Big lakes, treehouse hotels and more islands than any other country – 15 reasons to visit Sweden

A treehouse with a difference - © VIEW PICTURES LTD.  The reproduction by whatever means of the whole or part of any Image (including, without limitation, slide projection, artist's reference, artist's illustration, layout or presentation of Images) is strictly forbidden without our specific written permission.  You must inform us of your proposals as to when and how an Image is intended to be used.  We will then consider whether we would wish to grant a licence and, if so, on what terms.

There is a reasonable chance that you are becoming a little sick of this. And yes, there is also a fair possibility that you are already operating on a low thrum of excitement as the weekend nears. There is also something of a theme developing here, as this piece on the joys of Colombia, who were vanquished (just about) on Tuesday night indicates.

What are we talking about? Well, obviously, about the fact that England will play Sweden in the quarter-finals of the World Cup on Saturday afternoon. What better excuse, then, to swerve any further mention of football, and concentrate instead on the delights of a country which ranks as the third largest in the European Union, but is still something of a mystery for many tourists? Let us shed a little illumination in 15 ways...

1. It's a very happy country

It is never, admittedly, much of a news story when it is revealed that a Scandinavian country provides a high quality of life for its inhabitants. And if you wish to be pernickity, Sweden is the lowest ranked of the Nordic nations in this year's edition of the UN-produced World Happiness Report - slipping below Finland (first), Norway (second), Denmark (third) and Iceland (fourth) to be listed a lowly ninth. Then again, ninth happiest out of 156 countries surveyed is still really rather happy. It is also 10 places of happiness better off than the UK, which stands marooned in 19th. Go figure.

Top 20 | The world’s happiest countries

2. It has the European Union's largest lake

Not only is Sweden the EU's third biggest country (France and Spain are larger, if you are interested in such matters), but it can claim the Union's most sizeable body of fresh water. This is Lake Vanern - the south-west corner of which sits a wholly accessible 50 miles north-east of the second city Gothenburg (more on which below). It is a majestic affair, opening its arms to 2,180 square miles in surface area - a statistical enormity which makes it bigger than Trinidad and Tobago (yes, the entire country; both islands combined). And you can, of course, take a holiday on its banks. Short-term rental specialist HomeAway (0800 917 5992;, for example, offers a three-bedroom cottage (reference number 8175958) near Eskilsater, on the north-west side of the water - from £81 per night. Sit here on a summer evening and you can mull over another key nugget of trivia: That, while Vanern is the EU's largest lake, it is "only" the third biggest on the European continent - behind Lakes Ladoga and Onega in Russia.

The EU's largest lake? It's right here. - Credit: GETTY
The EU's largest lake? It's right here. Credit: GETTY

3. Its capital is as much archipelago as city...

Some cities identify themselves by their number of hills (seven always being a popular choice). In Stockholm, it's all about the islands. Fourteen of them, in fact, which it drapes itself across at the point where Lake Malaren (not as big as Vanern, but still the third biggest lake in Sweden) pours its soul into the Baltic Sea. Of this dozen-plus-two, Stadsholmen is perhaps the most celebrated - the outcrop which plays host to (the majority of) Gamla Stan, the Old Town. It is here that you find most of Stockholm's key buildings, including the royal palace. But you should also hop over to the adjacent Skeppsholmen, where the Moderna Museet ( is the city's gleaming temple of contemporary art. Kirker Holidays (020 7593 1899; offers three-night getaways to the four-star Hotel Victory, a 17th century property found on Gamla Stan - from £819 per person, including flights, breakfast and transfers.

The countries with the most islands (and the idyllic ones you must visit)

4. ...and thus a fine spot for cycling

It is generally (though not always) true to say that places by the sea are flat. And the region around the capital is unsurprisingly short of mountains - good news for those who would like to explore it by pedal power without breaking too much of a sweat. Freedom Treks (01273 224066; offers an "Archipelago Island Cycle" break which spends six days covering 58 miles of highway, exploring the isles, whispering forests and leafy backwaters of the Stockholm Archipelago, due south of the city. From a basic £542 per person - including hotels and bike hire. Flights extra.

Pretty. And pretty flat. - Credit: GETTY
Pretty. And pretty flat. Credit: GETTY

5. It feels spacious

Sweden may be vast of geographical size, but it is small of head-count. It is home to 10million people (as of the most recent statistics - for March of this year) - and, indeed, has only breached eight figures in the last half-decade. With a fifth of that number - just over two million people - living in Stockholm, that leaves an awful lot of the rest of the country where you are likely to encounter little more than the occasional hiker, a couple of local farmsteads - and the feel of Scandinavian breezes in your hair.

6. You can walk and walk and walk

And with space comes opportunity for strolling. Not least, perhaps, along the Kungsleden - the "King's Trail", which cuts a path across 270 miles of glorious scenery far removed from city life. Specifically, it starts at Hemavan - which sits a full 570 miles above Stockholm, close to the Norwegian border - and heads (roughly) north to Abisko in the Arctic Circle. It would be a brave holidaymaker who would attempt the entirety of it, but you can tackle a decent chunk of the trail (the most northerly segment, including Abisko National Park) via the self-guided "Kungsleden" walking holiday sold by Macs Adventure (0141 530 3738; - eight days covering 65 miles, from £565 per person (including accommodation - but not flights).

