Part of the historic homeland of the Vikings, Sweden today is a tranquil, peace-loving country.
Tucked between Norway and Finland, but mostly surrounded by the Baltic Sea, Sweden’s beauty is subtle. This is a land of sandy beaches, rocky islands, rolling farmland, vast forest, and open tundra. Decorate that landscape with historic cities, charming villages, stately manors, neat cottages, and orderly farmsteads as Sweden has, and the result is sure to please.
While I also have ancestors from Finland and Denmark, Sweden is the country I came to know first through my father’s pictures and my grandfather’s stories. That was long before I went there myself!
It was in Sweden that I made my first connection with the world my grandparents left behind. And, like my father and grandfather, I’m always eager to return.
- Memorable Travel Moments: Connecting with My Swedish Family, 1983 (2013)
What’s in a name?
Every single thing you read about Sweden will divide the country into a different mix of pieces.
By tradition, Sweden has 25 provinces based on culture, geography, and history. Many of these originated as small kingdoms before Sweden became the modern nation we know today.
However, for governing purposes, the boundaries of these traditional provinces have been (and continue to be) sliced, diced, reconfigured, and renamed.
Today many of Sweden’s 21 counties – the official governing units – still bear the names of the traditional provinces. However, they may have different boundaries. And some have entirely new names. For example, the traditional province of Småland has been split into counties named Jönköping, Kalmar, and Kronoberg.
I think it’s a real mess, as I’m never sure if a reference is to a province or a county. And, while it probably isn’t an issue for casual travelers, it really complicates things for those of us interested in genealogy or history.
Exploring Sweden’s cities and regions
Despite having been to Sweden multiple times over the years, I’ve still only seen a small part of the country. With family on the west coast, that’s always on my travel list. Then there is Stockholm, one of the world’s most beautiful cities and a must-see on any itinerary. I’ve visited Goteborg (Gothenburg) and Uppsala, the glass forest, the manors of Sörmland, and the island of Gotland. However, I’ve never been to the traditional heart of Sweden in Dalarna, the sandy beaches of Öland, or the tundra of Lappland. Good thing I have more trips planned!
Since each guidebook and website has their own way of dividing Sweden into manageable portions, I’m using the traditional provincial groupings of north, central, and southern Sweden. I’ve add subgroupings as needed.
Southern Sweden (Götland )
Southern Sweden includes the traditional provinces of Östergötland, Småland, Gotland, Öland, Blekinge, Skåne, Halland, Västergötland, Bohuslän, and Dalsland. The region’s major cities are Göteborg (Gothenburg) in the northwest and Malmö and Lund in the southwest. This part of Sweden includes both the country’s best beaches and best farmland.
Along the southwest coast
I define the southwest coast as the area stretching from Malmö in the south to Göteborg in the north. The west coast seems to be rainier than the eastern half of Sweden. However, it also has some of Sweden’s best sand beaches and liveliest cities, so there is always plenty to see and do.
This region is home to my family, most of who live near the coast in Halland, so this is where I spend most of my time.
- Särdals windmill, Halmstad, Sweden
- Touring Rural Sweden
- Are You Looking for a Summer Cottage in Sweden?
- Långasand Beach (Long Sand Beach)
- Rolfstorp Church
- Grimeton Radio Station
- War Graves
- Rain and fog (the ferry between Helsingør, Denmark, and Helsingborg, Sweden)
This windswept island has a bit of everything – Viking-era ship graves, scores of medieval churches, hidden galleries filled with locally-made treasures, windy meadows, dramatic beaches, and the intact medieval city of Visby.
Visby was once the most important Baltic city in the Hanseatic League. Now it is a popular UNESCO World Heritage Site.
I visited Gotland in back in 2001. However, this wild and ancient island remains one of my favorite places.
The Bohuslän Coast
Sweden’s Bohuslän Coast stretches from Goteborg north to the Norwegian border.
