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Sweden Trip Planner
Text by Carolyn Galgano and Husna Haq
Photo by Raymond Patrick

Photo: Sweden
Planters brighten Stortorget square in Stockholm's Old Town.

With a penchant for impeccable style in everyday life, Sweden tops the list of design-conscious nations.

I n the July/August issue of Traveler, writer James Morgan and photographer Raymond Patrick travel to "The World's Best Designed Country," specifically the Swedish cities of Stockholm and Gothenburg. Here are not-to-miss stops in and between those cities, along with helpful information to plan your trip.

The Basics

Food and Lodging

Cuisine of West Sweden

Things to See and Do

Road Trip: Stockholm to Gothenburg


Books That Put You There

Music Not to Miss

Must-See Movies

Local Media

For More Information

The Basics

Entry requirement: U.S. citizens need a valid passport to enter Sweden.

Time difference: Sweden is six hours ahead of U.S. eastern standard time.

Money: The currency of Sweden is the krona. For current conversion rates go to OANDA Currency Converter.

When to go: The weather in Sweden varies from temperate in the southern part of the country—with cold, cloudy winters and cool summers—to subarctic in the northern region. The best time to visit Stockholm or Gothenburg is May-September. Midsummer temperatures range from 60 to 80°F (16-27° C).

Getting there: Both Stockholm and Gothenburg have international airports and are served by several international carriers. Flights from the United States usually change planes in Frankfurt, Amsterdam, London, or another European city.

Getting around: Driving in Sweden is on the right side of the road. Top highway speed is 68 mph (109 kph). Trains are a convenient way to get around the country; within cities, buses and trams are good alternatives. The subway in Stockholm has 100 stations. If you take a taxi from the airport in Stockholm or Gothenburg, be sure to confirm the price in advance.

Food and Lodging

The Berns Hotel, a modern boutique hotel with 65 rooms, is located in the center of the city. $347 (small double)-$414 (medium double); Nackstromsgatan 8, Stockholm; tel. +46 8 5663 2200.

Popular Brogyllen bakery is known for its raspberry-and-cream-filled princess cake, and apple and raisin sultanbrod. Vastra Hamngatan 2, Gothenburg; tel. +46 31 138 713.

The five-star Elite Plaza Hotel has 146 rooms, including five suites, all decorated in traditional style. $186 (standard double). Vastra Hamngatan 3, Gothenburg; tel. +46 31 720 4040.

Soak in the atmosphere at Espresso House, a comfortable neighborhood coffee shop. Vasagatan 22, Gothenburg; tel. +46 31 139 750.

Enjoy classic Swedish cuisine at Prinsen restaurant, a small, clubby restaurant that's a favorite with artists and writers. Master Samuelsgatan 4, Stockholm; tel. +46 8 611 1331.

A stylish gathering spot for media and design professionals, Restaurant Riche serves classic Swedish and international dishes. Birger Jarlsgatan 4, Stockholm; tel. +46 8 5450 3560.

Soho is a comfortable restaurant specializing in international cuisine. Ostra Larmgatan 16, Gothenburg; tel. +46 31 133 326.

The Grand Veranda restaurant provides an elegant setting to enjoy an authentic Swedish smorgasbord. Grand Hotel Stockholm; Sodra Blasieholmshamnen 8, Stockholm; tel. +46 8 679 3586.

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Cuisine of West Sweden

With a newfound emphasis on organic foods and fresh ingredients, traditional Swedish cooking has matured into gourmet cuisine. Starting in the year 2000 with the launch of the West Sweden Tourist Board's Vastsvensk Mersmak (A Taste of West Sweden)—a consortium of restaurants dedicated to improving the quality of food by using ingredients taken from the area's farms, forests, and coastline—West Sweden has emerged as a top culinary destination.

For a taste of the region's best, visit Gothenburg, known for its excellent restaurants and talented chefs, seven of whom have won the nation's Chef of the Year award in the past 12 years. "Swedish food is quite clear, quite simple," says Stefan Karlsson, head chef of Gothenburg's Restaurant Fond. "We use basic ingredients, with not too many flavors on each plate; it is the real thing."

Twenty-five restaurants have been certified to join Vastsvensk Mersmak, signifying that these establishments adhere to the goal of serving only the freshest local ingredients. Many restaurants are part of hotels or inns. To request information about participating restaurants, contact the West Sweden Tourist Board, tel. +46 31 81 8300; e-mail

Things to See and Do

Housed in an 18th-century structure built for the Swedish East India Company, the City Museum is a cultural history museum that covers West Sweden from the Vikings to present day. Norra Hamngatan 12, Gothenburg; tel. +46 31 612 770.

