Modern innovation and timeless tradition merge effortlessly in Sweden. The Scandinavian country is home to contemporary cities that showcase the best of Sweden’s progressive mantra. Yet woven into the national tapestry is a strong link to its heritage.
In Stockholm, the Old Town takes you back to medieval times where classic half-timbered homes dot the cobbled streets. The same can be said for countryside villages and port towns, the latter blossoming under Hanseatic rule.
These towns are gems to explore while providing passage to enjoy a cuisine that’s hard to find anywhere else. As you continue to explore the best things to do in Sweden, you’ll see these regional centers choose to blend in with nature rather than be overbearing.
But Sweden’s attractions are not just found in its cities and town. With several amazing national parks, you’ll find easy access to the vast wilderness where the Northern Lights dance above the Arctic Circle.
In this post, we'll cover:
27. Hike (part of) the Kungsleden
Translating to the King’s Trail, the Kungsleden is a famously long trail spanning 440 kilometers through Swedish Lapland from Hemavan to Abisko. In the style of the Appalachian Trail or PCT, Kungsleden is a challenging but utterly rewarding way to experience one of the world’s great landscapes.
Yes, I can hear you say, “we don’t have time for this”. Well, the good news is that there are some amazing overnight hikes that you can do. These make use of the trail’s hut amenities while allowing an alluring glimpse into the Lapland wilderness.
One of our favorite sections includes Kebnekaise to Abisko. This features a climb to Sweden’s highest peak and a look into Abisko National Park. Another is Singi to Sälka, which guides you into high alpine terrain and a hut with stunning panoramas.
26. ABBA The Museum
In Stockholm, ABBA The Museum represents one of the best ways to connect, learn about and celebrate one of the world’s best music groups. Starting out in the 1970s, ABBA quickly rose to fame on the back of their Eurovision victory and by the end of the decade, they reached global stardom.
You can retrace their meteoric rise with a little help from the museum’s wide array of interactive exhibits. Hands-on activities are set between multimedia installations that send you right back to the glory days.
Alongside these historic exhibits, such as memorabilia and costumes, visitors can enjoy virtual concerts and even a recording studio experience.
In southern Sweden, Ystad is yet another fabulous example of the country’s preserved medieval history. The picturesque port town rose to prominence as a member of the Hanseatic League, with its ancient cobblestone streets welcoming merchants and traders from across Europe.
This historic eye-catching architecture and culinary heritage continues to be a part of the visitor experience. One of Ystad’s most renowned landmarks is St. Mary’s Church. Dating back to the 1200s, the church features a head-turning Gothic design and great views from the bell tower.
Other highlights include the 13th century Ystad Abbey and the town’s celebrated art museum. This is set in a former monastery and harbors one of Sweden’s best contemporary art collections.
24. Øresund Bridge
One of Scandinavia’s most iconic structures, the Øresund Bridge, is a feat of engineering magnificence. Spanning over the Øresund Straight, the bridge begins as a tunnel before soaring above the water. It’s this change, when seen from above, that makes the bridge unforgettable.
Whether you’re flying into Malmo or Copenhagen, which are the bridge’s bookends, you’ll enjoy this magnificent view. But for an up-close experience, you can drive or cycle across it on an 8 kilometer journey. There are viewpoints along the way so you won’t have to back up traffic to admire the surroundings.
For the best vistas, combine your trip along the Øresund Bridge to coincide with sunrise or sunset.
23. Dog sledding in Lapland
The history of dog sledding in Lapland can be traced back to the 10th century when the indigenous Sámi first took the reigns. It evolved into a crucial part of their lifestyle surrounded by the bitter Arctic conditions.
Dog sledding has become a major part of the modern Lapland experience. It allows you not only to see the captivating landscapes but also connect to a traditional form of transport.
There is an abundance of dog sledding tours to choose from and it’s important to understand your goals before choosing one. Tours span from several hours (great for first-timers) to multi-day expeditions in a tough environment. Whichever direction you go, it promises to be an immersive experience in a winter wonderland.
22. Eat a smörgåsbord
Swedish cuisine may not have spread around the world like Italian or Greek. But it promises to become one of the more memorable aspects of your Scandinavian adventure. At the center of this is the classic Swedish smörgåsbord.
This is a buffet of local eats piled onto several plates and served up for your relishing tongue. The combo of dishes are both hot and cold, and while they can be expensive, it offers crazy overall value.
So with all this food in front of you, where should you start? Well, we recommend starting with the akvavit, a distilled liquor that cleanses the palate. From there, simply dive picking on the assortment of ages, cheeses, herring and salmon. All before finishing with a coffee, yep you heard that right!
