How to Plan a Trip to Sweden
Once the land of the Vikings, Sweden today combines a long and fascinating history with a propensity for the very modern. The grand Romanesque churches that dot the countryside stand in contrast with the clean, simple lines and partiality for organization the country is known for. With its reverence for the reserved and considerate, the nation exudes a sense of comfort. During your Sweden vacation, peek into the quiet lives from afar, gather around traditional fika coffee with loved ones, or dine on meatballs, herring, and potatoes. Immerse yourself in nature among the forests and trails so respected by their citizens, and take in the latest design and cultural offerings in this modest-yet-aesthetically-savvy country.
Places to Visit in Sweden
Regions of SwedenStockholm County
: Home of the nation's capital, this region boasts seaside cities with delightful cobblestone streets and old shops, churches, and palaces that rate high on Sweden itineraries.West Coast
: Characterized by rocky islands, pine forests, and colorful fishing cottages, West Coast is a car-free archipelago home to more than 20 islands, which bring lots of opportunities for boating, fishing, and seal safaris.Vastra Gotaland County
: Among the lakes, meadows, and forests of this region you'll find dozens of medieval monuments with rich histories to explore, as well as the modern city of Gothenburg.Skane County
: Nature and man-made structures blend together beautifully in this region, that features medieval churches, castles, and Renaissance-style villages nestled in green valleys where tourists can purchase famous handcrafted silver, glass, and ceramic art pieces.Norrbotten County
: Despite its bitingly cold climate, this area showcases amazing natural attractions like the midnight sun and the Northern Lights; you'll also find 15th-century churches with World Heritage Site status here.Uppsala County
: Split between historical and modern times, Uppsala County supports universities, museums, medieval castles, and old streets surrounded by pine forests and a shoreline popular with watersport enthusiasts. Halland County
: Popular for its sandy beaches and wild rivers, this region rates high on the list for nature enthusiasts as well as history buffs who want to explore old ruins like the 13th-century Varberg Fortress during a Sweden holiday.Vasterbotten County
: This region represents one of Sweden's last areas of unspoiled wilderness with mountains and forests covering most of the area, plus it offers hiking trails and other outdoor adventures.Orebro County
: This county is a great place to learn about Swedish culture and lifestyle thanks to the various homesteads and smelting houses in medieval villages that serve to educate visitors on the history of iron mining trade that once dominated the country.Uppsala County
: This region is blanketed with hundreds of lakes ranging from the very small to the largest, Vanern and Vattern, and it serves as a great haven for fishing and boating enthusiasts looking for Sweden places to visit.Midnight Sun Coast
: This area is known for the phenomenon that only occurs in Europe's Arctic Circle between June and July--an uninterrupted 24-hour period of complete sunlight. Gotland
: Famous for the huge amounts of silver and Viking treasures discovered here, this region boasts the World Heritage Site of Visby and numerous historical churches and fortresses.
Top Cities in Sweden
- Stockholm: The capital, known for its modern architecture, actually includes 14 islands connected by tunnels and bridges and features dozens of Sweden tourist attractions like museums, shops, churches, and an interesting Old Town.
- Gothenburg: Once serving as the center of Sweden's shipbuilding industry, today this city's musical festivals and cultural events draw visitors from all over the world with a youthful and energetic atmosphere.
- Malmo: Although visitors often use Malmo as a starting point for exploring Denmark and Sweden, the international city is entertaining on its own with parks, museums, and medieval architecture.
- Uppsala: This city, known for its reputation as Scandinavia's oldest center of higher education, hosts two major universities as well as a historical Old Town with medieval structures.
- Lund: As the home of one of Europe's oldest universities, this small town blends a youthful energy with old architecture, including the famous 12th-century Romanesque cathedral.
- Helsingborg: A popular destination on many Sweden itineraries, this coastal city with museums and souvenir shops features a medieval castle overlooking a lively waterfront area, which once served as defense against Danish attacks.
