Sweden: Travel Tips for Your Trip
With almost ten million locals, Sweden is a small but lovely country. From the frozen lands up north to the rugged western coast to the picturesque islands in Stockholm, Sweden is one of my favorite countries in the world. There’s a lot of history in the country and the populace has preserved it wonderfully. The country isn’t cheap (though this travel guide will help you save money) and people often skip it until they have more funds but it’s never too soon to see Sweden. I fell in love with the country the first time I visited and am always wowed by the architecture, historic cities, and surreal landscape. Throw in welcoming locals and you have the recipe for a truly amazing destination! I visit the country every year and always fall back in love. Don’t skip the country! Fall in love with it too!
Accommodation – Accommodation, like everything in Sweden, is not cheap. Hostels start around 250 SEK per night for a dorm room and are between 690-810 SEK for a double private room. Hostels in Sweden also add a 25-50 SEK surcharge for bed linen (I know, it’s ridiculous). A budget hotel will begin around 700 SEK for a double room per night. Cheaper options are available however they necessitate sharing a bathroom with other guests so make sure you read the fine print! Shared rooms from sites like Airbnb can be found for as little as 400 SEK per night, while a private apartment or house will cost you almost double. Wild camping is a good budget option as it is legal (and FREE!) to wild camp almost anywhere in Sweden. If that’s not your thing, campgrounds are also common (though many require a Swedish camping card, which you can purchase at your campsite for 150 SEK and have modern facilities, including toilets and showers.
Food – Food is expensive in Sweden. You can get cheap food from outdoor street vendors starting at 50 SEK, though they are few and far between. You can get hot dogs starting at 25 SEK. (Try the French hotdogs for 30 SEK. They’re delicious!) Grocery shopping here will cost 565 SEK per week, however, if you cut down on your meat and cheese intake (some of the most expensive food items in Sweden) you can lower your costs significantly. Many convenience stores offer pre-packaged sandwiches and meals for under 50 SEK. Whole pizzas begin around 65 SEK. Most nice sit-down restaurant meals begin at 160 SEK for a main dish. Beer can be as cheap as 40 SEK, though 60-75 SEK is more common. Wine will cost around 55-75 SEK at your average restaurant, and cocktails will set you back at least 100 SEK. If you’re on a budget you’ll likely want to stick to beer. You can buy your own alcohol at the government-run Systembolaget for even greater savings.
Transportation costs – The majority of intercity trains cost 325–610 SEK, though tickets for as low as 200 SEK can be found. Long overnight sleep train, like the fifteen-hour trip from Stockholm to Luleå, cost between 700–1,215 SEK. Buses booked a month or more in advance can be found for as cheap as 80 SEK. However, those tickets are limited in number, and typically buses cost 225–405 SEK. The ferry to Gotland (from either Oskarshamn or Nynäshamn) is 258 SEK and up. If you are arriving at an airport, Flygbussarna is the shuttle company, with tickets around 100 SEK from major airports to the nearest downtown (Stockholm, Gothenburg, Malmö). Hitchhiking isn’t really common in Sweden, though foreigners can get away with it as long as they stick to major highways.
Activities – Most museums and attractions cost about 80-195 SEK, and every major city will have plenty to offer for solo travelers as well as families. Green space is common in each city, too, with plenty of picnic spots to be found as you explore. Hiking, cycling, skiing, kayaking — outdoor activities are hugely popular in Scandinavia, and you’ll never have a hard time getting out and getting active!
Suggested daily budget – 500-800 SEK / $55-88 USD (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating and cooking, and using local transportation. Using the budget tips below, you can always lower this number. If you stay in fancier accommodation or eat out more, expect this to be higher!)
Money Saving Tips
- Drink beer – Alcohol isn’t cheap in Sweden as it is heavily taxed. However, beer is quite affordable. If you stick to beer, you can save yourself a lot of money when you go to the bars. Beer can be as low as 50 SEK. Hostels will typically have the best-priced bar drinks overall.