Gothenburg Opera, a world-class opera house opened in 1994, is the city's main venue for opera, ballet, and other musical productions. Christina Nilssons Gata, Gothenburg; tel. +46 46 3113 1300.

Rohsska Museum is devoted strictly to design and the applied arts.
Vasagatan 37-39, Gothenburg; tel. +46 31 613 850. 

Home to Sweden's royal family, the Royal Palace has select rooms open to the public. Kungliga Slottet, Stockholm; tel. +46 8 402 6100.

Take home a part of Sweden from Svenskt Tenn, a home-furnishings store with wallpaper, fabrics, carpets, and furniture reflecting the inspiration of popular designer Josef Frank. Strandvagen 5, Stockholm; tel. +46 8 670 1600.

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Road Trip: Stockholm to Gothenburg

The five-hour, 300-mile (483-kilometer) drive from Stockholm to Gothenburg passes scenic countryside and forests, and hugs Lake Vattern near Granna. From Stockholm, take Hwy. E4 south to Jonkoping, then Hwy. 40 west to Gothenburg. The following sights and travel tips were provided by the editors of the Swedish edition of the National Geographic magazine and the staff of Visit Sweden.

Sixteen miles (26 kilometers) northeast of Norrkoping is the Kolmarden Zoo, one of Europe's biggest, housing about 800 animals (from dolphins to rhinos) in parks that include a drive-thru safari, aquarium, tropical park, and petting zoo. Kolmardens Djurpark, SE-618 92, Kolmarden; tel. +46 11 24 9000 (90 miles [145 kilometers] from Stockholm).

Travel through time at Gamla Linkoping, a re-created 19th-century Swedish village where guests can roam traditional streets, homes, gardens, and the village school, bank, post office, fire station, and shops. Guided tours in English are available if booked in advance. Kryddbodtorget 1, S-582 46 Linkoping; tel. +46 13 12 1110 (125 miles [201 kilometers] from Stockholm).

For home-cooked Swedish food (like pike or perch from nearby Lake Vattern), stay at Gota Hotell, on the banks of Gota Canal in Borensberg, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) from Linkoping. The 12-room former summer boardinghouse is decorated in Swedish country style. Gotagatan 2, 590 33 Borensberg; tel. +46 141 400 60 (140 miles [225 kilometers] from Stockholm).

A worthy detour, Tiveden National Park, between Lakes Vanern and Vattern, is some 3,300 acres (1,335 hectares) of mossy Nordic dreamland. Trek by ancient woodlands, mammoth boulders, and forest lakes on 15 miles (24 kilometers) of trail. Approach the park from Bocksjo, off Hwy. 49 (160 miles [258 kilometers] from Stockholm).

For authentic Swedish accommodation, rest at Hotel Amalias Hus, a renovated 18th-century customs station in Granna. The 12 rooms (scattered among several painted wooden buildings) feature traditional furnishings and tiled Swedish stoves. Brahegatan 2, S-563 32 Granna; tel. +46 390 413 23 (180 miles [290 kilometers] from Stockholm).

Swedish widow Amalia Eriksson is rumored to have introduced polkagris, or peppermint rock candy, to Granna in 1859. Today Grenna Polkagriskokeri is one of about a dozen shops in Granna where visitors can watch workers boil, pull, knead, and twist the candy that is one of Sweden's most popular souvenirs. Brahegatan 39 563 32 Granna; tel. +46 390 100 39 (180 miles [290 kilometers] from Stockholm).

Twenty-five miles (40 kilometers) southeast of Granna, in Aneby, is one of Sweden's best-preserved 13th-century wooden churches, Vireda Kyrka, known for its medieval paintings and striking 17th-century curly-grain birch-wood chandelier. For information, contact the Aneby Tourist Office; tel. +46 380 462 40 (185 miles [298 kilometers] from Stockholm).

The Tandsticksmuseet, or Match Museum, tells the story of Swedish safety-match developer Johan Edvard Lundstrom. Explore the history and politics of matches in this converted match factory museum in Jonkoping. Tandsticksgrand 27, Jonkoping; tel. +46 36 10 55 43 (200 miles [322 kilometers] from Stockholm).

