Entry into museums is often free. However, where this is not the case expect to pay around 70kr for admission. In winter, there is often a compulsory charge to check your coat when entering a bar or restaurant; this is usually around 30kr.
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Summer weather in Sweden is similar to that in southern Britain, though there are more hours of sunshine; the average temperature in Stockholm, for example, is the same as that in London. By the end of August, though, northernmost Sweden is usually experiencing its first frosts. Snow can fall anytime from around September onwards and in the Stockholm area there is usually – though not always – snow cover from early December to late March. Winters in the far south of the country are mild and often snow-free. Daylight is just as important as temperatures in Sweden. In December, it doesn’t get light in Stockholm until around 9.30am and it’s dark by around 3pm. North of the Arctic Circle there’s 24-hour darkness from mid-December to mid-January, and the merest glow of light at noon during the months immediately either side. Conversely, at the height of summer there’s no part of Sweden which is dark for any length of time; in the far north there’s 24-hour daylight and midnight sun from the end of May until the end of June, and April and July are very light months.
Although often considered the most expensive country in Europe, Sweden is in fact cheaper than all the other Nordic countries and no more expensive than, say, France or Germany. If you don’t mind having your main meal of the day at lunchtime – like the Swedes – or having picnics under the midnight sun with goodies bought from the supermarket, travelling by the efficient public transport system and going easy on the nightlife, you’ll find Sweden isn’t the financial drain you might expect.
You’ll find you can exist – camping, self-catering, hitching, no drinking – on a fairly low budget (around £40/US$50/€45 a day), though it will be a pretty miserable experience and only sustainable for a limited period of time. Stay in hostels, eat the dagens rätt at lunchtime, get out and see the sights and drink the odd beer or two and you’ll be looking at doubling your expenditure. Once you start having restaurant meals with wine, taking a few taxis, enjoying coffees and cakes and staying in hotel accommodation, you’ll probably spend considerably more (£100–150/US$150–200/€120–170 a day).
Crime and personal safety
Sweden is in general a safe country to visit, and this extends to women travelling alone. However, it would be foolish to assume that Stockholm and the bigger cities are free of petty crime, fuelled as elsewhere by a growing number of drug addicts and alcoholics after easy money. Keep tabs on your cash and passport (and don’t leave anything valuable in your car when you park it) and you should have little reason to visit the police. If you do, you’ll find them courteous, concerned and, perhaps most importantly, usually able to speak English.
As for offences you might commit, a big no-no is drinking alcohol in public places (which includes trains). Being drunk in the streets can get you arrested, and drunk driving is treated especially rigorously (see By car). Drugs offences, too, meet with the same harsh attitude that prevails throughout the majority of Europe.
Although racism is not a major problem in Sweden, it would be wrong to say it doesn’t exist. It stems mainly from a small but vocal neo-Nazi movement, VAM (their full name translates as “White Aryan Resistance”), who occasionally daub slogans like “Behålla Sverige Svenskt” (Keep Sweden Swedish) on walls in towns and cities and on the Stockholm metro. Although there have been several racist murders and many attacks on dark-skinned foreigners over the past couple of years, it’s still the exception rather than the rule. Keep your eyes and ears open and avoid trouble, especially on Friday and Saturday nights when drink can fuel these prejudices.
The supply is 220V, although appliances requiring 240V will work perfectly well. Plugs have two round pins. Remember that if you’re staying in a cottage out in the wilds, electricity may not be available.
European Union, American, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand citizens need only a valid passport to enter Sweden, and can stay for up to three months. Once the three months are up, EU nationals can apply for a resident’s permit (uppehållstillstånd) to cover longer visits. For further information on where to obtain the permits, contact the Swedish embassy in your home country.
Swedish embassies abroad
Australia 5 Turrana St, Yarralumla, ACT 2600 Canberra
t 02 6270 2700, w swedenabroad.com.
377 Dalhousie St, Ottawa, ON K1N 9N8 t 613 244 8220,
I Parioli Complex, 1166 Park St, Pretoria
t 012 426 64 00, w swedenabroad.com.
UK 11 Montagu Place, London W1H 2AL t 020 7917 6400,
US 2900 K St NW, Washington, DC 20007 t 202 467 2600,
EU nationals can take advantage of Sweden’s health services under the same terms as residents of the country. For this you’ll need a European Health Insurance Card. Citizens of non-EU countries will be charged for all medical services, although US visitors will find that medical treatment is far less expensive than they are accustomed to at home. Even so it is advisable to take out travel insurance. Note that you need a doctor’s prescription even to get minor painkillers in Sweden, so bring your own supplies.
There’s no local doctor system in Sweden. Instead, go to the nearest hospital with your passport (and Health Insurance Card, if applicable) and they’ll treat you; the casualty department is called Akutmottagning or Vårdcentral. The fee for staying in hospital overnight depends on the care you need.
