I’ve received a lot of comments from people telling me how they want to visit Scandinavia someday. Can’t blame you, this is such an exotic and exciting part of the world. ;) (Kidding, kidding)
I’ve also gotten some questions, and while I started writing replies the answers became sort of long-winded, so I think a post is better. Now, you should know that I’ve never done any proper travelling to the other Scandinavian countries so I can’t really say much about them, but I figured I could always talk about Sweden.
These are just some basic points you should know while planning your trip. I’ve put some useful links at the end of the post as well, but if you have questions feel free to ask!
If you know English you’re going to be OK
Language is a general concern with most travels to non-English speaking destinations. Will I make myself understood? Will I accidentally order pigs feet instead of salmon at the restaurant? Will I end up in the wrong city when buying bus tickets?
Have no fear, we speak excellent English! Everyone I know, even my 65-year-old no-education-whatsoever father and my 12-year-old cousin, know enough English to carry a normal conversation. Of course there are exceptions, and the quality of pronunciation and grammar might differ, but in general everyone knows English. Don’t worry about it.
Actually, speaking English can be a great way to meet people.
The stereotype of the quiet and seclusive northerner is not that far off to be honest. Just look how we wait for the bus. :P Of course not every person is the same, but most of us take our personal space very seriously and find it weird if strangers stand too close or start talking to us for no reason. However, if you’re speaking English people will probably become curious and want to talk to you. Most of us rarely get a chance to put our language skills to practical use, so running into foreigners is great fun! :)
The climate differs. A lot.
When you think of Sweden you think of deep glistening snow and freezing cold, right? Or maybe green forests under a golden midnight sun? Or maybe you think about alps, cuckoo clocks, and chocolate, which means you’re in the wrong damn country and should consult a map. :P
The climate, and with it nature and human population, differs very much between north and south Sweden. It’s a long country stretching from north to south, and tourists sometimes miss this small but important fact and end up visiting the wrong area at the wrong time.
The south end is made up mostly of farmland and some green-leaf forests. It’s rather flat too. The winters are short and mild with very little snow, if any at all. They have roughly the same amount of daylight all year round, meaning it gets dark during the night even in the summer and in the winter the sun actually stays up for a while during the day.
The southern half is also where all the big cities are and where most of the population lives.
As you travel north it gets successively “wilder”. The leaf forests are replaced with forests of firs and pines. Actually, it’s not forests (plural) any more – it’s THE forest. The massive taiga covers the whole northern half of the country.
When you reach the north end the towns/villages are very far apart and mostly very small. The landscape is cropped with lots of hills and mountains. Winters up there are long and harsh, with deep snow and very low temperatures. Daylight is almost non-existent during December, January and February. The summers are short and intense. From May to July summer nights are as bright as day and above the Arctic Circle the sun doesn’t set at all.
When deciding to visit Sweden you should take this into account. Which brings me to the next point:
What to do where?
If you’re looking for the typical Nordic experience with winter and snow you should visit the northern half of the country. There are many winter resorts in the mountains in the northwest where you can ski, ride snowmobiles, go dog sledging or just watch the breathtaking scenery. Those resorts are usually full of people, both Swedes and foreigners, and have pubs and bars where you can party after your outdoor adventures.
Rule of thumb: the further north you go the higher the chance, the colder and darker the better. But you can get to see the Lights pretty much everywhere in the north half of the country during the winter. If you’re really lucky it doesn’t even have to be dark and cold for them to come out.
The Midnight Sun
Again, just for the record: real midnight sun can only be seen above the Arctic Circle. So go north.
Swedish summers are nice no matter where you are, especially if you’re by the sea. We don’t have fjords like Norway, but our beaches and archipelagos are nice enough. :) It can get pretty hot on sunny days, so you should definitely pack shorts and bikinis – but the weather can be unpredictable, so bring jeans and a raincoat too.
If you want to visit museums and castles and see more of what city life is like you should visit the south half of the country. Stockholm is amazing, especially in the summer, and I’ve heard Gothenburg is really nice too. Since there are many more people living in the south there is of course much more to do and see there in terms of culture and entertainment. It’s also where most of the history of Sweden is.
The local currency is kronor (Swedish Kronor) shortened SEK or kr. Many price tags have the :- symbol which means the same thing.
Euro is widely accepted though, so if you have a wallet full of Euros you probably won’t have to exchange them. Keep in mind that the shop might not have much Euro in the cash registrar, so if you give them a Euro bill they might ask you if it’s OK to get the change in SEK.
Credit cards are accepted just about everywhere. Only places that don’t take cards are small private shops or market stalls or kiosks and such.
People from other parts of the world usually complain about how expensive everything is here and I’m sad to say it’s probably true. Food and alcohol is especially pricey, so restaurants and bars can quickly eat a big hole in your wallet. Here are a few comparisons:
A pizza + a can of Coca-cola is usually around 70-80 SEK (10-12 USD) (6,7-7,7 GBP)
A beer at a pub is around 50 SEK (7,5 USD) (4,8 GBP)
1 litre of milk at the grocery store is 8 SEK (1,21 USD) (0,77 GBP)
I don’t know if that’s a lot compared to where you live, but regardless it’s always important to plan your budget when travelling. :)