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…
By Jim Ferri
Sweden is an incredible country often missed by those who only venture about Southern, Central or Eastern Europe. It has a spectacular landscape, amazing cities, and an educated population, most of whom speak English. Furthermore, its history and culture are much older than ours in North America.
Up north the land is covered with dense green forests. Head southward though, and you’ll discover a sea of little red island cottages scattered across the Stockholm Archipelago. In between lies a pastoral countryside filled with ancient Viking burial grounds and fantastic biking and hiking paths. It’s the heartland of Sweden and where tradition remains king. In its cities, you’ll enjoy excellent cultural opportunities, upscale restaurants and wonderful shopping.
And Scandinavia needn’t be overly expensive since you can benefit from my experience: see How to Travel About Scandinavia on a Budget for 2 Weeks.
For those who would like to explore this Swedish Smörgåsbord, here are the most-visited areas of Sweden, courtesy of VisitSweden.
1) Stockholm, #1 of the Top Places in Sweden
The most popular of the top 10 places in Sweden is its capital. Stockholm is celebrated not only as the capital of Scandinavia but also as one of the world’s most beautiful cities. Embedded with ten centuries of history and culture, it stands on 14 islands where the lake meets the sea.
Moreover, the Swedish Royal Capital is also widely known for its remarkable modernity, progressiveness and trend sensitivity. It encompasses everything from lifestyle to fashion, design, food and drink and usage of new technology. The combination of magnificent scenery, history and tradition, and its innovative spirit combine to give Stockholm exceptional character and charm.
Read More about Stockholm: A Highly Curated 3 Day Tour of Stockholm
Swedes claim Stockholm is a city with all the top qualities of a major metropolis but with few downsides. For example, it’s a city where it’s easy and efficient to move around, and the air is fresh and the waters clean. Vast green areas permeate the city with plenty of space for everyone to roam freely. Few other places let you experience the pleasures of nature, urban sophistication, and cultural history all in a single day.
Get Your Guide is a good company that offers tours all over the world, including more than 80 tours in Stockholm alone.
2) The Stockholm Archipelago
One fantastic part of Stockholm and Sweden is still a secret for many—the magnificent Stockholm Archipelago. Another of the top places in the country, it’s a maritime landscape of more than 30,000 islands, islets, and skerries, of which just some 1,000 are inhabited. In both in summer and winter it’s unique in the world.
Stockholm’s archipelago is accessible from central Stockholm all year round thanks to the characteristic and famous white archipelago boats. Some are well-preserved old workhorses dating back more than a century and still steam powered. You can choose from short excursions lasting a couple of hours to day tours or even overnight stays. Really worthwhile, are the many boat tours that also offer gourmet lunch or dinner.
3) Gothenburg, One of the Top Cities in Sweden
Another of the top 10 places in Sweden is small, beautiful Gothenburg, the capital of West Sweden. City breaks are near perfect here where you can discover quaint canals, the cobbled streets of historical Haga and many green open spaces. Interestingly, that green space includes Sweden’s biggest botanical garden, boasting over 16,000 species.
Above all, here you can immerse yourself in the Swedish lifestyle, with ‘fika’ (a break for coffee and a sweet bun) at an outdoor café. Indulge in the interesting food markets and impressive museums. There’s also a multitude of enticing restaurants—seven with Michelin stars. What’s more, there’s also the city archipelago right on Gothenburg’s doorstep. It’s easy to reach via a half-hour tram ride and a short passenger ferry trip.
Good Guides to Stockholm and Sweden
DK Eyewitness Travel Guide to Sweden: These guides are excellent since they contain photos and illustrations with the text.
DK Guides Top 10 Stockholm: When I’m quickly moving about through many different destinations these are my go-to guides since they contain the top 10 of numerous different aspects of a destination. Smaller than a standard guide and fits in your pocket.
Fodor’s Sweden: These books have been guiding travelers for years.
Lonely Planet Sweden Very popular guides that provide exceptional information.
