Sweden, western Europe’s best kept secret that has hidden depths and a diversity to appeal to every visitor.
Sweden is such an unknown entity despite its musical foursome and Nobel Peace Prize inventor. It remains in the shadows of its geologically dramatic neighbour, Norway and yet stands firm in its own identity. As we headed off on our Summer in Scandinavia tour 2019, we had high hopes, Bucket Lists and anticipation of what this Nordic country could show us. Would it surprise and delight us as we searched for the ‘road less travelled’ or would people’s warnings of being boring haunt our expectations? Come with us on our road-trip as we create our own Swedish experiences that delve deeply into its culture and its landscape. Perhaps through our eyes you can then make up your own minds about what Sweden has to offer. For a more detailed look at travelling to Sweden in a camper, then check out our comprehensive Top Tips Guide by clicking here.
Our Sweden Interactive Route-map
As our initial offering, we present a comprehensive interactive map that gives you our specific route, visual treats with our images and co-ordinates of each and every place we called home. Click on the map image below to get access to our unique journey.
Sweden – Did you know?
We love finding out about the country we are about to call home. So many interesting facts that create a really solid understanding of a place and its ‘raison d’être’. Here’s 15 things that we discovered from our research, Swedish friends and the locals we met along the way…
- Sweden has over 97,000 lakes! Yes 97,000. That’s a lot of lakes and they really are so beautiful. They tease you as you drive through the countryside, peaking their brilliant blue through the forest of green.
- There are over 350,000 moose and 260,000 reindeer so keep your eyes open. Strangely though, you are more likely to see reindeer especially in Lapland. Moose tend to be a bit more illusive and camouflaged amongst the trees.
- Alfred Nobel may be best known for his Nobel Peace Prize, although he made his fortune through the invention and selling of dynamite.
- Sweden is approximately 1000 miles from north to south.
- Sweden has 56 days of complete daylight.
- Swedes use 54% of renewable energy and actually buy other people’s rubbish to convert.
- Temperatures can average -16º in the north.
- The nomadic Sami people are one of the world’s oldest cultures and were close to being wiped out by the effects of Chernobyl in 1989.
- Sweden used to have a real alcoholic problem and now booze is only available from Government-run stores in an attempt to curb the drinking culture.
- 2/3 of Sweden’s landmass is covered by forest. 90% of properties are made of wood. The iconic red paint comes from a derivative of the important iron ore and copper mines around the country.
- Sweden is home to the world’s first Icehotel, created in 1989.
- The Swedish Royal family are the oldest monarchy in the world.
- The Sami’s calendar has 8 seasons each related to a cycle in the herding of reindeer.
- Sweden has 29 National Parks.
- Cost of living here is not as expensive as you might think. If you think up-market supermarket prices rather than Lidl then you will have the general cost of living here.
Sweden – Our Top 11 Highlights
Trying to limit our favourite highlights and experiences from our 45 days is a tough one. With canals, magnificent coastlines, beaches, forest, archipelago and mountains, how are we meant to choose? Although select I must for the sake of your reading eyes.
1 – West coast beaches, for coastal lovers
From the minute you cross from Denmark over the famous Øresund Bridge, which is an experience all of its own, Sweden embraces you. The draw of the beaches are always strong with us. There’s something about the sea that just connects deeply with me. From the star fortress at Landskrona to the Royal Palace at Helsingborg, there are spots all along the coast to enjoy the sea. The views of Denmark and the Konberg Castle of Hamlet fame are so appealing and a great way to start a Swedish adventure.
Check out our gallery of images below.
2 – Göta Canal – for water-sport enthusiasts
Stretching from Gothenburg in the west through two major lakes over to the eastern Baltic shores at Soderköping, Sweden’s Göta Canal is a must-see. It’s one of those ‘off-the-beaten-track’ places that only the Swedes tend to visit. Following the canal along its navigational route, gives you a unique view of Sweden’s countryside as you sweep over it on small lanes passing through authentic Swedish villages. Tempted by canal tow-paths bordered with artwork and pink floral cheerleaders, the Göta canal will delight you with its simplistic elegance. Whether you choose to do all or part by boat, SUP, cycle or camper, this central southern region has it all. For more information on the canal, check out our dedicated blog here.
