What you need to know about Sweden
Sweden may have given the world Vikings, Ikea and ABBA, but there’s so much more to discover in Scandinavia’s biggest country. It’s a place of breathtaking natural beauty, packed with beautiful lakes and forests and some of the best (and emptiest) beaches in Europe.
It’s the perfect place for a hiking trip in summer or a cosy cottage retreat in winter – you’ll find the air is clear and pure, the reindeer plentiful, and the people somehow more healthy and wholesome than the rest of Europe. If you’re less keen on the great outdoors, take a stroll round the delightful markets of Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmo, or explore the many islands that dot the coastline of this entrancing country.
Food and drink
Whichever way you approach it, eating out in Sweden is expensive compared to the UK and southern Europe, but no more so than other Scandinavian countries. Once you’ve stopped gasping at the prices, there’s plenty to enjoy about Swedish cuisine, particularly if you’re a lover of meat, fish and potatoes. As bland as this may sound, you’ll find the quality is superb and the flavours are delicious, with some unusual dishes like reindeer and elk with wild berries that you won’t want to miss. If you want to drink like a Swede, it has to be the local sprit akvavit – it’s pretty strong, but comes in lots of different flavours so you’re sure to find one to take home!
Sweden is famous for its design, but there’s plenty more to discover well away from the hallowed blue and yellow aisles of Ikea. Stockholm, Malmo and Gothenburg are all packed with great shops selling Swedish handicrafts, furniture, fashion and gifts, and there are plenty of great department stores to explore too. It’s a good country for picking up some pretty stylish fashion, with lots of home-grown labels selling everything from couture to vintage.
Like everything in Sweden it’s hard to find a bargain, but the Saturday and Sunday markets in all the major cities are a lovely place to pick up local foods and vintage bits and bobs, or simply relax with a coffee and watch the locals stock up for the week.
Sweden is a pretty chilled out place, with a progressive and liberal attitude to gender equality, equal marriage and letting everyone live their life however they like, provided they’re not upsetting anyone. It’s a country that oozes prosperity and laid-back comfort, but the Swedes recognise that this only works if everyone plays their part, which is why you’ll find it’s a country that’s generally clean, well-organised and efficient. Swedish people are straight-talking and honest – you don’t renege on a promise to a Swede, and you don’t try to haggle over a price either, it’s just not polite! Sweden is well known for its lack of inhibition when it comes to nudity, and they find the British prudishness highly amusing. Embrace the relaxed culture and enjoy this wonderful country – you’re in Sweden, after all!
Sweden has one of Europe’s most efficient public transport networks, combining trains across the main cities in the south with buses in the more remote towns in the north. You can use one ticket for both, so it’s easy to get around and the prices are very reasonable. All the main cities offer discount cards for visitors, which include public transport as well as entry to museums and discounts on restaurants and bars. If you want to explore on your own timetable, driving in Sweden is wonderful, with uncongested and well-maintained roads, and beautiful scenery at every turn.
Things to watch out for
Tipping is not the norm in Sweden, so there’s no need to add the usual 10 or 15 percent to your bill. However it’s common to round your bill up to the nearest sensible number for ease of handling payment, so for example 238Kr would be rounded up to 250Kr. There is no local GP equivalent in Sweden, so if you need to see a doctor simply take your passport and insurance details to the nearest hospital.