Sweden may well be the land that gave the world IKEA and iconic meatballs, but sadly it is often neglected on the traveler trail around Europe, and many visitors choose not to visit this corner of Northern Europe, eschewing it in favor of locations further south.
If you do choose to venture to the north however, you will find sun dappled leafy towns by the water’s edge, fun filled modern cities, and winter wonderlands with a few reindeer thrown in if you make it all the way to Swedish Lapland. Whatever you choose however, know that you are in one of the cleanest, most efficient, and some would say friendliest countries in the world.
Lets explore the best places to visit in Sweden:
Stockholm is widely said to be one of the most picturesque and user friendly cities in Europe, and has an abundance of clean air that blows in off the Baltic Sea, as well as wide open spaces, woodlands, and parks. There is also a strong dedication to history in Stockholm that can be felt when you venture to the old town centre of Gamla Stan where you will find historic buildings as well as dainty cobbled streets that wind around the island and give visitors the chance to explore on foot. For some maritime history, head down to the harbor to see the Vasa, a warship that dates from the 17th century and escaped a watery end after being preserved and restored. Make the most of Sweden’s open green spaces with a trip to the central park of Kungsträdgården where locals go to relax and enjoy the splendid scenery.
Perhaps best known for the books and films based in the area that chart the story of fictional detective Kurt Wallander, and written by Swedish author Henning Mankell, Ystad doesn’t disappoint in real life for those who have only experienced it on paper. The city now offers tours for fans of the books who can visit areas mentioned in the famous tomes, or you can choose to explore on your own, and take in the amazing architecture of the region firsthand. Many of the buildings here are made from wood giving Ystad an old world feel, and there are quaint cafes, eateries, and boutiques to uncover as you wander around this picturesque town.
The city of Marstrand on the west coast is probably about as glitzy as it gets in Sweden, and is known as something of a French Riviera style setting where, historically, royalty and films stars have come to get away from it all. The area is also very popular as a sailing destination so if you want to get out on the glassy Baltic water then this is the place to visit. One of the best ways to take in the city is to climb to the top of Carlsten Fortress from which you can stare out across the water and take in the natural wonders that Sweden has in spades. Marstrand is also famous for its spas which are legendary in Sweden, so pamper yourself with some Swedish massage if you want to get the full opulent experience that draws the rich and famous to this city.
From its home beside a lake, Vadstena was a place of great importance to the royal family of Sweden, and relics of this era remain including the imposing Vadstena Castle that dates from the 16th century and comes complete with an old school moat to protect the royals within. Vadstena is also known for its monastic relics, including a stunning abbey that was built in the 14th century by the first female saint of Sweden. There are other places of historical and religious importance dotted around the city, and there is a strong calming and romantic atmosphere here, with rose covered houses and maze like streets for visitors to explore at their own pace.
5. Jönköping/Lake Vättern
Come to this picturesque town, which made its fortune manufacturing and selling matchsticks, for a peaceful and calm retreat from the world, and as a jumping off point to go and visit the nearby Lake Vättern, the second largest lake in Sweden, and upon whose shores the town rests. The lake is often said to resemble the shape of a finger and there are beautiful views to be found over the clear and glassy surface. For those feeling energetic, there are nature trails around the lake in order for you to make the most of the outdoor setting and admire the local wildlife and plant life.
Boasting the first Marine National Park to be inaugurated in Sweden, Kosterhavet is located over the Koster Islands, and is a paradise for those who enjoy the great outdoors and who want to enjoy the many marine pursuits on offer here. For those looking for adventure there are kayaking and boating opportunities, or you can keep it simple and explore the beaches and rocky terrain that leads you to caves, coves, and outcrops next to the bracing sea. Biking is a common pastime on the islands and you can follow tours of all the places of interest or just go it alone. As you are by the sea, there is an abundance of fresh seafood to enjoy including locally caught lobster.
Known as the capital of West Sweden, Gothenburg is a charming city filled with cobbled streets that are perfect for roaming around on foot in search of hidden treasures, as well as parks and outdoor spaces, including the Botanical Gardens that will teach you all about indigenous plants and animals. The city also boasts a wealth of local markets if you fancy trying some of the local produce, or you can dine in one of the upscale restaurants that are putting Swedish food on the culinary map thanks to the number of Michelin starred eateries in Gothenburg. The city also has a great cafe culture if you want to try the local coffee and Swedish pastries like sweet buns and watch the world go by.
