K.C. was a featured writer for Yahoo! Travel before joining trips to discover in 2013. She is the author of Best Travel Guide for First Time Visitors to Ireland, an Amazon bestseller every year between 2013 and 2016. She has been a featured expert on Newsweek, Travel + Leisure, Travelocity, among others.
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There are many reasons to head to Sweden, whether you’re a city person, love the outdoors or enjoying staying in luxury resorts, you’ll have practically everything at your fingertips. No matter where you are in this Scandinavian beauty, you’ll never be far from the sea, a lake or lush forests, while its cities offer lots of interesting museums, art galleries, shops and restaurants. Of course, if you aren’t sure which places are the very best to visit, this list will give you a great start on making that decision.
The capital of Scandinavia happens to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Stockholm offers an ideal combination of ancient history and tradition, gorgeous scenery, progressiveness and modern amenities along with plenty of charm. It’s safe and easy to get around to fascinating day trips nearby, the surrounding water is clean, the air is fresh and there are lots of green areas throughout. In fact, there is no large city that has more green spaces than Stockholm. If you enjoy the outdoors, you might want to spend the morning exploring the many parks by bicycle, and the afternoon paddling the sea in a kayak. Shopping enthusiasts can search through the artistic treasures at Moderna Musset or enjoy upscale shopping at Ostermalm, an elegant neighborhood with high-end local designer boutiques.
Lapland, which is spread across Sweden as well as Norway and Finland is considered by many to be Europe’s last true wilderness area. In this land of the midnight sun and the northern lights (from mid-autumn through early spring) is definitely for the adventurous. Kiruna is one of its more popular destinations where visitors can meet the Samis and their reindeer herds, as well as explore the remote and stunning wilderness filled with countless lakes. There is practically an endless list of opportunities for excursions, including becoming a musher for the day, embarking on a moose safari, ski and snowmobile tours, ice climbing and more.
The Stockholm Archipelago is one of the most remarkable regions of Sweden, yet it’s still a well-kept secret. It’s made up of over 30,000 islands, islets and skerries, of which only about 1,000 are inhabited, offering a unique escape in both summer and winter. Accessible from central Stockholm all year round via historic white boats, some of which date back over a century and are still steam-powered yet well-preserved, visitors can take a short excursion for just a couple of hours, to a day trip or longer, with an overnight stay.
The country’s first National Marine Park can be found on the scenic, vehicle-free Koster Islands. Just a two-hour drive from Gothenburg, Kosterhavet National Park allows you to embark on a seal safari, kayak, dive or just revel in some of the most unspoiled beaches on the planet. Renting a bike and explore on two wheels, or taking a boat excursion to this fantastic marine wonderland are just two of the favorite ways to experience it. The islands’ appeal includes the captivating “Koster Light,” which has inspired many artists. Lobster lovers won’t want to miss joining a lobster safari either. If you book a Lobster Package, you’ll get to join the crew on a guided Lobster Safari held by skilled professional fishermen, and upon your return, of course, you’ll be able to dine on the delectable catch.
Lund is an enchanting city that has roots in the Viking Age, and with its rich history and lively student population, it has quite a bit more to offer than even many other much larger cities. Lund is ideal for history buffs, and its cobblestone lane center features interesting, attractive and sometimes quite quirky architecture, along with museums focused on everything from weapons and old runes to modern art. Lund Cathedral is one of the most visited sites in the region, and you’ll understand why when you stand in front of the imposing Roman cathedral, with its mighty twin towers rising above the roofs of central Lund. Rent a bicycle and pedal around the cobbled streets and picturesque parks for the best way to soak up its sights. Be sure to take a break at the history museum, which showcases some wonderfully weird objects in the curiosity room, as well as making a stop at one of the cozy cafes housed in historic buildings to enjoy “Fika,” which simply means to have coffee and a pastry.
