Top Ten Places to visit in Sweden in Summerby Thomas Wikman
Oct 1, 2009 (Updated Sep 18, 2012)
The Bottom Line This is a list of top-ten places to visit in Sweden during the summer.
I grew up in Northern Sweden, worked in Stockholm, and I have traveled the various parts of my country on many different occasions. My aunts, uncles, cousins and friends live all over Sweden. Therefore I think I know something about what there is to see in Sweden. Sweden is quite different in summer compared to winter and you should not see the same things in winter as you should in summer. For example, Stockholm is a very beautiful city in summer but quite dreary in winter. The Ice Hotel in Jukkasjärvi in Northern Sweden is a fantastic experience in winter but it is gone in summer. You can do a lot of Skiing and winter sports in winter in the north and you can watch some amazing Aurora Borealis in northern Sweden in winter, however, northern Sweden is also the kingdom of the mosquitoes in summer and the weather is relatively cool.
Sweden is a long country (1,500 miles) and the climate is not the same in the north as it is in the south. The north has a lot of beautiful nature and a rich wild life while the south is the part that is the most populated and has the old medieval cities. I have selected ten places that I suggest that you visit in Sweden in summer if you have time. The list is primarily for those who will be spending some time in Sweden. You cannot possibly do all of these things in a weekend. I should also state that these are my personal selections and you may not agree, however, I hope that my top-ten list will be helpful.
There are a few things that I think you should do in Sweden in summer which I do not have on my list because they don't correspond to a specific place. Sweden is famous for its midnight sun. In Stockholm the nights in June are not very dark (like dusk), however, to see true midnight sun you need to venture above the Arctic Circle which crosses through northern Sweden. Another thing I think you should do in Sweden is pick Cloudberries in northern Sweden (Norrland). Cloudberries are large reddish-yellow-to-white blackberry shaped berries which grow on small plants close to the ground on northern wetlands. I have come across large yellow Cloudberry fields that formed 100 acre yellow carpets of berries. It is a special feeling to be alone with a few buckets on such a Cloudberry field. The cloudberries are so easy to pick that if you find a field like that you can fill a couple of 4 gallon buckets in less than an hour (the mosquitoes will keep you from staying longer). At Treriksröset in northern Sweden you can do midnight skiing under the sun in June. This is a quite unique thing to do; however, I have never done this so it is not on my list.
For your information you can pick berries and mushrooms and camp anywhere you like in Sweden without the consent of the owner (except in military areas). Well you cannot do it close to buildings used for living. Even though private property exist in Sweden it is restricted, and no trespassing signs are illegal. This is great for foreign visitors; unless they buy land without realizing that it still belongs to the public in a sense. It happens that Europeans buy property in Sweden with the idea that they can keep people off their property and then they find out that they can't.
As mentioned, I worked in Stockholm for a couple of years and I have visited Stockholm several dozens of times, so I know Stockholm fairly well.
Stockholm has been the official capital Sweden since 1634 and it was founded in 1250. Stockholm can be dreary in winter but in summer it is a great tourist destination. If you fly to Sweden you will most likely land at Arlanda Airport just north of Stockholm.
Stockholm is arguably the most beautiful of the large Scandinavian cities. The city is situated on 14 islands and on the banks of Lake Mälaren where Lake Mälaren connects to the Baltic Sea. 30% of Stockholm is made up of waterways and 30% is made up of parks and green spaces. Stockholm is therefore a city that has a spacious-close-to-nature ambiance to it. Stockholm has a lot of tourist attractions, however, not as many as some of the large cities on the European continent.
Many of Stockholm's attractions are located on an island called Djurgården. Some of the attraction on Djurgården included the Vasa Museum, Junibacken, the Nordic Museum, Skansen, and Gröna Lund (amusement park). In my opinion the most interesting museum in Stockholm is the Wasa museum (Vasa Museum). On August 10 in the year 1628 the most powerful battleship ever constructed (at the time) sank on her maiden voyage. The Royal battleship Vasa (Wasa) was 226 feet long and featured 700 sculptures.