Check out our gallery of images below.
3 – Stockholm, for city-break lovers
Sweden’s capital provides a unique stage for the humble visitor. First it has 14 archipelago that need exploring. Then there’s the old town (Gamla Stan) with its historic buildings, cathedral and Royal Palace. And the modern face of Stockholm with it countless museums, canals, Art Gallery underground stations, grand architecture and parks, all combine to give you a holistic experience. Whilst we’re not great city fans, having created our own ‘Alternative Tour’ of the city, we could certainly see the potential for a good 3 day visit here. Check out our City Tour Guide with a twist here.
Check out our gallery of images below.
4 – The Baltic coast and Höga Kusten for outdoor lovers
In dramatic contrast to the west, Sweden’s east coast has the influence of the Baltic Sea. Thousands of year’s worth of natural history is evident along these shores. And it is here where you will experience Sweden’s most authentic personality. From Iron Ore mines dating back to 17th century at Galtström to atmospheric fishing villages tucked away in coves that still rely on the sea for their livelihood. Characterful red, stilted houses that sit on the water’s edge will transport you back to another era. Fågelsundet is the most incredible example of Sweden’s genuine fishing legacy and it will have you magnetised for hours as you step back in time.
And as you head ever north in search of Santa perhaps, the Höga Kusten or High Coast is a sight to behold. 10,000 years of history engraved into this land where the forces of nature have collided to create the world’s highest coastline. Archipelago, lakes, forests of pine home to bears and moose give this region a secret beauty that so many by-pass. Stretching out from Härnösand to Örnsköldsvik, you can discover a treasure of untouched land, that is now protected by UNESCO, such is its importance. And it has been voted as Sweden’s best area of outstanding natural beauty.
At 286m above sea, this coastline is a record breaker and each year it’s still growing; an estimated 8mm per year. With its plunging coastline, deep forests and lakes and dramatic mountains, the High Coast is a must for nature lovers and hikers. The Skulekogan National Park is littered with hikes ranging from boardwalks suitable for wheelchairs to day-long hikes with shelter cabins for the more adventurous. Why not experience the High Coast Trail which is a gruelling 78 mile (129km) trail that takes in the complete stretch of the UNESCO region and takes between 5-7 days.
Check out our gallery of images below.
5 – The Midnight Sun for Bucket List seekers
You can’t come to Sweden in the summer and not head north for a glimpse of the Midnight Sun. It is one of the most incredibly special parts of our trip. Coming from UK, we always have that balance of light and dark. Sometimes one rules over the other more dominantly, although there’s always a yin and yang. Although not so in Scandinavia. Here one is the king for at least 2 months.
Our first initiation was actually in Grenen in the northern most peak of Denmark. And whilst it is too far south to be the traditional midnight sun, the balance of light to dark was most certainly tipped in the favour of the day. As we headed further north, that dominance grew more and more and it enthralled me. Do you ever remember those conundrums at school? If you were plunged into 24 hours or darkness or 24 hours of sunlight, how would it impact on your life?
I never imagined that I would be living that question. How tricky to manage sleep when it is light all day. The sun never dies; it has a perpetual circle where the light gives life to all its subjects. Midnight and the bees are still collecting pollen, the birds are still singing and animals are going about their normal daily habits. Our sleep patterns were definitely affected, as were our energy levels. Bizarrely although I would wake up regularly wondering what the time was, I rarely felt sleep-deprived. My productivity and creativity went through the roof, energised by this most incredible deLIGHT. We could travel as far or as long as we wanted without the darkness forcing us to bow to its supremacy. Although the most amazing insight has been, how quickly the body adapts to this phenomena. After a mere two weeks living and breathing the midnight sun, we rarely even thought about it. Our minds learnt, our bodies shifted and soon we were living life like a Midnight Sun local.
