With sky-stretching, snowy mountains in the north, a forested midland and wildflower-carpeted meadows in the south, Sweden is a nature lover’s paradise — especially (but not exclusively) during the summer. Swedes spend a lot of time outdoors during the warmer months to take advantage of their country’s ecological assets. There are also plenty of cultural and historical attractions to keep you busy, including literary walking tours and festivals celebrating native peoples.
To get the most out of your visit, fill up on coffee — Sweden’s fixation — and get outdoors. And when your achy muscles have had enough, pamper yourself at a famed Swedish spa.
Track Wolves in Skinnskatteberg
Perhaps it’s their elusiveness that makes wolves so fascinating to animal lovers. They’re hard to observe anywhere, but catching a glimpse of paw prints or territorial markings, or hearing a long, lonely howl at night, is a thrilling experience that immerses you in the wolf’s wild realm.
From June through September, you can go on the prowl for wolves in the taiga forests of Skinnskatteberg, which is two hours north of Stockholm. Nature tour company Wild Sweden runs wolf tours in conjunction with researchers at the Grimso Wildlife Research Station; operator Nordic Safari (NordicSafari.net), meanwhile, has two-night trips in wolf territory near Vastmanland. These treks allow travelers to look for wolves while learning about efforts to preserve them. At night, you might even hear them howl from the confines of your camping tent. For a different experience, join the company Nordic Discovery on a nighttime canoeing expedition in wolf territory.
Sleep Somewhere Unusual
Nestled in a wooded village in the far northern stretch of Sweden is a hotel that changed history. Initially launched as an art exhibition in 1989, the now-famous Icehotel has been copied in at least four other countries — and it may have inspired the desire to create other unusual lodging in Sweden.
Among our favorites are an airplane-turned-hotel in Stockholm called the Jumbo Stay and the Treehotel, a collection of modernist treehouses near Harads. The 50-bed Salt & Sill, on the west coast of Sweden in Kladesholmen, is the country’s first floating hotel; it sits atop pontoons. The af Chapman is a permanently docked ship in Stockholm that’s been converted into a chic hostel.
Learn About Sami Culture
The Sami people have occupied the far northern reaches of Sweden, Finland and Norway since prehistoric times. Today, the Sami are the only officially recognized indigenous people of Scandinavia, best known for a nomadic lifestyle centered on reindeer herding.
Interested in learning more about the culture? Sami traders have gathered annually in Jokkmokk during the first week of February since 1605; today, the gathering has become a large Lapland festival with reindeer races, folk music performances, food tastings, parades and other activities. Jokkmokk is also home to Ajtte, the Swedish Mountain and Sami Museum. Nearby is the Sami Siida reindeer park, where you can go on a reindeer-led sled tour and learn more about the region known as Sapmi.
See Stockholm as Lisbeth Salander Did
Ever since Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy became a literary phenomenon several years ago, fans of his crime fiction series have stalked around Stockholm to seek out the spots mentioned in the novels. You can visit the same places that characters Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist made famous in the “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” series on a guided tour. English-speaking guides lead two-hour tours every Saturday at 11:30 a.m. starting at Bellmansgatan 1, the address where Blomkvist “lived.”
Other literary-themed jaunts in Sweden include a self-guided tour around Ystad to follow in the footsteps of author Henning Mankell’s Inspector Wallander or a guided trek through the tiny hamlet of Fjallbacka, home to crime fiction writer Camilla Lackberg.
Advice from a Traveler Who’s Been There
Stockholm – more than just ABBA by Tim Campbell
“[Gamla Stan] is where old Stockholm has its centre and where the Royal Palace is situated. Walking around Gamla Stan envelops you into the literary realm of Hans Christian Andersen with old cobbled streets and historical architecture similar to that of old Germany.” Read more!
Watch Cranes Flirt
There is perhaps no louder or grander call for the start of spring than the cacophony of thousands of eager-to-mate cranes filling a lake. That’s what happens each year in Vastergotland, when cranes migrating north from traditional wintering grounds in Spain descend on Lake Hornborga from late March through mid-April.
Bird enthusiasts flock to the lake’s nature center to watch the cranes’ fanciful mating rituals, which include a goofy choreography of bowing, hopping and wing flapping. If you’re lucky enough to be there at sunset, you might also get to witness the “big lift,” when the cranes take off en masse. Other birds that populate the lake in the spring include ducks, grebes, geese and swans.
