Crystal clear lakes, mind-blowing Northern Lights, serene forests, fantastic food, medieval Viking towns, pretty fishing villages, skiing and beaches… It’s easy to see why this magical country ranks so highly in terms of happiness and quality of life. And if you’re planning to visit, it’s safe to say you won’t be short of amazing things to do in Sweden.
But Scandinavia is crazy expensive, right?! It certainly can be, but despite what some people may say, it IS possible to see this amazing country on a backpacker’s budget. To help you make your money go further, we’ve put together a list of the best things to do in Sweden – with plenty of free or very cheap options. So if it wasn’t already high on your bucket list, it’s time to add it.
1. Surf On The Beaches Of Gotland
The island of Gotland really is Sweden’s hidden gem, with opportunities for surfing, sunbathing, and more. The neighbouring national park of Gotska is definitely one of the best things to do in Sweden, with its coastal beaches perfect for sunbathing, beaches and relaxation. Surfing is best on the white sand beaches of Sudersand Strand and Tofta Strand.
The Viking heritage runs throughout the town, which you’ll realise when you visit the Visby wall – go for a walking tour to find out more about the Swedish island. The medieval town of Visby is quaint and lovely to wander around. Cobbled streets and cafes abound, you can even stay in a hostel which used to be a prison for around £25 (sharing a ‘cell’ with another person). There are also several other hostels on the island for very reasonable prices.
To get there, take a bus down from Stockholm to Nynäshamn and catch a ferry from the port for around £9, which takes you straight to Visby.
2. Experience The Spectacular Northern Lights
The Northern Lights are on many travellers’ bucket lists, and Sweden is one of the best places to see them. Visiting in winter is a must as it needs to be cloudless, dark and cold to see the magnificent Aurora Borealis.
With a bit of luck you can see the lights from anywhere within Arctic Sweden. One of the best places to visit to have a great chance of seeing them is 2km north of Kiruna in the Abisko National Park away from the light pollution of big cities. Alternatively, visit Jukkasjärvi and the Torne Valley. There are also many companies that run dog sledding trips at night, so you can sled through the wilderness and watch the sky – amazing! The best time to visit is usually from late March to early April, but in the far north the lights can be spotted from as early as September. Follow Aurora alerts on Twitter for live info about solar activity.
To get north, take a flight from Stockholm or for a more fun experience, catch a sleeper train.
3. Ride The World’s Coolest Metro In Stockholm
The Stockholm Metro Art Gallery is a unique metro station like no other – it doubles up as both a station AND an art gallery, with at least 90 stations boasting amazing patterns and designs. This means when you use the metro in Stockholm it’s basically like being in your own personal art gallery! Experience paintings, sculptures and mosaics – and all it costs is the price of a train ticket.
4. Take A Swedish Sauna With The Locals
Sauna culture is strong in Sweden, and a visit to Sweden isn’t complete without sampling one for yourself! Traditionally a bastu (sauna) is taken before either swimming in a lake or sometimes even playing in snow, before going back into the sauna and then continuing this cycle. Some lakes or swimming areas may have saunas for public use or you could even rent one out. Try Lake Källtorp on the outskirts of Stockholm which features two saunas (best to book in advance to avoid disappointment) and a lake – just be aware, you may find yourself surrounded by a few naked Swedes!
5. See The Midnight Sun In Swedish Lapland
If you’re feeling adventurous, venture north to Kiruna in Swedish Lapland. Fly from Gothenburg or Stockholm from around £150 or for a more unique experience, get a sleeper train from Stockholm for around £70. During the summer this is where you’ll find the famous Scandinavian midnight sun, where the sun never sets – an ethereal experience. For a truly exciting adventure, spend a day hiking up to Kiruna ‘base camp’ hostel or to the campsite.
Here, you can climb Sweden’s highest mountain, Kebnekaise, which is 2,100m high, around 20km. The climb can be done by most competent walkers and is an amazing thing to do in Sweden. Paths around Kebnekaise form part of the 400km Kungsleden (King’s Trail), Sweden’s longest and most famous trail. If you don’t want to hike, it can also be skied in the winter.
6. Go For A Classic Swedish ‘Fika’
Of course, one thing you have to do in Sweden is fika – the Swedish tradition of having a coffee and sweet pastry or bun with friends or family. In fact, it’s a social institution in Sweden! ‘Ska vi fika?’ (shall we fika?) is a phrase you’ll hear often! Try a delicious kanelbulle (cinnamon bun) and coffee in the charming Gamla Stan, Stockholm’s Old Town. It may be a little pricier than other areas but soak up the atmosphere and enjoy! Try Fabrique or Lillebrors Bageri for amazing buns. Göteborg (Gothenburg) also offers some amazing fika spots – indulge in some of the best kanelbullar Sweden has to offer in Haga, a picturesque historic area of the city.