Witnessing the never sinking sun will remain one of my most memorable moments. As we scampered to the top of Arjeplog’s mountain in Lapland, at 2345, we watched in awe as the sun’s arc kissed the horizon gently and then continued on its passage into the next day. What a humbling experience. In the far north, you can bare witness to this incredible event, depending on the weather until mid-July.
6 – The Arctic Circle
One of my three Swedish Bucket Lists was to stop at the Arctic Circle. Whilst I’m not a trophy hunter, I’ve never travelled so far north and to reach the Arctic Circle seemed momentous for this home-bird. Plus there’s always something to learn from these landmarks.
I hadn’t realised that the circle is not a static line – it is forever shifting. Whilst it is approximately on the 66.5ºN axis, it can move up to 48ft every single year. The Arctic Circle is defined by the tilting of the earth away from or towards the sun, which can fluctuate around 2.4º every 40,000 years. This is known as the precession.
How incredible to come face-to-face with this incredible lineage. We arrived on the longest day of the year and it was damp and grey, although to me, the weather mattered not a jot. It was amazing to park up here and feel the energy of the place and its symbolising of universal movement.
7 – Lapland’s Wildlife, for the nature lovers
Someone told me that north of Stockholm, Sweden becomes boring. And whilst we respect everyone’s travel experiences, I was determined to decide for myself. For us, it was anything other than boring. We adore wildlife, nature and forests, and Sweden has them all in bucket loads. Long, straight roads taking you north through the wilderness piques my interest, as hidden behind the wall of trees is a whole existence beyond our comprehension.
Whilst I would love to have seen a bear, they remain an illusive beast for us and so we had to satisfy ourselves with reindeer and the odd female moose. What a privilege they were. On deserted roads we often found ourselves travelling alongside a small family of reindeer as they decided which way to roam. They were so close and so tame. We even saw one on a beach! Well even Ruldoph needs a holiday!
If you are lucky you may see Sea Eagles, Golden Eagles and Rough-legged Buzzards. We saw the latter although everything else was hanging out with the bears on our trip. One of these days we’ll see one, of that I am sure. However, the anticipation was enough to have our eyes peeled like oranges.
Check out our gallery below.
8 – Jokkmokk, gateway to Laponia and the Sami
Sweden is full of culture – and it seems that in every pine needle from the endless forest treasures, there will be an ancient legacy held in its pores. The further north you venture, the more you will learn about Sweden’s Sami, who have been recognised by UN as indigenous people, granting them permission to maintain their identity, practices and semi-nomadic lifestyles.
If you really want to understand Sweden, then look deep into the soul of the Sampi – which is Sami territory. Nestled in the heart of the Arctic Circle, Sami communities support their ancient heritage dating back thousands of years. Their partnership with the earth is key to their culture and there is no better a place to learn about their lives than in this region.
Having passed the heady heights of the Arctic Circle, 4 miles up the road is the small town of Jokkmokk. In summer it has a deserted feel about it, almost as if tumbleweed would look at home here. And yet when you venture into its avenues you uncover a colonial feel. As the epicentre for Sami culture, Jokkmokk is a must-visit destination if you want to learn about this important part of Sweden’s tapestry. The Ajtte Museum is your first port of call and for a mere 90SEK (£7.60) you can easily while away a couple of hours learning about Sami’s nomadic life in the wilds of Laponia. Then a saunter down to the incredibly helpful Tourist Info centre and Sami craft shop will arm you with plenty of Sami knowledge.
In February this humble town takes on a whole new guise as it erupts with its 400 year old Winter Market. On the first Thursday in February, the market begins, and the Sami come from miles around to sell their handicraft. Visited by tens of thousands of people from around the world, the market is unique, in part because of the harsh winter conditions through which the Sami seem to live effortlessly.