For dental treatment, foreign citizens generally have to pay in full for treatment. You can spot a dental surgery by looking out for the sign “Tandläkare” or “Folktandvården”. An emergency dental service is available in most major towns and cities out of hours – look in the windows of the local pharmacy for contact telephone numbers.
In the countryside, be aware of ticks, which can spread tick-borne encephalitis and Lyme disease.
Mosquitoes and ticks
Mosquitoes are common throughout Sweden and it’s sensible to protect yourself against bites. Although Swedish mosquitoes don’t carry diseases, they can torment your every waking moment from the end of June, when the warmer weather causes them to hatch, until around mid-August. They are found in their densest concentrations in the north of the country, where there’s swampy ground, and are most active early in the morning and in the late afternoon/early evening. The best way to protect yourself is to wear thick clothing (though not dark colours, which attract them) and apply mosquito repellent to any exposed skin. When camping, make a smoky fire of (damp) peat if feasible, as mosquitoes don’t like smoke. Don’t scratch mosquito bites (myggbett); treat them instead with Salubrin or Alsolsprit creams, or something similar, available from local chemists.
Ticks (fästingar) are fast becoming a big problem in Sweden due to a succession of milder winters. The country has one of the highest rates of tick-borne encephalitis in Europe, a disease which causes fever and nausea, and in a third of cases spreads to the brain; it causes lasting damage in forty percent of people infected. A third of all ticks also carry the bacteria which cause Lyme disease, an illness which can lead to inflammation of the brain and nerves. The insects, which burrow painlessly into the skin, are prevalent predominantly on the east coast and islands and are active from March to November. Their preferred habitat is warm, slightly moist undergrowth, bushes and meadows with long grass. In addition to vaccination, sprays, roll-ons and creams are available in local pharmacies; eating large amounts of garlic is also effective in keeping ticks away, and you should also wear long-sleeved tops and trousers tucked into your socks.
Even though EU health-care rights apply in Sweden, you’d do well to take out an insurance policy before travelling to cover against theft, loss and illness or injury. Before paying for a new policy, however, it’s worth checking whether you are already covered: some all-risks home insurance policies may cover your possessions when overseas, and many private medical schemes include cover when abroad.
Almost all accommodation establishments offer free internet access to guests. Elsewhere, you can get online for free at Pressbyrån newsagents and also on most SJ trains.
Sweden is an exemplary country when it comes to travelling with children. Most hotels and youth hostels have family rooms and both men’s and women’s toilets – including those on trains – usually offer baby-changing areas. There’s a host of child-friendly attractions and activities on offer, from Viking museums to river rafting, theme parks to wildlife sanctuaries. Always ask for children’s discounts, as many activities, particularly during the summer months, are geared towards families.
Sweden has very few public laundries. Your only option to wash your clothes on the road is at youth hostels where there is generally a laundry on site for guest use.
Swedish attitudes to gay men and lesbians are remarkably liberal – on a legal level at least – when compared to most other Western countries, with both the government and the law proudly geared towards the promotion of gay rights and equality (the official age of sexual consent is 15 whether you are gay or straight).
In 1995, Sweden introduced its registered-partnership law, despite unanimous opposition in parliament from the right-wing Moderates and Christian Democrats. Ten years on, in July 2005, the Swedish parliament granted lesbians the right to artificial insemination.
Paradoxically, the acceptance of gays and lesbians in society as a whole can at best be described as sporadic, and in fact homosexuality was regarded as a psychological disease in Sweden until 1979. Outside the cities, and particularly in the north of the country where the lumberjack mentality rules supreme, there can still be widespread embarrassment and unease whenever the subject is mentioned in public.
There are very few gay bars and clubs in Sweden, though gay community life in general is supported by the state-sponsored Riksförbundet för Sexuellt Likaberättigande, or RFSL (National Association for Sexual Equality; Sveavägen 59, Stockholm; t 08 501 62 900, w rfsl.se), founded in 1950 as one of the first gay rights organizations in the world. The website w qx.se has useful information about gay and lesbian happenings in Sweden, and listings of bars and discos where they do exist.
Living in Sweden
The Swedish Institute (t 08 453 7800, w si.se) has a whole host of information about various work and study programmes across Sweden and sometimes organizes Swedish language courses abroad.
The Swedish post office is a thing of the past. Postal services are instead to be found in local supermarkets and filling stations; look for the blue postal sign outside (a yellow horn and crown on a blue background) which are open longer hours than the traditional post office used to be. You can buy stamps (frimärken) at most newspaper kiosks, tobacconists, hotels, bookshops and stationers’ shops, as well as at supermarkets and petrol stations. Note that Swedish addresses are always written with the number after the street name. In multi-floor buildings, the ground floor is always counted as the first floor.