What happened was that the King, Gustav II Adolf, requested last minute additions including sculptures, cannons, and golden decorations. These were added against the advice of the engineers which resulted in the center of gravity being raised above the sea level. The rest you can figure out. They discovered and salvaged the ship in 1961 and put it in this museum. I should add that my kids liked Juni Backen the most. Juni Backen is a fantasy land for kids, which to a large extent is based on the characters created by the Swedish children's author Astrid Lindgren.
Skansen is another top attraction in Stockholm. Skansen is likely to have something for everyone. Skansen is the World's oldest open air museum. It features 150 traditional houses and buildings collected from around Sweden and Norway. It also has a zoo with brown bears, moose, wolves, lynxes, polar bears, European bison, and many other wild animals. There are a lot of booths where the kids can buy various sorts of traditional and more modern candy, food, bakery goods, ice-cream, and souvenirs. My kids loved the reindeer meat stew that they sold at one of the booths. Naturally there are many other things to see in Stockholm. There are 150 museums, you have the 500 feet Kaknäs Television Tower (you can go up to the top), and Globen the big white spherical and beautiful Ice Hockey Arena (Ice Hockey is a very big sport in Sweden).
The top tourist attraction in Stockholm is probably Gamla Stan or the old city. Gamla Stan consists primarily of the island Stadsholmen, however, the surrounding islets Riddarholmen, Helgeandsholmen, and Strömsborg are also officially part of Gamla Stan. Gamla Stan dates back to the 13th century. It consists of medieval alleyways, cobbled streets, and medieval architecture. My wife found Gamla Stan to be a very picturesque and interesting place, however, my kids got bored from walking around and looking at old buildings. The Royal Palace is located in Gamla Stan and it is definitely worth a visit. The Royal Palace is the official residence of the King. You can visit the treasure chamber which has a lot Jewels, crowns, and gold on display. You can watch the Royal Guards (just like you can in London) and my kids thought this was fun.
I can add that public transportation is very good in Stockholm. It consists of the Stockholm Metro (subway system), two urban rail systems, the Stockholm commuter rail, three light rail systems, a large number of bus lines, and an inner city boat line. Using public transportation is the recommended way to travel within Stockholm However, single tickets can get expensive. One suggestion is to buy the Stockholm card. The Stockholm Card gives you free entry to 75 museums and attractions as well as unlimited access to the Public Transportation system for a certain time.
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2. Stockholm Archipelago
Stockholm Archipelago is a quite impressive Archipelago to the East of Stockholm. It consists of 24,000 islands and stretches 60 kilometers out into the Baltic Sea. Stockholm Archipelago is also called "Stockholms Skärgård". I have sailed among the islands and used private motor boat to reach the Islands. However, you can also travel by ferry or a steamer. Boating and sailing is a common thing to do in Stockholm Archipelago and many people have summer houses on the various Islands. You as a visitor can buy tickets for one of the many ships that go to many of the larger Islands. Waxholmsbolaget is the biggest company doing Archipelago tours and they have 21 boats. The best thing, however, would be if you could rent your own boat or come with a friend. The so called "allemansrätten" allows anyone to anchor anywhere, swim, fish and pick berries anywhere without the land owners consent.
Uppsala is located 43 miles north of Stockholm and there are frequently departing busses and trains that can take you to Uppsala from Stockholm (or from Arlanda). Uppsala is Sweden's most prominent University City and has since 1164 been Sweden's ecclesiastical center. I've studied at Uppsala University, and I have relatives here and I have been back here with my family a number of times.
Nearby Uppsala, in Old Uppsala (Gamla Uppsala) are the remnants of the main pagan (Norse) centre of Sweden. The Temple at Uppsala contained idols of the Æsir gods (Odin, Tor, Frej, etc). In Old Uppsala you will find an Iron Age grave field with seven large royal mounds as well as 1,000 other archeological remains from the Iron Age and the Viking age. You can see a model of the Uppsala Norse Temple, visit an old 11th century church, and drink mead brewed using a nearly 1,000 year old Viking recipe. The Vikings used to sacrifice people here and the small group of trees where the bodies were hung is still here.
