Sweden has evolved beyond its iconic stereotypes—a certain car, a certain hair color, and a certain legendary ‘70s pop group. Its postcard-perfect capital Stockholm is a hotbed of tech startups, innovative design houses, and sustainable restaurants, cafés, and microbreweries, and also enjoys a vibrant indie music scene and a strong gaming industry. Laid-back, hipster-laden Gothenburg is the country’s culinary pride, with the best seafood in the region and young chefs that pop out of tattoo parlors to run Michelin-starred restaurants and serve Swedish royalty. With eco-friendly Malmö's intoxicating mix of cultural influences, Northern Sweden’s Arctic tundra and indigenous Sámi cultures, the traditional Swedish roots of Dalarna, and medieval history on the island of Gotland, today’s Sweden is an eclectic melting pot of creative and cultural influences well beyond—yes—Volvos, blondes, and ABBA.



When’s the best time to go to Sweden?

It’s extremely tough to get a Swede out of Sweden during the summer because the country comes alive with almost 24 hours a day of sunlight. The weather is temperate, with blue skies and low-hanging clouds and plenty of lush, undulating greenery. People spend their time island-hopping around various archipelagoes, hiking, swimming in bays, and retreating to summer cottages and cabins. Fall is for shellfish journeys in West Sweden, where you can trawl for lobster, crayfish, oysters, mussels, shrimps, and langoustines with professional fishermen. Winter brings with it opportunities to see the Northern Lights and to participate in outdoor activities such as husky sledding, snowmobiling, and skiing.

How to get around Sweden

Sweden’s main airports, in Stockholm and Gothenburg, are well-connected to the rest of Europe, and there are direct flights to the U.S. West Coast through Norwegian Airlines and Scandinavian Airlines (SAS). Chances are you’ll be arriving in Sweden via Stockholm Arlanda Airport, which is a 45-minute journey from the heart of the Swedish capital—or just 20 minutes if you take the Arlanda Express train. Budget airlines like EasyJet and Ryanair fly into Stockholm Skavsta Airport, which is 1.5 hours from the city. Elsewhere, airport buses such as Flygbussarna and Swebus tend to be the fastest way to get into town.

Sweden’s public transportation system is effective, efficient, and punctual. SJ operates long distance trains within the country and hopping on domestic flights (SAS and Norwegian) can often be cheaper and more time-efficient than cross-country trains. Most of the major cities have a subway or aboveground tram network, and there are also Baltic Sea ferries that shuttle travelers around islands to other countries within the Baltics and Nordics. Avoid taxis. They are the most expensive form of transport.

Food and drink to try in Sweden

Eating out in Sweden can quickly put a dent in your wallet. Locals save by looking for “Dagens Rätt” signs. This means the daily dish, and signifies one or more food options served at up to half regular price. Some of Sweden’s several Michelin-starred fine-dining restaurants have a bakficka (“back pocket”) sister restaurant that offers quality food at lower prices. West Sweden is known for having the best seafood due to its proximity to the clean, cold waters of the North Sea. Try “husmanskost” such as classic meatballs and pickled herring, which is Sweden’s version of traditional soul food. Participate in the Swedish social institution called “fika,” which means pausing several times daily to share coffee and sweet pastries like cinnamon buns with friends, colleagues, and family. There are special days dedicated to celebrating food: March 25 is Waffle Day, Shrove Tuesday is Semla Day, October 4 is Cinnamon Bun Day, and November 6 celebrates a creamy sponge cake called the King Gustavus Adolphus pastry. To stock up on liquor, you’ll need to visit one of the hundreds of government-run alcohol stores called Systembolaget.

Culture in Sweden

Sweden’s official capital, Stockholm, is built on 14 islands, each with its own personality and flair—from edgy Södermalm and glitzy Östermalm to old town Gamla Stan and Kungsholmen filled with young creatives. Its subway, T-bana, is the world’s longest art exhibition. Gothenburg is Stockholm’s nicer cousin, with a more laid-back feel despite being a port city. It has a noticeable hipster culture, and is framed by Sweden’s largest amusement park, Liseberg. Gothenburg is also Sweden’s culinary capital, with great emphasis placed on seafood, and is home to the largest fish market in Sweden. Culturally diverse Malmö is just a 35-minute train ride over the Öresund Bridge from Copenhagen, Denmark. Trace Sweden’s Viking and medieval history every summer on the island of Gotland. Umeå was the official European Capital of Culture in 2014. In Northern Sweden, Luleå is the gateway to Swedish Lapland, and Jokkmokk and Kiruna give you access to indigenous Sámi culture. For your best chances to see the Northern Lights, head to Sweden’s northernmost town, Abisko.

