If you love the great outdoors, Sweden is a wonderful place to visit at any time of year, with fantastic hiking, fishing and, of course, winter-sports opportunities. Best of all you won’t find the countryside overcrowded – there’s plenty of space to get away from it all, especially in the north. You’ll also find Swedish lakes and beaches refreshingly relaxed and always clean.
During the winter months, skiing – a sport which began in Scandinavia – is incredibly popular, and in the north of Sweden people even ski to work. The most popular ski resorts are Åre, Idre, Sälen and Riksgränsen; these and many others are packed out during the snow season when prices hit the roof. If you do intend to come to ski, it is essential to book accommodation well in advance or take a package holiday.
In northern Sweden you can ski from the end of October well into April, and at Riksgränsen in Lappland you can ski under the midnight sun from late May to the end of June when the snow finally melts. Riksgränsen is also the place to head for if you’re into snowboarding. Kiruna is a good bet as a base for other winter pursuits, whether you fancy dog sledding, snowmobile riding, a night in the world’s biggest igloo (Icehotel at Jukkasjärvi), or ice fishing. Bear in mind, though, that the area around Kiruna is one of the coldest in the country, and temperatures in the surrounding mountains can sink to -50°C during a really cold snap.
Sweden’s Right of Public Access, Allemansrätten, means you can walk freely right across the entire country (see The countryside – some ground rules). A network of more than forty long-distance footpaths covers the whole of Sweden, with overnight accommodation available in mountain stations and huts. The most popular route is the Kungsleden, the King’s Route, which can get rather busy in July at times, but is still enjoyable. The path stretches for 460km between Abisko and Hemavan, passing through some spectacular landscape in the wild and isolated northwest of the country; the trail also takes in Sweden’s highest mountain, Kebnekaise (2102m).
There are almost one hundred thousand lakes and thousands of kilometres of rivers and canals in Sweden. Needless to say, on summer afternoons taking to a canoe is a popular pastime; a good area for this is the Stockholm archipelago. Another excellent alternative is rafting down the Klarälven River in Värmland; one of the companies offering rafting tours even allows you to build your own raft before departure.
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. It’s common practice to take a cold shower afterwards or, in winter, roll in the snow to cool off. Otherwise in the countryside, people often take a dip in a nearby lake. As Sweden boasts around 100,000 lakes and one of the lowest population densities in Europe, you needn’t worry about stripping off for a spot of skinny-dipping.
Sweden is an ideal country for anglers. Salmon are regularly caught from opposite the Parliament building right in the centre of Stockholm, because the water is so clean and fishing there is free. Fishing is also free along the coastline and in the larger lakes, including Vänern, Vättern (particularly good for salmon and char) and Mälaren. In the north of the country, Tärnaby offers top-class mountain fishing for char and trout; and nearby Sorsele is good for fly-fishing for trout, char and grayling. For salmon fishing, the river running up through the Torne Valley is one of the best places. In most areas you need a permit for freshwater fishing, so ask at local tourist offices.
In Sweden you’re entitled by law to walk, jog, camp, cycle, ride or ski on other people’s land, provided you don’t cause damage to crops, forest plantations or fences; this is the centuries-old Allemansrätten or Everyman’s Right. It also allows you to pick wild berries, mushrooms and wild flowers (except protected species), fish and swim, where there are no nearby houses. But this right brings with it certain obligations: you shouldn’t get close to houses or walk across gardens or on land under seed or crops; pitch a tent on land used for farming; camp close to houses without asking permission; cut down trees or bushes; or break branches or strip the bark off trees. Nor are you allowed to drive off-road (look out for signs saying “Ej motorfordon”, no motor vehicles, or “Enskild väg”, private road); light a fire if there’s a risk of it spreading; or disturb wildlife.
It’s common sense to be wary of frightening reindeer herds in the north of Sweden; if they scatter it can mean several extra days’ hard work for the herders. Also avoid tramping over the lichen – the staple diet of reindeer – covering stretches of moorland. As you might expect, any kind of hunting is forbidden without a permit. National parks have special regulations which are posted on huts and at entrances.