In 2020, we're taking a look at a few of the Northern European destinations we can't wait to visit. Today, we're highlighting Sweden.
To say Sweden stuns is an understatement. A wonderland of winter delights and isolated archipelagos, its natural assets amaze at every turn. Turn towards its cities, and you’ll find more than a millennia’s worth of medieval masterworks matched with a modern design style that innovates and pushes boundaries. Its cuisine might seem simple at first glance, but don’t think it’s lacking in flavor or finesse. A focus on native, fresh ingredients makes every dining moment in Sweden one to savor.
We can’t wait for you to experience this Nordic gem with us, as we dive into the country's impeccable architecture, gastronomy, and sense of authenticity. Ready to start exploring? Here are our suggestions for seven things to do in Sweden.
Visit Sweden’s Oldest Town
Just an hour from Stockholm, you'll find Sigtuna, a 1000-year-old town perfect for those that love castles, lakes, and a slower pace. Stroll down Stora gatan, and you’ll be walking the same route as Eric the Victorious (one of Sweden’s first kings) did around 980. Quaint wooden houses and medieval architecture give the town a unique story-book charm, and there are plenty of restaurants, shops, and cafes to while away the day.
But what you really need to check out are Sigtuna’s ancient runestones. Dotted all around town, these stones feature runic text, crosses, and nautical images. Each one is meant as a memorial to preserve the memory of loved ones — and represents the oldest surviving documentation of the Swedish language. Start outside the town museum, and you can follow a marked pathway to discover the variety of stones throughout town — and learn more about the Viking age in the process.
Beyond the town of Sigtuna, you’ll find plenty to explore. In fact, there are five castles and palaces practically sitting on the town’s proverbial doorstep. From Sigtuna, you can explore Rosersberg Palace (with untouched Empire interiors from 1795), Steninge Castle (built by Tessin the Younger, the Royal Palace’s architect), Skokloster Castle (a Baroque beauty on the shore of Lake Malaren), Skanelaholm Caste (with an eclectic collection of local art and artifacts), and Wenngarn Castle (with centuries of stories to tell). So if you have a taste for the luxe life — or a fondness for history — add a few of these to your itinerary.
Aside from Christmas, Midsummer is Sweden’s biggest holiday. It celebrates the longest day of the year (in fact, the sky doesn’t really darken at all!) and the start of the summer season. It’s all about getting out of the house and enjoying the great outdoors with family and friends. Most locals head to the countryside, but you’ll still find ample celebration in the city. Think flower wreaths, maypole dancing and gatherings that go well into the night.
Along with warm feelings of nostalgia comes food! On a Midsummer menu, you’ll find different varieties of pickled herring (sill, a national staple), and tender potatoes with sour cream, dill, and chives. Grilling is big too. Expect to find spare ribs, salmon, or other fish cooked whole over open flames. For dessert, strawberries take center stage, served with whipped cream or in a cake called jordgubbstårta. Grab a cold beer or spiced schnapps (aquavit) and try your hand at learning a Swedish drinking song.
Swedes are certainly friendly people, but perhaps in a more subdued way than you might be used to. What might seem like a quiet aloofness at first is really the practice of lagom. Pronounced LAH-gum, it means “just the right amount,” and it’s the subtle art of leading a slow, unfussy, balanced life. It’s about being happy with “enough” and not obsessing about craving excess.
When you visit Sweden with us, you’ll notice locals really listen when you’re speaking. They keep the tone of their voice even and leave space in a discussion to craft a thoughtful response. Doesn’t that sound nice? When you take the time to slow down and be in the moment, you’ll find a world of simple, unexpected pleasures waiting for you. Add a little lagom to your voyage with a leisurely cruise tour around Stockholm’s islands.
Dive into Nordic Noir
Swedish journalist Stieg Larsson took the world of crime fiction by storm with his three Millennium novels, better known as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series. In Stockholm, retrace the steps of protagonists Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander and gain a deeper insight and appreciation for Larsson’s work by visiting locations featured in the book.
Start where Blomkvist lived in the district of Sodermalm, with its trendy shops and swathes of open, green space. Next, walk to his editorial office, by Lisbeth’s luxury apartment, and the tattoo parlor that inked that dragon tattoo. You’ll feel the story come to life, and learn more about the contemporary and historical sides of the city.
It’s a verb, it’s a noun, and it’s a central part of Swedish culture. Fika is the art of the Swedish coffee break. Why do we say “art”? because it’s about much more than grabbing some convenient caffeine. It’s more of an attitude and a state of mind — the idea that everyone needs time in their day to have a break, relax, and socialize. No matter your status or social standing, nearly everyone in Sweden partakes in fika.
Fika really exemplifies Swedish sensibility. No one is ever too busy with work or their day-to-day to take time for themselves, their family, and their friends. Of course, that time usually comes with a good coffee (Swedes rank second in the world in coffee consumption) and a snack or pastry. Popular pastries include cardamom buns (kardemummbulle), raspberry shortbreads (hallongrotta) and cream buns (grädbulle).
Marvel at Museums
For anything that interests you, Sweden’s got a museum for it. Live your pop star dreams on our ABBA museum shore excursion, where you can sing along with digital versions of Agnetha, Benny, Bjorn, and Anni-Frid and (virtually) try on some of their most famous stage costumes. At the Spirit Museum, sip on Sweden’s signature drinks while you explore exhibits and get printed lyrics to popular drinking songs — perfect for celebrating Midsummer! Art aficionados can take in everything from classical to modern works at the Nationalmuseum, Moderna Museet (Sweden’s version of the MOMA), and Fotografiska (contemporary photography with amazing views and gourmet dining).
Since Swedes are so well-known for their love of the great outdoors, it’s only fitting that they created the world’s first open-air museum. Opened in 1891, Skansen Museum is on the island of Djurgården. It offers sweeping views of the city, plus recreations of homesteads from the 16th century and a zoo full of native Scandinavian animals. With masts rising out of the roof, you know something epic awaits at Vasa Museum. Explore it on a shore excursion with us and you’ll get to experience the impeccably preserved Vasa warship that sank on maiden voyage in 1628. Then, stop in at Stockholm’s famed city hall where they hand out a little thing called the Nobel prize every year.
Get to Gotland
Perched out in the Baltic Sea, Gotland (the ancestral home of the Goths) is Sweden’s largest island. It’s where Swedes go for their vacation, and the perfect blend of natural beauty and medieval magic. Visby is the only town on the island, but there is so much to see and do! Walk winding stone walls that have stood for centuries, explore narrow streets lined with step-gabled buildings and homes draped in ivy and roses, or take in the heavenly scents of the Botanic Garden. Gotland’s climate is much warmer than most of Sweden — think more Mediterranean than Nordic north.
Discover the very best of Visby on an immersive shore excursion, or get out to the countryside and to explore Gotland’s West Coast, including a graveyard of 300 stone burial “ships” dating back to 1100 BC, and Europe’s only preserved medieval gallows.
Now that you’ve got a starting point for your Swedish adventure, the next step is finding the ideal voyage! Browse all of our cruises to Sweden here, see you on board!
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