I was recently invited to write a guest blog posting, for a travel blogger, about my favourite place that I had visited. That is easy and difficult. Easy because it is somewhere in Scandinavia, and those who know me, mumble an audible, “of course,” but I do find it hard to pick just one Scandinavian country. Each region of Scandinavia has its own beauty, personality and appeal. In today’s case, Sweden won out. Tomorrow I am sure it will be Denmark, and the next: Norway……
Sweden, or ‘Sverige’ (pronounced svair-ri-ah to my ear), is one of my all-time favourite places to visit because it is full of Scandinavian vitality, culture and unique sights. Don’t let the threat of a harsh winter put you off a vacation in Sweden in the off-peak times, for the jet stream ensures that the winter in Scandinavia is no worse, and even sometimes better, than the American or Canadian version.
I enjoyed “fika” ( Swedish coffee and cake ) in a traditional Swedish cafe
In southern Sweden, you’ll find the fast paced, modernity of most large, cosmopolitan cities, in places like Stockholm and Malmø, but one that is peppered with ‘old world’ charm. The central areas of the country is where you’ll find rural Sweden and the philosophy of ‘Ikea’ at its best, with the rolling green hills dotted with ‘Falun’ red cottages, barns, medieval farms and quaint churches, some with amazing, intricately-painted ceilings.
You’ll also see age-old Swedish traditions alive and kicking, from one end of the country to the other: from painted horses in Dalarna to wild summertime ‘surstromming, ’ or crayfish parties, held on the west coast where a tourist- driven, relaxed lifestyle predominates. A local beach on the Bohuslan coast might be a lump of bare sun-soaked rock, striking, attractive, yet extremely popular in both summer and winter.
And don’t forget the far north, where a Swedish winter adventure might include viewing the northern lights, going dog sledding, snowmobiling and experiencing a mix of arctic and Sami culture that transforms a cold, dark winter into a snow white wonderland one might associate more with Santa Claus and his elves.
You might ask: ‘What made this place so memorable?’
The Swedish people themselves have a proud and varied history, are gregarious, hard working and cannot go for more than a few hours without ‘fika’: coffee and cake. Just my kind of people! You will find cafes and bakery everywhere serving fika, and this experience coupled with a kanelbolle, or cinnamon bun, made my Swedish experience memorable.
So what are the top ten sights/activities for this destination?
1. Vasa Museum –Stockholm: See the ill- fated, triple- decked galleon that sank on its maiden voyage in the Stockholm harbour, replete with cannons, crew and gold encrusted decorations. Nearby is the Nordic museum.
2. Skansen/Liseberg – Stockholm: an open air museum with vintage Swedish houses, barns, dancing demonstrations and delicious traditional food. Stockholm’s Zoo is also located there, so if you yearn to see a moose, reindeer, or a bear, you can do that when you visit Skansen. Then, burn off the extra calories on the rides at neighbouring Liseberg, Stockholm’s oldest amusement park.
3. Gamla Stan – Stockholm’s Old Town: a mecca for foodies. Commencing at the Royal palace, the “Old Town” consists of narrow alleyways, cute cafes, oh- so photogenic painted terrace houses, and shops full of traditional souvenirs. Money exchanges/plenty of ATM’s are conveniently located here to help you on your mission!
- Radhuset– Stockholm’s Town Hall: like a ‘mentos sweet’: plain and dull on the outside, magnificent on the inside. The Town hall, built in the 30’s, is not only the venue for the Nobel Prize ceremonies, but also has a council chamber with a roof, that was inspired by an upturned and decorated hull of a Viking longboat, and a third reception room that is equivalent to an ancient Egyptian Pharoah’s temple. Surprising and a definite ‘must-see’.
- Stockholm archipaelego – A leisurely boat trip past idyllic islands, the occasional fortress and stunningly beautiful nature. A photographer’s dream on a good day. Departs from Stockholm or Stromstad. Alternatively, if you are not a water baby: the sites mentioned in the Stieg Larsson’s ‘Millenium’ trilogy are a great way to see more of Stockholm. There is an easy D.I.Y. walking tour of Stockholm. Maps available at the tourist office.
- Malmø – Skane, Southern Sweden: see the impressive “Turning torso” building, a feat of modern engineering; and Malmohus, a renaissance castle; as well as historic buildings in the Malmø Town Square including the Town Hall from 1547, Hotel Kramer and the old pharmacy: Apoteket. If you still have breath or run out of things to do, take a 30 minute train ride and you are in Copenhagen, Denmark.
- Ystad –Skane, Southern Sweden: trace Detective Kurt Wallander’s footsteps ( from Henning Mankell’s famous novels and TV series) There’s loads of half- timbered cottages with thatch roofs too.
- Stromstad –Bohuslan, a beach side town on the west coast – see the Town Hall with its quirky history, take in drop- dead gorgeous views out to the archipelago, and try the must-have Buffet lunch at Lalaholmen hotel. You SOO don’t want to miss the dessert. But you may want to skip the ‘surstromming’, (a fermented very smelly fish),and just party in the lively atmosphere and long hours of daylight hours in summer, or use Stromstad as a launch pad, for a high speed boat trip to spend a day in Norway.
- Lappland: Skellefteaa – track and hunt wild reindeer in their native habitat, go sledding, skiing or snowmobiling, or see Sweden’s oldest wooden bridge, and an utterly impressive Domkirke Cathedral, ( a place of pilgrimage for centuries) and the pilgrim’s traditional cottages nearby.
Catch a glimpse of the mysterious Northern lights, or ski from February to June at Riksgransen, where, if you are lucky you may see the testing of pre-production European model cars that occurs in spring on the, still frozen, Arctic lakes.
If I could go again I would…
Spend more time relaxing on the Bohuslan coast, on a long summer night, visit Gotland to see the Viking relics and feast on Swedish delicacies such as: reindeer, cloudberries, salmon, ‘vasterbotten’ cheese and ‘filmjolk.’
Is a Swedish holiday for you? Something for you to ponder about?