- Book in advance – My trip to the Stockholm train station taught me that travel around Sweden is expensive, especially if you are booking only a day or two before hand. Prices can vary wildly, even if it is just the difference of a day. Booking trains or buses three to four weeks in advance can get you around 40-50% off. Swebus, SJ, and MTR are the major companies you’ll want to consider.
- Bring a refillable water bottle – The tap water in Sweden, as in all of Scandinavia, is perfectly drinkable. In fact, tap water in Denmark is often cleaner than bottled water! Bring a refillable water and save your money — and the environment!
- Buy a rail pass – If you plan to do a lot of traveling around, buy a rail pass before you get to the country. You’ll end up saving a few hundred dollars off the high cost of travel. This can be a good alternative to booking in advance if you are like me and plan everything last minute.
- Purchase a city tourism card – These tourist passes give you access to a city’s public transportation system and free entrance into 99% of the museums and attractions. All the major destinations in Sweden have them. If you plan on seeing the majority of attractions and museums, one of these cards will save you money. (Savings will vary depending on how much you use the card.)
- Skip the restaurants – Eating out in Sweden is very expensive, especially if you are going to a sit-down restaurant. If you want to eat out, stick to the outside food vendors you see on the street. You can find a decent variety (I found a Thai one once) and they are only about 65 SEK per meal. You can also get cheap hotdogs and sausages for about 30 SEK. If you’re craving take-out, stick to Thai and Middle-Eastern joints, as they will be the cheapest.
- Go buffet – Lunch is the best time to eat out in Sweden. Buffets and restaurants have set meals for around 105 SEK. It’s the best deal you can find and one utilized a lot by locals.
- Avoid clubs – Most clubs have a 260 SEK cover. Don’t waste your money.
- Get a metro card – Each region of Sweden has its own public transportation operator, and transportation cards will include busses, trams, subways, and boats. Prices will vary for each region, so be sure to enquire when you arrive. If you will be in a city for a few days, be sure to grab a tourist pass. At 300 SEK for a week’s worth of train rides in Stockholm or 175 SEK for 3 days of buses in Gothenburg, these cards will definitely save you money.
Top Things to See and Do in Sweden
- See the Vasa Museum – As one of Sweden’s Wonders of the World, it showcases an amazingly-preserved 17th Century ship, complete with six levels for your viewing. This battle ship was built to demonstrate Sweden’s might, however, it ironically sank upon launch. This museum is the best in the country and gives you a lot of historical context about the ship and empire at the time. This is a must see attraction! Adult admission is 130 SEK.
- Visit the Stockholm Archipelago – It’s worth spending a little money to take a boat from Stockholm to the different islands and experience just what they’re about. During the summer, they become big attractions for locals as they boat on the water and spend nights on the tiny islands in the area. Be sure to get out of the city and see some of this more local region.
- Stroll along Haga in Gothenburg – It’s worth a day’s trip just to walk along the cobblestone pedestrian streets and window shop in one of the oldest neighborhoods in the area. You’ll find plenty of cafes here, some of which sell cinnamon buns as big as your face! They also have some wonderfully-quaint restaurants, so stop at one of the many when you get hungry for lunch (just be aware you’ll find cheaper food elsewhere).
- Explore Stockholm – There is so much history in Stockholm that if you stay less than three days here, you’ll leave feeling like you missed out. From the museums to nightlife, there’s no time to get bored. It’s one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen, rivaling the best capitals of Europe. From picturesque harbors to the charming lanes of Old Town, Stockholm is a city to soak in. Once you visit you’ll begin to understand that the Swedes knew how to build long before IKEA came around.
- Brave the cold in Lapland – Located to the far north is the tundra-like landscape in Sweden known as the Lapland. This is where the Sami, Sweden’s indigenous people, continue to make their home in the snowy cold, and where you can see reindeer, do some great skiing, and experience the great Arctic north. In the winter it’s a great place for a colorful Northern Lights viewing!
