With just over nine million locals, Sweden is a small but lovely country. From the frozen lands up north to the beautiful countryside to the islands in Stockholm, Sweden is one of my favorite countries in the world. There’s a lot of history in the country and the populace has preserved it wonderfully. The country isn’t cheap (though this guide will help you save money) and people often skip it until they have more funds but it’s never too soon to see Sweden. I feel in love with the country the first time I visited and am always wowed by the architecture and surreal landscape of the country. Through in welcoming locals and you have the recipe for a truly amazing destination.
Destination Guides for Sweden
Accommodation – Accommodation, like everything in Sweden, is not cheap. Hostels start around 325 SEK per night for a dorm room and are between 690-810 SEK for a double private room. Hostels in Sweden also add a 50 SEK surcharge for bed linen – I know, it’s ridiculous. A budget hotel will begin around 690 SEK for a double room per night. Shared apartment rooms from sites like Airbnb usually begin around 485 SEK per night. Camping is a good budget option – some are free or around 65 SEK per night.
Food – Food is expensive in Sweden. You can get cheap food from outdoor street vendors starting at 50 SEK. You can get hotdogs starting at 20 SEK. (Try the French hotdogs for 30 SEK. They’re delicious!) Grocery shopping here will cost 565 SEK per week. Whole pizzas begin around 105 SEK. Most nice sit down restaurant meals begin at 160 SEK for a main dish.
Transportation costs – The majority of intercity trains cost 325–610 SEK. They will cost 810–1,215 SEK if it is a long overnight sleep train, like the fourteen-hour trip from Stockholm to Lulea up north. Buses booked a month or more in advance can be found for as cheap as 80 SEK. However, those tickets are limited in number, and typically buses cost 285–405 SEK. The ferry to Gotland is 195 SEK and up.
Activities – Most museums and attractions cost about 80-130 SEK.
Money Saving Tips
Drink beer – Alcohol isn’t cheap in Sweden as it is heavily taxed. However, beer is quite affordable. If you stick to beer, you can save yourself a lot of money when you go to the bars. Beer can be as low as 50 SEK.
Book in advance – My trip to the Stockholm train station taught me that travel around Sweden is expensive, especially if you are booking only a day or two before hand. Prices can vary wildly, even if it is just the difference of a day. Booking trains or buses three to four weeks in advance can get you around 40-50% off.
Buy a rail pass – If you plan to do a lot of traveling around, buy a rail pass before you get to the country. You’ll end up saving a few hundred dollars off the high cost of travel. This can be a good alternative to booking in advance if you are like me and plan everything last minute.
Purchase a city tourism card – These tourist passes give you access to a city’s public transportation system and free entrance into 99% of the museums and attractions. All the major destinations in Sweden have them. If you plan on seeing the majority of attractions and museums, one of these cards will save you money. (Savings will vary depending on how much you use the card.)
Skip the restaurants – Eating out in Sweden is very expensive, especially if you are going to a sit-down restaurant. If you want to eat out, stick to the outside food vendors you see on the street. You can find a decent variety (I found a Thai one once) and they are only about 65 SEK per meal. You can also get cheap hotdogs and sausages for about 30 SEK.
Go buffet – Lunch is the best time to have a meal in Sweden. Buffets and restaurants have set meals for around 105 SEK. It’s the best deal you can find and one utilized a lot by locals.
Avoid clubs – Most clubs have a 260 SEK cover. Don’t waste your money.
Get a metro card – If you don’t plan to get a tourist card, make sure you get a week’s metro pass. At 300 SEK for a week’s worth of train ride, it is a better deal than the 115 SEK it costs for a single day.
Top Things to See and Do in Sweden
See the Vasa Museum – As one of Sweden’s Wonders of the World, it showcases an amazingly preserved 17th Century ship, complete with six levels for your viewing. This battle ship was built to showcase how great Sweden was but instead it sank upon launch. This museum is the best in the country and gives you a lot of historical context about the ship and empire at the time. This is a must see attraction!
Visit the Stockholm Archipelago – It’s worth spending a little money to take a boat from Stockholm to the different islands and experience just what they’re about. During the summer, they become big attractions for locals as they boat on the water and spend nights on the tiny islands in the area. Be sure to get out of the city and see some of this more local region.
Stroll along Haga in Gothenburg – It’s worth a day’s trip just to walk along its cobblestone streets and window shops. They also have some wonderful quaint restaurants, so stop at one of the many when you get hungry for lunch.
Explore Stockholm – There is so much history in Stockholm that if you stay less than three days here, you’ll leave feeling like you missed out. From the museums to nightlife, there’s no time to get bored. It’s one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen. The Swedes knew how to build long before IKEA came around.
Brave the cold in Lapland – Located to the far north is the tundra-like landscape in Sweden known as the Lapland. This is where the Sami, Sweden’s indigenous people, continues to make their home in the snowy cold, and where you can see reindeer, do some great skiing, and experience the great Arctic north.
Stay in the Ice Hotel – Located up north, the Ice Hotel is a hotel built during the winter months out of (you guessed it) ice. You stay in an essentially giant igloo. There’s an ice bar, ice dining room, and an ice bed (with big fur blankets!).
Visit Gotland – This island is a popular place to visit when the weather is nice and it’s where most Swedes spend their summer. Week 29 is the most popular and crowded week when all the kids come down to party up a storm (so if you’re looking to avoid that, skip that week!). The main town, Visby, is a medieval walled city that is incredibly beautiful. It’s like walking through the 1400s. There’s a cool hostel in an old prison too!
Catch the Midsummer Festival – Swedes celebrate the summer solstice with a giant party. It’s not warm and light often here and they make the most of it with dancing around a pole, eating, drinking, and enjoying nature. This is very low key local affair so be sure to find some Swedes who can show you around!
Explore the Bohuslän Coast – This beautiful coast has been smoothed and carved out by glaciers. Taking a boat trip here is a great way to see Scandinavian fjords without having to visit Sweden’s expensive neighbor, Norway. There is also a UNESCO rock-carving site over in Tanumshede too.
Ski – Scandinavians love their winter sports. One of the most popular ski resorts in the region is Åre, which lies 80 km from of Östersund. The highest peak at the resort is over 1400 meters. Daily trains run to the area from Stockholm.
Kick back in Uppsala – This university town is one of the most popular study-abroad locations in Northern Europe, and it’s got a great student life. The city also features a castle, museums, and numerous gardens. This is also one of the most budget friendly places in the country thanks to all the students there!
Celebrate Valborg Day – Held on April 30th, this annual Swedish festival serves to welcome spring. It’s characterized by huge bonfires, and even bigger parties. I was lucky enough to be there for it, and you can read about my experiences here.
Check out Wallander’s Ystad – If you’ve read the writing of Henning Mankell or seen the popular adaptation, the Wallander TV series, you’re already familiar with Ystad. This small town is picturesque, and full of history. If you’re a big fan of Wallandar, you can arrange a tour at the tourist office, but even if you’re not, the town itself has a lot of character and is worth exploring.
Visit Kosterhavet – This is a marine park located on the Koster Islands, around two hours from Gothenburg. The park contains Sweden’s only coral reef, and the villages on the islands are quaint. The whole natural area is very beautiful, and it’s worth renting some bikes to explore the islands.