Europe

Sweden – A Land of Surprises

Clarion Sign is Stockholm’s largest hotels | Photo credit: Cecilia Larsson/imagebank.sweden.se

Sweden, the land of forests and lakes and the midnight sun, also boasts bustling cities where cutting edge design and architecture blends with a rich cultural heritage. The capital city, Stockholm, is considered one of the most beautiful cities in the world, due largely to the archipelago system it is built around.

Captivating landscapes abound in Sweden from scenic coastlines, idyllic islands, arctic wilderness areas, vast lakes and starkly beautiful forests that cover over half the country.

Sweden, the third largest country in the European Union, is a modern country on the Scandinavian. With history dating back to prehistoric times and a Viking Age that largely shaped the country, Sweden is also rich in historical interest, offering an abundance of surprises around virtually every corner.

Sweden has a long and intriguing history, but perhaps the most important era of its time is the Viking Age, when the Swedish Vikings raided and traded, expanding the country. Many historical sites and cities in Sweden attest to the significance of the Viking Age, from rune stones honouring the Vikings’ conquests to sites such as Visby where the Vikings previously settled.

But most important, a visit to Sweden will prove rewarding, as you’ll uncover important pieces of history while simply delighting in its charming towns and grandiose castles and palaces. The seemingly endless coastline and the views of the crystal blue Baltic Sea are priceless.

Contrasting with the solitude of the north is the buzz and bright lights of Sweden’s cities. The capital, Stockholm, has long been famed for its idyllic setting – sprawled across 14 islands – and its rich cultural heritage. Today the city has also built a reputation as a global centre of dynamic design, cutting-edge fashion, and innovative cuisine, music and art. On the west coast, Sweden’s second-largest city, Gothenburg, has plenty to offer with its own flavour of entertainment and cultural experiences. Cosmopolitan and bustling Malmö, situated in the south, forms part of a thriving metropolitan region together with the Danish capital, Copenhagen, with which it is linked by the Öresund Bridge. Sweden also borders Norway and Finland.

As a result of the Arctic wilderness of the far north; ultra-cool urban and five-star culinary – tourism is Sweden’s fastest-growing sector. Nature tourism remains Sweden’s biggest attraction, as visitors from around the world are drawn by the country’s stunning nature and untouched wilderness.

As the birthplace of the Nobel Prize, the famous band ABBA and modern designs of IKEA, Sweden is also a cultural haven. The museums and galleries in Stockholm alone are dizzying – from Sweden’s largest art museum, National Museum, to Historiska Museet, which recounts over 14,000 years of history. In the country’s churches, you will stand in awe before some of oldest forms of Swedish art and altar pieces.

The Culture

National Day | Photo credit: Ola Ericson/imagebank.sweden.se

The culture and creativity of Swedes can be described as nothing less than impactful.

In the 18th century Sweden’s scientific revolution took off. Previously, technical progress had mainly come from mainland Europe. In 1739, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences was founded, with people such as Carolus Linnaeus and Anders Celsius as early members. Many of the companies founded by early pioneers are still remain major international brands. Gustaf Dalén founded AGA, and received the Nobel Prize for his sun valve. Alfred Nobel invented dynamite and instituted the Nobel Prizes. Lars Magnus Ericsson started the company bearing his name, Ericsson, still one of the largest telecom companies in the world. Jonas Wenström was an early pioneer in alternating current and is along with Serbian inventor Nikola Tesla credited as one of the inventors of the three-phase electrical system.

And you probably did not know that Sweden is the third largest music exporter in the world. ABBA was one of the first internationally well-known popular music bands from Sweden, and still ranks among the most prominent sounds in the world. Because of ABBA, Sweden entered into a new era, in which Swedish pop music gained international prominence.

