The mere mention of Sweden conjures up resonant images: snow-capped peaks, reindeer wandering in deep green forests and the 24-hour daylight of the midnight sun. . But beyond the household names of ABBA, IKEA and Volvo, Sweden is relatively unknown. Our list of the best things to do in Sweden will help you get to know this stunning destination better.
Dog sledding is one of the most magical things to do in Sweden in winter. Dog sledding, also known as mushing, is a popular activity in Sweden, particularly in the northern regions such as Lapland.
During the winter months, visitors can take part in guided tours of the snowy wilderness on a sled pulled by a team of Alaskan Huskies or other breeds of sled dogs. These tours can vary in length and difficulty, and some may include overnight stays in remote cabins or other forms of wilderness camping.
Build your own raft and glide down the graceful Klarälven River, taking in some of Sweden’s scenery. Inland from the Bohuslän coast, the landscape is dominated by the largest lake in Western Europe, Vänern. Sitting proudly on the lake’s northern shores, the provincial capital of Värmland, Karlstad, makes an agreeable destination after seeing the highlights of the Swedish west coast.
Both Route 45 and the rail network lead here from Gothenburg. The city provides ready access to an extensive area of sweeping forests and fertile farmland, crossed by lazy rivers. These were once used to float timber into Vänern these are now an excellent way of seeing this most peaceful part of western Sweden.
This twelfth-century cathedral is the finest Romanesque building in northern Europe. Lund’s reputation as a glorious old university city is well-founded. An ocean of bikes is the first image to greet you at the train station, and like Oxford in England – with which Lund is usually aptly compared.
The obvious place to begin your exploration is the magnificent Domkyrkan, Lund’s crowning glory. One of the world’s finest masterpieces of Romanesque architecture, the cathedral is built of storm-cloud charcoal and white stone, giving it an imposing monochrome appearance.
Amongst Sweden’s 100,000 lakes, you’re bound to find one you can call your own. In the countryside, people often take a dip in a nearby lake. Many of these beautiful lakes offer clean and clear waters that are perfect for swimming. With Sweden holding the title of one of the lowest population densities in Europe, you needn’t worry about stripping off for a spot of skinny-dipping.
From late May to mid-July the sun never sets in northern Sweden. Thanks to the refraction of sunlight in the atmosphere, the midnight sun can be seen south of the Arctic Circle. Arvidsjaur marks the southernmost point in Sweden where this happens for a few days each year.
The further north you travel, the longer the period when the phenomenon is visible, and conversely the longer the polar winter. True midnight sun occurs when the entire sun is above the horizon at midnight.
Stretches of white sandy beaches and clear, warm waters are perfect places to relax and play in the summer sun. Wherever you are in Sweden Gotland island 90km from the mainland will elicit a typical Swedish sigh, followed by an anecdote about what a great place it is. You’ll hear that the short summer season is an exciting time to visit; that the place is hot, fun and lively.
These claims are largely true. The island has a distinctly youthful feel, with young, mobile Stockholmers deserting the capital in summer for a boisterous time on its beaches.
Get to grips with Sweden’s stirring Viking past on this Stockholm island. The island of Björkö (the name means “island of birches”), in Lake Mälaren, is the site of Sweden’s oldest town, Birka, which was founded around 750AD and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
For over two centuries, Birka was the most important Viking trading centre in the northern countries, benefiting from its strategic location near the mouth of Lake Mälaren on the portage route to Russia and the Byzantine Empire.
Today, a visit here is not only an opportunity to get to grips with Sweden’s Viking heritage, thanks to the site’s excellent museum, but the boat trip to the island also gives you a chance to explore the tranquil waters of Lake Mälaren.
Eat until you drop: the smörgåsbord is a perfect way to sample Sweden’s excellent cuisine. While you’re in Sweden you should sample a smörgåsbord – an array of small dishes, both warm and cold. It’s available in larger restaurants and in hotels for around 400–500kr – expensive, but good for a blowout.