About 40 miles (64 kilometers) east of Gothenburg is the Boras Museum of Modern Art, renowned for its Swedish collection. Peter Johansson's sculptures commenting on Nordic culture are among the museum's 4,000 paintings, sculptures, videos, and more. P.A. Halls Terrass, Schelegatan, Boras; tel. +46 33 35 76 71/72 (255 miles [410 kilometers] from Stockholm).

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Midsummer at Skansen (weekend closest to June 24). Schnapps flows at Sweden's most anticipated, superstition-charged pagan holiday, Midsummer. At the open-air museum of Skansen, celebrations last three days, during which visitors decorate and raise the maypole (an old symbol of fertility), join in folk dances as traditional fiddlers play, and feast on pickled herring, new potatoes, and strawberry cake. 

St. Lucia's Day, Lucia, or the Festival of Light (December 13). Most towns and households across Sweden hold their own Lucia celebration, but the open-air museum at Skansen stages a traditional ceremony from the 1920s in which a young girl dressed in white, wearing a crown of lit candles, sings the traditional Lucia song and brings coffee, ginger biscuits, and buns for guests.

Kiruna Snow Festival (end of January). Organizers claim this event, set under the northern lights in Sweden's Arctic Lapland, is the biggest snow festival in Europe. Visit Kiruna, where January's average temperature hovers around -4°F (-20°C) and daylight lasts only a few hours, to watch reindeer and dogsled races, and world-class snow-sculpting competitions. Enjoy bear steak and reindeer kebabs, and party the night away in giant igloos.

Salmon Festival (early May). Reel in a big one at the Salmon Festival in Karlshamn, Blekinge. The festival always takes place during the 19th week of the year, when fishing is supposed to be the best. Angle for salmon (which grow up to 45 pounds [20 kilograms] here) and sea trout in the Morrum River, and watch the Swedish and European Trolling Championships, which draw 150 fishing teams from across Europe.

Medieval Week (early August). Travel to medieval Sweden at Gotland's medieval festival, which recreates Sweden in the summer of 1361. Watch knights on horseback joust, listen to troubadours sing melancholy love songs, and wander through the chaotic medieval market, teeming with stonemasons, performers, and hawkers. Be sure to visit the website and plan your trip in advance to make the most of the dozens of events (including theater, classes, and demos) scheduled for the weeklong festival.  

Books That Put You There

The Wonderful Journey of Nils Holgersson, by Selma Lagerlof (Floris Books, 1992). Nobel Prize-winning Swedish author Lagerlof wrote this international bestseller as an instructional book on Swedish geography, history, and culture for Swedish children (but don't let the words "instructional" and "children" fool you—adults love it). The two-volume folk tale follows 14-year old Nils, an elf-size boy who flies across Sweden on the back of a gander, viewing his country—and his place in it—from a new perspective.

Letters Written During a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, by Mary Wollstonecraft (Open Gate Press, 2005). Passionate feminist Wollstonecraft sets off on a journey through 18th-century Scandinavia, recording her rambles in letters sent to her lover, author Gilbert Imlay. Wollstonecraft describes Swedish landscapes and considers social issues of the time. This travelogue-cum-political-treatise-cum-personal-diary inspires gutsy adventures and perceptive travel.

Stockholm, City of My Dreams, by Pers Anders Fogelstrom (Penfield Press, 2000). Described as a "loving reconstruction of that city as it must once have been," the novel follows the adventures of young Henning Nilsson as he looks for life, love, and fortune during Sweden's industrial revolution. The result is a sweeping narrative chronicling the rhythm, rules, and rituals of 19th-century Sweden.

Swedish Mentality, by Ake Daun (Pennsylvania State University Press, 1996). Is there a Swedish national character? Are Swedes dull and suicide-prone? Why do Swedes avoid elevators, conversation, and conflict? Ake Daun, professor of ethnology at Stockholm University, explores these and other questions in this intriguing cultural study that provides insight into the Swedish psyche. 

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Music Not to Miss

Traditional Swedish folk music is primarily fiddle-based. One of the most noted Swedish fiddlers is Pakkos Gustaf, who celebrates his ancestry by playing traditional tunes, such as the polska, originally a Polish dance that spread to Nordic countries.

One of Sweden's most prolific jazz musicians in the 1950s and the 1960s, pianist Jan Johansson is known for his interpretation of traditional Swedish folk music, best heard in his most famous album, the 1962 Jazz pa Svenska (Jazz in Swedish). Although not commonly known in the U.S., Johansson remains one of the most respected Swedish jazz musicians, long after his tragic 1968 death.

