The mere mention of Sweden conjures up resonant images: snow-capped peaks, reindeer wandering in deep green forests and the 24-hour daylight of the midnight sun. But beyond the household names of ABBA, IKEA and Volvo, Sweden is relatively unknown. The largest of the Scandinavian countries, with an area twice that of Britain, but a population of barely nine million, Sweden has space for everyone. The countryside boasts pine, spruce and birch forest as far as the eye can see and crystal-clear lakes perfect for a summer afternoon dip – not to mention possibly the purest air you’ll ever breathe.
In some ways, visiting Sweden feels like walking right into a fashion or home-decor magazine. There are no boring outfits on the streets of Stockholm, and the care with which houses, cottages, cafes and public spaces are decorated and kept up throughout the country is truly inspiring. But Swedish style is never too showy. Form and function are tightly linked in this society known for valuing moderation, practicality, order, simple lines and clever designs. Whether you decide to shop for your own versions or just enjoy the scenery, it’s hard not to fall for the cool aesthetics of this place. Ancient rune stones poke up out of the grass in parks all over Sweden; huge stone-ship settings and unobtrusive burial mounds are almost as common.
Walled medieval cities and seaside fortresses are regular stops on the travellers’ circuit. Viking ruins and the stories surrounding them are very much a part of the modern Swedish landscape, and it’s easy to feel as if you’re walking through history when you wander around the country. In fact, you are. As a bonus, several Swedish museums do an excellent job of distilling and explaining that history in fascinating ways.