If you’re a traditionalist you should start with akvavit, drink beer throughout and finish with coffee. Coffee will be included in the price, but alcohol won’t. If you are interested in Swedish cuisine find more information in our guide to Swedish smorgasbord.
Sights such as Jokkmokk market and Fatmomakke village in Lapland are monuments to the thriving culture of Sweden’s indigenous population. Seventy kilometres west of Arvidsjaur, in the village of GASA, the Båtsuoj Sámi Center is a good place to get to grips with the everyday life of the Sámi. Here, you’ll not only come face to face with reindeer (båtsuoj in Sámi) but also meet real reindeer herders.
A half-day-trip here includes dinner of reindeer cooked over an open fire, and the opportunity to learn a bit about the Sámi way of life. The Sámi will teach you about their religion, show the way to milk a reindeer and demonstrate the tricks of baking their traditional bread. Frozen reindeer meat is also available for purchase. You can stay overnight for an extra 410kr per person in a wooden kåta, sleeping on a reindeer skin.
Poseidon stands guard outside Gothenburg’s art museum – home to some of Sweden’s finest paintings from the turn of the last century. Gothenburg is famous for its museums, here are just a few of them:
Discover Gothenburg from both land and water aboard an amphibious bus. See the city’s most known attractions while your guide tells you fascinating stories. Feel the thrill as the bus transforms into a boat and splashes into the water.
One of the most unusual structures in Europe, the Icehotel is a masterpiece of snow and ice sculpture. The brains behind Icehotel belong to Yngve Bergqvist, a southern Swede who moved to Lapland in the 1980s. In 1989, he built an igloo as an art gallery to showcase local Sámi crafts and design. Visitors asked to sleep in the igloo, and the concept was born.
Today, covering roughly 6000 square metres, Icehotel is constructed of thirty thousand tonnes of “snice”, as Icehotel calls it, a combination of snow and ice. From the entrance hall there’s usually one main walkway filled with ice sculptures, from which smaller corridors lead off to the bedrooms and suites that make up the bulk of the hotel. Though many visitors stay the night, the hotel is also open for day visits.
The original settlement of Luleå, Gammelstad, lies 11km northwest of the present city. It’s one of the most significant places of historical interest north of Uppsala, and is included on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. When Luleå was moved to the coast in 1649, a handful of the more religious among the townsfolk stayed behind to tend the church, and the attached church town – the largest in Sweden – remained in use.
It comprises over four hundred timber cottages, which can only be occupied by people born in Gammelstad; even people from Luleå must marry a local to gain the right to live here.
Exploring the cobbled lanes and medieval church ruins of this Hanseatic-walled city is one of the most exciting things to do in Sweden. Visby is a city made for wandering and lingering over coffees and slices of cake. Whether climbing the ramparts of the surrounding walls, or meandering up and down the warren of cobbled, sloping streets, there’s plenty to tease the eye.
Strolling around the twisting streets and atmospheric walls is not something that palls quickly, but if you need a focus, aim for Norra Murgatan, above the cathedral, once one of Visby’s quietest areas. The end of the street nearest Norderport enjoys the best view of the walls and city rooftops.
Enjoy a fika (coffee and cake) in one of the open-air cafés in Stockholm’s atmospheric Old Town. Once Stockholm’s working centre, nowadays Gamla Stan is primarily a tourist hub. This is a fantastic place to take a stroll. In particular around the Kungliga Slottet, Riksdagshuset and Storkyrkan.
The central spider’s web of streets – best approached over the bridges of Norrbron or Riksbron – is a sprawl of monumental buildings and high airy churches which form a protective girdle around the narrow lanes. Some of the impossibly slender alleys lead to steep steps ascending between battered walls, others are covered passageways linking leaning buildings.
Experience early life in Stockholm on this exciting walking tour of the historic Old Town. Listen to colourful stories and legends as you pass historic landmarks and regal palaces. Choose a private tour to have your own guide and go at your own pace.
