Sweden

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Introduction to Sweden

Since the devaluation of the Swedish crown, Sweden has become quite affordable, and the simple joys of fresh air, landscape and culture are free. Its forests are starkly beautiful, its lakes giant. Stockholm, the country's capital, is a progressive city with pockets that maintain a village feel.

Gothenburg and Malmö also beckon with urban delights. Away from the cities, Sweden takes in vast areas of scenic coastline and idyllic islands. The wilderness areas of Norrland have the legendary midnight sun in summer, Arctic Scandinavia's highest mountain and marvellous hiking trails.

The country that brought you IKEA, Greta Garbo and Absolut Vodka can almost be forgiven for letting the smorgasbord, the Volvo (driver) and all those zinc-creamed tennis fans out (but not Roxette, no, never Roxette). Since the devaluation of the Swedish crown, Sweden has become quite affordable; at any rate, the simple joys of fresh air, landscape and culture are among the least extravagant and most rewarding of pleasures available to visitors. Stockholm, the country's capital, is a progressive city, though there are pockets which have a village feel (if you don't focus too much on the sleek, ubiquitous IKEA chairs). Once you get out of town, Sweden's starkly beautiful forests and giant lakes lend themselves perfectly to outdoor activities from iceskating to moose-spotting.

Full country name: Kingdom of Sweden

Area: 449,964 sq km

Population: 8.87 million

Capital City: Stockholm

People: 90% Swedes, 3% Finns, 0.15% Sami (indigenous Lapp inhabitants)

Language: Swedish, English

Religion: predominantly Lutheran (87%)

Government: Constitutional Monarchy

Head of State: King Carl XVI Gustaf

Head of Government: Prime Minister Göran Persson

GDP: US$230.7 billion

GDP per capita: US$26,000

Annual Growth: 1%

Inflation: 2%

Major Industries: Forestry, mining, agriculture, engineering and high tech manufacturing, telecommunications, IKEA

Major Trading Partners: EU, US

Member of EU: Yes

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Traveler Facts

Visas: Stays of up to 90 days (unlimited for Nordic citizens) are usually visa free, but South Africans, Hong Kong residents with Chinese passports and residents of many African, Asian, South American and some Eastern European countries should check requirements with Swedish embassies.

Time Zone: GMT/UTC +1

Dialling Code: 46

Electricity: 230V ,50Hz

Weights & measures: Metric



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Events

Midsummer, held at summer solstice, is Sweden's most enthusiastically celebrated festival. Pagan rites such as maypole dancing mingle with public holiday tie-loosening and liberal helpings of schnapps. The Lucia Festival (13 December) has only been celebrated for about 60 years but has become very popular. As well as commemorating the martyrdom of a pious Sicilian girl, Lucia celebrates the coming of Christmas with processions of robed youngsters, plenty of glögg (a hot alcoholic fruit punch) for the grownups, and singing. Christmas trees are decorated with straw animals and stars, cookie baking begins, and Santa Claus makes his final assessments of children's behaviour and does the last-minute shopping. Santa obviously favours Swedish kids, as he delivers presents in person rather than just chucking them down the chimney. Most households serve up ham at Christmas time, and many families still partake in the tradition of 'dipping in the pot', soaking slices of bread in ham juices.

New Year's Eve is a highly social time when friends get together, often setting off fireworks. Easter in Sweden incorporates the pagan belief that witches hang out with the devil in hell for the duration. Kids dressed up as witches door-knock houses in their neighbourhood, scamming lollies in exchange for drawings. Walpurgis Night (30 April) is a pagan festival celebrating the end of winter with bonfires and fireworks. May Day (1 May) is observed by marches and labour movement events.

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Best time to Visit

If you want sunshine, visit between late May and late July, bearing in mind that August can be both hot and wet. Many youth hostels, camping grounds and attractions open only in summer, from late June to mid-August. Summer in Sweden can be hot, sunny and beautiful, but travel in winter should be better planned and restricted. Big cities are in full swing all year-round.



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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: Swedish Krona

Meals

Budget: Sk35-50

Mid-range: Sk50-110

High: Sk110-350

Deluxe: Sk350+

Lodging

Budget: Sk75-150

Mid-range: Sk150-500

High: Sk500-800

Deluxe: Sk800+

Sweden is fairly expensive and you can easily spend your money quickly, so it pays to plan your trip carefully. The cheapest way to visit is to camp in the woods for free, eat supermarket food and hitchhike along the roads - this will cost under US$10 per day. If you stay in commercial campgrounds and prepare most of your own meals, you can squeak by on US$25 per person per day. During the low-price summer period, if you stay in a mid-range hotel and eat moderately priced meals, expect to drop over US$50 per day, or closer to US$100 per day if you're traveling solo.

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Attractions

Stockholm

Stockholm is, without doubt, one of the most beautiful national capitals in the world. The Old Town is particularly spectacular, and walking around the city's waterways and parks is a glorious way to spend a week-long stretch of European summer.

Visitors and residents alike enjoy strolling along the streets and lanes in the medieval section of Gamla Stan, or exploring its many museums. The city is compact and easily explored on foot, although its watery nature, and many islands and archipelagos, may have you looking around for a boat.

Gothenburg

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After Liseberg the collected museums are the strongest attractions. The central museum Ostindiska huset has archaeological, local and historical collections. Konstmuseet has impressive collections of European masters and is notable for paintings by Rubens, Van Gogh and Rembrandt. The main museum of maritime history is Sjöfartshistoriska museet. Gothenburg is easily accessible by air, bus, train and boat and, once you're there, a bunch of spanking new hostels in the city centre awaits your weary head.

Vadstena

Set along Lake Vättern, beautiful Vadstena is one of the most pleasant towns in Sweden. The Renaissance castle Vadstena slott looks straight over the harbour and lake beyond. It was a mighty family project of the early Vasa kings, and it houses in the upper apartments some items of period furniture and paintings, including a Van Dyck. The equally impressive 15th-century klosterkyrkan or abbey is a combination of Gothic and Renaissance features. Inside are the accumulated relics of St Birgitta and late-medieval sculpture, including a depiction of the saint during revelation.

Visby

The walled and cobbled medieval port of Visby is a living relic: more than 40 proud towers and the ruins of great churches attest to Visby's former Hanseatic glories. The contemporary ruins of Drotten, St Nicolai, St Lars and St Carin are all within the town walls and contrast with the old but sound cathedral of St Maria. Gotlands Fornsal is the historical museum with a fine collection of the Gotland picture stones of the pre-Viking period. During the second week of August, costumes and re-enactments commemorate medieval week. Visby is on the island of Gotland, which is serviced by flights from Stockholm and ferries from a number of mainland cities.

Öland

Öland is a small island containing ruins, fortifications and 400 windmills. The biggest Iron-Age ring fort on the island, Gråborg - with a diameter of 200m (656ft) - is an incredible sight. Nearby, Eketorp has been partly reconstructed as a museum to show what a fortified medieval village must have looked like. Equally impressive are the ruins of Borgholm Castle, which was eventually burned and abandoned early in the 18th century. Also prominent are the lighthouses at the northern and southern tips of the island. Öland is reached from Kalmar via a 6000m (19,680ft) bridge, the longest in Europe. Öland is a popular place to celebrate Midsummer.

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Disclaimer: We've tried to make the information on this web site as accurate as possible, but it is provided 'as is' and we accept no responsibility for any loss, injury or inconvenience sustained by anyone resulting from this information. You should verify critical information like (visas, health and safety, customs, and transportation) with the relevant authorities before you travel.

Sources: CIA FactBook, World FactBooks and numerous Travel and Destinations Guides.

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