Being one of the most peaceful nations in the world and renowned for having one of its most robust welfare systems, Sweden is a fascinating place on a planet that often lacks these two qualities elsewhere.
Despite the perception that this might mean that there might not be anything of consequence to see here, its rich medieval history, its collective love of the arts, and its wide open spaces (especially in the mostly empty north) will prove that notion to be a lie shortly after your arrival here.
Currency: Swedish Krona
Languages: Swedish, Finnish
What To Do
Shortly after getting settled upon arrival in Stockholm, make the Vasa Museum your first stop on your tour of Sweden. This place is one of the most popular maritime museums in Europe, and one of the most visited museums in all of Scandinavia.
The main attraction that draws in people year after year is the carefully extracted and preserved remains of a 17th century gunship known as the Vasa, which sank on its maiden voyage back in 1628.
While there are other exhibits related to the life and times of the era in which the Vasa lived its short life, there is no escaping the fact that the ship itself dominates the attention of all that enter, as the building has been built around this mammoth but gorgeous specimen of 16th century European shipbuilding.
For those that can’t get enough of looking at and learning about marine vessels, there are four other museum ships docked outside the building available for their viewing pleasure.
Fun fact: Sweden is a constitutional monarchy, with figurehead royals still residing in palatial residences across country. One of their finer buildings that is accessible by the general public is the Drottningholm Palace, which was built in the 16th century to replace a castle that burnt down by accident. Inspired by a French royal palace in Versailles, the opulence in its construction, the lush gardens on site, and the Chinese-style pavillion influenced UNESCO to declare it a World Heritage Site in 1991.
When you get to Sweden’s southernmost major city, be sure to include the Gothenburg Art Museum in your itinerary. This cultural cornerstone holds the world’s finest collection of Nordic art , with many of the best pieces dating from the late 19th century. This major cultural attraction isn’t just notable for having art pieces from the best artists in Scandinavia, as it also holds many spectacular works of art from luminaries such as Picasso, Monet and Rembrandt.
Of all the people on Earth, Swedes are one of the most fortunate when it comes to vacation days, and when they use them, many choose to go camping in Gotland, a rural island that is Sweden’s largest.
While its bucolic countryside and calming seascapes will appeal to travelers that are similarly outdoor-minded, there are many reasons to visit for those that consider themselves indoor cats, as there are many untouched medieval churches (in varying states of disrepair) dotting the island just waiting to be discovered by you.
As well, Visby, the capital of this island province has been lauded by UNESCO as a prime example of a walled Hanseatic town that used to be common across Northern Europe, making it a great place to linger for a day or two.
Those that are truly looking to get away from it all will want to head up to Norrland, which is the sparsely inhabited and densely forested hinterland found in Sweden’s subarctic north. Despite that shiver-inducing description, summer here is actually quite lovely, with the Midnight Sun never quite setting for a few weeks on either side of the Summer Solstice (usually around June 21).
In winter though, the focus shifts to the show that Aurora Borealis (or the Northern Lights) puts on every night, and with the long months of winter cold and snow being in full effect, attractions like the world famous Ice Hotel also do their part to keep the tourists coming into one of the chillier places on Earth between December and April.
What To Eat
While it is a bit of a cultural stereotype encouraged by the worldwide expansion of Ikea furniture stores, Köttbullar or Swedish meatballs are still a popular staple in Swedish cuisine in the present day. Served with cream sauce, a side of mashed potatoes and lingonberry jam, it is a widely anticipated dish that most Swedes enjoy immensely.
Another culinary keystone of the Swedish diet is so routine that it is often served on a special day (Thursday), Artsoppa (pea soup) is a meal that you must have before departing the country. Served with pork and thin pancakes on the side, it is a meal that will insulate you from the inside on the cooler days that you might experience when visiting this nation.
One dessert unique to Sweden is Ostkaka, which is a form of cheesecake that differs markedly from the American version. Unlike the latter type, Ostkaka is more cake-like, with a hint of almond flavouring throughout. Have some with some lingonberry or cloudberry jam on the side!