Ice floes and rocky shores, quiet forests and the northern lights — Sweden is a beautiful country that attracts more than five-million tourists per year. We just returned from our first trip to West Sweden and since we didn’t do much research before we departed, we were both in for a few surprises.
Learn from us by keeping these travel tips in mind while planning your trip to Sweden.
Sweden Travel Tips
You won’t be able to pronounce the names of places, but that’s okay.
Every time we thought we had the pronunciation of a word correct, we still managed to butcher it when talking to locals. Thankfully, even if you can’t wrap your tongue around the Swedish language, you can still travel easily in Sweden.
Outside of native anglophone countries, Sweden consistently have one of the largest and most fluent English speaking populations in Europe! Thanks to early-education English courses and the popularity of English speaking movies and television shows, communication becomes much easier than you might expect traveling in a foreign country.
Island-hopping is a must.
Sweden’s coast is dotted with thousands of islands that can either be reached by car or ferry. For many travelers, hopping through the islands is a great way to enjoy not only the amazing scenery but also to experience the quaint peace of the local hamlets.
There is an alcohol monopoly.
If you’re looking to buy alcohol (above about 3%) outside of a restaurant or bar, you’ll have to find the nearest Systembolaget — a government owned and run retail chain that is the only legal option for buying take-home booze in Sweden. This system of alcohol sale was enacted in 1905 during the prohibition movement to reduce both price gouging and overconsumption.
We definitely missed the closing hours of these stores a few times during our trip (some close at 6pm) and there can be a long line, depending on when you go. Our advice? Plan ahead and bring some alcohol from home. It will be less expensive and you won’t have to search for one of these stores when you should be enjoying your vacation.
Floating saunas are awesome!
Not sure whether to go for a swim or head to the spa? Why not both? Sweden’s floating saunas are steam rooms built on pontoon-like barges, allowing you to spend a relaxing day on the lake, ocean, or river in style. These steam rooms have become incredibly popular in Sweden and bring an all-new level to your island-hopping vacation.
Tap water is better than bottled water.
It’s the social, ecological, and financial norm to drink water straight from the tap. Sweden’s water supply is well filtered and incredibly clean, so the majority of the environmentally-conscious country’s citizens choose to pass on drinking water from plastic bottles. The same goes for using both plastic and paper bags at the grocery, so if you want to avoid having to pay for them, bring your own bag.
The speed limits change constantly!
In 2008, Sweden introduced new speed signs to their roads and highways. While before this year the standard speeds were 30, 50, 70, and 110km/h, the areas between these speed changes had even-interval halfway km/h signs added to encourage a more gradual change in speed. Keep your eyes open for these signs, as they change often.
There’s no shortage of seafood.
As a coastal and island-heavy country, Swedes love their fish! Caviar, lutfisk, herring, surstrӧmming—a number of fishy specialties make Sweden a smorgasbord for seafood lovers. If you’re not an adventurous eater, don’t worry — the variety means you’ll still find something you like. Come with an open mind and you’ll leave with a full stomach.
When we travel, we love to craft our journey with different kinds of food, and this means trying almost anything. Sweden definitely allowed us to be adventurous when it came to the cuisine. I’m not normally a huge fan of fish so having fish every day felt a little strange at first, but all of the fish dishes tasted extremely fresh.
Our favorite meal of the trip included baked cod smothered in a carrot puree and a light shellfish sauce. Even if you don’t love fish, I highly recommend trying it in Sweden.
Sweden Packing Essentials
Winter Gear: If you plan on visiting in the winter months, then it’s best to load up with the best cold-weather gear. We recommend a plush down jacket, a heavy-duty pair of gloves or mittens, and a thick beanie that will cover your ears!
Layers: No matter what time of year you visit Sweden, packing layers is a must. In the winter, or if you are headed to Northern Sweden, plan to pack items such as fleece-lined leggings, thermal underwear, and a moisture-wicking base top to keep you warm and dry. Likewise in the summertime, think camisoles and cardigans, and no matter what the forecast says, it’s always smart to pack a pashmina!
Waterproof Gear: The only thing worse than being cold is being cold and wet! Make sure you invest in some quality water-resistant shoes or boots, a raincoat for the summer months, a rain cover for your backpack, some waterproof pants, and a travel umbrella.