4) Malmö, a Popular Energetic City
Malmö is the biggest city in Skåne and a multicultural place full of energy. In recent years, it has developed into an exciting city. It’s known now for its cultural offerings, innovative architecture, and a strong organic social character.
Sweden’s first Fairtrade City, Malmö was certified in 2006, which 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. For example, in Malmö you can dine at one of Sweden’s most acclaimed organic restaurants. And you can shop for the latest fashions made with the environment and ethics clearly in mind. Or see the city on one of several different tours.
5) ICEHOTEL and Swedish Lapland, Northernmost Top Places in Sweden
Another of the top 10 places in Sweden is a hotel. Located in Jukkasjärv, ICEHOTEL is the world’s largest hotel made of ice and snow. The 5,500 square meter complex includes an Ice church and an Icebar. It’s constructed every November-December anew 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 broad range of snowmobile excursions such as Arctic Trail that takes one through the wilderness trails of Swedish Lapland. There you’ll meet Sweden’s aboriginal people, the Sami, whose lives revolve about the 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.
Number six of the top 10 places in Sweden is Kosterhavet, the country’s first Marine National Park. Centered around the car-free Koster Islands, the park is only a two-hour drive up the beautiful coast from Gothenburg.
Once on the Kosters, you’ll see small fishing villages in an amazingly beautiful landscape, with many different plants and flowers. Above all, in this popular place in Sweden the appeal focuses on the unique seaside location, with beaches, rocky islands, and the enchanting “Koster light.” As you might expect, the light has inspired many artists. You can rent bikes and enjoy a guided tour or a boat trip to see this marine wonderland. It’s the perfect environment for lobstering during the region’s renowned “Shellfish Journey,” as well as seal safaris, diving, and sea kayaking.
7) Playground of Celebrities: Marstrand
Located only an hour’s drive from Gothenburg, Marstrand island is Sweden’s version of Hollywood. Like Hollywood, it is the playground of royalty and celebrities, boasting a rich, intriguing history.
Enjoy an impressive vista from Carlsten Fortress as you look down upon the island’s colorful collection of wooden holiday homes. Beyond are 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. The newer Havshotellet Marstrand is just opposite the island. It has a superb spa designed to reflect its natural coastal setting with treatments to match. From its restaurant, you can enjoy the sunset view over the island.
8 ) “Wallander’s Ystad”
No other city in Scandinavia 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. It’s a picturesque place often alive with surprises and bargains.
Best-selling author Henning Mankell put Ystad on the world map with his detective stories about Police Superintendent Kurt Wallander. In his private bachelor life, Wallander grapples with murder investigations and complicated criminal cases in Ystad and its surroundings. The books, adapted for the screen, are so popular you can now go on a guided tour in an old veteran fire engine around the city and listen to stories about the films and the books
9) A Fantastic Part of Sweden: Skåne
Skåne’s wonderful nature is a holiday paradise in more ways than one. Here, you can enjoy fantastic views and experience natural phenomena as well as complete silence and tranquility. Enjoy its long, light evenings and the luxury of walking on a path in the middle of the forest all by yourself.
Another fantastic part of Sweden, 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. But there are also many great, fertile fields. And since Skåne is a peninsula you can stroll along wonderful, chalk-white beaches stretching along the different seas
10) Visby/Gotland, a Fantastic Part of Sweden
Another of the top 10 places in Sweden, Visby is Gotland’s gateway, as it has been for centuries. On the west coast of Gotland, the city of Visby has a long history stretching back to the Middle Ages. Then it was a prosperous member of the Hanseatic League, a medieval trading alliance in northern Europe. Relics of it 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 not only in Gotland but all of Sweden. Many of them feature the fresh, farm-to-table cuisine for which Gotland is known. In summer, Visby’s nightlife rivals that of Stockholm. It’s a time when people converge on the city in for a week of champagne-soaked revelry.
Beyond history and cuisine, Visby is also one of the ideal places on Gotland to enjoy 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.
Editor’s Note: You may also enjoy reading about How to Travel About Scandinavia on a Budget for 2 Weeks – Food Festivals in Europe – and Great Things to Do in Helsinki.
If You Go: