Consistently ranked among the world’s top 10 most sustainable countries, Sweden is a place where lifestyle, culture and food traditions are all linked to nature. And the Swedes are fiercely protective of their natural environment, while also using it as a source of sustenance. So if you’re looking for a beautiful place to unwind, here’s why you should make Sweden your next holiday destination.
For the average Swede, spending time hiking lush forests and exploring parks is as intrinsic as taking several coffee breaks a day in a ritual called fika.
This love of the outdoors is fostered by a government initiative called Allemansrätten (every man’s right), which grants locals and visitors the Right of Public Access – a unique privilege to connect with nature. So whether you want to go glamping in the meadows, rambling in the countryside, sailing a boat or even trekking across private land (unless there are signs prohibiting you), you have the freedom to enjoy the outdoors.
But with this right comes responsibilities: you must take care of nature and wildlife, and show consideration for landowners and other people appreciating the countryside. The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency sums this up with the phrase, “Don’t disturb – don’t destroy.”
For foodies, Swedish traditions are based on eating as close to nature as possible – think wild salmon, root vegetables, Arctic berries and wild mushrooms –and Allemansrätten encourages a culture of foraging. This means you can fish in the lakes and and forage in the forests, as long as they aren’t designated national parks or protected reserves.
More than 80 percent of the Swedish population live within three miles of a national park or nature reserve, and its 30 national parks make up almost 2% of the entire country’s total surface area.
Considering 97% of Sweden is uninhabited, with a population of 10m, this works out to about 20 people per sqkm – so there are lots of places to detox and disconnect. These include mountains in the north, dense forests and rivers through the middle of the country, rolling plains and meadows in the south, and miles of pristine beaches along its shores. This also means prime access to activities such as hiking, biking, canoeing, and other backcountry activities such as cross-country skiing.
Plus, if you visit during colder months, from September to March, you might catch the elusive Northern Lights in northern Sweden.
Did you know there are roughly 20,000 indigenous Sami living in Sweden? You can learn about one of the world’s oldest cultures (at least 10,000 years old) through one-on-one cultural experiences.
Every February, the tiny town of Jokkmokk hosts the Jokkmokk market, which has been going for more than 400 years. It includes reindeer races, indigenous fashion shows and vendors selling smoked reindeer (souvas) and moose jerky. At Ájtte Sami museum, you can learn about Sami history and view arts and crafts from Sámi Duodji, a local network of artisans.
With 15 Unesco World Heritage sites dotted throughout the country, you can explore Swedish heritage and learn about the evolution of its customs and traditions through unique archeological sites, towns, palaces and museums.
On the island of Gotland – a popular, off-the-beaten-track summer retreat for Swedes – you’ll find the 12th-century Unesco World Heritage-listed Hanseatic town of Visby, worth visiting to admire its medieval ramparts, towers and spectacular views of the Baltic Sea.
Nautical enthusiasts should visit the port of Karlskrona in southern Sweden. Dating back to 1680, it is an example of a well-preserved fortified naval town, with dockyards used for constructing warships.
For historians interested in learning more about the Bronze Age, there are 1,500 rock carving sites in western Sweden alone, with the most impressive art around Tanum. Here you can take a 6km walking trail past several carvings of early hunter-gatherer lifestyles, including the popular Vitlycke carving, depicting a bridal couple.
At the open-air museum Nämforsens Hällristningsmuseum, in Näsåker, in the north, you can also view a collection of more than 2,600 rock carvings and art, the oldest dating back to 4500BCE.
For more modern history, why not visit Drottningholm Palace, Sweden’s first Unesco Heritage Site. Listed in 1991 for its architecture and rococo interior, it is currently the residence of the Swedish royal family. Drottningholm also houses the world’s only surviving 18th-century theatre. It’s 10km from Stockholm, and you can get here by sea – there’s a century-old steamboat that allows you to take in the full grandeur of the palace as you approach.
When it comes to offbeat culinary traditions, Sweden has plenty. Crayfish parties (kräftskivor) and fermented herring (surströmming) premieres are held during the summer, when you can tuck into the equivalent of Swedish soul food, called husmanskost (think meatballs and pickled herring). There are even specific days of the year in Sweden when you can celebrate waffles (March 25), cinnamon buns (October 4) and semla (Shrove Tuesday).
With an outdoor culture that fosters eating directly from nature, Swedish cuisine is synonymous with seasonal and local. This means browsing farmers’ markets, shopping at your local food market (saluhall), foraging for wild chanterelle mushrooms, picking cloudberries and lingonberries from Arctic boreal forests, opting for wild salmon and lean game, and focusing on a plant-based diet rich in root vegetables.
Along Sweden’s Bohuslän coast, in the west, you can hop on a “shellfish safari” and go in search of the region’s own Big Five – crayfish, lobsters, prawns, oysters and mussels. You follow the fishermen out to sea to haul lobsters and crayfish, or farm for oysters and mussels, then create your own sea-to-table experience.
When summer comes around, you’ll find locals hiding out for weeks in various archipelagos all across the country. Why not try island-hopping around the Koster islands, in the heart of Kosterhavet Marine National Park, a two-hour drive from Gothenburg. Or hop on a ferry and work your way around the more than 30,000 islands, islets and skerries in Stockholm’s archipelago.
And when you’re ready to relax and recharge, there are several lodging options to try. You can rent a classic Falu red cottage, or maybe even go glamping, with stunning views of the Baltic Sea under the midnight sun. It’s the perfect ending to a blissful food and nature adventure in Sweden.
Sweden’s laid-back lifestyle lets you live the good life and a trip offers the ideal opportunity to relax and unwind in nature. Visit visitsweden.com to find out more about planning your trip.
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