To end The Early Hour’s homage to Sweden (#swedishweek), Emma Sheppard – who yesterday listed some amazing places to stay if you visit – shares the best things to do while you’re there…
What you get up to in Sweden is, to some extent, dictated by the time of the year, although there is more than enough to keep young and old entertained, regardless of seasonality.
Go north to see the Northern Lights (see main image)
Unfortunately you’re never guaranteed to see the Aurora Borealis but you will maximise your chances if you spend a few nights in the Arctic Circle during winter. Luckily, they are in a period of high activity so all you really need is a clear night and lots of crossed fingers. Ask the hotel you’re staying in whether they have a wakeup call service if the Lights make an appearance – many will.
Have a drink at the Icehotel
While you’re this far north, pop into the world’s first Icehotel in the village of Jukkasjärvi. The ‘ice’ part of the property opens in December and includes a bar where drinks are served in ice glasses. Once April comes, the whole thing has melted until artists descend on the region to recreate it for another year. Try it yourself with an ice sculpting class. If you want to spend the night, the ice rooms are 5400kr (£420) per night including breakfast and the warm rooms are from 2450kr (£190).
Make friends with a husky
Active Lapland’s husky kennels are just five minutes from the Icehotel and the company will pick up guests from any hotel in Kiruna. The dogs are very friendly (expect around 10 to pull the sled) and the guides are passionate and knowledgeable about the area. Tours vary in length from two-and-a-half hours in the morning to full-day experiences for those who want to learn to drive their own husky team. Warm clothing is provided and there is a cake and tea (or meal) break during the day. Prices start from 1150kr (£89) per person for a morning ride.
One of Europe’s most scenic train journeys, the Inlandsbanan train travels 807 miles through Sweden and Norway. In winter (19 December-17 April), the journey is quite a bit shorter but there are full-day trips from Östersund, in central Sweden, to Mora, 200 miles south. On the way, you’ll pass the waterfalls of Storstupet and Helvetesfallet, and wind your way up through Hälsingland to Härjedalen, the highest province in Sweden. Tickets cost 596kr (£46), plus 50kr (£4) for a seat reservation.
Sweat it out in a Swedish sauna
When it’s cold outside, warm up in a traditional Swedish sauna. As an integral part of Swedish life, most locals have one in their house, but if you don’t get an invite, there are options for visitors too. Take a towel in with you to sit or lie on and be prepared to get naked – swimsuits aren’t allowed. In most cases, men and women are split but there is also often a mixed option for families. Some of the best saunas in the cities are at the larger hotels – ask at yours for their recommendations.
Don’t go to bed
The midnight sun is visible from late May to mid July in north Sweden, when the sun doesn’t set for a full 24 hours. If you get a clear night, the experience is ethereal. Try something random while everyone else is asleep – Björkliden has a golf course open all night – 250kr (£19pp) for 18 holes – and you can take midnight kayak tours from Umeå – 650kr (£50pp).
If you’re a fan of outdoor swimming, you’ll be spoilt for choice in Sweden. There are 100,000 lakes to choose from and the country’s strict environmental laws ensure that the water is safe – most Swedes learn to swim in these, rather than local pools. In and around Stockholm, you can sunbathe on the rocks at Fredhäll before hopping into the water to cool off, Sickla Lake is wonderfully secluded, and if you have access to a car (or don’t mind paying for an hour’s taxi ride), you must visit the blue lagoon of Ekerö, which was once a sand quarry.
Take a different kind of tour
Sure, you could hop on and off a tour bus in Stockholm, but wouldn’t you rather see this city from a new perspective? Takvandring offers a 75-minute rooftop tour, that includes climbing 43-metres up the Old Parliament Building and across to Ridderholmen island near the Old Town. Tours cost 595kr (£46) and helmets and harnesses are provided. If that sounds too much like hard work, the City Hall has a 106-metre-high tower that has panoramic views over the city and harbour – tickets are 50kr (£4) and only a limited number of people permitted at once.
Theme parks for adrenalin junkies
Gothenburg’s Liseberg amusement park is Scandinavia’s biggest and is home to Atmosfear – a 116-metre tower that riders freefall from. While it’s open all year round, most rides open from April to September. Tickets here cost 95kr (£7.50) for admission, and 20kr (£1.50) per ride coupon. For younger travellers, Astrid Lindgren’s World in Vimmerby (a three-hour drive from Gothenburg and Stockholm) is dedicated to her most famous characters including Pippi Longstocking (high-season tickets are 400kr (£31) per adult and 290kr (£23) for children over two).
Escape to the archipelago
The archipelago begins just a few minutes from Stockholm and stretches across approximately 24,000 islands, although only 150 are inhabited. Catch the ferry from Blasieholmen peninsula in the city centre – a five-day Island Hopping pass covers an unlimited number of journeys and costs 420kr (£33). Each island has something different to offer but Grisslehamn is one of the few surviving fishing villages and has impressive seafood, Gålö is popular for its white-sand beaches, and Grinda is good for the family with a number of swimming spots and a farm. If you make it to the western archipelago, visit the car-free Koster Islands to search for the ‘black gold of the sea’ – the local lobsters. Hotel Koster offers guests a three-hour lobster safari for 895kr (£70) per person.
Sample the smörgåsbord
Five hundred years ago, Swedes would serve the smörgåsbord to guests who had travelled far to visit – the salted fish, boiled potatoes, eggs and pickled vegetables would last for several days and could be proffered to any number of hungry travellers who knocked on the door. Today, it is less nibbles and more a five-course culinary extravaganza that you must have if you go to Sweden. Remember to ask for advice on how to tackle it; there is a very definite order that must be followed. One of the best in Stockholm is at the Grand Hotel’s Veranda restaurant, including different types of herring dishes, gravlax (cured salmon), and meatballs with lingonberry jam – 495kr (£38) per person.
Drink craft beer
Swedish craft beer is really rather good. Look out for Omnipollo, a beer/design duo from Sweden who ‘gypsy brew’ (brew at other breweries rather than owning their own equipment and brewery) all over the world. In Stockholm, they have also opened Omnipollos hatt, a homely pizza bar with 10 beer taps and an ever-changing brewery line up. Akkurat is another highly rated beer bar in the city, as well as The Flying Elk and Oliver Twist. In Skåne district, to the south of the country, there are more than 10 microbreweries, with many offering reasonably priced tours.
Mosey round museums
Stockholm’s Nobel Museum tells the story of the Nobel Prize, its founder Alfred Nobel and the 800 Laureates who have been awarded the award since 1895. It’s a fascinating look at advances throughout history and admission is free on Tuesdays from 5-8pm – 100kr (£8) per adult at other times. In Gothenburg, the Museum of Art has the world’s finest collection of Nordic art and has been awarded three stars by the Michelin Guide (general admission is 40kr (£3), with extra payments necessary for special exhibitions). If you have children, Gothenburg’s Universeum science centre may be more up your street. There are seven floors of interactive displays and workshops. Family tickets for two adults and up to three children start at 545kr (£42) for a full-day pass.
Hunt for vikings
Just south of Malmö, Fotevikens is an open-air museum dedicated to all things Viking. Wander through the reconstructed town stuck firmly in 1134, and climb aboard the replica of the warship. There are regular events, including the Viking Games (with activities such as fish throwing); if you really like it, you can even sign up to become a Viking yourself. Tickets are 90kr (£7) for adults and 40kr (£3) for children over six. In Stockholm, there are daily-guided tours of Birka town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that dates back to the 750s. The boats depart from City Hall and cost 380kr (£30) per adult for a full-day tour.
Read more from Emma Sheppard on her blog