Said to date back to the Middle Ages, Visby is a port and was once a place of great trade importance leading to a protective wall, named the Ringmuren, being built to protect the city from marauders, and this still stands today along with other historical relics in the city that have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As well as being a historical gem in Sweden’s crown, Visby is well known on the arts scene, as many famous Swedish artists have chosen to call the port home thanks to its stunning light, and if you visit during the summer months you can tour many of the artists’ homes and studios which are open to visitors, usually in June.
9. The Stockholm Archipelago
Sweden is hardly a frenetic country, but if you still find that you want to get out of the bigger cities and take things even slower, then you can head out to one or several of the 30,000 islands that exist in the Stockholm archipelago. One of the best ways to get around and witness the stunning and rugged islands is to take one of the old steam boats that still operate in the region. Many have planned day tours with meals included or you can charter a private boat and island hop to your heart’s content, taking in the wild scenery and private atmosphere, as only around 1,000 of the islands in the archipelago are actually inhabited.
Known for being the biggest city in the county of Skåne, Malmö has steadily been making a name for itself in recent years as an arts and cultural hub in Sweden. Alongside many eclectic and up and coming new galleries, this city also has a strong commitment to ecological causes and fair-trade products, having been made the first Fair-trade City in the country. Many of the restaurants here have a farm-to-table philosophy with an emphasis on organic produce and ingredients, so any serious foodies should not miss the fine dining on offer here. There is also an emerging nightlife scene in Malmö with many venues providing live music or other pop up events.
If you enjoy winter then you really should consider visiting the ICEHOTEL in Jukkasjärv, which holds the title as the largest hotel in the world to be constructed from snow and ice. The hotel usually stands from approximately December-March, after which it becomes too warm for the hotel to be sustainable and so it is left to melt, so if you want to check it out or just go for a drink at the ice bar then you will need to come over the winter period. Aside from the actual hotel location there are a whole host of activities available at the ICEHOTEL such as ice fishing, dog sledging, and excursions into the wilderness on snowmobiles.
Sundsvall is often called ‘Stone City’, as the previous town was razed to the ground in the 1800s due to a fire. To avoid such an occurrence happening again all the fire damaged building were rebuilt using stone instead of wood, and as such this makes for a more unusual sight as opposed to many other traditional Swedish buildings, particularly those on the coast. As such many visitors come to Sundsvall to witness the story and the architecture first hand, and after you have seen the mighty stone houses, there is also a famous museum dedicated to local artists and featuring paintings, sculptures, and art installations.
The province of Dalarna is well worth a visit for its magnificent ski resorts and the tranquil but mighty Lake Siljan. Located near the border with Norway, Dalarna is made up of forest, meadows, and wide open spaces, and many of the towns in the province are to be found lakeside, with favorites for travelers both domestic and international being the towns of Mora or Leksand. If you fancy some winter fun then the resort of Idre, set in the mountains shared by Norway, offers premium skiing and snowboarding, or you can trek in the area on one of the many hiking trails.
14. Lake Mälaren
To the west of Stockholm you will find Lake Mälaren, a vast waterway that is home to Birka Island that sits within the lake and provides a history lesson to anyone interested in the Viking period of Sweden. The lake’s main city is named Västerås and is known as a bustling city that is lined with beaches, that also has a wealth of historical relics that date from the days of the conquering Vikings. You can cruise around the lake by boat or simply hop from one location to the other using the main ferries that service the area.
15. Swedish Lapland
If you want to take the road less travelled then Swedish Lapland may just be the perfect place to get away from it all. Located in the Arctic Circle, and known as the home of the Sami or indigenous people who live in the area, Swedish Lapland is made up of a clutch of towns as well as forest and wild but picturesque scrubland. Visitors can travel to the northernmost town in Sweden, Kiruna, to visit the adjacent national parks that stud the area and allow visitors to see elk, reindeer, and even bears roaming freely in their natural habitat. Other natural phenomenon to look out for in Swedish Lapland are the midnight sun, when the sun never sets in the summer months, and the Northern Lights.