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With its ten million citizens, Sweden is the largest of the Nordic countries, and its roots are richly diverse. It is famed, of course, for the Viking era, and evidence of that legendary history abounds. There are burial mounds and enigmatic runes seemingly everywhere, while remnants of ancient ports and walled cities tell tales of glories past. But that is not the only memorable culture here: the indigenous Sami people of Sweden’s rural north boast their own traditions established through centuries of reindeer herding and nomadic living. Contemporary Sweden is known for its embrace of the arts, its sleek design style, and its peaceable nature—the nation hasn’t been at war since 1815.
Perhaps the greatest unifying factor for all Swedes is their embrace of their nation’s bountiful natural resources. With year-round options, outdoor pursuits are a national obsession. When the land is emerald green, Swedes are out hiking, sailing, canoeing, and cycling, often into the wee hours of the Midnight Sun. When the vistas are white with snow, families strap on skis and skates to take advantage of the crystalline beauty. The bounty finds its way to the table, from locally sourced vegetables and dairy, to seafood from the coastline (and, naturally, reindeer meat). No wonder then that Sweden so often ranks among the happiest countries on earth.
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*Destinations shown on this map are approximations of exact locations
Stockholm is Sweden’s floating beauty. 30% of the city is composed of waterways flowing between 14 islands—and that’s just the beginning, as the full archipelago of 24,000 islands continues some 50 miles beyond the city proper. Linked by 57 bridges, the streets on terra firma are rife with history, including the Stortorget (“Big Square”), which once flowed with the blood of Swedish nobles, and is now home to café’s and businesses. The Royal Palace and the well-preserved Medieval Old Town speak of the city’s past, but Stockholm is also a player in modern life, a hub of fashion and design with a newly thriving cutting edge dining scene.
A friendly local introduces us to a newer, more diverse Stockholm.
Picturesque Visby requires a little effort to visit: you can only get there by plane or boat. The fact that so many Swedes make the trip is a testament to its charms. The capital of the island of Gotland, Visby was a major port for the Hanseatic League. Anchored by a 12th-century wall, the town’s rich historic past earned it a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation. At the Gotlands Museum, that history unfolds through collections of pre-Viking picture stones, medieval sculptures, and the massive Spillings Hoard of Viking silver. Known as the City of Ruins and Roses, Visby is beloved for its beauty as well, with flower boxes adorning the quaint cottages that outline cobbled lanes. Boasting sweeping views of the Baltic Sea, and home to a lush 19th-century Botanical Garden, lovely Visby is well worth the trip.
At 226 feet long and 160 feet tall, the mighty Vasa sailing ship was built to be the pride of Sweden in 1628, and was launched with great fanfare. Unfortunately, the top heavy ship began to list almost immediately, tilting so far that water poured in the gun ports, and soon the vessel sunk to the sea floor, tragedy and embarrassment all in one. 333 years later, it was exhumed from its watery grave—in 14,000 pieces. The Vasa now has its own museum, where you can witness a scaled replica of the ship, examine artifacts from 17th-century life and navigation, learn stories about some of the 30 passengers who went to their graves with the vessel, and discover the fascinating story behind Sweden’s efforts to raise its lost icon.
Eight million bricks went into the making of the Stadshuset, Stockholm’s City Hall and most famous building. Designed by native son Ragnar Östberg, it is a model of national romanticist architecture, boasting a 300-foot spire topped with a trio of royal crowns. With its ornately decorated ceremonial halls, it is a glittering venue for Stockholm’s most well-known annual event: the Nobel Prize banquet. But it’s not just a site reserved for cultural elites; it is also home to the work offices of 200 people and a popular wedding venue for ordinary Swedes looking for a little taste of royal-quality glamour.
Take a tour of the Swedish capital, where Nordic traditions meet cutting-edge cool
A friendly local introduces us to a newer, more diverse Stockholm.
Stockholm and Sweden
Witness the natural and man-made beauty of Sweden with travel expert Rudy Maxa.
Produced by Small World Productions
Intersection: Sodermalm, Stockholm
Hear Swedish locals from the Sodermalm district describe the country’s streamlined fashion scene.
Produced by Shern Sharma
©2014 The New York Times
Travelogue: Scandinavia 1967
See the bustling cities of Stockholm and Copenhagen, where familiar icons stand out against a 1960s back-drop.
Produced by David Conover & Paul Villanova
Immerse yourself in Sweden with this selection of articles, recipes, and more
Learn about the evolving roles of Scandinavia’s Sami women
by Pamela Schweppe, for Grand Circle
As they are assimilated into modern society, the Sami are becoming more involved in world politics.
In the language of the Sami people, the word gaba means “capable and independent woman.” For the northernmost indigenous population of Europe, hardy self-reliance and the ability to thrive in an inconsiderate environment are germane to the Sami identity. Consciously living off nature is simply an environmental and economic necessity.
The Sami, who number around 75,000, make their homes in the remote areas of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and the Kola Peninsula in northwestern Russia. Fishing and fur trapping are vital to the economy, as is their most distinctive livelihood: reindeer herding. But this long-cherished practice—and much of the culture that surrounds it—is slowly being phased out by assimilation and modernization.
With global connectedness slowly replacing collective family units (known as siida), and with small-scale reindeer herding becoming less viable economically in the modern age, fewer and fewer Sami engage in this traditional practice. Currently, approximately 10% of Sami are active herders. As elements of their indigenous language, culture, and history are lost, gender roles and norms slowly disappear as well.