Gotland, the country’s largest island, located in the Baltic, is a popular summer escape for Swedes. This laid-back paradise is renowned for experiencing some of the best weather in Sweden, as well as having beautiful sandy beaches and dense forests that are ideal for cycling and hiking. There are also an abundance of glistening lakes, bizarre rock formations, spectacular caves with stalactites and stalagmite, and lovely gardens. The medieval town of Visby is the main settlement and is famous for its medieval city ringwall, cathedral and multiple medieval church ruins. A former Viking site, items from the Viking Age are regularly dug up here. If you visit in August, you can take part in the medieval week, hosted here. It includes plenty of costume-wearing attendees along with lots of jousting and live music.
Malmo is a multi-cultural city, full of excitement and energy. Situated just over the Oresund Bridge from the Danish capital and part of Denmark until the 17th century, it has long been overshadowed by its more famous neighbor, but it has plenty to offer on its own, including a host of outstanding cultural offerings like the new Moderna Museet Malmö. Sweden’s third-largest city is fairly small but it is big on organic, fair trade products from fashion to cuisine. You’ll find it fairly easy to shop guilt-free and to enjoy both delicious and ethically-produced food and drink at one of many acclaimed organic restaurants. In recent years, the city’s most notable development has been the revitalization of its Western Harbor, where former shipyards have been transformed into a residential and cultural space with striking architecture and design, and homes and businesses are powered by all-renewable energy. On a nice day, it’s hard to beat strolling along the promenade indulging in ice cream.
Sweden’s “second city” Gothenburg offers a nice alternative to the glamour and glitz of Stockholm. It’s less expensive, and less pretentious as well as being easier to get around. Its streets are lined with all sorts of things to do all year round, and you’ll notice its flair for architecture can be found throughout, including the many scenic parks and gardens, like Slottsskogen Park, Kiellers Park, and Gothenburg Botanical Gardens. There are also galleries to browse, grand homes to gaze at and unique museums that you won’t find anywhere else, like the natural history museum with its stuffed blue whale. Its location on the coast also means incredible local seafood options in local restaurants, and brew lovers will appreciate the happening local craft beer scene.
Just an hour’s drive from Gothenburg, Marstrand is Sweden’s version of Hollywood. A popular playground for celebs and royalty, it boasts a colorful collection of wooden holiday homes and sailboats of all types. The picturesque island is the annual base for the Marstrand Regatta, Match Cup Sweden and other major sailing championships, and it features a large guest harbor, many outstanding shops and a hopping nightlife with plenty of entertainment for all. It also boasts an intriguing history, impressive views from Carlsten’s Fortress and the opportunity for kayaking, fishing, seal excursions, swimming and hiking.
This regional center in Norrbotten, northern Sweden, is quickly becoming a hub for technology, with Facebook hosting a data center here, as well as culture, with a large number of galleries and design shops. You can learn about life in the north at Lulea’s Norrbottens Museum, enjoy free exhibitions at Kulturens Hus which features works by Swedish artists and designers, find a perfect place to stay in one of many award-winning hotels and embark on arctic adventures all year long, within wilderness areas of the vast archipelago, where kayaking, sailing and kite surfing are all popular. Cycle across a frozen sea in the afternoon and then enjoy dining on reindeer, char or ptarmigan in the evening followed by a nightcap at the panoramic sky bar found at the luxurious Clarion Sense hotel.
Nestled in Sweden’s southeast region, picturesque Osterlen is another favorite with Swede vacationers, though few international visitors seem to have discovered it. This hidden gem is a great place to enjoy swimming or soaking up the sunshine in the summer along the Baltic coast at one of the many idyllic sandy beaches. This is the season you’ll find many roadside farm shops and independent art galleries run by local sculptors, painters and glassblowers, opening up their doors to visitors. Throughout the year, the culinary scene is excellent with many eateries serving up dishes with locally grown ingredients, along with the delicious, locally-caught sea trout that is found on many menus.
