To some, Sweden is that beautiful land of Volvos, blondes, Absolut Vodka, and IKEA, never mind a certain legendary ‘70s pop quartet. You know, those worn-out prejudices we’ve grown all too accustomed to.
In reality though, this is one of those breathtaking European countries rich in culture, over ten centuries of history, an urbane population, incredible cities, stunning landscape, dense green forests, little red island cottages and just about every natural attraction in most countries. Only better.
Little wonder then this northerly land promises so much to do, and here are 20 that are a must visit!
Ride Stockholm’s Solna Centrum Escalator
First opened to the public in 1950, the Stockholm metro art gallery, better known as the Solna Centrum, is billed as the longest art museum in the world, and good Lord…It’s akin to an art gallery in motion that serves those in transit the splendour of awe-inspiring paintings, mosaics, sculptures and installations.
Whether the locals who ply this route daily have grown accustomed to it I’m not entirely sure, but it gives off this feeling like you are in a modern-day archaeological expedition, with yet-to-be-discovered secrets and wonders aplenty.
Drop by the Absolut Ice Bar
Too touristy and dotted across every other major European city, I know. But this is the home of Absolut Vodka, and almost treason to leave without popping in the ice bar for the vodkaphile.
It’s an unforgettable cool experience (literally and figuratively) surrounded by ice and vodka, but you will need to make reservations.
Speaking of ice…
Spend a Night at the IceHotel
Located in northern Sweden in a village called Jukkasjarvi where dogs outnumber humans, the IceHotel is the first and largest of its kind in the world.
Its accommodation features ice rooms, snow rooms and art suites, and the hotel offers a range of snowmobile extras including fishing for grayling, char and trout, an excursion to the Arctic Trail, moose watching, sauna and dinner programs and more.
You may want to avoid visiting between April and May though: it usually melts and reconstruction isn’t due until November-December.
Howdy to the Christmas Goat of Gavle
A huge tourist magnet, the Chrismas Goat of Gavle is a large goat made of straw. It was borne out of the Swedish Christmas belief that a goat delivers presents during the holidays.
And now that we mention holidays…
Find Solace by the Talking Lamp
First put up in 2006 in the city of Malmo, the giant lamp measures 5.8 metres (almost 20 ft.). It was initially installed to grant weary passers-by a chance to sit, unwind and let go of their daily worries – if only for a moment.
It looks cool, especially when lit at night, and makes its way through the city’s various squares across the year before returning back ‘home’ to LillaTorg. A favourite spot for both locals and visitors, the highlight is that the giant lamp does actually – ahem – talk, as its words slice through the chilly December air to usher in the holidays to Sweden.
Engage in some Swedish Bandy
Being in the Scandinavia, it follows that a winter game would be apt. Swedish bandy is a game that resembles hockey, only that this is a cross between football (soccer for some) and hockey. And it’s played on ice.
This fast-paced game is the second-most popular winter sport after ice hockey.
Take a Tour of the Kosterhavet
The Kosterhavet is the first marine national park in Sweden, just a two-hour drive up the stunning coast from Gothenburg.
You’ll be spoilt for choice on what to do here and probably need an entire day, started very early. There are guided tours to embark on (while biking), boat trips to make, and the perfect setting for lobster safaris (especially during the region’s famous Shellfish Journey).
But that’s not all.
The unique seaside location boasts appeals that include beaches, rocky islands, and the captivating ‘Koster light’, not to mention a hotspot for activities like kayaking, diving and seal safaris.
Check out the Oresund Bridge
The Oresund Bridge is a sight you don’t want to miss as you’ll rarely find anything like it.
The ‘bridge’ – serving both car and train – is actually half bridge-half tunnel. On the Swedish side in Malmo is the sweeping suspension bridge that dips into the sea, giving the impression that it leads straight underwater.
In reality though, from this point is a tunnel constructed beneath a manmade island (called Perberholm), and emerges from the Danish metropolis of Copenhagen, where it changes name to the Drogden Tunnel.
The aim was to allow ships sufficient passage under the tall suspension bridge, while making sure not to interfere with the air traffic from the busy Copenhagen Airport nearby.
Go Ghost Hunting in Borgvattnet Vicarage
Do you believe in ghosts? Interested in earning a one-night diploma? Well, here’s your chance.
The Borgvattnet Vicarage is a humble house built in 1876 for men of the cloth. With the first hauntings being reported in 1927, every resident vicar (or their family or guests) have claimed ghostly antics that include an old rocking chair, screams being heard, things moving and shadow people being spotted.
Known as one of Sweden’s most haunted locations, today it is run as a small B&B for anyone courageous enough to brave the night, with the option to rent the entire house. In the morning, a diploma awaits you in honour of your triumph. Should you make it through the night.