For centuries, women’s domain as primary caretakers was imparting indigenous cultural knowledge, in addition to crafting warm fur clothing so crucial for surviving Scandinavian winters. The post-World War II policy of rationalization put pressure on the Sami to adopt mainstream Norwegian culture, which marginalized many indigenous practices. In addition, the increasing availability of consumer goods has nearly erased the need for hand-sewn fur clothing, creating an empty space where women once made significant contributions.
Today, many young, educated Sami women are leaving their close-knit rural communities to live and work in urban areas. To counteract this trend, Sami leaders are taking measures to increase the desirability of rural work, including job placement assistance, entrepreneurial training, and small business financing. However, larger and more ambitious reforms, such as Norway’s “High North” policy, still focus predominantly on traditionally male-dominated industries such as construction and mining, providing fewer outlets for traditionally female career paths.
Older generations of Sami looked to a number of female deities for comfort and guidance. Mattarahkko, the primeval mother, and her three daughters—Sarahkka, Juksahkka, and Uksahkka—once helped women through different stages of their lives. In this spirit, Sami women have organized a group called Sarahkka to bring their plight to the national stage. It’s indicative of a growing trend of political activism to protect and preserve Sami culture.
A burgeoning feminist movement was sparked in the 1970s in an attempt to equalize the rights shared by male and female reindeer herders. The World Council for Indigenous People (WCIP), founded in 1975 in part by Sami people, has also helped bring an international perspective to the plight of the Sami. Additionally, the Norwegian Council for Cultural Affairs has established programs to preserve and celebrate Sami culture.
The identity of Sami women still exists at a crossroads. No longer required to maintain traditional reindeer-herding practices, they are tasked with finding more modern means of contributing. Existing outside the boundaries of what you’ve known for centuries, however, is never an easy transition. Half of the Sami people now live in urban areas such as Oslo, Norway (you can visit this scenic city during our Norwegian Coastal Voyage & Lapland Small Ship Cruise Tour). As they are assimilated into modern society, the Sami are becoming more involved in world politics. With greater access to resources and media, previously out of reach because of geographic constraints, they are better poised to assume more power and control over their representation—and therefore their identities.
The Lappekodicillen Peace Treaty of 1751 established legal boundaries for sustainable reindeer herding, granting exclusive rights in many areas to the Sami. Though they are no longer reliant on this practice to survive, their “capable and independent” spirit will surely guide them as they create a space for themselves in the 21st century.
There are pros and cons to visiting a destination during any time of the year. Find out what you can expect during your ideal travel time, from weather and climate, to holidays, festivals, and more.
Days are short and snow blankets much of Sweden during these winter months, and you’ll have to dress for the cold if you plan to visit. February is the coldest month, when temperatures in Stockholm average in the mid-20s (°F). Few tourists visit Sweden during this time of year, but the locals take advantage of numerous cold-weather activities including dog-sledding, ice-skating, and cross-country skiing—although the near total darkness of northern Sweden means that the mountain slopes must be artificially lit.
The Northern Lights is one of the most eerie and fascinating things you can experience during the winter months in Sweden. They are best viewed in Abisko National Park, in the heart of Swedish Lapland.
Watch this film to discover more about Sweden
After a long dark winter, Sweden’s biting cold begins to yield to the warming rays of spring, and in the countryside wildflowers burst into bloom. In Stockholm, April temperatures average in the 40s (°F) and climb into the 50s by June. These are excellent months for lovers of the outdoors, especially for those who enjoy taking hikes along Sweden’s uncrowded forest trails.
The Midnight Sun is a natural phenomenon when the sun remains visible for 24 hours of the day and bathes the countryside in a warm, welcoming light. The best time to view the magic of the Midnight Sun in Swedish Lapland is the end of May until the summer solstice (about June 21). And the farther north you go the longer it lasts.
Trip Extension: Stockholm, Sweden
From a Royal Stables coachwoman and a silent film pianist, to a beekeeper and her rooftop hive—Stockholm is full of surprises.
With warm temperatures (but never uncomfortably so), these summer months are peak tourist season in Sweden. It’s also the peak time for summer festivals, outdoor dining, and heading into the countryside for sailing and swimming in glassy lakes and mountain hiking without having to don any winter gear. In June, July, and August, temperatures in Stockholm can reach the mid-70s (°F), occasionally even higher.
Temperatures begin to dip in October and snow is possible in the north of the country. By November and December, Stockholm temperatures average in the low 30s (°F), and much colder in the northern regions. This is the time for winter sports, including snowmobiling, skiing, and ice skating. From late November until Christmas, many Swedish restaurants feature a julbord, the traditional Swedish Christmas buffet
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Our Activity Level rating system ranks adventures on a scale of 1 to 5 to help you determine if a trip is right for you. See the descriptions below for more information about the physical requirements associated with each rating.
Activity Level 1:
Travelers should be able to climb 25 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 1-2 miles over some uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last at least 1-2 hours at a time. Altitude can range from zero to 5,000 feet.
Activity Level 2:
Travelers should be able to climb 40 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 2-3 miles over some uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for at least 2-3 hours at a time. Altitude can range from zero to 5,000 feet.
Activity Level 3:
Travelers should be able to climb 60 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 3 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 3 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 5,000 to 7,000 feet.
Activity Level 4:
Travelers should be able to climb 80 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 4 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 4 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 7,000 to 9,000 feet.
Activity Level 5:
Travelers should be able to climb 100 or more stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 8 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 4 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 10,000 feet or more.
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