Sweden has many authors of worldwide recognition including August Strindberg, Astrid Lindgren, and Nobel Prize winners Selma Lagerlöf and Harry Martinson. In total seven Nobel Prizes in Literature have been awarded to Swedes. The nation’s most well-known artists are painters such as Carl Larsson and Anders Zorn, and sculptors Tobias Sergel and Carl Milles.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s Sweden was seen as an international leader in what is now referred to as the “sexual revolution”, with gender equality having particularly been promoted. At the present time, the number of single people is one of the highest in the world. The early Swedish film I Am Curious (Yellow) (1967) reflected a liberal view of sexuality, including scenes of love making that caught international attention, and introduced the concept of the “Swedish sin”.

Visiting Sweden is somewhat daunting!

Where to go, what to do and what new experiences to do first!!

Of course there are sites to see, history to learn and evening dining and entertainments … but did you know that you can also fish, golf and ski? Or spend quality time at a spa – the experience of which one cannot find elsewhere … and you can do this during certain times of the year when the sun is up for 24 hour periods.

And if anything, the climate will surprise you. Most of Sweden has a temperate climate, despite its northern latitude, with four distinct seasons and mild temperatures throughout the year. The country can be divided into three types of climate; the southernmost part has an oceanic climate, the central part has a humid continental climate and the northernmost part has a subarctic climate. However, Sweden is much warmer and drier than other places at a similar latitude, and even somewhat farther south, mainly because of the Gulf Stream. For example, central and southern Sweden has much warmer winters than many parts of Russia, Canada, and the northern United States. Because of its high latitude, the length of daylight varies greatly. North of the Arctic Circle, the sun never sets for part of each summer, and it never rises for part of each winter. In Stockholm, daylight lasts for more than 18 hours in late June but only around 6 hours in late December.

Stockholm

Drottningholm Palace, official residence of the king | Photo credit: Ola Ericson/imagebank.sweden.se

The capital of Sweden, Stockholm, is a picturesque city that always attracts – all for the best of reasons – and should not be missed.

Here, you can meander through the cobblestone streets of the medieval centre of Gamla Stan, marvel at the magnificent Royal Palace or take in a view of the city from the tower at City Hall. You can, and should, also enjoy the views of this unique island city by boat or by simply walking around and crossing the numerous bridges that connect the city.

Apart from being Sweden’s capital, Stockholm houses many national cultural institutions. There are two UNESCO World Heritage sites in the Stockholm area: The Royal Palace Drottningholm (within Ekerö Municipality) and the Skogskyrkogården (The Woodland Cemetery).

If you ask someone who has visited Stockholm the first word they would probably use to describe it is “beautiful”, and that it is. Stockholm is a major international city with great shopping, quality eateries in abundance, fabulous standard hotels, an internationally renowned club and music scene and a vibrant cultural life. Where Stockholm comes into its own, however, is its sheer natural beauty.

Stockholm, as a city, is over 700 years old and spreads across 14 islands as it faces proudly out to the Baltic Sea. You can get to just about all of Stockholm’s many wondrous sites on foot, which is the perfect way to see the city. You can also take a boat trip that will give you a different facet of Scandinavia’s largest and arguably most beautiful city.

The oldest area of the city is “Gamla Stan” (Old Town), located on the original small islands of the city’s earliest settlements and still features many medieval street layouts. Some notable buildings of Gamla Stan are the large German Church and several mansions and palaces: the Riddarhuset (the House of Nobility), the Bonde Palace, the Tessin Palace and the Oxenstierna Palace. The oldest building in Stockholm is the Riddarholmskyrkan, which dates to the late 13th century.

Stockholm is one of the most crowded museum-cities in the world. Time permitting, take your choice: you can visit some 100 museums. These museums are visited by millions of people every year. The most renowned, the Nationalmuseum, features Sweden’s largest collection of art: 16,000 paintings and 30,000 objects of art. The collection dates back to the days of Gustav Vasa in the 16th century, and features works by many of Sweden’s most prominent artists. The Museum of Modern Art, or Moderna Museet, is Sweden’s national museum of modern art. It has works by famous modern artists such as Picasso and Salvador Dalí.