21. Little Square, Malmo
In southern Sweden and a stone’s throw from Denmark, Malma evokes a historic aura and effortless charm. Old-time architecture and cobblestone streets guide you throughout, yet no matter how you plan your time here, the road always leads to Little Square.
Also known as Lilla Torg, this convivial hub for socialization is Little Square’s modern iteration. It dates back to 1592 and has long been a market square encased in picturesque timbered homes. The aesthetically pleasing architecture remains on display today, combined with an array of cafe patios and restaurants serving up smörgåsbord.
There is something cozy about Little Square. It’s a warm, tight hug and provides that sense of community, even for travelers simply passing through. Stick around for a drink, as the lights dim in the square’s bars and the locals descend on the square for a Norrlands Guld.
20. Gammelstad Church Town
On the outskirts of Luleå, in Northern Sweden, Gammelstad Church Town has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996. The town is a living reminder of a traditional and rural Scandinavian village.
At its heart is the Nederluleå Church which was first constructed in the late 1400s. The church remains in use today, standing as beautiful as it did 500+ years ago.
Surrounding the church are over 400 traditional wooden homes that allow you to see life as it was in the Middle Ages. The church town concept isn’t rare in Scandinavia and it represents the spiritual hub of the surrounding countryside, bringing folks together for religious events and markets.
19. Ride the Inlandsbanan
Coursing through the inland areas of Sweden from south to north, the Inlandsbanan is one of the most fun things to do in Sweden. Originally built to transport timber and minerals, it has switched to providing passengers with a scenic route through remarkable countryside, stopping at memorable villages along the way.
On the shores of Lake Vänern, the train first departs from Kristinehamn. On its journey north to Swedish Lapland, the train ventures through diverse landscapes at a slow pace, allowing plenty of time to take in the vistas.
Alongside some notable towns like Jokkmokk, the journey takes you to hidden gems like Vilhelmina and Arvidsjaur. The year-round train also allows you to see Sweden in all four seasons.
18. Volvo Museum, Gothenburg
We all remember growing up and seeing the Volvo as a symbol of safety over elegance. While I’ll admit, they look a whole lot cooler these days, the car manufacturer’s history has always been an interesting one.
In Gothenburg, the Volvo Museum explores the history of the brand, just across from the headquarters. The museum opened in 1995, almost 70 years after the first car was developed and allows you to retrace its evolution.
Within you’ll find a memorable collection of vehicles from each era. It’s fun to see how things have changed, with each step representing Volvo’s preeminent vision of safety, including their creation of the three-point seatbelt.
17. Cross the Arctic Circle
A symbolic experience crossing the Arctic Circle gives you chills. Although you cannot see the border, you can certainly sense that things are about to change. It’s just like being at the top of a rollercoaster.
At 0.26 degrees south of the Arctic Circle, Jokkmokk is the gateway town. At the border itself, you’ll find a marker, but you’ll see the travelers snapping pictures with it first. From there, you’ll cross into the Arctic Circle and the official entrance into a world of extreme winter conditions.
Southern Sweden experiences around 18 hours of daylight in the summer. But up here, the sun never descends below the horizon, simply playing a stunning game as it threatens to dip out of view but never does.
16. See the Northern Lights
Also known as the Aurora Borealis, Sweden is one of the best destinations to see the Northern Lights. This is especially true as you head north and into the Arctic Circle.
There are a handful of notable locations to see this ethereal, colorful dance take place. Many of them are featured in this guide. One of our favorites is the Abisko National Park. With its own microclimate, a sky station and minimal light pollution, it’s a prime spot for Northern Lights.
Other options include Kiruna and Jokkmokk. The former is one of the northernmost towns in Sweden and home to the Ice Hotel. Jokkomokk, renowned for its winter market, also puts on a spectacular light display.
But wherever you go, the best time to see the Northern Lights is at the height of winter. Be sure to also check the forecast for clear skies.
15. Sarek National Park
In Swedish Lapland, Sarek National Park is an untamed wilderness home to jagged peaks and deep valleys carved by surging rivers. Raw and captivating, this pristine nature is an authentic look at life within the Arctic Circle.
Visitors should get an arm workout as they pick up their jaw off the floor for the 20th time. You’ll be awe-struck by the towering peaks shaped by ancient glaciers. These flow to crystal-clear lakes home to glacial till that creates spectacular colors.
Hiking trails snake throughout, with many being advanced treks through rugged terrains and to challenging summits. Along the way, you may spot reindeer, arctic foxes, bears and migratory birds.
14. Uppsala Domkyrka
Entwined in the religious and cultural history of Sweden, Uppsala Domkyrka dominates the Uppsala skyline. Across from the Fyris River, the cathedral is a Gothic masterpiece and the largest of its kind in the country.