Valborg is a festival celebrating the arrival of spring with bonfires, vigils, and revelry around the country. You’ll find the blue-and-yellow Swedish flags flown all around towns on National Day, June 6. Midsummer, celebrated every year in late June, remains Sweden’s most iconic cultural event. Also in summer is the three-day Way Out West Music Festival in Gothenburg. Stockholm Film Festival takes place in fall, and in winter, Swedish Lapland celebrates an ice festival as well as the 410-year-old indigenous Sámi market in Jokkmokk. Other key events in winter include Gothenburg Film Festival and Sonar music, creativity, and technology festival in Stockholm. There are several iconic Christmas markets in various cities and towns, and Stockholm hosts the prestigious Nobel Prize awards and dinner every December.

Practical Information

- Most locals speak English, so you can get away with knowing only “hej” (hello) and “tack” (thanks) in Swedish.
- Many stores open around 9 or 10 a.m. and close between 5 and 6 p.m. On weekends they shut even earlier—and on Sundays they may not open at all—so plan your shopping accordingly.
- Many businesses operate on a queuing system using a number dispenser, so be on the lookout for these when entering a store.
- Sweden is an almost cashless society—everyone uses credit cards, though you should save a few coins for public toilets.
- The country is very environmentally conscious—from organic restaurants and cafes to recycling habits and ubiquitous biking culture—so be cognizant of this when using public spaces.
- If you’re pushing a stroller, you get to ride public buses for free.- Tipping is not required for services rendered.
- Sweden uses the 230 volt Europlug—type C and F.
- Sweden’s currency is the krona.

Guide Editor

Stephen Whitlock
Lola Akinmade Åkerström is a Stockholm-based award-winning writer and photographer whose publication credits include National Geographic Traveler (US & UK), BBC, CNN, Fodors, AFAR, Slate, New York Magazine, amongst others.

Read Before You Go
Resources to help plan your trip
Art, design, and handmade crafts are popular in Stockholm, and Sweden is known for its minimalist style—simple yet functional and attractive. Savvy shoppers can easily unearth made-to-order food offerings, custom-made soaps and chocolates, Swedish-designed home goods, and even surf-culture attire. Stockholm is also known for its secondhand shops, flea markets, antique design stores, and vintage flair, and the city sports a slew of boutiques.
Stockholm’s upscale and most expensive district, Östermalm is where you’ll find million-dollar penthouses, swanky VIP clubs, Michelin-starred restaurants, exclusive cocktail lounges, and stereotypical blue-eyed blondes wearing oversized sunglasses and carrying tiny dogs.
In a city known for clean lines, Stockholm’s Södermalm district (“Söder” to locals) is nonconformist. A slum in the 18th century, the neighborhood is now home to a mix of vintage shops, eclectic cafes, hip clubs, local dive bars, and ethnic restaurants. It was also the backdrop for author Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy and best seller “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”
From trendy up-and-coming cafes, hipster neighborhoods, and fusion restaurants to food tours, microbreweries, and the historic Haga district, Gothenburg is the best place to enjoy Sweden’s laid-back vibe and culinary traditions.
Gothenburg has a good selection of local designers, so why not bring home something you can wear? As well as in individual boutiques, you’ll find work by designers like Maria Westerlind (lovely dresses) and Maska (soft knitwear) in larger department stores. Gothenburg is also a great destination for browsing vinyl, and you can visit a clogs manufacturer that has been making the traditional shoes for nearly a century.
The Gothenburg music scene is an eclectic mix that includes heavy metal, experimental electronic music, and laid-back progressive rock. Maybe you’ve heard of acts like metal bands In Flames, At The Gates, or Hammerfall; electronic music wizards The Knife or Little Dragon; singer/songwriters Jens Lekman and José Gonsalez; or progressive rock bands Den Stora Vilan, Union Carbide Production, or Soundtrack of Our Lives? They all come from Gothenburg!
Adventure, nature, and history are just around the corner when you visit Gothenburg. A tour by boat to one of the little island in the archipelago will not only bring you closer to nature, but also to the very core of the local soul. Lovers of history will also find adorable and interesting sights just a short bus ride away, so make an excursion to explore the surroundings.
Sweden’s second largest town is a buzzing city with a small town feel. It’s the center of the Swedish craft beer scene, a great place for fresh seafood and a top cultural scene with opera, art museums and lovely botanical gardens. The compact city center and warm, easygoing ambiance makes Gothenburg a favorite for visitors of all kinds.
Stockholm is best viewed from the water, so rent a kayak, go on a harbor cruise, or ferry to a nearby island.
Stockholmers love their coffee and don’t think twice about dropping kronor on expensive cups of latte—in a city where even eating out can often dent the wallet. The frequency with which Swedes seem to indulge in this tradition may perplex visitors, but the actual act of drinking coffee isn’t at its core. It is a long observed social custom called “fika,” which celebrates sharing with friends, colleagues, and family over cups of coffee.
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