- Partake in fika – Like “tea time” in the UK, fika is Sweden’s way of slowing down. Coffee, conversation, and a few baked goods are an important part of the social fabric in Sweden, allowing friends and colleagues to take a break from the day to day and just relax. You don’t invite someone out for coffee in Sweden — you invite them to fika.
- Stay in the Ice Hotel – Located up north, the Ice Hotel is a hotel built during the winter months out of (you guessed it) ice. You stay in an essentially giant igloo. There’s an ice bar, ice dining room, and an ice bed (with big fur blankets!). Be prepared to pay the price for a unique stay like this, as nights cost 10,000 SEK — and that’s just for a basic ice room! The hotel is also open for tours during the day, allowing visitors to explore the impressive construction and design. Tours cost 175 SEK and are in English.
- Visit Gotland – This island is a popular place to visit when the weather is nice and it’s where most Swedes spend their summer. Week 29 (out of the 52 week year) is the most popular and crowded week when all the kids come down to party up a storm (so if you’re looking to avoid that, skip that week!). The main town, Visby, is a medieval walled city that is incredibly beautiful. It’s like walking through the 1400s. The island is home to numerous Viking relics, and there’s a cool hostel in an old prison too!
- Catch the Midsummer Festival – Swedes celebrate the summer solstice with a giant party. It’s not warm and light often here and they make the most of it by dancing around a maypole, eating, drinking, and enjoying nature. Every municipality around the country will organize events, so be sure to find some Swedes who can show you around. Many locals will also host their own — this is the biggest party day of the year!
- Explore the Bohuslän Coast – This beautiful coast has been smoothed and carved out by glaciers. Taking a boat trip here is a great way to see Scandinavian fjords without having to visit Sweden’s expensive neighbor, Norway. There is also a UNESCO rock-carving site over in Tanumshede too.
- Ski – Scandinavians love their winter sports, understandably so because it’s cold most of the year! One of the most popular ski resorts in the region is Åre, which lies 80 km from of Östersund. The highest peak at the resort is over 1400 meters. Daily trains run to the area from Stockholm. Lift tickets are generally between 300-400 SEK, and vary for each location.
- Kick back in Uppsala – This university town is one of the most popular study-abroad locations in Northern Europe, and it’s got a great student life. The city also features a castle, museums, and numerous gardens. This is also one of the most budget-friendly places in the country thanks to all the students there!
- Celebrate Valborg Day – Held on April 30th, this annual Swedish festival serves to welcome spring. It’s characterized by huge bonfires, and even bigger parties, and is a tradition dating back to the Middle Ages. Municipalities will often organize events — including the massive bonfires — though many locals will also host their own parties. Be sure to ask around to take part! I was lucky enough to be there for it one year and it was an amazing experience!
- Check out Wallander’s Ystad – If you’ve read the writing of Henning Mankell or seen the popular adaptation, the Wallander TV series, you’re already familiar with Ystad. This small town is picturesque and full of history. If you’re a big fan of Wallandar, you can arrange a tour at the tourist office, but even if you’re not, the town itself has a lot of character and is worth exploring. It’s only one hour from Malmö.
- Visit Kosterhavet – This is a marine park located on the Koster Islands, around two hours from Gothenburg. The park contains Sweden’s only coral reef, and the villages on the islands are quaint. The whole natural area is very beautiful, and it’s worth renting some bikes to explore the islands.
- Hike The Kings Trail – This 440km trail stretches along some of the most remote and pristine landscapes in the country. While it takes over one month to hike the entire trail, it is very easy to carve out shorter hikes if you’re feeling adventurous. There are numerous huts along the route where hikers can sleep, stock up on goods, and get rides back into nearby towns.
- Spend a day at Skara Sommarland – If you happen to be in Sweden during the fleeting summer months, consider heading out to one of Sweden’s only water parks. The family-friendly park is host to a campground, and also offers cabins for rent. Adult admission is 349 SEK.