DESTINATION SWEDEN

Introduction

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I have been to Sweden at least 10-12 times but it has been so many that I have lost track now. Why so many times? It started in 1994 when I went for the first time to meet up with friends I had met online. One of these friends was soon to become my husband. We spent a few years "dating" by visiting each other every 6 months or so until we got married. Then we started going to Sweden about every 2-3 years after we had kids because it was easier for us to visit his family than it was for them to visit us. We now have a 2nd home in Sweden and we rent it out for the ski season when we are not there. I figured it was high time to start promoting this destination and offer my expertise to travelers. Sweden is often missed when people travel to Europe but it is one of my favorite places to go so you really should try to include it, if you can. 

There are a number of reasons why you should visit Sweden. Some of the ones that have come across my desk are for genealogy or visiting relatives, visiting au pairs a family hosted and to see the Northern Lights. There are many more reasons why you should travel to Sweden as it is one of the hidden gems of Scandinavia. There are thousands of coastal islands and inland lakes and about 65% of the country is covered in forests so it is a nature lover's paradise. Stockholm is one of my favorite cities in the world with museums, restaurants, amusement parks and old architecture. 

One common nickname for Sweden is “Land of Lakes and Castles” and does indeed live up to its nickname. Sweden is an enchanting country and it is not as cold as one might imagine despite its situation in the high latitudes. It is well worth exploring, whether along the meticulously maintained roads or on the extensive high-speed train system. The summer months (June-Aug) are the most popular time to visit Sweden and the most expensive. However, the country truly is a year-round destination, even if the winter months are short on sunlight. With so much to see and experience, you will need a few weeks (if not months) to fully enjoy the magic and charm of Sweden.

Top Tips

  • Winter Travel? You must visit the famous ICEHOTEL and take in the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis). This hotel is the first and largest hotel entirely built of snow and ice. It is completely constructed from scratch every year and many rooms have unique ice sculptures that are created by artists from around the world. They also have some warm rooms and they have added a permanent cold structure so you can stay in a cold room year round. The best time to catch the lights in Sweden is September to March.

  • Costs? Staying in Sweden is not for the budget traveler. It can be done but it is really hard to do it well. People are often surprised at the cost of simple things like food, drinks and hotels. Sweden is a socialist country which means that everything is taxed very high. Sweden provides many services to their people like 480 days of parental leave (for both parents), free college educations and very strict labor laws that ensure most people get paid a decent salary. I remember the first time going to the grocery store in Sweden and was shocked at the cost of the food! It was probably almost double what I would have paid at home.

  • Safe? In general, it is very safe to travel to Sweden and most people are eager to speak English.

  • Food? There is a lot of pride in Swedish cuisine and it is often simple but tasty and healthy. A common practice is "fika" which is a coffee break often taken 1 or 2 times a day with sweets and of course, coffee. One thing to note is that Swedes like their coffee very strong!

  • Tipping? If you are going out to eat, there is no need to tip but if you do feel the need, a tip of 10% is more than enough. I have found that the service level is not what I am accustomed to here in the States unless you are in a heavily touristy area so just beware.

  • Drinking? Swedes like to drink and beer is a popular beverage choice. If you order a "light" beer, it refers to the low alcohol content rather than the color or amount of calories. Although, I suppose a low alcohol content equals less calories. They are also VERY strict about drinking and driving so if you are going to partake in even a low alcoholic beverage, make sure you have a designated driver, take a taxi or walk. I have known Swedes who won't drink the next day if they have been partaking in alcohol the previous day!

  • Timing? Swedes are very punctual and are rarely early or late to anything.

  • Sustainability? You have probably heard of Greta Thunberg right? She is one of the leading activists on the environment and really she is a result of what most Swedes care about. Sweden prides itself on sustainability and being eco-friendly.

  • Gender Equality? With 83.8 out of 100 points, Sweden ranks 1st in the EU on the Gender Equality Index. Sweden is actually one of the most gender equal countries in the world so chivalry seems to be an outdated custom for them. Some people might find the people cold and unfriendly but really it is just a different way of life!

  • Shoes? If you are invited into someone's home, please remove your shoes upon entering. This really appeals to my Japanese side!

  • Arctic Plunge? Take a dip in the Scandinavian waters! Whether it's in the middle of summer or the depths of winter after coming out of a sauna, give it a try! It's very refreshing, and it's definitely a story to tell back home. I mean, who can say they took a splash in Arctic waters? (Make sure there's a Sauna nearby, so you can warm up quickly!)

  • Nature Lover? Sweden is a great place for an active traveler and even those who just like some soft adventure activities. It is a beautiful country with so many lakes, forests and awesome archipelagos. It is not a hugely populated country so it is easy to find space to explore nature and solitude. Also, Sweden allows everyone to have access to walk, cycle, ride, ski and camp on any land (with some exceptions) and they call it the Freedom to Roam. No matter what season you visit, there is bountiful nature to explore. 

GEOGRAPHY

Sweden is the largest of the Scandinavian countries and it is the 5th largest country in all of Europe. It borders Norway and Finland with a connection to Denmark via the Oresund Bridge/Tunnel. It makes traveling to this country easier than it might seem at first. It is a tall, skinny country that stretches about 1000 miles (1600 km) north to south and about 310 miles (500 km) east to west. It is quite a bit larger than the state of California but most people think they are about the same size. If you laid Sweden on a map of the USA, its bottom most point would be Tallahassee, Florida and the top most post would be Toronto, Canada.

There are three major regions in Sweden: Central, Southern and North. 

Central Sweden includes some interesting and attractive cities including the capital, Stockholm which is spread over 14 individual islands. The major attraction is the quaint Old Town (Gamla Stan) dating back to the 13th Century with its cobblestone streets and it is also where the Royal Palace is located. Other cities of interest are medieval Uppsala (a prosperous university city) and Sigtuna (the oldest town in the country). 

