With its rich history and varied landscapes, Sweden is a traveler’s paradise. If you love the outdoors, it’s certainly hard to beat. The air and water are crystal clean, and there are thousands of acres of unspoiled forests and majestic lakes to explore, not to mention vast archipelagos along its coasts. The roads and public transport are excellent, the citizens are invariably friendly and helpful, and in recent years Swedish cuisine has undergone what can only be described as a revolution. Throw in a mind-boggling history, from notorious Viking invaders to Royal dynasties and imperial intrigue, and one thing is certain: you’ll never be bored. Sweden’s tourist attractions range from opulent palaces and ancient towns to vast Arctic landscapes and the famed Ice Hotel. There are so many things to do that you’ll want to allow plenty of time to enjoy all its outdoor adventures and historic treasures.
1 Vasa Museum
The Vasa Museum in Stockholm is Sweden’s most popular museum and now attracts around a million visitors annually. More than 20 million people have visited since the museum opened in 1990, and it’s not hard to see why. In 1628 the pride of the Swedish Imperial fleet, the Vasa battle ship, sank on its maiden voyage. The ship lay below the icy waters for more than three centuries until, in 1961, an incredibly ambitious salvage operation took place. Now visitors from across the world come to see this fascinating time capsule. The museum caters to tourists of all nationalities. A visit to the Vasa, which houses ten separate exhibitions, is a day out in itself.
Location: Galärvarvsvägen, Stockholm
2 Skansen and Djurgården
Skansen, the world’s oldest open-air museum, is a historic village made up of houses and farmsteads from all over Sweden, representing both rural and urban culture at various periods from 1720 to the 1960s. Gathered here are churches, schoolhouses, manor houses, shops, mills, workers’ homes, artisan’s shops (including a book bindery, print shop, shoemaker, tinsmith, comb maker and glassworks), a bakery, a funicular railroad, a Sami camp with reindeer, and a number of complete farmsteads. These homes, farms, and workshops are inhabited by costumed interpreters who carry on the everyday work, demonstrating the crafts and skills as well as doing household and farm tasks. A zoo includes animals native to Sweden, as well as sections for exotic animals and a children’s zoo.
Skansen is located in the huge urban Djurgården park, a favorite place for locals, especially in the summer. Throughout are traditional cafés, restaurants, snack-bars, and even hotels. Canoe and bicycle hire are also available if you’re feeling energetic. Abba the Museum can be found here, along with the Gröna Lund amusement park. You can catch a ferry from Gamla Stan or Slussen or take a tram or bus from Norrmalmstorg. Alternatively, the park is a pleasant 15-minute walk from the city center. Stop by the Djurgården Visitors’ Center for more information.Official site: http://www.skansen.se/en/
3 Gamla Stan
Stockholm’s Old Town is known as Gamla Stan, a small concentrated area where the city began in the middle of the 13th century. Much of the medieval enclave remains, although in typical Scandinavian style, it is freshly brushed and painted. Its charm is in the architecture along its narrow stone-paved lanes and around its squares, especially the main one, Stortorget, surrounded by old merchants’ houses. In this neighborhood, along with plenty of shops, restaurants, and tea rooms, you’ll find the Nobel Museum, the Post Museum, the Royal Coin Cabinet, and several churches.
Fairytale Drottningholm Palace on the island of Lovö is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and lies about 11 kilometers west of Stockholm city center (45 minutes by boat). Dating from the 17th century, the palace is now the official residence of the Swedish Royal Family. In the picturesque, terraced park are bronze sculptures from Bohemia and Denmark, brought back as trophies of war. Be sure to take in the Chinese Pavilion which dates from the late 1700s. The 18th-century Palace Theatre (Drottningholms Slottsteater) is still used for performances during the summer months. In the Theatre Museum, you can see period stage costumes and stage scenery.
5 Stockholm Archipelago, Stromma Boat Tours
Stockholm is often referred to as the Venice of the North. Water is everywhere, and around 30,000 islands lie in Stockholm’s wondrous archipelago (skärgården). Distinctive red and yellow timber summerhouses occupy some islands while others remain totally unspoiled. A trip on the water, either in and around the city or to one of the islands, should be top on your list. Many tours include lunch or dinner and all give a unique vantage point of the city. Hop-on hop-off options are available too. When downtown, the distinctive Stromma boats are impossible to miss.Official site: http://www.stromma.se/stockholm/
6 Kiruna and the Ice Hotel
Sharing the same latitude as central Greenland, Kiruna is Sweden’s northernmost town. It’s also the chief town of the largest commune in the country, which borders both Norway and Finland. The midnight sun is visible here from mid-May to mid-July. Originally a Lapp settlement, the town began to develop when mining of iron ore started around 1900. Incredibly, due to subsidence caused by mining, the entire city is being slowly moved northwest to the foot of the Luossavaara Mountain.
The world’s first ever Ice Hotel at Jukkasjärvi is about 17 kilometers outside the city. The hotel, with its stunning rooms and furnishings, is re-created each year in a new design, built from ice in the river Torne. In the summer, this is a center for river rafting, stand up paddleboarding, fishing, and canoeing. Sweden’s highest mountain, Kebnekaise, is 90 kilometers west of Kiruna and 95 kilometers northwest is Abisko National Park, where the Lapland Railroad runs west to Narvik on the Norwegian coast.