- Kiruna: Visitors flock to Kiruna to experience the first hotel and museum combination to be made entirely of snow and ice, but they also can experience many outdoor activities outside the city in the untouched wilderness.
- Visby: Boasting one of the best-preserved city walls in northern Europe, this World Heritage Site still harbors warehouses and merchant dwellings from the 13th century that seem to come to life as costumed street people perform. Also visit open-air markets here.
- Abisko: The Northern Lights and midnight suns are viewable from this village, where visitors can also explore a mountainous national park that offers snowboarding, skiing, and fishing.
Things to Do in Sweden
Popular Sweden Tourist AttractionsVasa Museum
: View the only 17th-century ship in the world in this maritime museum dedicated to ships and other sea vessels from the region, including a 64-gun warship that sank during its maiden voyage in 1628.Stockholm Old Town
: Located in the nation's capital, the 13th-century Old Town marks the original settlement of Stockholm and showcases beautiful 18th- and 19th-century architecture where you can shop for souvenirs.Skansen
: Get to know the local history during your Sweden vacation at this museum featuring reconstructed farms, live reenactments, craft making, and a museum shop.Stockholm City Hall
: Famous for hosting the annual Nobel Prize award banquet, this structure serves as a symbol of the city; tours include viewing the grand ceremonial hall, artwork exhibitions, and panoramic views from the top of the tower.Royal Palace
: Serving as the king's residence since the 18th century, the palace contains more than 600 rooms and five museums where visitors can learn about Sweden's history and even watch the changing-of-the-guard ceremony.Fotografiska
: Discover a center for contemporary photography in a beautiful Art Nouveau building, where works by artists like Annie Leibovitz and Robert Mapplethorpe are displayed.ABBA The Museum
: Get to know the internationally known band ABBA in this museum displaying clothing, films, records, and interactive audio and video exhibits where visitors can perform with the band.Liseberg
: Experience the thrill of Sweden's most exciting amusement park that boasts more than 40 rides including roller coasters, water rides, and Europe's tallest freefall attraction, plus gardens and a sculpture park.Stockholm Canals
: Dubbed Venice of the North and a highlight among Sweden things places to see, explore the canals that wind through the capital by boat or on foot as you seek out sites like the royal palace, city hall, and other historical buildings.
Planning a Sweden Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Sweden with Kids
Your Sweden journey is likely to start in the capital, where you can spend days exploring museums, monuments, historical buildings, souvenir shops and boutiques, and large shopping malls. Lively entertainment venues like arcades, bowling alleys, and cinemas are also easy to find. Smaller towns and villages offer lots of Sweden things to do as well, and kids can pick up handcrafted souvenirs like toys or sweets.
Perhaps some of Sweden's best gems can be found in the country's wilderness areas. Take time to hike through the thick pine forests and explore medieval ruins in Gothenburg
, or hit the ski slopes in Vasterbotten County
--a virtually untouched portion of Scandinavian scenery. Those ready for a real adventure can bundle up the family and head north into the Arctic Circle, where the awe-inspiring views of the Northern Lights and midnight suns await.
Things to Do in Sweden with Kids
Outdoor sites top the list of Sweden places to visit with children. Choose from among a dozen different activities like skiing, hiking, biking, fishing, boating, and more. You’ll have the chance to explore castles and fortresses dating back to medieval times. Make a point to visit Abisko
, the village next to a beautiful national park where the family can view the Northern Lights. If you visit in summer, stay a day or two at Gavle
, where the sun shines 24 hours a day. When the weather is warm, travel to Helsingborg
and let kids explore the sandy beaches, or learn about medieval lifestyles through an interactive open-air museum at Skansen
Enjoy a day at Djurgarden--gardens hosting an amusement park called Gröna Lund, or watch the changing-of-the-guard ceremony at the Royal Palace
. Another and larger amusement park awaits at Lisebergs Nojespark, which boasts over 40 rides including roller coasters, water rides, and Europe's tallest freefall attraction.
