trip.
Malmö is the biggest city in Skåne and a multi-cultural place full of energy. In recent years, Malmö has developed into an exciting city with a focus on cultural offerings, innovative architecture and a strong organic social character. Malmö was certified as Sweden’s first Fairtrade City in 2006 and this has spurred the city’s organic and fair trade offerings. In Malmö, it’s easy to shop with a clear conscience and to enjoy ethically produced food and drink. Here, you can dine at one of Sweden’s most acclaimed organic restaurants and shop for the latest fashions made with the environment and ethics clearly in mind.
Located in Jukkasjärv, ICEHOTEL is the world’s largest hotel made of ice and show. The 5,500 square meter complex includes an Ice church and an Icebar. It is constructed anew every November-December and melts in April-May, but you can, of course, visit the area all year round.
ICEHOTEL’s accommodation features snow rooms, ice rooms and Art suites. Additionally, guests may book a wide range of snowmobile excursions such as Arctic Trail that takes one through the wilderness trails of Swedish Lapland’s aboriginal people, the Sami, whose life is integrally tied to reindeer migration. Fishing for char, trout and grayling, sauna and dinner programs, ice driving, moose watching, ice sculpting, Northern Lights viewing, and dog sled safaris are just a few more of ICEHOTEL’s tour options.
Sweden’s first Marine National Park, Kosterhavet is centred around the car-free Koster Islands, only a two-hour drive up the lovely coast from Gothenburg. Once on the Kosters, you’ll see small fishing villages surrounded by an amazingly beautiful landscape, with many different plants and flowers. The appeal focuses on the unique seaside location, with beaches, rocky islands and the enchanting ‘Koster light’, which has inspired many artists on the island. You can rent bikes and enjoy a guided tour or a boat trip to see this marine wonderland. It’s the perfect environment for lobster safaris during the region’s renowned Shellfish Journey, as well as seal safaris, diving and sea kayaking.
Located only an hour’s drive from Gothenburg, Marstrand island is Sweden’s version of Hollywood as the playground of royalty and celebrities, boasting a rich, intriguing history. Enjoy an impressive vista from grand Carlsten’s Fortress, looking down upon the island’s colourful collection of wooden holiday homes and sailing boats of all shapes and sizes, alongside rugged rocks and the navy-blue ocean. Stay at the former residence of King Oscar II, Grand Hotel Marstrand, or the new Havshotellet Marstrand, just opposite the island, which has a superb spa (designed to reflect its natural coastal setting, with treatments to match) and a restaurant that lets guests watch the sunset over the island.
8 ) “Wallander’s Ystad”
No other city in Scandinavia and few cities in Europe can boast such a complete and ‘living’ picture of bygone days as Ystad. Many of the 300 half-timbered houses and other buildings bustle with restaurants and shops, and picturesque corners are alive with surprises and bargains.
Best-selling author Henning Mankell has put the city of Ystad on the world map with his detective stories about Police Superintendent Kurt Wallander, a bachelor who grapples with murder investigations and difficult criminal cases in Ystad and its surroundings and with his private life. The popular books have been adapted for the screen, and you can now go on a guided tour in an old veteran fire engine around Ystad and listen to stories about the films and the books.
Skåne’s wonderful nature is a holiday paradise in more ways than one. Here, you can indulge in fantastic views and exciting natural phenomena as well as complete silence and tranquillity, long, light evenings and the luxury of walking on a path in the middle of the forest all by yourself.
Skåne is a province of contrasts. It has vast forests with light and airy deciduous trees and many forest-clad ridges that rise above the landscape. There are glorious fields with fertile soil and, like the peninsula that Skåne actually is, wonderful, chalk-white beaches stretching along the different seas.
Visby is Gotland’s gateway, as it has been for centuries. Sitting on the west coast of Gotland, the port city of Visby has a long history stretching back to the Middle Ages, when it was prosperous member of the Hanseatic League, a medieval trading alliance in northern Europe. Relics of this past exist to this day, most notably the Ringmuren, a two-mile medieval stone wall that encircles the city. The wall and Visby’s many other preserved medieval structures have earned its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
But there is more to Visby than just its history. The city hosts some of the best restaurants in Gotland — and in all of Sweden — many featuring the fresh, farm-to-table cuisine that Gotland is known for. In summer, Visby’s nightlife rivals that of Stockholm, whose residents converge on the city in the summer for a week of champagne-soaked revelry. Beyond its history and its cuisine, Visby is also one of the ideal places on Gotland to take in the island’s art scene. The best time to do this is in early June, when artists and artisans open their studios to the public.