The cathedral’s first stone was placed in 1270, but improvements continued over the following centuries. This has given Uppsala Domkyrka a delectable blend of medieval craftsmanship and timeless elegance.
After stepping through the ancient wooden doors, time starts to stand still as you begin to explore living history. Stained glass stands among the vaulted ceilings awash with celestial motifs.
As you continue to experience the spiritual ambiance, your steps will take you up a spiral staircase to the top of the tower. Here, your exceptional vantage point provides memorable city views.
13. Vasa Museum
In the nation’s capital, the Vasa Museum is a time capsule that explores Sweden’s rich maritime heritage. Inside the enormous building are over 40,000 artifacts from the belongings of all sailors, ancient sculptures and monstrous cannons.
However, at the center of the museum, experience is the most important piece. One that gave the museum its name, was the ill-fated Vasa warship. The building had to be large enough to house the ship, rescued from the bottom of the city’s harbor in 1961.
This salvage of the wreck was almost 300 years from when it sank on its maiden voyage. Incredibly, the ship was well-preserved by the seas. With the help of restoration, it’s all but returned to its former glory.
12. Åre Ski Resort
It’s safe to say, winter gems and Sweden go hand in hand. But in northern Sweden, close to Norway, is the country’s premier ski destination.
Åre Ski Resort is surrounded by breathtaking landscapes, rugged snow-capped peaks that descend to vast frozen lakes. It’s all the more reason to ditch the more famous Alps and ski right here.
The resort’s extensive ski terrain targets all levels of ability. Off-piste terrain and groomers dance between each other, while cross-country trails allow you to get away from it all.
Come the last lift, you won’t be upset to return to the charming Åre village. Old-time timber buildings now feature bars for all your après-ski action.
11. Gamla Stan
The Old Town of Stockholm, Gamla Stan, can lay claim to being one of the best-preserved medieval centers in Europe. The enchanting allure of Gamla Stan is clear from the start. Your first steps here come on ancient cobblestone streets, guided through narrow passages and by buildings that stood in the 1200s.
Some 800 years later, the Old Town’s streets remain easy on the eye. The colorful buildings create a refined tapestry of architecture with facades showcasing a mix of rustic red, mustard and old ochre. Then there’s the opulence of the Stockholm Cathedral and baroque Royal Palace.
Soon you’ll reach Stortorget Square, where old merchant houses have been transformed into a cultural hub. Markets, cafes and restaurants bring the city together.
10. Kalmar Castle
On Sweden’s east coast, Kalmar Castle is a reminder of regional strength throughout the Middle Ages. But it’s the castle’s Renaissance elegance that makes it worth a visit.
The castle’s story begins in the 1100s as a defensive stronghold along the Kalmar Strait. In fact, the castle was pivotal in Sweden, Denmark and Norway uniting under a single monarch. This ended in the 16th century, but led to a Renaissance-era makeover for the castle.
Now one of the top tourist attractions in Sweden, you can see the fruits of this makeover as you bounce between the prominent defensive structures and the interior elegance. Within you’ll find museums and period rooms laden with artifacts, telling the stories of the past. From the top of the castle’s towers, you’ll enjoy panoramic views of the strait.
9. Try real Swedish Meatballs
The Swedish köttbullar rose has long been entwined in local culinary traditions. But they took a fresh step in the 18th century when the exiled King Charles XII returned from the Ottoman Empire, having discovered kofte.
Today, the meatballs remain a staple in Swedish households and there are endless ways to get among the action. As usual, the best way to try real Swedish meatballs is to find an authentic setting. Short of being invited into a home, you can try a local market or traditional restaurant.
The key to enjoying this mouthwatering culinary masterpiece is choosing the right accompaniments. One must add some lingonberry sauce, a dash of gravy and a handy side of creamy mashed potatoes.
8. Lund Domkyrka
The soaring spires of the Lund Domkyrka pierce the sky’s ceiling and dominate any view of Lund, Sweden. You can trace the beloved cathedral back to the 1100s and today it remains laden with ancient treasures.
From the outside, it’s easy to lose track of time reveling in the spires, the intricate facade and Gothic architecture. But soon whispers of the sacred will hit your ears and you’ll be drawn inside.
It’s then you’ll spot the true riches of the Lund Cathedral as the medieval frescoes welcome you alongside captivating vaulted ceilings showcasing the cathedral’s timeless brilliance. Continue on to see the still-running medieval Astronomical Clock. All before a visit to the crypt where ancient bishops have been laid to rest.
7. Jokkmokk Winter Market
In Swedish Lapland, the Jokkmokk Winter Market dates back to the early 17th century. For over 400 years, the market has brought together the community and celebrated the Sámi heritage.
