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Solar Egg, Sweden
Photograph: Courtesy Solar Egg by Bigert & Bergström for Riksbyggen

The 21 best things to do in Sweden

Explore the best things to do in Sweden, from a hotel under a lake to a sauna in a giant golden egg. Nope, no typo there

Derek Robertson
Written by
Derek Robertson

There are so many incredible things to do in Sweden that it can be difficult to know where to start. From the gorgeous streets of Stockholm to the icy serenity of the Arctic, Sweden is the sort of place that ticks plenty of boxes in an unmistakably stylish manner. You can sauna in a golden egg, eat fermented herring, sing with ABBA and more. Sweden isn’t like other places, that is for sure.

Stockholm gets most of the attention but ignoring the rest is a fool’s game. Sweden is pristine wilderness, cosmopolitan cities, rich food, incredible history, and more adventure than even the most adventurous could need. This is the best of the best when in Sweden.

Best things to do in Sweden

Drink Swedish whisky on an island
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Maria Eklind

1. Drink Swedish whisky on an island

Home to the country’s first whisky distillery, Hven – a tiny island in the middle of the Øresund strait – is well worth a day trip. Cycle around the island and marvel at the dramatic coastlines, visit Tycho Brahe’s famous observatory and the four quaint little villages, and buy some (very) local crafts and produce. Of course, top it off with a few (surprisingly decent) drams at the only pub.

Eat seafood in Smögen
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Hans Uddén

2. Eat seafood in Smögen

Come summer, Swedes decamp en masse to the seaside to relax, and the picture-perfect island of Smögen, high on the east coast, is the hippest place to swim, chill out, and gorge on the freshest seafood imaginable. Wander amongst traditional fishing huts, explore hidden pools in the rocks and cliffs, or just stroll down the main boardwalk and choose the best spot for a pre-dinner aperitif.

Have a panoramic sauna and a dip in the sea
Photograph: Johan Wessman

3. Have a panoramic sauna and a dip in the sea

No trip to Sweden is complete without some sauna action, and few badhus (bathhouses) are as beautiful or historic as Malmö’s Kallbadhuset. Over a hundred years old, this public bath also houses a café, restaurant and spa facilities. Yes, you have to get naked (there are separate male and female saunas), and yes, you get in the sea afterwards no matter the time of year, but the panoramic views of the Øresund Bridge and across to Copenhagen are more than worth it.

Walk through the world’s only mounted blue whale
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/David Jones 大卫 琼斯

4. Walk through the world’s only mounted blue whale

This young blue whale, beached and killed in 1865, is the main attraction of the Gothenburg Natural History Museum and the only one of its kind in the world. The mounted whale – its original skin stretched over a wooden frame – sits side by side with its skeleton, and a hinged jaw allows people to walk into the belly of the beast (although it’s only hinged open on special days).

Follow in the footsteps of a king
Photograph: Anders Rosqvist

5. Follow in the footsteps of a king

Sweden is rightly renowned for its natural splendour and ruggedness, and there’s no better way to explore it than on foot. The Kungsleden (King’s) hiking trail is one of the best known, a well-marked 425km route that takes in mountains, valleys, lakes, and forests. Doing it takes around 18 days, but shorter sections can also be done, and there are cabins along the way for sleeping. Go in early summer though as the mosquitoes get ferocious in July and August.

Indulge yourself at a historic spa
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Eirik Newth

6. Indulge yourself at a historic spa

For over 100 years, the hotel and spa of Ystad Saltsjöbad have pampered the great and good of Sweden. Located on the Baltic Sea at Sweden’s most southerly coastline, this luxury retreat offers holistic treatments for body and mind, with world-class food and five-star accommodation. Lounge in one of the outdoor hot springs, enjoy the sea view from the dry sauna and just chill out on one of the cloud-like day beds. 

Visit a Sami village in Lapland
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Jörgen Nybrolin

7. Visit a Sami village in Lapland

Lapland remains one of Europe’s last great wildernesses, yet the Sami have called this region home for centuries. Traditionally relying on reindeer herding, fur trapping, and fishing, they have their own culture and language, and their lifestyle offers a fascinating glimpse into the past. Visit in the summer for 24-hour daylight, or go dog sledding and marvel at the northern lights in the winter.

Bathe in a vault under Stockholm
Photograph: Shutterstock

8. Bathe in a vault under Stockholm

Buried in a vault in the basement of a seventeenth-century townhouse in the Old Town, Stockholm’s smallest – and hardest to find – public bath is an old-fashioned marvel. Unchanged since it was built, Storkyrkobadet consists of just one shallow pool and several smaller tubs but is one of the most relaxing places to bathe. Open for just a few hours each evening, there are separate days for men (Tuesdays, Fridays, and Sundays) and women (Mondays and Thursdays).

Ski through old military mountain tunnels
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Marcus Hansson

9. Ski through old military mountain tunnels

Swedes absolutely love to ski, but if you’re bored of standard runs, then head to the tiny town of Gällö, where the local authority has turned a former top-secret network of mountain tunnels into a year-round skiing facility that also offers cross-country and biathlon practice (they have their own shooting range). Open since 2017, it’s the world’s longest ski tunnel, and it even has its own app so you can track your speeds, distance, and effort.

Sauna in a golden egg in the Arctic
Photograph: Courtesy Bigert & Bergström/Jean Baptiste Bélange

10. Sauna in a golden egg in the Arctic

Located in Kiruna, one of the northernmost towns in Sweden, the golden Solar Egg is one of the most breathtaking, iconic places to indulge in a sauna. Set in the middle of a pristine field of snow, the egg’s mirrored exterior houses a wood-burning stove and a surprisingly spacious interior. And with swimming here impossible, the bracing post-sauna shock is provided by a roll in the snow.