Just 269 miles to go... - Credit: GETTY
Just 269 miles to go... Credit: GETTY

7. It has the visible half of Europe's great international "bridge"

The Oresund Bridge - or the "Öresundsbron", to use its Swedish name - needs little introduction these days. Not only is it - famously - the 7.5-mile engineering marvel which connects the Swedish city of Malmo with the Danish capital Copenhagen. It is also a piece of televisual history - the initial setting for the Scandi-noir drama The Bridge, which began in 2011 with the discovery of a dead body at the exact midpoint of the structure. The crucial detail for those who would like to photograph what is a very Instagram-friendly slice of cable-stayed ingenuity is that Sweden can claim the part of the landmark which is above ground. To be precise, the bridge bit, which conveys trains and traffic to the artifical Peberholm island in the middle of the Oresund - from which a Danish tunnel whisks everyone onwards below the surface of the strait.

The Oresund Bridge - Credit: GETTY
The Oresund Bridge Credit: GETTY

8. Gothenburg remembers its ancestors...

The second city is a smaller prospect than Stockholm (it has about half the population), but it ties itself firmly to Sweden's history at its Museum of Gothenburg ( - which contains the remnants of a Viking longship that sank in the 10th century. This is the wreck of the Äskekärrskepenet, which was found by a farmer near the village of Alafors, 20 miles north of the city, in 1933 - preserved in a mudbed alongside the River Gota Alv. It survives only as a wood skeleton of what was once a 16-metre merchant ship, but to stand alongside it in the room that is dedicated to its story is almost to feel ghosts stride past you. Cities Direct (01242 536 900; offers two-night breaks to Gothenburg from £199, with flights.

22 beautiful European cities you'd never thought to visit

9. ...and knows when to get out of town

Gothenburg does not feel like an enormous metropolis, but if you want to cast off its urban "grip", you can do so by slipping into the the Gothenburg Archipelago, the cluster of islands that sits a short tram-ride to the south-west. In particular, this is the 11 tram, which takes 35 minutes to meander from Brunnsparken in the city centre to the end of the line on the waterfront at Saltholmen. Here, you can board a ferry out into the islands - to Donso, where you can eat fresh seafood in Isbolaget, a restaurant that was once an ice house ( And to Styrso, where Pensionat Styrso Skaret, a delightful B&B with sea views, proffers double rooms from £94 (

10. It has a national park at sea

Wander a little further away from Gothenburg - 100 easily driven miles to the north - and you encounter another set of sparkling Swedish islands. The special asterisk over the Koster archipelago is that, as of 2009, much of it has been protected as a marine national park (see A wildlife wonderland, it is home to some 6,000 species, including rare seabirds such as Arctic terns and skuas, as well as a colony of harbour seals. And yet, for all its safeguarded status, it is also very accessible - reached by a short ferry ride from Stromstad on the mainland, and a plausible context for unhurried holidays which focus on long walks, afternoons of cycling (cars are banned) and long lunches in seafood restaurants. Inntravel (01653 617 007; builds two days on the islands into its "Sweden's West Coast" break - a seven-night half-board fly-drive trip that costs from £1,295 per person (flights extra).

Camping in the Koster - Credit: GETTY
Camping in the Koster Credit: GETTY

11. You can ski in winter...

Sweden does not have - and would never claim - the sort of slopes and high peaks offered by the big resorts in the Alps. But what it lacks in altitude it makes up for in latitude. Are (, for example, sits at 60N, meaning that, in December, it can expect to be under a carpet of snow with a near-certainty that the French, Swiss and Austrian wintersports hotspots can no longer boast. You could even be there over New Year, as a family. Seven nights at the four-star Tott Hotel in Ares, for two adults and two children, flying out of Gatwick on December 30, currently costs from a basic £4184 in total (£1203 per person) with Crystal Ski (020 8003 8860;

Skiing in Sweden? Of course - Credit: GETTY
Skiing in Sweden? Of course Credit: GETTY

12. ...when the ice is all around

There is no rule which says that, if you go to Sweden in the coldest season, you have to throw yourself down a piste, or mush a team of huskies across a colossal expanse of frozen tundra. You can, of course, simply loll about in a palace of frozen water. This, of course, is the fabled Icehotel (, which is rebuilt every winter between December and April, and survives the rest of the year on a tide of refrigeration and goodwill. It can be found in the village of Jukkasjärvi, a 10-mile hop from the air hub that is Kiruna, in Swedish Lapland. Best Served Scandinavia (020 7664 2222; combines it with the Treehotel (170 miles to the south in Harads) for a five-day getaway that costs from £1,095 per person, including flights and train travel.

Five of the best | Arctic breaks

13. You can drive into the sun

Remarkably, thanks to said tide of refrigeration and goodwill (mainly the refrigeration) you can also visit the Icehotel in summer. Discover The World (01737 888 317; sells the same combination with the Treehotel in summer, when the sun barely goes down on the upper reaches of the Scandinavian landscape - but as a four-night road-trip. From £1380 a head, with international flights and car hire.

14. You can time travel

If you find yourself in Swedish Lapland, you can also play with one of the quirks of the European landmass. Though immediate neighbours, Sweden (GMT +1) and Finland (GMT +2) exist in different time zones. This plays out to pleasing effect in the town of Karesuando, which lies 110 miles north-east of Kiruna. Crucially, it also lies metres from its closest friend, the mirror-image town of Karesuvanto on the other side of the River Muonio - and the opposite side of the border. Amble across the bridge from east to west (ie from Finland to Sweden), and you can live the whole of the last hour again.

12 amazing facts about time zones

15. That yellow kit. It's lovely

It will not be the first point made by anyone should England a) beat Sweden or b) lose in a hail of anticlimax. But that yellow football shirt is a ray of sunshine, whether 3,000 fans are wearing it as a giant wall of colour, or one footballer is wearing it while scoring a goal. As proof of the latter, here is the superbly named Ludwig Augustinsson doing just that against Mexico in the final group-stage game of the current tournament.