7. Wander Through Stockholm’s Old Town Gamla Stan
Stockholm’s Gamla Stan (Old Town) is an absolutely beautiful part of Stockholm, and no trip to Sweden is complete without a visit here. With winding cobbled streets and cafes round every corner, this colourful part of the city has a certain charm you’ll be hard pressed to find elsewhere.
If you’re into art, there are countless museums, such as the Nobel Museum, as well as the beautiful Stockholm Cathedral, and brilliant restaurants if gastronomy is more your thing. But these can be pricey, so stick to small cafes and kiosks where you can get takeaway meals for 50-60 SEK (about £4.50-£5.40).
8. Party With The Locals In Uppsala
Uppsala is a student city, meaning parts of it are cheaper than other Swedish cities, and the city is filled with bars, cafes, and historic buildings. Visit Katalin, a local favourite, where you’ll find jazz music and often Swedish and international singers. Or try out O’Connors, a popular Irish hangout in downtown Uppsala.
If you’re into history, don’t miss Uppsala Castle, a striking 16th century royal castle. The imposing Uppsala Cathedral is also worth a visit with its beautiful interior and gothic vibe.
9. Take A Boat Out To Stockholm’s Archipelago
The 30,000 pristine islands that make up Stockholm’s archipelago are the definition of picturesque and one of Sweden’s most famous features – this is where you’ll find the archetypal red cottages and smooth rocks lining the coast. They are just a few minutes from Stockholm and are well worth making a visit to when travelling in Sweden.
Boasting fantastic sea life and wildlife, it’s worth paying a bit extra to charter a boat to one of the islands. You can even camp on many of the islands – and you’re likely to find yourself completely alone as the abundance of islands means often no two are inhabited at the same time.
10. Join In The Swedes’ Biggest Celebration, Midsummer
Celebrating Midsommar (Midsummer) is one of the best (and cheapest) things to do in Sweden. Midsommar is one of Sweden’s biggest celebrations, and every Swede will partake in festivities for the longest day of the year. Sweden really comes alive at summertime, so if you find yourself in Sweden during Midsummer Eve (usually around 19-25 June) definitely go out and celebrate with the locals.
Knock back snaps (shots of strong alcohol), wear flowers in your hair, dance around the maypole and eat seafood as you sing along to classic midsummer songs. A great place to do this is Skansen on Djurgården, Sweden’s huge first open air museum and zoo, which puts on one of Stockholm’s biggest Midsummer celebrations.
Gothenburg is also an option for an amazing Midsummer celebration. Try the main park, Slottsskogen, where you can experience the Swedish festivities in full swing.
11. Enjoy Tranquillity In The City In Djurgården, Stockholm
A hidden gem just off mainland Stockholm, Djurgården is a must when travelling in Sweden. Nip over to the green island filled with flowers either on foot or via the ferry or tram from Gamla Stan – it’s the perfect place to relax in the city. Stroll alongside the canal and visit the ABBA Museum – which, you guessed it, contains all you need to know about the Swedish pop group.
Stay at: Generator Stockholm in the chic neighbourhood of Torsgatan 5 minutes from the central station, or City Backpackers Hostel, which offers free use of the sauna every evening – need we say more? For a truly unique experience, don’t miss a stay at the STF Youth Hostel af Chapman, a renovated ship which is one of the most famous landmarks in the heart of the city centre.
12. Explore The Diverse City Of Gothenburg
Though Sweden’s second largest city, Gothenburg, may not have the same reputation as Stockholm, there are SO many things to do in this up and coming metropolis. You can rent a canoe and paddle through the river, and visit the little cobbled streets of Haga, where you’ll find a 19th century atmosphere and an array of cute little shops and wooden houses, along with numerous cafes.
Gothenburg also boasts a spectacular archipelago – catch a ferry across and sample some of the famous seafood. As with most of Sweden, most restaurants are somewhat expensive, so save money by visiting food kiosks dotted around the city, where you can get food such as hot dogs, pastries, and even takeaway Swedish kötbullar (meatballs) and mash with lingonberry sauce for around £6 – the classic and delicious dish of Sweden. You can also find gatukök (street kitchens) selling Thai food and pizza for similar prices. Check out of Guide to Gothenburg for more ideas of things to do and see.