A well-recognized Sweden export, Abba topped the musical charts in the late 1970s and early 1980s with pop hits such as "Dancing Queen" and "Fernando." Abba remains Sweden's most popular band, whose music lives on today in the 2002 Tony Award-nominated musical, Mama Mia.

With their breakout album Veni Vidi Vicious, featuring singles "Hate to Say I Told You So" and "Main Offender," The Hives is the latest Swedish rock band to dominate the music charts in the U.S. Known for their stylish black-and-white matching suits, the group's latest album, Tyrannosaurus Hives, was released in 2004. 

Must-See Movies

My Life as a Dog (1987), directed by Lasse Halstrom. This 1987 tearjerker tells the tale of Ingemar, a 12-year-old boy who is forced to deal with the death of his mother and his beloved dog. Quirky characters, smart dialogue, and entertaining vignettes relieve the heaviness of the storyline and contribute to the charm of this sad, yet beautiful film.

Fanny and Alexander (1983), directed by Ingmar Bergman. Set in Sweden in the early 20th century, this Academy Award-winning film tells the story of the Ekdahl family, whose two children lend their names to the title of the movie. The family breaks apart when the father dies and the mother marries the harsh local bishop. Bergman relies on his own childhood memories as he tells the story from the point of view of the young boy, Alexander.

Persona (1966), directed by Ingmar Bergman. One of Bergman's most complex and widely debated films, Persona is the story of two personalities merging into one. Set at the Swedish seaside, the film focuses on only two characters, actress Elisabeth Vogler, and her nurse, Alma. Alma is sent to help Elisabeth recover, as she has remained silent due to an unknown cause. The intimacy between the two women slowly leads to the blending of their individual personalities.

The Seventh Seal (1956), directed by Ingmar Bergman. This Bergman classic follows the story of a medieval knight, played by Max Von Sydow, who heads back to his home in Sweden, surrounded by the effects of the plague, and disillusioned after fighting in the Crusades. Rich in symbolic imagery, the movie documents the knight's lack of religious faith. On his journey home, Von Sydow engages in a game of chess with Death, resulting in one of the most parodied scenes in cinema. 

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Local Media

For "Sweden's news in English," check out the Local, a snappy online newspaper. In addition to national news, business, and sports, check out Swedology for insightful pieces and forums on life in Sweden—past topics included penal codes, unemployment, citizenship, and the intriguing, "Why does living in Sweden feel so good?"

The Scandinavian lifestyle quarterly Nordic Reach has everything going for it—striking design, smart features, and stylish photography. Flip to Traditions for thoughtful essays on Nordic culture, and People for profiles of Scandinavians making their mark in cuisine, music, politics, and more. Streamlined sections include Architecture, Business, Fashion, Food, and Travel. Read summaries online, buy it at newsstands, or subscribe.

Check out What's On Stockholm, a tour book-cum-magazine, online (PDF downloads available) for detailed listings of Stockholm's best bets in shopping, nightlife, restaurants, and museums. You won't find features or fun departments in this magazine, published monthly in spring and summer (bimonthly in fall and winter), but it's pumped with dozens of ideas (complete with maps, tours, and descriptions) for a great evening on the town.

Unique for its intelligent, in-depth, and offbeat stories reminiscent of NPR, Sweden Radio International offers English-language program downloads on a smorgasbord of topics, including news, science, lifestyle, and sports. Tune in to "Network Europe" for insightful reports on Europe's hot-topic issues (minority integration, unemployment), "GreenScan" for environmental news (Sweden's oil-free future), and "Studio 49" for the values and trends that shape Swedish culture.

Tune in to life in Nordic lands with Swedish fashion magazine art director Andy Nyman's candid musings on Polar Bear Podcast. Listen to Andy's thoughts on Swedish springs, music, politics, and myth-busting, then unwind with Scandinavian rock and pop.

Traipse through Stockholm on the podcasting tour In Broken English with host Steffanie, a Swedish magazine journalist, and guest Francis Strand, an American magazine editor and writer in Sweden. The duo—one an expert on all things Swedish, the other a bridge to English-speaking audiences—visits sights the average tourist might not (Southern Theater, Katarina elevator, and the Stockholm TV tower) as well as the must-sees (Old Town, Stockholm Palace, and the Modern Museum). 

For more information

General information: Visit Sweden, +1 212 885 9700.

Information on Stockholm: Stockholm Visitors Board

Information on Gothenburg: Gothenburg Tourist Office.

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