Not far from Jokkmokk, you can further expand your Sami understanding by entering into the heart of Laponia. This is a fabulous landscape famed for its partnership between man, history and nature. This region vibrates with Sami culture, geological significance and intense natural beauty. Hence is another of Sweden’s World Heritage sites thanks to its symbiotic relationships. With nine Sami communities, rocks dating back 2,000 million years and an often inhospitable landscape, you can begin to appreciate the geological importance of this off-the-beaten track region. Deep lakes, high mountains, gushing rivers and thriving forests all combine to offer a natural wonder to all who enter through its gates. Why not take the road from Porjus and start your Laponia adventure, seeing the road before you melt into the arms of the snow-covered mountains. Check out the Naturum Centre, where their passionate staff will share their knowledge of the area and the nomadic Sami people.
Check out our gallery below.
9 – Icehotel, Jukkasjärvi – for thrill seekers
I don’t know about you, although being cold is not really my idea of fun. Although when we headed to Swedish Lapland’s northern most reaches of Jukkasjärvi, there was one big, cold Bucket List tick to be had for me. The Icehotel is an incredible and world-renowned establishment that fuses art and nature together under one snowy roofline. The first hotel of its kind was founded in 1989 and since that time 29 winter Icehotel Art Galleries have been uniquely created and duly melted thanks to Mother Nature. With the extraordinary talents of artists from around the globe, the Icehotel has become a winter institution for those looking to experience the Northern Lights, winter sports and sleep in rooms made of ice.
And now, sleeping in your own personal art gallery, can be a year-round activity thanks to the newly created 365 Icehotel. This is a permanent construction made possible by solar panels energised by the 24hrs daylight. Enjoy a tour around these uniquely created suites and partake in a little drink from the Icebar with glasses carved out of ice and dressed in Arctic capes that ward off the chill. For an intimate look at our Icehotel experience – camped up in their campingplats, we hasten to add, check our blog and video here.
Beyond the hotel, Jukkasjärvi can stand proudly as having its own landmark for visitors which makes a visit here doubly worthwhile. Check out the Sami church with its incredible carvings and the Museum and restaurant that have recreated Sami life underneath the canvas. Try a Coffee Cheese – that will blow your mind.
Check out our gallery below.
10 – Abisko National Park, for nature and hiking lovers
Just when you think your Swedish adventures are about to come to an end, you arrive in Abisko. With your vehicle laden with supplies before the expensive heights of Norway, you make your way along the E10. Now this is no normal road. This is the piéce de resistance of border crossing routes. With the landscape taking a dramatic turn from the grey outlook of Kiruna, you will find your mouth quiet literally wide open. I defy you not to gasp in awe at this incredible panorama. Granite boulders strewn like giants’ tiddlywinks, crystal blue waters and ice-white waterfalls cascading from the still snow-capped mountains. This is the world of the Abisko National Park.
Armed with your hiking gear, this is the starting point of the world’s most famous hiking trail – Kungsleden. Created back in 20th century the King’s Trail is over 240 miles (400km) and is as demanding as it is long. It crosses peaks and valleys, passes through mountain villages where reindeer husbandry is evident and meanders around lakes, tarns and rivers. And it all starts (or ends depending on how you see it) in Abisko. You can do parts of the walk from here and the Stora Sjöfallets National Park, where the trail also passes. Or choose to do the whole thing using the cabins along the way to rest and sleep. We chose just to do a small section at Abisko following the path of the canyon and it was absolutely stunning.
Abisko implores you to stay for more than a day, with its full range of walking trails suitable for everyone. With a cable car going up to the mountain, surely from here the Midnight Sun and Northern Lights are a guarantee. It is known to be one of the best parts of Sweden to see the lights and with it microclimate, offers the sun worshipers great chance to see the never sleeping sun.