The Icehotel, located in the village of Jukkasjärvi, offers the ultimate Arctic holiday. Step inside this majestic hotel and you’ll feel as if you’ve stepped into a Disney film. Completely fashioned out of ice and snow, it even features an ice bar and an ice church. Each year, the hotel has to be rebuilt, which means even if you’ve stayed before, the experience will be brand new the next time. Every room is custom-designed, with no two the same. You’ll stay warm with cozy sleeping bags and warm animal furs – and if staying in a frozen suite is not your idea of fun, there is also the option to stay in a non-frozen room. Surrounded by a beautiful winter wonderland, the Icehotel also happens to be in an area that is known as one of the best in the world for viewing the northern lights, which can be seen on just about every clear night. Visitors can also join dog sled safaris, snowshoe on Arctic trails and more.
Skane is a nature lover’s paradise and a land of contrasts, with vast forests as well as endless fields with fertile soil and lovely strikingly white beaches. The southernmost county in Sweden, you’ll find plenty of places to immerse yourself in silence and tranquility, strolling on paths through the forest without another soul around. And, if you’re looking for excitement, the region hosts a wide range of cafés, bars, restaurants, shopping centers, and cultural and sporting activities.
Few cities in Europe and no other in Scandinavia can boast such a total “living” picture of Sweden’s bygone days as Ystad. You’ll find its cobblestone streets and sun-dappled squares lined with many half-timbered houses and other buildings which host shops and restaurants, and Ystad also has a rich, fascinating history, top-class museums and art galleries, along with roughly 25 miles of sandy beaches and lovely rolling countryside at its doorstep. Best-selling author Henning Mankell put the city on the map with his detective stories about Police Superintendent Kurt Wallander – as such, visitors can take one of multiple Wallander guided tours as a great way to see the highlights, including many historic attractions, like St. Knut’s square, the 12th-century Grey Friar’s monastery and the adjacent Saint Petri church and museum.
Uppsala, located less than an hour by train from Stockholm, is considered the center of Swedish culture and history and has played a key role in the country’s development. In its Old Town, the cathedral and castle are considered must-visits. The Uppsala Cathedral has spectacular spires that rise up into the sky against a backdrop of university buildings and the River Fyris. The 16th-century castle now houses three museums- it was the location of a number of major events in the history of Uppsala and Sweden, like “the Sture Murders,” when in 1647 several noblemen were butchered at the behest of deranged King Erik XIV who had accused them of treason. Their clothing is displayed at Uppsala Cathedral). Of course, like many other castles of its time, there was plenty of conflicts, political plotting and bloodbaths. As the city is a popular study abroad destination, you’ll not only find lots of history to explore but plenty of modern amenities too.
Set along the northern coast of the Baltic Sea, Gammelstad is a Swedish UNESCO World Heritage Site and historic Gammelstad Church Town. While you can find similar villages throughout Scandinavia, few have withstood the test of time like Gammelstad. The perfectly preserved town offers a journey back in time, with the chance to see more than 420 wooden church cottages which surround a 15th-century medieval stone church. The cottages were only used on Sundays and at religious festivals to house worshippers from the surrounding countryside who could not return home the same day due to the distance and difficult traveling conditions.
Kalmar is best known for its castle, Kalmar Castle and its cathedral, but this modern city offers the opportunities of a larger city with the charm of a smaller one. You can easily walk or bike to enjoy a number of parks, beaches, forests, shops, museums, galleries and cafes, as well as the castle. This magnificent castle complete with towers and pinnacles has a history that dates back more than 800 years, though its present appearance is from the 16th century, when the Vasa kings rebuilt it in the style of a Renaissance palace, with furnishings in a continental manner.
One of Sweden’s oldest towns, Birka, located on the island of Bjorko, dates all the way back to the 8th Century. In the early days of Scandinavia, it was a major trading post. Today, due to its strong Viking roots and multitude of historical artifacts, it makes an ideal summer day trip destination from Stockholm. You’ll find many visible traces of the people who were born and who lived and died here. Visitors can take a ferry or boat to the island and follow in the footsteps of travelers throughout the centuries who’ve done the same, as well as explore the museum which reconstructs the town’s story.