Tips for a Family Vacation in Sweden
Kids naturally want to explore, making Sweden's great outdoors a perfect getaway, but consider carefully whether to visit between December and February when temperatures drop and snow piles up, which limits exploration time. To avoid snow altogether, plan your trip for June or September.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Sweden
Cuisine of Sweden
Sweden is full of international choices of cuisine from Chinese food to pizza, but some traditional Swedish mealtime habitats still exist. Breakfast on a holiday in Sweden will likely include bread with butter or cheese, or corn flakes with yogurt. Lunch is kept light, while the main meal comes at dinner in the early evening. Dishes almost always include bread, pasta, potatoes, carrots, cabbage, fish, or some other meat.
Shopping in SwedenStockholm
is the place to be if you are interested in shopping, as it offers at least three major shopping malls. For more unique purchases, try Gothenburg
. At Victoriapassagen, a delightful roofed pedestrian street filled with Swedish handicrafts, look for artwork and home decor from the indigenous Sami people of Swedish Lapland. The city's Haga district offers art galleries and antique shops.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Sweden
History of Sweden
Starting in the Swedish Viking Age in the 9th century, Sweden became known to the rest of the world through raids on surrounding European lands. Found on runestones throughout the country, the descriptions and deeds of Swedish Vikings were renowned and remembered throughout Europe.
The Black Death struck the area in the 14th century and destroyed a huge portion of the population, which was not restored until the 19th century. During this plagued period, Sweden became a Christian kingdom united with Denmark, Norway, and Finland in the Kalmar Union led by Queen Margaret of Denmark.
Because the country featured too much power held by Swedish nobles, the nation eventually left the union. In the 16th century, King Christian II of Denmark ordered a massacre of Swedish nobles, the event called the "Stockholm Bloodbath." A resistance formed and crowned Gustav Vasa as king--he established the foundation for today's modern Sweden and also broke from the Catholic Church with the Reformation.
In the 17th century, Sweden rose to power and controlled areas of Denmark, Russia, Finland, and northern Germany. However, Russia, Poland, and Denmark united against Sweden in the early 18th century and fought the Great Northern War, which Sweden lost during an attack on Moscow. A century later, after the Napoleonic wars, Sweden controlled Norway until 1905, when Norway became an independent country.
About 1 million Swedes emigrated to the United States during the 1800s because of poor economics, which did not pick up again until World War I. Sweden stayed neutral in both world wars and joined the European Union in 1995.
Customs of Sweden
Politeness and equality are both highly regarded in Sweden, and you will often hear someone thanking you after you thank them. Avoid interrupting people in conversation or sharing open expressions of disagreement. In a traditional business setting, mention of corporate titles and boasts of success are rarely heard, however the practice is becoming more common as business becomes more international.
Holidays & Festivals in Sweden
Do not panic at the noise on New Year's Eve, which is celebrated by blaring ship horns and civil-defense sirens at midnight along with parties and feasts. Plan your Sweden trip during Midsummer in June and experience the joyous festivities that include drinking, eating, and dancing. At the end of the summer in August, watch for crayfish parties, and be sure to try the crayfish, too.
Sweden Travel Tips
Climate of Sweden
Although temperatures are bitterly cold above the Arctic Circle, the rest of Sweden enjoys a temperate climate. In the south, winter temperatures rarely drop below 0 C (32 F), making the region a prime area for skiing and other winter sports. Summers are comfortable but require medium-weight clothing for chilly days.
Transportation in Sweden
Large cities provide excellent public transportation like taxis, water taxis, ferries, trains, and bus service. Trains provide routes around the country and to Germany, Finland, Norway, and Denmark from Stockholm
Languages of Sweden
The official language of Sweden is Swedish, but many natives speak English as a second language, so sightseeing in Sweden is a breeze.
Tipping in Sweden
Tipping is not necessary in Sweden, and establishments that require service charges typically include the amount in your bill. In a restaurant or bar, however, it is common to leave a small tip of 5 to 10 percent if gratuity is not already included. You can also tip taxi drivers for good service by rounding up the bill to the nearest even amount.