The most useful map of Stockholm can only be bought in the city itself: the Stockholm Map (Stockholmskartan) is available from any office of the local transport authority, Storstockholms Lokaltrafik. This map has the advantage of showing all bus and metro routes in the capital, and includes a street index. For maps of the whole country, go for Hallwag’s Sverige/Sweden (1:8,000,000). There are also regional maps produced by Kartförlaget (1:250,00 and 1:400,000), which are excellent.
If you’re staying in one area for a long time, or are hiking or walking, you’ll probably need something more detailed still, with a minimum scale of 1:400,000 – though preferably much larger for serious trekking. The Fjällkartan produced by Lantmäteriverket, which cover the northwestern mountains at a scale of 1:100,000, are unfortunately rather expensive, both in Sweden and abroad.
The Swedish currency is the krona (kr; plural kronor). It comes in coins of 1kr, 5kr and 10kr, and notes of 20kr, 50kr, 100kr, 200kr, 500kr and 1000kr. There’s no limit on the amount of Swedish and foreign currency you can take into Sweden. At the time of going to print, the exchange rate was around 11kr to £1, 8.5kr to US$1 and 9.5kr to €1.
The cheapest and easiest way of accessing money whilst you’re in Sweden is from ATMs with your debit card. There will be a flat transaction fee for withdrawals, which is usually quite small, but no interest payments.
Credit cards are a good backup source of funds, and can be used either in ATMs or over the counter. Mastercard, Visa, American Express and Diners Card are accepted everywhere for goods or cash.
Traveller’s cheques are a safe and simple way of carrying your money, although there can be a hefty commission when you come to change them. Some places charge per cheque, others per transaction, so it’s common sense to take large denominations with you, or to try to change as much as you feel you can handle in one go.
Banks have standard exchange rates but commissions can vary enormously. The best place to change money is at the yellow Forex offices (w forex.se), which offer more kronor for your currency though also charge commission. You’ll find Forex branches in Sweden’s main cities as well as at major airports and train stations.
Opening hours and public holidays
Shop opening hours are generally from 10am to 6pm on weekdays and 10am to 4pm on Saturdays. In larger towns, department stores remain open until 7pm or longer on weekdays, and some are also open on Sundays between noon and 4pm. Museums and galleries operate various opening hours, but are generally closed on Mondays outside the summer months. Banksare open on weekdays from 9.30am to 3pm (until 4/5.30pm on Thursdays); in some cities, banks may stay open to 5.30pm every weekday.
Banks, offices and shops are closed on public holidays. They usually also close or have reduced opening hours on the eve of the holiday.
In the land of Ericsson, mobile phones work virtually everywhere and almost every Swede has at least one. Consequently, public payphones have all but disappeared. Mobile coverage in the south of the country is virtually a hundred percent. In the north there is good coverage along the main roads and the coast, and even the most remote village in Norrland has some kind of network coverage; with international roaming this means you can use your phone virtually wherever you happen to be.
Stockholm is undoubtedly the best place in Sweden to shop – it not only has the biggest selection of stores in the country but, thanks to competition, prices tend to be a little lower than elsewhere. Glassware is generally a good buy and Swedish glass producers are renowned for their innovation and creative designs; in Stockholm try the Åhléns and NK department stores which keep a wide range of glass products. Other items to look out for are locally produced handicrafts which can range from handwoven table runners to wrought-iron candlesticks. Most towns have a handicraft store selling “hantverk”. For English-language books try the Akademibokhandeln chain found in major towns across the country, or, better, in Stockholm, the Swedish Institute, Slottsbacken 10, which has an unsurpassed stock of English-language books on Sweden and Sweden-related gifts and souvenirs.
Sweden conforms to Central European Time (CET), which is always one hour ahead of Britain and Ireland. For most of the year Sweden is six hours ahead of New York, nine hours behind Sydney and eleven hours behind Auckland. Clocks go forward by one hour in late March and back one hour in late October (on the same days as in Britain and Ireland).
All towns – and some villages – have a tourist office from where you can pick up free town plans and information, brochures, timetables and other literature. Most offices have internet access. During the summer they’re open until late evening; out of season it’s more usual for them to keep shop hours, and in the winter they’re normally closed at weekends. Sweden’s official website for tourism, w visitsweden.com, is extremely comprehensive and worth a browse before leaving home.
Travellers with disabilities
Sweden is, in many ways, a model of awareness in terms of disabled travel, with assistance forthcoming from virtually all Swedes, if needed. Wheelchair access is usually available on trains (InterCity trains have wide aisles and large toilets, and often have special carriages with hydraulic lifts), and there are lifts down to the platforms at almost every Stockholm metro station. In every part of the country there’ll be some taxis in the form of minivans specially converted for disabled use.
Accommodation suitable for people with disabilities is often available: most hotels have specially adapted rooms, while some chalet villages have cabins with wheelchair access. Any building with three or more storeys must, by law, have a lift installed, while all public buildings are legally required to be accessible to people with disabilities and have automatic doors. For more information, contact De Handikappades Riksförbund, (t 08 685 80 00, w dhr.se).