A quick drive through here years ago to see the Rock Carvings in Tanum (a World Heritage Site) made me realize I need to return and spend time along this rocky coast. The shoreline and its 8,000 islands are as beautiful as any place in the world. And, if the scenery isn’t enough to make you happy, the fresh seafood is said to be amazing.
Central Sweden (Svealand)
Central Sweden is made up of the traditional provinces of Uppland, Södermanland, Närke, Västmanland, Värmland, and Dalarna. Stockholm is located here, as is the university city of Uppsala. This part of Sweden has a beautiful rocky coast with lots and lots of islands. Inland, the countryside is famous for its historic manors. It is still an important agricultural area, so there is always wonderful food available!
Stockholm and beyond
Sweden’s largest city is Stockholm. It is also the nation’s capital, and it may be one of the most beautiful national capitals anywhere. Many visitors stop here as part of a Baltic cruise tour, but Stockholm is well worth more than a day or two. And the area around Stockholm is also beautiful, making this a destination with everything.
Built on a series of islands, Stockholm is filled with historic buildings. The city is also home to parks, gardens, museums, shops, and amazing restaurants. It makes for a wonderful combination.
Stay near or within walking distance of Gamlastan, Stockholm’s old town.
The Stockholm Archipelago
The islands of the Stockhom Archipelago stretch far beyond the city itself. Easily reached from the city, these rocky islands are the perfect place to spend a summer day – or week. With 30,000 islands and islets, everyone should be able to find their perfect island escape.
The countryside around Stockholm: Sörmland
You’re in luck if you are in Stockholm, as a beautiful and bucolic landscape with historic manors and charming towns is within easy reach.
- Drottningholm Palace on Lake Mälaren, Sweden
- An introduction to Strängnäs
- Fabulous fika at Grassagården Cafe
- Face to face with the past at Gripsholm Castle
- Seeing how things change at Sparreholm Castle
- The many faces of Julita
- A stroll through Nyköping
- Without a boat at Stendörren Nature Reserve
Uppland and the city of Uppsala
It is a pleasant university town with historic buildings that follow along the Fyris River.
It was also the home of Carl Linnaeus, and visitors today can see modern versions of his famous gardens.
Northern Sweden (Norland )
Besides Lappland, northern Sweden includes the traditional provinces of Norrbotten, Västerbotten, Angermanland, Jämtland, Medelpad, Härjedalen, Hälsingland, and Gästrikland. This is a vast area that covers more than half the country. At the same time, it is a sparsely populated region with plenty of wild open spaces.
While I am planning a trip that will take me along the Gulf of Bothnia next year, I haven’t gotten this far north yet!
UNESCO World Heritage sites in Sweden
While Sweden might not seem a likely spot to top off your collection of World Heritage sites, it has 15 designated sites. They cover a wide range of history and include prehistoric petroglyphs, a royal palace, a church town, vernacular architecture of all types, and a naval port.
- Agricultural Landscape of Southern Öland (2000) – southern Sweden
- Birka and Hovgården (1993) – central Sweden
- Church Town of Gammelstad, Luleå (1996) – northern Sweden
- Decorated Farmhouses of Hälsingland (2012) – northern Sweden
- Engelsberg Ironworks (1993) – central Sweden
- Grimeton Radio Station, Varberg (2004) – southern Sweden
- Hanseatic Town of Visby (1995) – southern Sweden
- Mining Area of the Great Copper Mountain in Falun (2001) – central Sweden
- Naval Port of Karlskrona (1998) – southern Sweden
- Rock Carvings in Tanum (1994) – northern Sweden
- Royal Domain of Drottningholm (1991) – central Sweden (Stockholm)
- Skogskyrkogården cemetery (1994) – central Sweden (Stockholm)
- Struve Geodetic Arc (2005) – sites from Norway to the Black Sea, including sites in Sweden
- High Coast / Kvarken Archipelago (2000) – northern Sweden and Finland
Mixed cultural and natural sites
- Laponian Area (1996) – northern (Arctic) Sweden