Tour the Pionen Data Centre
Assuming you get lucky in securing a tour of the Pionen White Mountain data centre, it’s a place very much worth a visit.
Pionen, a codename from the Cold War, is a bunker that serves as a data centre. It’s located 100 FEET below Stockholm’s bedrock and the design is a cross between a 007 lair (James Bond, yes) and the spaceships of Silent Running, that ‘70s cult sci-fi film.
Indeed. It can withstand a hydrogen bomb, and in case of a blackout, a number of German submarine engines are on hand to act as backup.
It is home to Bahnhof, one of Sweden’s largest ISPs, and housed Wikileaks at some point.
Visit the Bastanas Car Cemetery
As the name suggests, this is a graveyard that contains the rusting carcasses of about a thousand abandoned cars dating back to WWII.
Located deep in the forest near the Sweden/Norway border, the peaceful setting offers a great inspiration for anyone interested in cars, as well as for photographers and artists. Be warned though, stealing (or altering) from the artful collection could be a ticket to your maker.
Marvel in the Vasa Museum
Sweden is a country whose attractions are some of the highest ranked in the Scandinavia. And the Vasa Museum is just another reminder to that fact.
How do we put this? Well, Vasa was a ship whose story apes the Titanic’s in a way.
See, in the 17th century, Sweden had great colonial ambitions, and the Navy was seen as an integral part of any grand strategy. So, a ship was commissioned by King GustavasAdolphus. But this was no ordinary ship. The firepower it was equipped with made it the most well-armed ship in the Baltic, if not the world.
Under duress from the royal court, the ship was completed within a very tight schedule. Its maiden voyage came in August 1628, but it sailed for less than a nautical mile before it sank. It would remain underwater for 333 years (ironically preserved by wood-eating micro-organisms from heavy pollution in the bay) and is today housed at the Vasa Museum, the most visited in the Scandinavia.
Visit the Nation of Ladonia
You’ve probably heard of Ladonia, right?
A creation of Lars Vilks, Ladonia is a nation that is more artwork than territory. It’s made up of two structures: Nimis made of wood, and Arx, a stone and concrete sculpture.
Of course, no one lives there. But you can still apply for citizenship; chances of which it will be granted, as a group of 3,000 Pakistanis once found out when they confused the micro-nation for a state and proceeded to apply for immigrant status through its online application form.
See the Royal Mounds of Gamla Uppsala
The Royal Mounds of Gamla Uppsala are some of Sweden’s oldest national symbols that were once the burial grounds of the wealthy.
Dating back to the 5th and 6th centuries, the mounds come in the form of three hills – Eastern, Middle and Western Mounds – which, being Sweden, are not short of legendary speculation.
Located nearby is another attraction, the Uppsala Domkyrka, a cathedral that dates back to the 13th century.
Attend the DrottningholmsSlottsteater Opera
Constructed in 1766, the Royal Theatre of Drottningholm is one of the world’s oldest preserved opera houses.
Every mechanism inside is operated by hand, including using centuries-old equipment to move the thirty preserved sets whose changes are done in full view of the audience, as things were before.
Dine inside the Malm Blue Whale
A young blue whale found itself on the wrong side of the waters in 1865, and what followed sealed its fate. It took two days of methodical killing before the world’s largest mammal succumbed.
It was purchased whole by a taxidermist and the Gothenburg Museum curator, August Wilhelm Malm, to whom it’s named after. Visitors can descend into a lounge furnished with benches, carpets and plush wall hangings.
Visit the Gothenburg Medical History Museum
Property of the Sahlgrenska University Hospital, the Gothenburg Medical History Museum was established in 1808 as a hospital.
The hospital was located in a building donated by a wholesaler who went by the name AronOterdahl. The exhibition features a collection of medical instruments, equipment, furniture, books and photos from the 18th century onwards.
Colour the Stockholm Light Tower
The Stockholm Telefonplan Tower is another attraction you can check out while in the capital.
Featuring the permanent light installation Colour by Numbers, it allows anyone with a smartphone (and app) to temporarily change the hue on the upper section of the 20-story building.
Explore the Brahehus Castle
Another beautiful attraction that won’t cost you, the Brahehus Castle used to be a stunning country castle in the mid-17th century.
Only the ruins stand today after it was destroyed by a fire in the year 1708, but still offers splendid views of Lake Vattern and Visingso.
Explore the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Visby
History lovers will fancy a trip to Visby, the largest city island of Gotland and one of the most well preserved medieval cities in the country. You will find everything from medieval houses to church ruins to a wall surrounding the city that is still intact.
But it’s not all about history. Party enthusiasts can enjoy a week-long party held in summer every year, without fail. Or soak up the sun in the gorgeous beaches around.
And those, ladies and gentlemen, are the unmissable 20 things to do in Sweden.