Uppsala University was founded in 1477 and it is the oldest center of higher education in Scandinavia. There are a number of other interesting things that you can see in Uppsala, for example, Uppsala Castle which was built in 1549, Uppsala Cathedral, which is Scandinavia's largest church, Uppsala University library (Carolina Redeviva), and many interesting University buildings. The old buildings, the café's and the river flowing through the city center (Fyris ån) gives Uppsala a special ambiance.
About a quarter of the inhabitants in Uppsala are students so Uppsala is a very young city with respect to the population. There are many café's, restaurants, discothèques, and clubs that cater to the younger crowd. Public transportation is fantastic and you don't need a car. Since Uppsala is a relatively small city you can visit most attractions in one day. Personally I love Uppsala, but I might be biased.
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4. The Highcoast
I grew up nearby Örnsköldsvik which is located at the Northern end of the High Coast, so I am probably a biased reviewer. However, I have traveled enough to know that the High Coast is an interesting place in Scandinavia even though it may not be a top notch tourist destination. The High Coast is a coastal region of Northern Sweden (Baltic Sea). It begins north of Härnösand and stretches north to the south of Örnsköldsvik (about 60 miles of coast line). It thus covers a greater part of the central coast line of the county of Ångermanland.
The High Coast is special because of its extreme isostatic effects. This is the land rise that still occurs because the weight of the ice age glaciers was lifted at the end of the ice age. Since the last ice age the land here has risen 800 meters (2625 feet). I can add that this phenomenon was first recognized and studied in the Highcoast. Because of this the Highcoast has a large number of mountains, tall cliff formations, and an unusual landscape. The landscape consist of fjords, lakes, oddly shaped bays and peninsulas, rocky hills, steep mountain sides, and hundreds of cliffy islands of various sizes. The Highcoast Archipelago is the second most interesting archipelago after the Stockholm Archipelago. The Highcoast area also has a lot of wildlife including Brown Bears, Lynx and Moose. The High Coast offers natural beauty, good hiking, good fishing, wildlife, great access to winter sports, and quiet. The area has been on the World Heritage List since the year 2000. If you have time (it is six hours north of Stockholm) I suggest a visit to the Highcoast.
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Gotland is the largest Island in the Baltic Sea that belongs to Sweden. Its area is 3,140 square kilometers and it has one major city called Visby. Visby was a centre of commerce in 900AD (the Viking era) and it later become an important medieval city. In the 12th century a wall was built around the city and in 1225 it also got its own cathedral. Gotland is famous for its rocky shore line, and the many birds that live there. Many of the lime rocks along the shore have interesting shapes and are referred to as rauks. Gotland also has a lot of rune stones and other Viking age artifacts. Gotland is a perfect place to go bicycling because it is well prepared for bicycling, fairly flat and it is not far between the various sights. I should say that I toured the Island by bus, but I have many relatives and friends who toured it by bike. Unfortunately Gotland is far out in the Baltic Sea so it is a little bit difficult to get to, however, there are ferries going from Stockholm to Gotland.
Drottningholm (Queens Island) Palace was built in 1622 by Queen Eleonora. The design of Drottningholm Palace was inspired by the Versailles Palace in France. It is traditionally the summer residence of King Carl XVI of Sweden and Queen Silvia; however, now a day this is where they stay year around. It is a quite large palace with a beautiful large garden full of statues and floral decorations. The interior of the castle is filled with beautiful art, furniture, and chandeliers.
I have some traumatic memories from Drottningholm. When I was five years old I lightly touched a leg of a statue of a deer in the garden and the leg fell right off. I put the leg back and I never told my parents. However, the leg must already have been broken. Despite this difficult experience Drottningholm Palace is a beautiful place to visit and I can recommend it. Drottningholm Palace is located 7 miles west of Stockholm and you can get there by boat, bus or the metro.
7. Småland and the glass kingdom
Småland in south-east Sweden is one the most populated counties in Sweden. Nearly one million people live here, however, most towns in Småland are small and the landscape is hilly and covered by thick forest and small farms. If you have ever heard of Emil in Lönneberga, the famous Astrid Lindgren character, this is where he is from (I also believe Pippi Longstocking is from Småland, and so is my sister in law). One of the main attractions in Småland is the Glass Kingdom (Glasriket). This is an area in Småland with many glassworks factories. They make decorations, lamps, and much more, and you can visit the factories and see them make the stuff that you buy. Two big glassworks companies in the area are Kosta Boda and Orrefors (in case you have heard about them). However, there are many smaller glassworks places that you can visit. There are also museums in the Glass Kingdom.
