Sparsely populated Sweden is swathed in staggering landscapes, from Arctic tundra in the north and craggy peaks in the middle to the dense pine forests of the south. As well as an abundance of natural charms, its cities offer up some real cosmopolitan gems – with capital Stockholm particularly vibrant.
Sweden’s cities are shining beacons of what public transport systems should be: extensive, easily navigated and cheap to use. The country also has a comprehensive network of intercity trains, although those planning to visit the more remote areas will need a car in order to get around.
Capital Stockholm is an instantly likeable small city that perches on the Baltic Sea and sprawls across 14 islands – each with its own character. Old town Gamla Stan is a mediaeval gem replete with cobbled alleys and a pretty waterfront, while Djurgården is home to an imposing array of palaces and some of the city’s best museums. For shopping, it is second to none and home to a panoply of hipster brands, among them Acne, Filipa K, Whyred and Dagmar.
Second city Gothenburg brims with cool cafes and has no shortage of things to do – such as its truly titanic aquarium. Referred to by locals as ‘Little London’, the former industrial seaport has a cluster of cobbled streets, a pretty central canal and, in Vallgatan, the flagship store of hipster favorite Nudie Jeans.
Lovely though Sweden’s cities are, its countryside is almost impossible to beat.
To the far north is Swedish Lapland, part of Europe’s last wilderness, and the perfect place from which to see the Northern Lights. Slightly to the south of the Arctic tundra is an array of soaring peaks – many pressed into service as ski resorts during the winter. Southern Sweden, although not as dramatic as the north, is nonetheless lovely and combines rolling countryside with its stretch of breathtaking Baltic coast.
Dotted with dramatic lakes and dense fir forests, the southern province of Skåne is often overlooked – as is its capital, Malmö. Neither deserve it: Skåne is a place of stunning tranquil beauty and dotted with tiny, interesting towns, while Malmö is embracing a future awash with culinary and cultural treasures. The excellent Moderna Museet Malmö is a case in point – as are the growing number of hipster fashion brands opting to make a home there.
Elsewhere, don’t miss Marstrand on the lovely west coast. An hour’s drive from Gothenburg, the town is popular with Sweden’s royals and is unrivalled when it comes to enjoying the local tradition of shellfish parties.
Unlike Denmark, Sweden has never suffered from the sort of dire culinary reputation that long beset its neighbour. Nonetheless, the Swedish gastronomic scene has also enjoyed a revival in recent years with an emphasis on eating seasonally and using only the best local produce. As a result, it’s hard to get a bad meal in Sweden, with top class restaurants such as Faviken found in even the unlikeliest of locations.
The big cities have the most choice to offer, along with a wealth of interesting food markets and delis, although many smaller towns are also getting in on the act. Regardless of where you are, traditional cinnamon buns and rye bread are never far away, while summer brings berry picking and shellfish parties.