Officially a royal kingdom (Carl XVI Gustaf rules), Western Europe’s third-largest country extends from the Arctic Circle down to Skane.
It’s nature’s wonderland and an ideal weekend destination, within easy reach of the UK and Ireland. Several airlines offer cheap flights to Sweden. Home to moose, deer, bear, elk and fox and in its waters, salmon and salmon trout, it is covered in forest, studded with lakes, and has thousands of islands and skerries off its coasts.
The aurora borealis lights up the sky in the far north and, in the south, the island of Öland receives more sun than anywhere else in Sweden. Up north, Lapland is home to the native Scandinavians, the Sami people. Down south, Skåne has 400km of white sandy beaches. Even its largest cities – Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmo – are clean and green.
The Swedes’ appreciation of nature is wrapped up in the idea of Allemansrätten, which gives people the right of public access. This soul-enriching philosophy is matched by a couple of belly-filling concepts: fika, which means to have coffee and cake, and smorgasbord, a spread of small dishes including herring, meatballs, salads, eggs, bread and potatoes.
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The climate in Sweden is milder than it should be (as far as its latitude is concerned). The Gulf Stream has a warming effect, and Norway shields Sweden from the worst of the weather. The south has a warm, temperate climate, although the weather in the south west of the country – from Gothenburg to Malmo – is influenced by the ocean. On the east coast, the Baltic Sea often freezes in winter (see trip skating, below) and is much colder. In the north, the climate is sub-Arctic.
The geographical position means that most of Sweden has very long days in summer and very short days in winter. The best time to search for flights to Sweden visit is between June and August. Spring and autumn can also be pleasant. North of the Arctic Circle, there are 24 hours of sun in midsummer and 24 hours of twilight in midwinter.
Sweden celebrates Midsummer, the summer solstice, in a big way. Walpurgis Night on 30 April is a night for lighting bonfires to ward off evil spirits. The feast of Saint Lucia the light giver, who fed famine-stricken Sweden centuries after her death, (so legend says) falls on 13 December and marks the start of the Christmas season.
Winter (November to March, with the exception of Christmas) is, unsurprisingly, off season.
The rail network is extensive. SJ is Sweden’s largest railway company and offers inter-city trains and overnight sleeper trains. Other rail companies include Tagkompaniet, BK Tag, Connex and Inlandsbanan.
Swebus Express is the largest bus operator, which serves 300 destinations throughout Sweden.
Car rental is available at airports. The motorways and roads are well-maintained and it is possible to drive the length of the country.
For a different way of seeing the country, there is the Gota Canal, which has 58 locks and 47 bridges. It runs from Mem/Soderkoping on the Baltic Sea to Sjotorp at Lake Vanern. There are also ferries that run along the coast – the Stockholm archipelago, the islands of Gotland and Oland and the West coast.
(prices quoted are from London)