Crisp and clean, the tranquil Scandinavian country of Sweden offers a variety of experiences within its elegant and sophisticated cities, its picturesque medieval villages, coastal island archipelagos, peaceful lakes and forests and the icy tundra of northern Lapland.
Sweden is an enchanting country, not as cold as one might imagine situated as it is in the high latitudes, and is well worth exploring whether along the meticulously maintained roads or on the extensive high-speed train system.
Full country name: Sweden
Area: 449,964 sq Km
Population: 9 million
People: 90% Swedes, 3% Finns, 0.15% Sami (indigenous Lapp inhabitants)
Language: Swedish. Lapp is spoken by the Sámi population in the north; there are also Finnish-speaking minorities. English is taught as the first foreign language from the age of nine.
Government: Constitutional monarchy
GDP: US$255,4 billon
Inflation rate: 0,4%
Unemployment rate: 5,6%
Major industries: Forestry, mining, agriculture, engineering and high tech manufacturing, telecommunications, IKEA
Major trading partners: EU, US
Visas: Stays of up to 90 days (unlimited for Nordic citizens) are usually visa free, but South Africans, Hong Kong residents with Chinese passports and residents of many African, Asian, South American and some Eastern European countries should check requirements with Swedish embassies.
Health risks: None
Time: GMT/UTC plus 1 hour
Electricity: 220V 50Hz
Weights & measures: Metric
When to go
Despite its northern location in Europe, Sweden isn't as cold as you might expect. The south has a year-round temperate climate and summer can be quite warm in the north. Sweden is at its best during summer and autumn (late May to September), but hikers and campers may wish to avoid the peak of the mosquito season (June and July).
Due to the country's high latitude, daylight hours are long in summer. Malmö gets 17½ hours of daylight at midsummer, and Sundsvall has constant light during the second half of June, but you have to travel north of the Arctic Circle to experience the true 'midnight sun' - in Kiruna, the sun remains above the horizon for 45 days, from 31 May to 14 July.
Swedes are big on holidays, and even Stockholm shuts down for two or three days around Christmas and midsummer, so plan accordingly. Most Swedes take their vacations from late June to mid-August, so hostels are crowded, but this is also when most hotels offer discounts of up to 50%.
Travel in winter is somewhat restricted and requires some planning as well as serious winter clothing, but there are good opportunities for activities like skiing, dogsledding and snowmobiling. The big cities are in full swing all year, but the smaller towns almost go into hibernation when the temperatures begin to drop (the notable exceptions being popular ski resort towns like Åre, and Jukkasjärvi, home to the Ice Hotel).
Sweden has hundreds of miles of beaches, particularly on the west coast, and 96,000 lakes. There are numerous water-skiing and windsurfing centers on the coast and more accessible lakes. Skindiving is mostly confined to the rocky coasts and islets on the west coast both north and south of Gothenburg. Courses are held from June to August. The great number and variety of rapids makes white-water rafting a popular sport.
Sweden has more than 96,000 lakes and visitors can enjoy fishing in most of them. There are also thousands of miles of rivers, streams and brooks and a coastline of 6760km (4200 miles). The salmon season at Mörrum near Karlshamn opens at the beginning of spring. Sea-trout can be caught throughout the year, except in high summer, which is the best time for char and grayling (typical fish from the northern part of the country).
There are excellent golf courses and facilities provided for members and visitors. Sweden has over 400 courses. One situated north of the Arctic Circle enjoys 24-hour daylight during the summer months and many midsummer championships take place at midnight. Clubs and golf carts can usually be rented. For more information, contact the Swedish Golf Federation (website: www.sgf.golf.se).
There are excellent facilities for skating, tobogganing, snow-mobiling, ice-climbing and dog-sledging. Most skiing takes place in the north, particularly in Dalarna, Härjedalen and Jämtland.
Attractions - Stockholm
Stockholm's main attractions are conveniently packaged close to the heart of the city on the island of Djurgården, crammed with entertainment options, museums, restaurants and wooded green space. Once upon a time the island was a royal hunting ground. Now visitors can hunt for souvenirs at the Handarbetets Vanner (handicraft center); browse the art galleries; enjoy thrills and spills at Gröna Lund, Sweden's oldest amusement park; explore Sweden's past at the Skansen open-air museum; meet Nordic wildlife at the zoo; and watch folk dancing.
Visitors can explore Sweden's past at the Skansen open-air museum, the oldest in the world, where historical buildings dating from the 18th and 19th centuries have been relocated from around the country. The exhibits include a full replica of a 19th-century town complete with craftsmen in period dress who demonstrate the art of tanning, shoemaking, baking and glass-blowing. Skansen is also home to an aquarium and the World of Monkeys within the Skansen Zoo, which focuses on Scandinavian animals such as reindeer, wolverines, elk, lynx and brown bears.