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Home : Holidays : Europe : Sweden : Sweden - Overview

Sweden - Overview

Sweden is a diverse country. From timberlands to highly modern cities, there is something for everyone in this land that still overflows with Old World culture. Sweden is an excellent place to enjoy the outdoor sports of hiking, skiing, and boating. You will rarely see a "No Trespassing Sign" since Sweden has The Allemansratten, a law that allows public access to all lands as long as the land is treated with respect--and the Swedes do respect their lands and its history. From the capital city of Stockholm you can access the archipelago, a grouping of islands, some with towns and some so small only flowers live there. If the outdoors is not your thing, there is still plenty to do. There are castles and museums, restaurants, shops, and nightlife--an endless stream of native foods, crafts, and sights that will take your breath away.

Sweden's history includes the era of the Vikings, the brave explorers who set out in uncharted waters trading as far away as Byzantium and the Golden Caliphate of Baghdad. In the 1600s, Sweden's monarch, Gustav II Adolf, won a series of military campaigns that influenced Sweden with great wealth and therefore, great power.

These days Sweden is a perfect combination of the old and the new. It is an advanced industrial nation with a high standard of living and its progressive social polices have helped the country flourish. They have managed to parlay their industrial skills into money for the people, yet at the same time have managed to preserve the natural resources with rivers that remain unpolluted, air that is clean, and forests full of wildlife. But don't think that modern industry means all glass and steel. The people of Sweden still hold on to the traditions of their ancestors by preserving the historical churches, castles, and monuments, and you can be sure that their culture will be safety handed down for generations to come.

Sweden abounds with cultural festivities. In the summer there is Midsummer's Day with its maypole dance and communal parties. In the winter there is Lucia, which marks the beginning of the Christmas season--and that means a smorgasbord that might include herring and pickled beets, salmon, small meatballs, liver pate, browned cabbage, and lutefish. Spring brings Walpurgis Night and "beware of the Easter witch." And in the fall, when the skies grow dark, the eels get caught in the fishing nets and this too is a cause for celebration.

Flowers, painted wooden horses, gravlax (cured salmon), and ferryboats, no matter when you travel to Sweden, you'll find it a delight in every way.

Crisp and clean, the tranquil Scandinavian country of Sweden offers a variety of experiences within its elegant and sophisticated cities, its picturesque medieval villages, coastal island archipelagos, peaceful lakes and forests and the icy tundra of northern Lapland.

The capital city, Stockholm, encompasses 14 islands on the shores of the Baltic Sea. It is a high-tech city with a small-town feel, filled with top class restaurants, pulsating nightclubs, cosy pubs and a full array of performing arts. Best of all, nearly everyone you meet is fluent in English. Few visitors to Stockholm can resist an excursion to discover the offshore islands: the Stockholm archipelago offers some of the most beautiful coastal scenery in Europe, and can be enjoyed from the city on a day cruise.

The west coast and its fishing villages is the place for gourmets, especially seafood lovers, while those digging for history will be fascinated with Uppsala, the ancient Viking city where the newest buildings date from the 18th century. A really novel excursion is a visit up north to the Ice Hotel, sculpted from ice every winter in Lapland where the Sami people enjoy showing visitors their way of life, centred on their reindeer herds. Meanwhile, way down south Smaland has been christened 'the Crystal Kingdom' in honour of the famous glassworks that exist there in places like Orrefors and Kosta.

Sweden is an enchanting country, not as cold as one might imagine situated as it is in the high latitudes, and is well worth exploring whether along the meticulously maintained roads or on the extensive high-speed train system.

Sweden is a land of cultural contrast, from the Danish influence of the southwest to the nomadic Laplanders in the wild Arctic north. And while urban Sweden is stylish, modern and sophisticated, the countryside offers many simpler pleasures for those in search of tranquillity.

Sweden's scenery has a gentler charm than that of neighbouring Norway's rugged coast. Much of Sweden is swathed in forest, and there are thousands of lakes, notably large stretches of water between Gothenburg and the capital, Stockholm. The lakeside resort of Östersund, in the centre of Sweden, is popular with Scandinavians, but most visitors opt first for the cities and the Baltic islands: the largest island, Gotland, with its array of ruined medieval churches, is a particular highlight. Another major attraction is the so-called 'Kingdom of Crystal', a forested area between Malmö and Stockholm boasting many fine glassworks.

Historically, Sweden has an interesting story. Its contacts with the outside world began in earnest during Viking times, when in addition to the well-documented raiding, there was extensive trading around the Baltic, primarily dealing in furs and weaponry.

Swedish connections with the other Scandinavian countries, Norway and Denmark, have been strong since late medieval times. The monarchies of all three are closely linked, and at various times, one king or queen has ruled over more than one of the countries. Many significant battles have been fought over control of the three dominions. Indeed, Norway only fully shed Swedish control for the last time in the early years of the 20th century.

Although it did not gain a parliament until the 19th Century, modern Sweden is known worldwide as a model of social democracy and tolerance. But there is a strong streak of independence, too; in common with the United Kingdom and Denmark, it has so far opted out of the common European Union currency system.

The land and its people have an air of reserved calm, and while best known for its automotive and musical exports ¨C Volvo and Abba are pretty much household names ¨C a strong historical undertone bubbles close beneath the surface. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Stockholm, where dozens of museums deal with all imaginable aspects of the past, and medieval and baroque edifices housing boutiques and cafes overlook the attractive harbour.