Held in February, under the cold night sky, the winter market transforms the otherwise sleepy town into a thriving spectacle. For travelers, it’s an opportunity to experience life and culture in wintry Lapland, while indulging in a fascinating local culture.
As you wander between the stalls, you’ll find locals will be adorned in vibrant Sámi attire plus traditional Sámi crafts and cuisine. At the top of the list of eats should be the reindeer stew and customary smoked fish.
Under the rule of the Hanseatic League, it became a prominent trading port on the shores of the Baltic Sea. Merchants and crew flooded the bustling cobbled streets, and the league developed fortified walls around the thriving city. All of this and more remains to be discovered today.
Visby lies on the idyllic island of Gotland and is a veritable testament to the appealing strength of the Hanseatic League. Today, the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and its historic walls are remarkably well-preserved.
As you explore the old streets, it’s easy to feel like you’re retracing the steps of the merchants of old. From the walls, you can admire the city’s red-tiled rooftops before exploring the Gothic Visby Cathedral.
By night, venture to the waterfront where the historic Hanseatic Harbor has been transformed into an amalgamation of dim-lit restaurants.
5. Ales Stenar
Shrouded in ancient mystery, Ales Thenar is a marvel of megalithic proportions. Translating to Ale’s Stones, these ancient monolithic rocks capture the imagination of all who visit.
As you gaze upon them for the first time, you may begin to see why some refer to Ales Stenar as a stone ship. There are 59 enormous rock faces that are arranged in the style of a ship, showcasing once more Mother Nature’s art craft.
How they all got here, nobody knows. Much like Stonehenge, Ales Stenar is enveloped in historical speculation. The rocks date back to the Nordic Iron Age, around 1400 years ago. As the theory goes, the rocks represent either a burial monument or an astronomical one.
What they’ll mean for you is likely much different as you marvel at the stunning Baltic Sea views and experience local folklore.
4. Drottningholm Palace
In Ekerö, on the outskirts of Stockholm, lies arguably the country’s most beloved castle. Drottningholm Palace, the current residence of the Swedish King, Queen and royal family, is open for you to explore.
Your time here begins with exploring the opulent gardens. These surround the palace, each section as manicured as the last.
The Baroque style reflects that of the palace, which also showcases hints of Rococo influence. Along the way, you’ll spot the Chinese Pavilion, a reflection of Sweden’s 18th century fascination with Chinese aesthetics.
Although you can explore parts of the interior of Drottningholm on your own, we recommend a guided tour. Peel back the curtain on the palace’s history and design as you wander into historic staterooms and chambers along with the Court Theater from the 1700s.
3. Abisko National Park
On your adventure north of the Arctic Circle, combine your Ice Hotel experience with a trip through the Abisko National Park. We may be biased, but as one of 29 in Sweden, this one takes the cake.
Gorgeous landscapes are par for the course here. In the late spring and early summer, the open meadows become awash with vibrant wildflowers. Just after the first drop of snow, the park becomes a veritable winter wonderland, and an open canvass of white.
Whichever time you choose to explore, you’ll have the opportunity to hike or snowshoe among an incredible protected land. Waterfalls carve into canyons before flowing into wide, open lakes.
Trails meander through lush forests and come nightfall (in the winter) the sky often becomes lit with a kaleidoscopic dance, otherwise known as the Northern Lights.
2. Stockholm Archipelago
The serene haven, Stockholm Archipelago, is a hop, skip and jump from the vibrant downtown of the nation’s capital. Enveloped in water, the city boasts an archipelago of 30,000 islands and skerries that provide an endless array of possibilities for those hunting culture, nature and history.
As you can imagine, the best and easiest way to explore is in any form of watercraft. We recommend getting a hold of a kayak and paddling your way between the isles over the course of a few hours.
Travelers can even acquire a kayak package with meals and accommodation. With every stroke, you’ll come close to rustic cottages set along the island’s shores or picturesque fishing villages just in time for lunch.
Cycling is another great option and a way to spend more time exploring life on land. Here, historic forts, old lighthouses and wooden churches sing songs of a bygone era.
1. Ice Hotel
In the 1980s, Yngve Bergqvist moved from the south of Sweden to the other end of the country, Lapland. Those familiar with it, will know of this region’s majestic and ethereal landscapes. This very environment inspired Yngve to first build an igloo art gallery and second, the now famous Ice Hotel.
In the years since, the Ice Hotel has developed into a sprawling snow and ice structure making for one of Sweden’s unique experiences. A way to sleep within the Arctic Circle. In fact, you’ll be 200km north of the circle border.
Because of this, the Ice Hotel is open year-round. So even if you are exploring Sweden in its delightful warm seasons, you’ll be able to enjoy this experience…and 24 hours of sunlight.