And for a night out, you can take in a Swedish stage production. Despite being a nation with a fairly small population, Sweden has managed to put itself on the world map with its many musical talents – Sweden is one of the biggest exporters of music in the world. The wide range of musical and theatre events that Sweden features throughout the year enables a lot of newcomers a chance to be seen on stage. And you may just catch the country’s next world superstar. There are festivals which focus on rock and pop … and festivals that celebrate the classics – including a lively jazz scene.

Distinguished among Stockholm’s many theatres are the Royal Dramatic Theatre (Kungliga Dramatiska Teatern), one of Europe’s most renowned theatres, and the Royal Swedish Opera, which was inaugurated in 1773.

Getting Around

Pathfinder Lapland | Photo credit: Staffan Widstrand/imagebank.sweden.se

Though you may need to cover large distances (especially in northern Sweden), the country’s rail network is efficient and extensive. Comfortable, modern trains are designed to deal with all kinds of weather.

Motorways and roads are relatively free of traffic by international standards, and well maintained. Sometimes the only traffic is the occasional deer or elk crossing the road!

Flying is an efficient option thanks to the well-developed system of regional airports around the country.

Sweden’s many lakes, islands and canals are linked by an extensive network of canal boats, vintage steamers, and ferries – large and small.

Sweden has an abundance of experiences of nature for all occasions and tastes, from extreme adventures to solitude in the wilderness. The long coast line (3,218 kilometres) is probably one reason why being on or near the water is a very popular activity.

The archipelagos in Sweden are unique and the Swedes have a particularly intimate and cherished relationship with nature. The natural beauty, the distinctive cultural heritage and the variety of landscapes are, quite simply, not to be missed. From the cascading northern lights that illuminate the sky above the wilds of Swedish Lapland, to the white sandy beaches of the south, you should, when visiting this land of magnificent nature, plan an outdoor experience.

And just for fun … Did you know?

The strongest girl in the world is Swedish! Pippi Longstocking is the heroine of the most famous children’s books in Sweden. These books were written by Astrid Lindgren and are loved by children (and adults) all over the world. They have been translated into 76 languages.

Sweden has made a name for itself as a golfing nation with the success of golfing legend Annika Sörenstam and leading PGA Tour players Carl Petterson and Henrik Stenson. This is an achievement made more remarkable given Sweden’s long winters, but unsurprising given the quality of Sweden’s golf courses. Golf in Sweden, where there are now some 300 courses, is becoming more and more popular. And given the country’s geography and topography, it is blessed with golfing landscapes; courses hewn from rugged coastline and others that carve through giant forests with wending streams.

All the world’s flowers are Swedish. Carolus Linnaeus – better known in the U.S. as Carl von Linné – was the first individual to successfully classify all the plants (and animals) of the world into different species and families. He wrote the epoch-making book Systema Nature (The System of Nature) in 1735, which is still being used by botanists and zoologists today.

A popular souvenir is the road sign for moose-crossing. Every year a huge number of these signs are stolen from Swedish roads.

Swedes are known for their Innovations. Swedish Inventions include: the perfected design of the zipper (Gideon Sundbäck), the marine propeller (John Ericsson), the refrigerator (Carl Munters and Baltzar von Platen), the computer mouse (Håkan Lans) and the pace-maker (Rune Elmqvist).

The favourite food in Sweden is usually meatballs with potatoes and lingonberry sauce. Swedish pancakes are also a favourite.

IKEA and H&M are both modern Swedish retail shops.

You can visit Sweden’s Ice Hotel, which often resembles a palace, and spend a night or two in this winter wonderland.

Every year, Swedes celebrate Midsummer (Midsommar) on the twenty-third of June. On this longest day, in many parts of Sweden, the sun never sets.

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