Southern Sweden is the most populous part of Sweden and is home to two major cities: Gothenburg and Malmö. The former is known for its edgy bars, cafes and trendy shops and the latter for its proximity and accessibility to Copenhagen, Denmark.

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Northern Sweden is sparsely populated and 13% of the country is located inside the Arctic Circle area (also known as Swedish Lapland). With its natural beauty, this is the perfect place to view both the Midnight Sun in the summer and the Northern Lights in the winter. Other pastimes here are hiking, dog sledding and snowmobiling. 

WEATHER

One of the most magical things about Scandinavia is that you can enjoy the four seasons in full! There really is no bad time to visit and each season has highlights of its own.

 

Summer - The midnight sun is an absolutely unique phenomenon best observed in the far north. You can use the 24 hours of sunlight to truly enjoy every minute of your trip!

Autumn - Did you know that Autumn is actually the best season to spot the Northern Lights? The nights are slowly coming back, and so does the Aurora! Also, if you're a fan of berry and mushroom picking, this is the season for you.

Winter & Holidays - Plunge into the darkness of the Scandinavian winter! Almost no daylight and an enormous amount of snow guarantee some of the best adventures! Plus, if you're lucky, you might spot the Northern Lights.

Spring - Watch the winter fade away! The sun is slowly coming back, and the local's spirits lift! See the fjords in full bloom and more.

Winter and summer temperature differences in Sweden are extreme, but generally the country enjoys a temperate climate, thanks to the Gulf Stream. Summer (May to September) is the best time to visit (unless you are seeking the Northern Lights) due to the low humidity and not a lot of extreme temperatures. 

In central and southern Sweden, the winters are short and quite cold with an average temperature of 32F (0/Zero C) and the summer temperatures have an average temperature of 72F (22C). Due to its latitude, Sweden has a lot more hours of sunshine and daylight during the summer and conversely more hours of darkness during the winter. 

The farther you go north, you will find more extreme cold temperatures. The winters are severe but the summers can be surprisingly warm. You will often find snow on the ground year-round and in the Arctic Circle the temperatures can get to -22F (-30C). 

DID YOU KNOW?

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There are over 350,000 moose in Sweden. About 100,000 of these are hunted each year and about 6,000 are killed each year in car accidents. However, there are around 100,000 moose born each year so their population remains stable.

The Nobel Prize was named after Alfred Nobel who was a famous scientist, inventor and businessman who was born in Stockholm, Sweden in 1833. He is also the inventor of dynamite and after his death, he decreed that his fortune be used to give prizes. The first one was given in 1901 and more than 950 prizes have been awarded. 

Sweden ​is one of the top users of renewable energy. The country uses about 54.5% of renewable energy with the most common ones being biomass and water.

The 3-point seatbelt was a Swedish invention. Now a standard requirement in every passenger vehicle saving around one life every six minutes, it was developed by Swedish inventor and safety engineer Nils Bohlin in 1959 for Volvo. 

 

Sweden banned the smacking of children in 1979 and was the first country in the world to do so. 

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Sweden revised all their money (the Krona) in 2017 so if you have old currency, it must be exchanged at the Riksbank in Stockholm and there is a fee of 200 SEK to do so. Most of the country is almost cashless so be prepared to use your bank card most of the time or get cash from an ATM when you arrive in Sweden. 

About 10 million people live in Sweden and there are only 23.5 people per square kilometer or 59 people per square mile.

About 63% of the land mass is covered in forest and 9% is lakes and rivers. Also, about 10% of Sweden's land is protected by national parks and nature preserves. However, Sweden's constitution guarantees all lands to be accessible to the public. 

In the northern most point in Sweden, they get 56 days of daylight around the clock. It also means they get 32 days of complete darkness in the winter. 

Oat milk is a Swedish invention! It was developed by the Lund University food scientist Rickard Öste, who founded Oatly in 1994. Since then, oat milk has become a staple at a range of supermarkets and coffee shops around the world.

SAMPLE ITINERARY

There is really so much that can be done on a trip to Sweden and you could easily spend 1-2 weeks there and barely scratch the surface. I usually spend 4-6 weeks there when I go but that is because we are visiting family and working on our house. You also have to be aware of the large distances that can be traveled within Sweden. Many places are reachable via train but it does take more time. Some places you can travel to by plane but you have to take into consideration getting to the airport a few hours in advance, getting to and from the airport. Also, sometimes your destination isn't close to the airport either. Many people might include Sweden as part of a larger trip to Europe or Scandinavia but you could easily spend your entire vacation there too. I will share some sample itineraries that highlight some different options. 

The first itinerary is a guided vacation where you will have an English speaking guide accompany you and several other people who want to do the exact same thing as you. It depends on the company that puts these guided vacations together as to the cost but they are often the most affordable ways to travel. It depends on how many people are traveling with you but they are usually groups of 20-50 people. Most of my client's want a customized itinerary for their own private travel and we will use these guided vacation itineraries as a guideline as to where you can go and what you can see. 

This next itinerary is focused entirely spending a week in Sweden. Of course, this just gives you a sample of what you can do and see in this beautiful country. I would be happy to customize it for your own personal travel needs! 

This last itinerary/proposal is really an add-on piece to a larger trip to Scandinavia or Europe. I recommend extending your stay in Sweden or visit other parts of Europe as it is a long way to go for just 3-nights to see the Northern Lights. You really should invest in spending time at the Ice Hotel in Sweden which completely re-builds its hotel every winter season from snow and ice. They invite artists from around the world to decorate each cold suite. They also have warm rooms which are like a regular hotel room and they also have a permanent structure so you can experience a cold room all year long.

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