13. Canoe And Camp In Lakes And Forests On The Bohuslän Coast
Sweden was made for the adventurer. Being outdoorsy seems to be ingrained in the Swedes, and the beautiful landscape provides endless opportunities for exploring. Camping is something you can do all over the country but one of the best places is Dalsland on the West Coast, in Sweden’s Lake District. Hike across forests or rent a canoe to paddle across the lakes and find yourself a camping spot, set up a fire (allowed in many areas – but check beforehand) and enjoy the beautiful views.
The lake water is perfectly drinkable and the experience of swimming in the lake or jumping off the rocks is one not to be missed! Sweden has allemansrätten (literally ‘the everyman’s right’), meaning anyone is free to walk, cycle, hike and camp on almost all land in Sweden.
Throughout Sweden you’ll find badplatser (swimming places) with ladders and swimming platforms in the many lakes and coastal areas. These are almost all free, and are great places to spend days and evenings with beers and friends. To get to the West Coast, rent a car or for a cheaper option take a bus or train from Gothenburg for around £16.
14. Visit An Indigenous Tribe In Northern Sweden
If you want to experience rugged landscapes (and the cold!), venture over the Arctic Circle (and get a stamp in your passport to prove it!). This area of Sweden is charming all year round but is most enchanting during the winter, and is probably how many people envisage Sweden – reindeer and snow! Jokkmokk is the home of indigenous Sámi tribe, so you’re set for a truly authentic experience. Visit the winter markets, watch reindeer racing, see the Northern Lights, and go dog sledding.
To stay on budget, take a train to a town such as Jokkmokk, which can be found for a fairly cheap price. There are some cheap hostels and supermarkets around, but if you want to eat out, in general stick to lunchtimes as your main meal, as lunch deals are often much cheaper than dinner.
15. Stroll Through Lilla Torg In Malmö
Lilla Torg is a charming cobbled square in the city of Malmö, Sweden’s third largest city, with outdoor restaurants, bars and cafes. In the summer, eat outside in the open air and visit Saluhallen, an indoor market, to taste food from around the world. Then head west to Gamla Vaster, the old town, with its colourful brick buildings, galleries, bars and cafes.
Don’t miss a visit to Kungsparken (the King’s Park), 8 hectares of green with beautiful flowers and a grotta (cave), and The Turning Torso, a twisted skyscraper and fascinating piece of architecture which is one of the most famous in Sweden.
16. Cross Over To Denmark Via The Architectural Wonder Øresund Bridge
From Malmö, nip across to the charming Danish city of Copenhagen via the spectacular Øresund Bridge. Driving across this massive 16km long road and rail link between Sweden and Denmark is an experience in itself! The world famous bridge was the setting for Swedish crime thriller The Bridge, and was used to symbolise the connection between Scandinavia and the rest of Europe at the 2013 Eurovision Song Contest.
17. Celebrate Failure At One Of Sweden’s Weirdest Museums
The Museum of Failure is one of the weirdest museums you’ll ever see ?Niklas Madsen
The newly opened Museum of Failure is certainly something different – it exhibits basically the world’s worst inventions, showcasing commercial products that were a complete flop such as ‘Google Glass’, ‘Coke 2’, and President Donald Trump’s version of Monopoly from 1989. The unique museum was founded by a psychologist and was created to say that we should also recognise and celebrate the failures that can occur on the road to success. The museum in Helsingborg is situated a few minutes drive after you come off the Øresund Bridge.
18. Check Out The Setting For Scandi Crime Thriller Wallander
If you’re a fan of Scandi crime fiction, check out Ystad. The famous Wallander book by Henning Mankell and TV series was based here – you can even take a tour around the different scenes where the thriller was filmed. The historic and attractive seaside town of Ystad features cobbled streets, monasteries and museums, and is definitely worth exploring as it’s only an hour from Malmö.
19. Eat Fresh Seafood On The Smögen Bridge
Situated on the charming Bohuslän coast, the Swedes’ favourite holiday destination, this quaint fishing village features small independent shops and many restaurants and cafes where you can sample a famous Swedish räksmörgås (prawn sandwich). The town is known for its long wooden bridge with several yachts and boats scattered along the harbour, where you’re likely to find Swedes sipping on beers and being merry. Visit Gösta’s fish shop for reasonable prices and amazing seafood.
Smögen does get busy with tourists during the summer months, but don’t let that stop you. Perfect for a day trip, it’s definitely worth a visit. Visit the seafood market for fantastic seafood – it’s worth splashing out as the fresh Atlantic fish is some of the best you’ll ever taste. This area also has smooth rocks which lie all the way along the enchanting coast – a perfect place to sunbathe and take a refreshing dip in the sea.
Sweden is a big country, so it’s not always quick to get to places – so combine your trip to Smögen with camping on the West Coast to make the most out of it. Flying to Gothenburg then driving or getting a train is easiest and quickest.