The center of Scandinavia, Sweden is one of the world’s most livable countries due to its outstanding social welfare programs and high standard of living. Once the home of ferocious Vikings, Sweden’s modern face is one of neutrality, and has been since the turn of the 20th century. The country stands as the largest sovereign state in Scandinavia, bordered by Finland to the east, Norway to the west, and Denmark to the south. Like its neighbors, Sweden’s modern and traditional culture is shaped by its engulfing Nordic climate.
Stockholm is the largest city and the capital. It rests upon the Stockholm Archipelago, spreading across several small islands. The Royal Swedish family resides within, giving it an extra dimension beyond other popular tourist stops. Visitors should also head to Gothenburg, which is an industrial-based city on the western coast. Malmo, situated along the southern tip of Sweden, offers an intriguing landscape of maritime culture. Visby is a smaller town that is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The university cities of Lund and Uppsala are also wealthy cities worth exploring.
Sweden is blessed with an exciting range of summer and winter activities. Ski at some of the world’s best resorts in Riksgransen or Are. Alternatively, travel to the northern borders where the untamed wilderness of Sweden’s cold yet exhilarating Norrland region greets you with unbelievably remote hiking trails, climbing expeditions and nature tours. Don’t let the Nordic name fool you, in the warmer months, go on a boat cruise, rent a kayak or hit the beach in southern and central Sweden.
The best time to visit Sweden is between June and August. The end of June through to the middle of July is the warmest time in the entire country, and is when most locals shed their winter coats to bask in the glorious summer sun for several weeks. Most visitors tend to stay below the Arctic Circle, as the further north you go, the colder and darker it gets.
Understandably, the summer is the busiest time of the year for tourism. All attractions remain open for longer hours, especially open air museums and public parks. Daylight hours can be up to three times longer during the summer too so there’s more time to see and do. Not surprisingly, flights and accommodation is usually much more expensive during the June – August peak period so if you’re looking to save some money, you may be able to find a deal during the shoulder or off-season.
Currency: Swedish Krona
Official language: Swedish
The Swedish Viking Age took place between the eighth and 11th centuries, bringing incredible change in the culture and development of Sweden. Cities like Ystad and Paviken became prominent trading centers with shipbuilding industries and local arts and crafts flourishing. Christianity overtook Paganism as the main religion by the 1100’s.
The Swedish Empire began to take shape during the 17th century. Prior to this, the country was mostly an agricultural based society, failing to make much of impression on the European continent. Under the king Gustavus Adolphus, Sweden and its ever-growing military overpowered the flailing Holy Roman Empire, taking almost half the northern provinces. By the 18th century, Europe’s third largest empire; Sweden, began to deteriorate. A loss of key battles to Russia, and the spread of the Black Plague saw Sweden overtaken by Finland and Russia as the dominant identities in the Baltic Sea.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, Sweden’s population doubled, creating pressure on the country to cope. Starvation and poverty increased, leading to mass emigration between 1850 and 1910 when over one million citizens flocked to the Americas. An agrarian society continued to dominate the country, but industrialization began to seep in slowly at the end of the 19th and start of the 20th century. With the industrial revolution, Sweden’s population began to centralize around larger cities like Stockholm in WWI.
Sweden remained a neutral country during both wars, but was heavily influenced (short of occupied) by Germany in WWII. However, humanitarian efforts headed by Sweden helped save hundreds of thousands of European Jews between 1943 and 1945. Post-war Sweden continued its neutrality during the Cold War, although strong ties with the US and other Western countries were rife. During the 1970’s, Sweden’s industrial sectors were revolutionized and robotization changed the face of mechanical engineering, paper production exploded, and the steel industry was overhauled.
The 1990’s saw the beginning of Sweden’s incredible welfare system and the privatization of public service and goods. This helped develop the country’s livability index, which remains today as one of the most livable countries in the world. In 1995, Sweden joined the European Union.
To learn more about the country’s past, the Nordiska Museum (Djurgårdsvägen 6-16 Box 27820, Stockholm) is home to Sweden’s largest collection of historical exhibits and the Museum of National Antiquities (Narvavagen 13, Stockholm, Sweden) takes visitors through an exciting journey all the way back to the Viking age.
Sweden boasts an interesting Nordic culture, one that was once dominated by Viking traders. Even though modern Sweden is a very industrialized country, there are still pockets of vintage Scandinavia found throughout the country. It is not uncommon to find runestones that depict Viking culture prior to the Middle Ages. Plenty of museums are located throughout the capital, and major conurbations like Malmo and Gothenburg boast a range of cultural sites that depict their reliance on the sea and trade.
Sport has become an important part of Swedish culture in recent years, with the local government pushing for more competiveness among the population. Swedish locals love football, European handball, ice-skating and ice hockey. Tennis has also become a major pastime over the last few decades.
Despite its high altitude, Sweden’s climate is much milder than most people think. There are three climatic zones found throughout the country. The southern and central regions are quite similar, although the surrounding oceanic influences affect the southern reaches more than the middle of the country. Summer generally lasts between June and August with averages temperatures of about 70°F.
In the north, daylight hours are much shorter than other regions and the warm summer months of June, July and August barely get above 14°F. In the winter, (between September and May), temperatures generally fall well below 30°F.
Snowfall can be quite heavy throughout much of the year in the northern zone. However, in the southern regions, much of Sweden remains relatively snow-free. Only about 30 inches of precipitation falls over the 12-month stretch, which is much lower than the world average.
Do you want to visit Sweden for less than 90 days? If you are a citizen of a country outside the EU and you want to visit Sweden (and the other Schengen countries) as a tourist, you may need to apply for a visa. A visa is a permit to enter a country and stay there for less than 90 days.
Taxis are in abundance in the cities of Stockholm, Malmo, Gothenburg and other major towns in Sweden. They tend to be on the expensive side, but if you need service, there are plenty of companies around the country, including Taxi Kurir (+46-8-30-00-00) and TopCab (+46-8-33-33-33). The yellow sticker inside the cab is the general fare charged by the driver with the average being about 300 krona. Anything above this is too much, so walk away before you get ripped off.
Water taxis are used in Sweden, although mostly in cities located on rivers or harbors. In Gothenburg, the river Alvsnabben has regular crossings with ferries. Stockholm uses water taxis as more of a tourist mover than local commuters. Scandlines, Finnferries, Tallink, and Poleferries are just a small selection of the carriers that connect Sweden to Germany, Finland, Norway, the small Baltic States, and Poland.
Sweden’s inner-city bus networks differ by city. Stockholm is home to an incredibly efficient system, which boasts four lines connecting to the heart of town. Buses are relatively cheap and convenient. There are a number of inter-city bus companies operating throughout Sweden, although most of the routes either end or begin near downtown Stockholm. The Y-Bus and Harjedalingen networks operate between Stockholm and the northern city region of Norrland.
Inner city trains are extremely efficient, especially in Stockholm. The capital has several transportation options, including light rail, suburban rail and the underground subway. Train routes to Germany, Finland, Norway and Denmark are available from Stockholm. The train is a cheap alternative to expensive domestic flights.
Before you leave on your holiday, there are at least four health-related things you should do. Please check the handbook for specifics, but for now, here’s the short list:
Step 1: Check with the CDC for their recommendations for the countries you’ll be visiting.
Step 2: Have a medical checkup with your doctor.
Step 3: Pick up any necessary medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
Step 4: Have a dental and/or eye checkup. (Recommended, but less important than steps 1-3.)
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