Sleep in an ice hotel
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Isen Majennt

11. Sleep in an ice hotel

Built from scratch every year with ice carved from the River Tome, a night spent here is truly unique. Everything, from the beds to the glasses in the bar, is made from ice, and there are a variety of suites and rooms to choose from (fear not, thermal clothing and bedding are provided). They also offer dog sled rides, ice sculpting classes, snowmobile adventures, and a northern lights safari.

Sleep in the trees by the Arctic Circle
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Nicolás Boullosa

12. Sleep in the trees by the Arctic Circle

If ice isn’t your thing (see above), how about a night 15ft above the ground in an eco-friendly, minimalist cabin? The Treehotel, on the edge of the Arctic Circle, boats five distinct rooms, each designed by a different architect – the most famous being the iconic Mirrorcube. The idea is to reconnect with nature, and with all five spread out and enjoying magnificent views over the Lule River valley, there’s no better place for rejuvenation.

Celebrate midsummer in style at Leksand
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Donald Judge

13. Celebrate midsummer in style at Leksand

Dancing around a maypole. Pickled herring and grilled fish. Cold beer and snaps. Singalongs. Flower crowns. Lashings of fresh strawberries and cream. Swedish midsummer is a celebration like no other, and the best place to partake in this tradition is in the town of Leksand on Lake Siljan. Boasting the world’s tallest Maypole, the inhabitants know how to party, with plenty of traditional folk music and carousing that continues well into the small hours.

Explore Sweden’s most beautiful archipelago by boat
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/mariejirousek

14. Explore Sweden’s most beautiful archipelago by boat

Consisting of nearly 30,000 separate islands to the East of Stockholm, Sweden’s largest archipelago is an area of rare natural beauty, full of sandy beaches, rocky cliffs, and dense woodland. It remains remarkably unspoilt, and while some of the bigger islands are worth visiting separately, the best way to enjoy it is on one of the many, many boat tours. Aim for one at least 2.5 hours long and explores more of the islands further out.

Cruise across Sweden
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Let Ideas Compete

15. Cruise across Sweden

Constructed in the nineteenth century to provide a shipping route from Gothenburg in the east to the Baltic Sea, the Göta Canal is now mainly used for pleasure cruises and sailing. You can sail part of the route, or opt for the six-day, coast-to-coast trip, and while it’s possible to hire your own boat, it’s best experienced on one of the unique, 100-year-old canal boats still in service, specially designed to fit the narrow locks.

Drive the famous High Coast and eat fermented herring
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Gunilla G

16. Drive the famous High Coast and eat fermented herring

The High Coast, part of the Gulf of Bothnia in northeastern Sweden, is a 100km stretch famed for its breathtaking scenery and unique red granite cliffs and rocks. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, part of it can be hiked, but it’s best explored by car, allowing stops for bear safaris, kayaking, and a visit to Sweden’s second-highest waterfall. And if you’re feeling brave, try fermented herring, a particularly pungent delicacy from this area.

Sleep under a lake
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/PROLet Ideas Compete

17. Sleep under a lake

One of the most unusual places to stay in Sweden, The Utter Inn is a floating underwater hotel on Lake Mälaren. Accommodation is somewhat basic – a tiny kitchen and bathroom and a sparse bedroom down a flight of stairs, three metres below the water – but you get panoramic views in four directions, and once you’ve been dropped off, you can sit on the small terrace and sip wine, undisturbed by the rest of the world.

Enjoy the view from a twisting tower
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Maria Eklind

18. Enjoy the view from a twisting tower

Designed by renowned architect Santiago Calatrava, the Turning Torso is a Malmö icon; it’s also the tallest skyscraper in Scandinavia and the second-highest residential building – yes, you can live in it! – in Europe. The whole structure twists 90 degrees from base to top, and while the incredible views from the roof can only be enjoyed for three weeks every summer, the top two floors can be rented as meeting and conference rooms.

Experience the Viking life
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Bartek Kuzia

19. Experience the Viking life

There are many reasons to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Visby on Gotland Island – the walled old town, ancient churches, beautiful beaches – but for an extra treat, go during Medieval Week in August. Jousting tournaments, medieval markets, fire shows, and traditional parades give a glimpse into the old Viking ways of life, and of course, everyone dresses up accordingly. You can even sample tankards of mead, walnut shots, and other Viking culinary delights.

Sing with ABBA at their museum
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Dani Oliver

20. Sing with ABBA at their museum

If Stockholm is on your itinerary, visiting this shrine to the pop legends is an absolute must. The interactive exhibition redefines what a modern museum can be – as they say, ‘Walk in. Dance out.’ You can try on their famous costumes virtually, pick apart the studio recordings on music software, and even perform with ABBA’s avatars on a hologram stage (the results can be downloaded to your mobile device).

Watch a sunset from The Bridge
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Hernán Piñera

21. Watch a sunset from The Bridge

Fan of TV series The Bridge? Then you know all about Øresund. A modern engineering marvel, this famous 16km bridge – the last four routed through an underwater tunnel – carries road and rail traffic between Malmö and Copenhagen. It’s closed to pedestrians, but for the best views – and unbeatable sunsets – head to the terrace of Luftkastellet, a bar, restaurant, and conference centre located on the cliffs on the Swedish side.

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