This was a real highlight to our 34 days in Sweden and has our memories dripping with evocative images of ice-blue canyon waters, classical u-shaped valleys and towering mountains. And as Norway beckoned, we were eased into the geological masterpiece that we would soon be calling home.
Check out our gallery below.
11 – Göta Coastline – Bohuslän Region
Just north of Gothenburg and stretching up to the Norwegian border is an area of outstanding natural beauty. And this a strong acclaim giving the incredible sights that we have seen in Sweden.
After Part 1 of our Swedish adventures, we seriously fell in love with this central Nordic land, and after 7 weeks in Norway how would our return fare? Would Norway’s geological masterpiece tempt us away from our Swedish love affair or would its soft, gentle caress draw us back into its embrace?
Sweden surpassed every expectation, even on our return. Sidling down the west coast, past the Kosterhavnet National Park and through into the king of all archipelago, we were greeted with the same diverse welcome as 12 weeks earlier. Ah Sweden, what a joy. A coastline that splinters into over 8000 tiny island fragments, each with their own fisherman’s hut; a call to find the wild isolation of island life if you dare. Add to this potion, ancient burial grounds in the shape of ships, Bronze Age UNESCO rock carvings and inlets that shelter authentic harbours and I defy you not to be intoxicated.
This region humbly offers history, natural beauty, water sport, culture – and if you want it, even a dose of celebrity. From the maze of archipelago that dot this coastline, creating a safe haven for ospreys, if you love the wild outdoors then this region is for you. Hire a kayak, hike the coast, swim in the many safe harbours or cycle the relatively flat land in search of tranquility and draw-dropping scenery.
Soft pink granite warms your heart as the sunlight catches its curvaceous facias and you find yourself compelled to take routes away from the arterial E6. FREE ferries carry you from one peninsula to another with the speed and efficiency that you expect from Sweden. And your camera just delights in the iconic scenes in front of you. This is one coastline you must discover as it is Sweden at its best.
Check out our gallery below.
Arriving into Sweden is easy, despite its northerly position. Flights to Stockholm, as a major international hub, are a breeze. In fact there are no less than four different airports to choose from;
- Stockholm Arlanda Airport (ARN)
- Bromma Airport (BMA)
- Västerås Airport (VST)
- Skavsta Airport (NYO)
There is the train from Denmark across the Øresund Bridge which takes you straight into Malmo, Gothenburg or Stockholm.
Ferries are plentiful offering you travel from:
- Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania
- Norway and Finland
If you are coming by road then it does depend which direction you are coming from and indeed from which country. There are three main country routes into Sweden;
- Via Finland you can cross the border at Haparanda on the E8.
- Via Norway; from the north the E10 entry into Abisko is an outstanding route or on E6 in the south, crossing at Seläter.
- Via Denmark crossing the Storebælt and Øresund Bridge (which are chargeable.)
If you are travelling with your camper, then why not check out this comprehensive blog offering you our Top Tips for Touring Sweden in a Camper?
Things to remember
A couple of tips worth remembering whilst you are in this delicious country.
- Sweden has its own currency – Swedish Krone – SEK. We used XE.com to get a handle on the exchange rates.
- Sweden is generally a cash-less society, so don’t load up with too much of the paper stuff. Just your pre-loaded cards will do fine. Even for small amounts, cards are generally used.
- Shopping in Sweden is more expensive than some of its European cousins further south, although in comparison to say UK, is on a par in many ways. Prices particularly in the cities will be significantly higher as a general rule.
- Swedes are great linguists and many will speak excellent English, although coming armed with a few Swedish phrases will be appreciated.
Sweden has been a fabulous experience. Three Bucket List ticks and a host of fabulous memories to add to our Travel Journal. Warmth, generosity, community spirit and an enchanting land await you. Sweden stands firmly in our affections for all that it has given us and is another country we can add to our Must Return To list. We hope that this inspires you to put Sweden on your travel agenda and explore it wealth of natural, historical and cultural offerings.
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