The public transport system in Sweden is one of Europe’s most efficient. There’s a comprehensive train network in the south of the country; in the north travelling by train isn’t quite so easy, as many loss-making branch lines have been closed. However, it’s still possible to reach the main towns in the north by train, and where train services no longer exist, buses generally cover the same routes.
Look out for city and regional discount cards, which often give free use of local transport, free museum entry and other discounts.
Other than flying, train travel is the quickest and easiest way of covering Sweden’s vast expanses. The service is generally excellent and prices are not that high. At holiday times and between mid-June and mid-August, trains are often heavily booked; it’s worth making reservations (often compulsory) as far in advance as you can. The national train operator is SJ (t 0771 75 75 75, w sj.se) which runs an extensive network across the whole of Sweden. For train and connecting bus information visit w resrobot.se. Many station names in Sweden carry the letter C after the name of the city, for example: Stockholm C; this is a “railspeak” abbreviation of Central.
Individual train tickets are rarely cost-effective and visitors doing a lot of touring by train may be better off buying a train pass such as InterRail. A one-country InterRail pass for Sweden allows up to eight days’ travel in one month and starts at £161. Full details can be found at w interrailnet.com. If you do need to buy an individual ticket, it’s worth knowing that the sooner you buy it the cheaper it will be. The cheapest tickets, limited in number, cost 99kr on most SJ routes (145kr on X2000 trains) and are available up to ninety days before departure. Reserved seats on Swedish trains are not marked, so although it may appear that a seat is free it may not be so.
If you’re in Sweden for any length of time, travelling at least part of the summer-only Inlandsbanan (Inland Railway; t 0771 53 53 53, w grandnordic.se), which runs through central and northern Sweden, is a must. The route takes in some of the country’s most unspoilt terrain – kilometre after kilometre of forests, and several lakes (the train usually stops at one or two of them for passengers to take a quick dip), and offers a chance to see real off-the-beaten-track Sweden. For more information, For more information, see Mora. The length of the operating season varies from year to year; check the website for the latest details.
Although bus travel is a little less expensive than going by train, long-distance buses are generally less frequent, and so much slower that they aren’t a good choice for long journeys. Most long-distance buses are operated by one of two companies, Swebus (t 0771 218 218, w swebus.se) and GoByBus (t 0771 15 15 15, w gobybus.se). Departures on Friday and Sunday cost more than on other days; a standard single ticket from Stockholm to Gothenburg, for example, costs from 349kr.
Regional buses are particularly important in the north, where they carry mail to isolated areas. Several companies operate daily services, and their fares are broadly similar to one another’s (usually 250–350kr for a 1–2hr journey). Major routes are listed in the “Destinations” sections within each chapter, and you can pick up a comprehensive timetable at any bus terminal.
The main players on the Swedish domestic airline market are: SAS (w sas.se), Norwegian (w norwegian.se) and Nextjet (w nextjet.se). When booked well in advance, one-way fares on most routes begin around 450kr.
By ferries and boats
In a country with such an extensive coastline and many lakes, it’s only natural that domestic ferry services in Sweden are many and varied. The main route is between Visby, on the Baltic island of Gotland, and Nynäshamn, on the mainland near Stockholm and Oskarshamn. High-speed catamarans as well as regular ferries operate on both routes. Departures are very popular in summer and you should try to book ahead.
Many of the various archipelagos off the coast – particularly the Stockholm archipelago with its 24,000 islands – have ferry services which link up the main islands in the group. There’s also an extensive archipelago off Luleå which is worth visiting.
As far as road conditions go, driving in Sweden is a dream. Traffic jams are rare (in fact in the north of the country yours will often be the only car on the road), roads are well maintained and motorways, where they exist, are toll-free. The only real hazards are reindeer (in the north), elk and deer, which wander onto the road without warning. It’s difficult enough to see them at dusk, and when it’s completely dark all you’ll see is two red eyes as the animal leaps out in front of your car. If you hit an elk or deer, not only will you know about it (they’re as big as a horse), you’re bound by law to report it to the police.
To drive in Sweden you’ll need your own full licence; an international driving licence isn’t required. In general, speed limits are 110kph on motorways, 90kph or 100kph on main roads, 50kph in built-up areas, and 70kph elsewhere if unsigned; for cars towing caravans, the limit is 80kph. Fines for speeding are levied on the spot. You must drive with your headlights on 24 hours a day. Studded tyres for driving on snow and ice are allowed between October 1 and April 30, longer if there’s still snow on the ground; when in use they must be fitted to all wheels.
Be attentive when it comes to parking. Under Swedish law you can’t park within 10m of a road junction, be it a tiny residential cul-de-sac or a major intersection. Parking is also prohibited within 10m of a pedestrian crossing, and in bus lanes and loading zones. In city centres, parking isn’t permitted on one night each week to allow for cleaning (see the rectangular yellow signs with days and times in Swedish, below the “no stopping” sign on every street). In winter the same applies to allow for snow clearance.
Swedish drink-driving laws are among the strictest in Europe, and random breath tests are commonplace. Basically, you can’t have even one beer and still be under the limit; the blood alcohol level is 0.2 percent. If you’re found to be over the limit you’ll lose the right to drive in Sweden, face a fine (often) and a prison sentence (not infrequently).
The cost of petrol (bensin) is in line with the European average (about 15kr per litre). At filling stations, you either pay at the pump with a credit card or inside at the till – choose the pumps marked “Kassa” for this.
Car rental agencies
Some parts of the country were made for cycling: Stockholm, the southern provinces and Gotland in particular are ideal for a leisurely bike ride. Many towns are best explored by bike, and tourist offices, campsites and youth hostels often rent them out from around 150kr a day. There are a lot of cycle paths in towns, which are often shared with pedestrians.
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