No list of things to do in Sweden is complete without a trip to one of the 24,000 islands that make up the archipelago. If you arrived in Stockholm by plane, you’ll already have had a tantalizing glimpse of the Stockholm archipelago.
In Swedish the word for archipelago is skärgård – literally “garden of skerries” and a pretty accurate description. The array of hundreds upon hundreds of pine-clad islands and islets is the only one of its kind in the world. Most of the little-known islands are flat and are wonderful places for walking or cycling (ferries to the islands accept bikes onboard).
Climb aboard a classic archipelago ship and sail on the waterways of Stockholm on a sightseeing cruise. Experience the untouched nature of the city's archipelago and hear about the sights from a guide.
A trip on the Inlandsbanan through northern Sweden is one of Europe’s great train journeys. The privately operated Inlandsbanan, the Inland Railway, is a great way of travelling off the beaten track through central and northern Sweden. It stretches over 1000km from Mora to Gällivare, north of the Arctic Circle,
Onboard guides provide commentaries and information about places along the route to ensure you get the most out of the journey.
If you're looking for an off-the-beaten-track experience in Sweden, check out our guide to the disused railway line in Sweden. It’s been a popular summer activity among Swedes for years, and now foreign visitors are catching on.
After lying in mud for centuries at the bottom of Stockholm harbour, the mighty Vasa has been restored to her former glory. Housed in an oddly shaped building close to the Nordiska Muséet, the Vasamuséet is without question head and shoulders above Stockholm’s other museums. It contains the perfectly preserved seventeenth-century warship, the Vasa, which was built on the orders of King Gustav II Adolf.
A victim of engineering miscalculation, the Vasa’s hull was too narrow to withstand even the slightest swell which, when coupled with top-heavy rigging, made her a maritime disaster waiting to happen. She went down with all hands barely a few hundred metres from her moorings. Preserved in mud for over three hundred years, the ship was raised along and now forms the centrepiece of the museum.
Don’t leave Sweden without crossing the magical Arctic Circle, 66° 33’ north. Just 7km south of Jokkmokk, the Inlandsbanan finally crosses the imaginary line drawn around the earth which links the northernmost points along which the sun can be seen on the shortest day of the year.
Crossing into the Arctic is occasion enough for a bout of whistle-blowing by the train, as it pulls up to allow everyone to take photos. However, the painted white rocks that curve away over the hilly ground here, a crude delineation of the Circle, are completely inaccurate. Due to the Earth’s uneven orbit, the line is creeping northwards at a rate of 14–15m every year; the real Arctic Circle is now around 1km further north than this line.
The quintessential Swedish dish, best enjoyed with a cold beer or a shot of akvavit. Herring is a traditional and important fish in Sweden, and it is a common ingredient in many traditional Swedish dishes. It is commonly prepared in a variety of ways, including pickled, smoked, and fried. It is often served as a part of a traditional smörgåsbord.
Sweden’s most enchanting stretch of coastline with smooth rocky outcrops perfect for sunbathing. A chain of islands linked by a thread of bridges and short ferry crossings make up the enchanting region of Bohuslän where, despite the summer crowds, it’s still easy enough to find a private spot to swim.
Sailing is also a popular pastime among the many Swedes who have summer cottages here, and all the way along the coast you’ll see yachts gliding through the water.
Take a tour around one of Sweden’s finest castles, and marvel at its medieval magnificence. Beautifully set on its own island, just south of Stadsparken, is the castle, Kalmar Slott. Unlike many other southern Swedish castles, this one is straight out of a storybook, boasting turrets, ramparts, a moat and drawbridge and a dungeon.
The fully furnished interior – reached by crossing an authentically reconstructed wooden drawbridge and going through a stone-arched tunnel beyond the grassy ramparts – is great fun for a wander.