7 The Göta Canal
Often described as Sweden’s greatest feat of engineering, the canal dates from the early 19th century and is 190 kilometers in length. It’s now one of the country’s premier tourist attractions and offers a unique perspective on Sweden’s heartland. In addition, by connecting with lakes Vänern and Vättern and the Trollhätte Canal, it forms part of a water link all the way from Stockholm, in the northeast, to Gothenburg, in the southwest. Featuring 47 bridges and 58 locks the canal stretches from Sjötorp at Lake Vänern to Söderköping on the Baltic Sea. There’s a choice of passenger cruise vessels or you can hire a boat and experience the canal in your own way.Official site: http://www.gotakanal.se/sv/
8 Stockholm City Hall
One of Sweden’s most famous buildings, the Stockholm City Hall was built between 1911 and 1923, using an astonishing eight million bricks. It is considered one of the finest examples of National Romanticism, designed by the architect Ragnar Östberg. The 106-meter-tall tower is topped by three crowns. A very informative tour recounts some of its history, as well as information about the Nobel Prize, which is presented here each year. On the tour, you’ll see the Blå Hallen, the Blue Hall, where the Nobel dinner is held, and the Gyllene Salen, the Golden Hall, lined by 18 million gold mosaic tiles.
Address: Hantverkargatan 1, Stockholm
9 Visby, Gotland
Steeped in medieval history and brimming with ruined churches, the rose-entwined, walled town of Visby, on the island of Gotland, is a huge draw for visitors from around the world. Quaint cobblestone streets snake about the town, and when exploring, it’s all too easy to lose your sense of being in the modern world. Adorned with stepped gables, many medieval trading houses remain, as well as some timber buildings from the 17th and 18th centuries. Clearly, Visby’s reputation as ‘the pearl of the Baltic’ and UNESCO World Heritage Site status are both well deserved. A self-guided or guided tour of the magnificent walls, which date back some 700 years, is a must. Built into the structure are some 44 defensive towers, and the walls still bear the scars of attack in the form of two breaches. Direct flights are available from Stockholm and several other Swedish cities as well as excellent ferry links.Official site: http://gotland.com/
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Visby
10 Liseberg Theme Park, Gothenburg
Liseberg is one of the most popular destinations in Sweden and each year, the park lures more than three million visitors. It has a huge range of attractions, from children’s carousels and a fairy-tale castle to adrenalin-pumping rides for speed demons, bumper cars, and four roller coasters. The park stages concerts in summer too and it’s a real favorite with both Swedish families and visitors from abroad. At Christmas, the park hosts an excellent market. There are plenty of places to eat and beautiful flowers in bloom during the summer. For the best views in Gothenburg take a ride on the Big Wheel.Official site: www.liseberg.com
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Gothenburg
11 Oresund Bridge, Malmo
From Malmo city center, a 15-minute drive takes visitors to the magnificent Oresund Bridge. Famous throughout the world since opening in 1999 and several decades in the planning, the structure has gained further notoriety through the hit Danish/Swedish TV drama ‘The Bridge.’ This incredible engineering feat now links Sweden to Denmark, and in turn, the continent of Europe. The bridge is both rail and road, and on the Danish side, merges into a tunnel so as not to impact on aircraft at Copenhagen airport. Take a trip across the bridge and through the tunnel to neighboring Denmark, and if you like, spend some time exploring the attractions of Copenhagen.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Malmo
12 Abisko National Park, Lapland
In summer, this is the Land of the Midnight Sun with 24-hour daylight lasting several weeks. The park is some 77 square kilometers in size and famous for its pristine natural beauty and Nordic wildlife. It’s a great place for Scandinavian winter adventures and long summer hikes. Abisko is situated approximately 100 kilometers west of the town of Kiruna and is more than 200 kilometers inside the Arctic Circle within the auroral oval, a particular area where there’s a higher chance of seeing the Northern Lights. Regular flights operate to Kiruna from Stockholm, and bus, train, or taxi transfers are available to the park. Weather permitting, make sure you visit the spectacular Aurora Sky Station.Official site: www.visitabisko.com
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Abisko
Famous as being Sweden’s first ever town and founded in AD 980, the last century of the Viking era, the idyllic village of Sigtuna nestles alongside Lake Mälaren in the lush green landscape of Uppland, north of Stockholm. Sigtuna’s amazing history is to be found in the medieval churches, ruins, rune stones, and buildings that remain to this day. Along Storgatan, which has stood for more than a thousand years, are clusters of interesting little boutique shops selling fashion, designer items, and handicrafts. By car, Sigtuna is just 45 minutes from Stockholm, 30 minutes from the medieval university town of Uppsala, and just 20 minutes from Arlanda airport.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Sigtuna
14 Lund Cathedral
This is Sweden’s most visited cathedral and one of the most visited sites in the southern province of Skåne. You’ll understand why when you stand in front of the imposing Roman structure with its magnificent twin towers. It was founded around 1080 by the Danish King Canute IV and is the oldest and finest Romanesque church in Sweden. The present building dates from the 12th century. Over the altar is a magnificent 14th-century carved reredos, the work of a north German master. The crypt is the oldest part of the cathedral. It’s roof is borne on carved stone pillars, with figures that are traditionally believed to represent a mythical giant, Finn, who is said to have built the cathedral. In the aisle is the famous 14th-century astronomical clock with figures of the Three Kings, which emerge twice daily at noon & 3pm on weekdays and 1pm & 3pm on Sundays.