Sweden is a land of cultural contrast, from the Danish influence of the southwest to the nomadic Laplanders in the wild Arctic north. And while urban Sweden is stylish, modern and sophisticated, the countryside offers many simpler pleasures for those in search of tranquility. Sweden’s scenery has a gentler charm than that of neighboring Norway’s rugged coast. Much of Sweden is swathed in forest, and there are thousands of lakes, notably large stretches of water between Gothenburg and the capital, Stockholm. The lakeside resort of Östersund, in the center of Sweden, is popular with Scandinavians, but most visitors opt first for the cities and the Baltic Islands: the largest island, Gotland, with its array of ruined medieval churches, is a particular highlight. Another major attraction is the so-called ‘Kingdom of Crystal’, a forested area between Malmö and Stockholm boasting many fine glassworks. The land, as well as its people, has an air of reserved calm, and while best known for its automotive and musical exports – Volvo and Abba are pretty much household names – a strong historical undertone bubbles close beneath the surface. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Stockholm, where dozens of museums deal with all imaginable aspects of the past, and medieval and Baroque edifices housing boutiques and cafes overlook the attractive harbor.
Area: 449,964 sq km (173,732 sq miles)
Geography: Sweden is bordered by Norway to the west and Finland to the northeast, with a long Baltic coast to the east and south. Approximately half the country is forested and most of the many thousands of lakes are situated in the southern central area. The largest lake is Vänern, with an area of 5540 sq km (2140 sq miles). Swedish Lappland to the north is mountains and extends into the Arctic Circle.
Language: Swedish. English is taught as the first foreign language from the age of nine.
Currency: Swedish Krona (SKr)
Credit Cards: MasterCard, American Express, Diners Club and VISA as well as the Eurocheque cards are all widely accepted.
Banking Hours: 9:30am to 3pm Monday to Friday 9:30am to 3/5:30pm. Some branches stay open later.
Air: The national airline is SAS Scandinavian Airlines (SK) (www.sas.se). Other airlines serving Sweden include Air Canada, Air France, Aeroflot, British Airways, Finnair, Lufthansa and Ryanair
Approximate flight times:
London to Stockholm is 2 hours 30 minutes
New York to Stockholm is 7 hours 40 minutes
Chicago to Stockholm is 10 hours 20 minutes
Los Angeles to Stockholm is 14 hours
Stockholm (STO) (Arlanda) (www.arlanda.lfv.se) is 42km (26 miles) north of the city. There are frequent bus services operating between the airport and the city from 6:25am-11:05pm (travel time 40 minutes). Arlanda Express trains leave for the city every 15 minutes between 6am-11:59pm (travel time 20 minutes). Taxi services are also available.
Gothenburg (GOT) (Landvetter) (www.landvetter.lfv.se) is 25km (15 miles) east of the city (travel time 25 minutes). Coach services are frequent between the airport and the Central Station. Taxi services available.
Malmö (MMA) (Sturup) (www.sturup.com) is 31km (20 miles) southeast of the city (travel time 35 minutes). Bus, taxi services to city.
Malmö Harbour Hoverport (HMA) 200m (650ft) from the Central Station, is now the city’s main terminal for International air passengers using the hovercraft service operated by SAS which connects with flights at Copenhagen Airport. Taxi services.
Social & Business Customs
Swedes like straightforward meals, simply prepared from the freshest ingredients. As a seafaring country with many freshwater lakes, fish dishes are prominent on hotel or restaurant menus. The Scandinavian cold table, called smörgåsbord, is traditional; first pickled herring with boiled potatoes, then perhaps a couple more fish courses, smoked salmon or anchovies followed by cold meat, pâté sliced beef, stuffed veal or smoked reindeer. The hot dishes come next, for instance, another herring dish, small meatballs or an omelet. A fruit salad and cheese with crispbreads round off the meal. Other dishes to look out for are smoked reindeer from Lappland, gravlax, salmon that has been specially prepared and marinated, wild strawberries and the cloudberries that are unique to Scandinavia.
Snapps, the collective name for aquavit or Brännvin, is a Swedish liqueur which is traditionally drunk chilled with smörgäsbord. It is made under a variety of brand names with flavors varying from practically tasteless to sweetly spiced. Swedish beers are lager and pilsner and come in four strengths.
Stockholm has pubs, cafés, discos, restaurants, cinemas and theaters. In the more rural areas, evenings tend to be tranquil. From August to June, the Royal Ballet performs in Stockholm. Music and theater productions take place in many cities during the summer at open air venues. Outside Stockholm in the 18th-Centurey Court Theater of the Palace of Drottningholm, there are performances of the 18th-Century opera.
Special purchases include glassware and crystal, stainless steel and silver, cottage industry artifacts and wood carvings. Women’s and children’s clothes and knitted Nordic sweaters are good buys.
9am-6pm Monday to Friday, 10am-4pm Saturday. In larger towns, some department stores open until 10 or 11pm and some open 12noon-4pm on Sundays.
Normal courtesies should be observed. It is customary for the guest to refrain from drinking until the host makes a toast. Casual dress is acceptable for everyday occasions while smarter wear for social occasions, exclusive restaurants and clubs. Smoking is prohibited on public transport and in most public buildings.
Hotel prices include a service charge. Service in restaurants is included in the bill. Late at night service charge is higher. Taxi drivers are always tipped at least 10%.
Business people are expected to dress smartly. English is widely spoken in business circles. Punctuality is important for business and social occasions. Office hours: Flexible working hours is a widespread practice with lunch between 12noon-1pm.
In spite of its northern position, Sweden has a relatively mild climate which varies due to its great length. The summers can be very hot but shorter further north. The midnight sun can be seen between mid-May and mid-June above the Arctic Circle. Winters can be bitterly cold especially in the north.