8. Gothenburg (Göteborg)
Gothenburg is Sweden's second largest city. It is located on the West Coast and is a major port city. In my opinion Gothenburg is not as interesting as Stockholm but it has a number of interesting attractions. Liseberg is Scandinavia's largest amusement park and next to it is a science discovery center called Universeum (Stockholms Gröna Lund is considerably smaller). Gothenburg also has a botanical garden which is among the most prominent in Europe. Gothenburg has channels with old buildings built around them which make for a picturesque city landscape. Just like Stockholm it has an Archipelago (which I have not explored) but it is much smaller then the Stockholm Archipelago. In my opinion the people in Gothenburg are also more relaxed and somewhat friendlier than the people in Stockholm.
Kolmården is a large Zoo and Safari located about one hour south of Stockholm. I've been there many times and I've also taken my wife and oldest son there. The Zoo has around a hundred species including Gorilla, Chimpanzee, Lions, Tigers, Brown Bear, Wolverine, Wolf, Lynx, Deer, Camel, Capybara, Llama, Yak, Buffalo, Penguins, Giraffe, Elephants, Rhinos, Monkeys, Moose, Antelope, Pigs, Snakes, Seals, Dolphins, Storks, Parrots, Ostrich, and many other species of Birds, as well as many small and large mammals and reptiles. They also have a Marine World with Dolphin shows and an astounding Safari. The safari includes animals like, for example, Brown Bears, Elephants, Hyenas, and Lions and therefore it is important that you don't leave you car. I remember having a black bear sitting right in front of the car. One visitor had his car door kicked in by an angry Elephant. What happened was that they were feeding an Elephant and the Elephant got greedy and the car passengers panicked and closed the window on the Elephants trunk. The Elephant now with his trunk stuck in the window also panicked and started kicking the car door. Now try explaining that one to your insurance agent.
What is so great about Kolmården is the way it is designed. You walk around a few big circles and the animals are contained in large areas in those circles. This way they have lots of room and are easy to see. The Safari also has some quite exciting animals.
10. Öland the windy Island
Öland is Sweden's second largest Island after Gotland. On Öland there is a large abandoned castle, Borgholm slott (Borgholm castle), and lots of large windmills, beaches and camping places. These features make it an interesting destination in its self. The Island is narrow and a large area of the Island is grassland (Alvaret). This makes the Island quite windy and perfect for windmills. There are also many Iron Age, Viking, and Medieval sights to see on Öland. There is a six kilometer long bridge going from the Swedish coast (Kalmar, Småland) to Öland so it is easy to get to it.
On Öland I had one of the strangest experiences of my life. When I was a kid we were camping at one of the major camp sites on Öland when this large cloud of lady bugs descended upon the shore. There were lady bugs everywhere and all over you, and the sky was darkened by the Lady bugs flying around. They stayed for a couple of days.
If you have some time left over you should check out this odd looking Island.
Some final advice and information
Naturally there are many other things that you can do in Sweden in summer including hiking in the national parks in the far north (Sarek), visit the beautiful lake of Vättern and the picturesque old channel called Göta Kanal (Gota Channel). You can visit Malmö which is right across from Copenhagen, take a ferry across the Baltic to Finland or Estonia, and visit the Scandinavian Mountains bordering Norway. You can also visit the Sami people in Lappland and learn something about their culture. My ten picks may not be what you would like the best when visiting Sweden, however, I hope my selection will give you a feeling for what there is to see in Sweden and what you might like.
For your information, most young Swedes speak English so it is easy to get around in Sweden even if you only speak English. Credit cards are taken almost everywhere, however, Swedes typically use a code with their credit card (it's the law). However, foreign credit cards are excluded from that law and all you need to do is show an ID (an American driving license or a passport). What you may not like is that the food is sometimes somewhat bland and the Swedes can be quiet, sometimes too proud of their ethnicity and somewhat reclusive.
To read "Top Ten Places to visit in Sweden in Winter" click here.
This review has been entered into my Texas+Sweden write off.