The Jokkmokk winter market sells everything from bearskins to candlesticks. Known simply in Swedish as Jokkmokks marknad, the town’s 400-year-old Great Winter Market traces its origins back to 1602. It began when King Karl IX decreed that a series of market sites should be set up in the north to help extend Swedish territory and increase taxes to fund his many wars.
Today the market is held on the first Thursday to Sunday of each February when thirty thousand people force their way into town – ten times the normal population. Held on the frozen Talvatissjön lake the market’s reindeer races can be a real spectacle, as man and beast battle it out on a specially marked-out ice track.
Exploring the wild, rugged and remote far north on the Kungsleden hiking trail is one of the best things to do in Sweden for hikers. The Kungsleden (translated “King’s Trail”) is the most famous and popular hiking route in Sweden. A well-signposted, 500km-long path from Abisko in the north to Hemavan, near Tärnaby it takes in Sweden’s highest mountain, Kebnekaise en route.
If you’re looking for splendid isolation, this isn’t the trail for you; it’s the busiest in the country, though it’s the section from Abisko to Kebnekaise that sees most hikers (one of the least busy sections is between Jäkkvik and Adolfström). Most people start the trail at Abisko, but it’s equally feasible to begin further south.
Europe’s biggest bear park is the perfect place to see Sweden’s greatest predator in its natural habitat. The bears here aren’t tamed or caged, but wander around the 325 thousand square metres of the forested park at will, much as they would in the wild. It’s the human visitors who are confined, having to clamber up viewing platforms and along covered walkways.
The bears are fascinating to watch. They’re gentle and vegetarian for the most part (though occasionally they’re fed the odd dead reindeer or elk that’s been killed on the roads).
The perfect end to a long day, a Swedish sauna traditionally finishes with a roll in the snow or a plunge into cold water. Most public swimming pools and hotels, even in the smallest towns, will have a sauna. They’re generally electric and extra steam is created by tossing water onto the hot elements. The temperature inside ranges from 70°C to 120°C.
Traditional wood-burning saunas are often found in the countryside and give off a wonderful smell. Public saunas are always single-sex and nude. You’ll often see signs forbidding the wearing of swimming costumes, as these would collect your sweat and allow it to soak into the wooden benches.
Also known by their Latin name, aurora borealis, the northern lights are visible all across northern Sweden during the dark months of winter. These spectacular displays of green-blue shimmering arcs and waves of light are caused by the solar wind. These are streams of particles charged by the sun, hitting the atmosphere.
Gällivare and Kiruna, both well inside the Arctic Circle, are arguably the best places in Sweden to catch a glimpse of the aurora. You'll want to catch them in the coldest winter months from December to February. Although displays can range from just a few minutes to several hours, the night sky must be clear of clouds to see the northern lights from Earth.
If experiencing the Northern Lights is on your bucket list, also read our guide to the best places to see the Northern Lights in Iceland.
This tailor-made tour to Finland, Norway and Sweden is perfect for people who want to explore the Arctic. Begin your journey from the southern part of Finland via Sweden up to the northern part of Norway. Most importantly, you will be hunting for the Northern Lights in the best locations!
Abisko National Park is a national park located in northern Sweden, about 200 kilometers (124 miles) north of the Arctic Circle. The park covers an area of about 1,300 square kilometers (500 square miles) and is known for its stunning natural beauty, including mountains, forests, and lakes.
Abisko is also famous for the Aurora Sky Station, an attraction located on the summit of Mount Nuolja, where visitors can take a chairlift up to the mountain top to enjoy the spectacular views of the surrounding area and the Northern lights if visible.
Explore Abisko National Park and see the northern lights on a photo tour. Spend an evening under the stars in Lapland and explore the wilderness on foot, in a van, or by sleigh.
Explore Sweden’s famous traditions with our guide to unforgettable midsummer celebrations in Sweden.
Ready for a trip to Sweden? Check out the The Rough Guide to Sweden. If you travel further in Sweden, read more about the best time to go and the best places to visit in Sweden. A bit more hands on, learn about getting there, getting around the country and where to stay once you are there.
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