Attend a Concert in a Quarry
Outside the town of Rattvik in central Sweden is a former limestone quarry that’s been converted into an amphitheater. Dalhalla has become one of the world’s premier music venues, with acoustics as perfect as the untouched pine forests surrounding it.
From June through September, Dalhalla hosts around 25 concerts and performances covering a variety of musical genres, including rock, country, jazz, classical and opera. Guided tours of the venue are also available.
Drive a Dog Sled Team
Arctic nations that offer dog sledding experiences usually just take tourists for a ride with a dog team, or show you the ropes with a professional musher standing right behind you. But in Sweden, you can learn how to control your own team of Siberian huskies and then mush your way across snowy hills and through pine-scented forests.
The British-based company Nature Travels offers dog sledding experiences in Jamtland, Vindelfjallen and other spots in Lapland. You could go for just an afternoon or take a multi-day adventure that includes lodging in cabins or tent camping. Don’t worry that you’ll be left completely on your own — you’ll have a support team nearby and spend evenings assembled with other mushing travelers.
Get Your Fika Fix
Scandinavians drink the most coffee of any region in the world, and Swedes are no exception. Makes sense: With such a lack of sunlight most of the year, you need something to keep you awake.
Swedes have also invented a meal and social institution around it. Fika — roughly translated as “indulge in coffee and chat at leisure” — usually involves a strong cup of black coffee, dunkable pastries and friends or colleagues to gab with. In Stockholm, popular spots to fika (yes, it’s a noun and a verb) include the historic bake shop Tossebageriet, which dates back to 1920, and the Cinnamon Bakery and Coffeeshop, which is famous for its cinnamon rolls (a fika staple).
Build and Sail a River Raft
It’s a bit of a wacky concept, but that’s what we love about it. In the region of Umea, you can construct your own river raft out of timber and rope, a la Huck Finn, and then lead yourself down a river. A guide will help you build the raft — some are large enough to comfortably hold five or more people — and then set you on your way down the Umealv River or the River Klaralven. You can sail for just an afternoon or for up to a week, either sleeping on the raft or tent camping.
The rivers are very calm. The nature tour company Vildmark i Varmland, which offers timber raft trips for one, four or seven days, says you’ll float along at about 1.5 miles per hour, stopping along the way for hikes, village visits and picnics, if you so desire. You can also book the activity through the official tourist website of Umea (VisitUmea.se) or through outfitter Outdoor Experience (OutdoorExperience.se — though the website is in Swedish, you can email email@example.com for info).
Indulge in a “Swedish” Massage
Technically Swedes don’t use the term “Swedish massage” — only English and Dutch speakers call it that — but Sweden is home to some of Europe’s best spas to get what’s known here as a “classic” massage.
The 110-year-old Hotel Ystad Saltsjobad in Osterlen was named Sweden’s Leading Spa Resort in 2013 by the World Travel Awards. The spa offers a number of 50-minute massages, from classic to deep tissue, as well as an array of other spa treatments. Or purchase a daylong guest pass for the elegant membership-based day spa Sturebadet in Stockholm. This spa dates back to 1885 and has a menu of more than 50 services, including massages and bath cures; plus, there’s an aroma room, steam room, dry sauna and hot pools.
Enjoy the Midnight Sun
From mid-June through July, the sun stays visible above the Arctic Circle for 24 hours a day. It can be hard to sleep anyway, so you may as well stay up all night taking part in outdoor activities. Head to the northern region known as Lapland, which is 125 miles north of the Arctic Circle.
How about midnight kayaking in Holmsund (see Umekajak.se) or knocking out 18 holes of golf at the Bjorkliden Arctic Golf Course? You also can go skiing all night at Riksgransen, Sweden’s northernmost ski resort.
Best Time to Go to Sweden
Sweden’s high and low seasons correspond with those of the rest of Europe. Prices rise and crowds get thicker in the summer. Shoulder seasons — spring and fall — are an excellent time to visit the country. During winter, temperatures drop and most parts of the country become pretty cold, but skiers and those seeking a glimpse of the northern lights should consider a winter trip. Summer brings balmy temperatures (for the most part) and extremely long days — but prices for travel to Sweden will be at their highest in June, July and August.
Sweden on a Budget
Choosing the right season will help you cut costs on your Sweden vacation. Go for a shoulder-season or even a winter trip to save on airfare and accommodations. Alternative lodging options, such as home exchanges, homestays or farmstays, are a good bet if you’re seeking a place to stay on a dime. Keep in mind that Sweden’s currency is the kronor — not the euro — so exchange rates within the country will differ from those in most other European nations.
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