Sweden Travel Guide
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The country that brought you IKEA, Greta Garbo and Absolut Vodka can almost be forgiven for letting the smorgasbord, the Volvo (driver) and all those zinc-creamed tennis fans out (but not Roxette, no, never Roxette). Since the devaluation of the Swedish crown, Sweden has become quite affordable; at any rate, the simple joys of fresh air, landscape and culture are among the least extravagant and most rewarding of pleasures available to visitors. Stockholm, the country's capital, is a progressive city, though there are pockets which have a village feel (if you don't focus too much on the sleek, ubiquitous IKEA chairs). Once you get out of town, Sweden's starkly beautiful forests and giant lakes lend themselves perfectly to outdoor activities from iceskating to moose-spotting.
Full country name: 450,000 sq km (175,500 sq mi)
Population: Stockholm (pop 736,000)
Capital city: Stockholm (pop 736,000)
People: 90% Swedes, 3% Finns, 0.15% Sami (indigenous Lapp inhabitants).
Language: Swedish, but English is widely spoken. Five Samish dialects are still spoken.
Government: Constitutional hereditary monarchy.
Prime Minister: Göran Persson.
GDP: EUR250 billion
GDP per head: EUR28,283
Annual growth: 1%
Major industries: Forestry, mining, agriculture, engineering and high tech manufacturing, telecommunications, IKEA
Major trading partners: EU, US
Member of EU: yes
Euro zone participant: no
Stockholm (Stockholm Hotels & Stockholm Resort Reservation Service)
The medieval town of Stockholm expanded along the Baltic Sea, where an archipelago of 24,000 islands, skerries and lumps of rock have protected it from the open seas, making it ideally situated for trade and maritime activities. Most of the land masses are uninhabited, although the popularity of the area for boating means it can be hard finding anchorage in high summer. The Stockholm archipelago endures up to 20cm (8in) of ice through most of the winter. The city is best seen from the water, but you'll enjoy seeing the parklands of Djurgården or the alleys of Gamla Stan on foot.
Gamla Stan, situated on the island of Stadsholmen, is Stockholm's old town, which emerged in the 13th century. Its medieval streets are linked by a fantasy of lanes, arches and stairways. The present Royal Palace was completed in 1760, replacing the original, which was burned down in the 17th century. Today its apartments and armoury offer an excellent insight into the past. East of the city, the larger island of Djurgården offers wonderful parklands and a concentration of fine museums. One not to miss is Skansen, the world's first open-air museum, where exhibits from all over Sweden give it a rural feel. Skansen also includes a zoo, aquarium, forestry pavilion and a tobacco museum. On the western shore of Djurgården is the famous Vasamuseet, which grants you a look into the lives of 17th-century sailors. It's also a brilliant achievement in marine archaeology.
There are a number of hostels in central Stockholm, but the boat hostels moored at Skeppsholmen and south of Gamla Stan are increasingly popular. The city centre has a number of inexpensive to mid-priced restaurants offering a good variety of meals. Kungsgatan, east of the city centre, is the place to point your dancing shoes.
Set along Lake Vättern, beautiful Vadstena is one of the most pleasant towns in Sweden. The Renaissance castle Vadstena slott looks straight over the harbour and lake beyond. It is a mighty family project of the early Vasa kings, and it houses in the upper apartments some items of period furniture and paintings, including a Van Dyck. The equally impressive 15th-century klosterkyrkan or abbey is a combination of Gothic and some Renaissance features. Inside are the accumulated relics of St Birgitta and late-medieval sculpture, including a depiction of the saint during revelation. Also of note is Bjälboättens palats, the old convent and once royal residence. Buses run to/from Vadstena via Linköping, Jönköping and Örebro.
The walled town of Évora is one of the architectural gems of Portugal. Situated in Alto Alentejo in a landscape of olive groves, vineyards, wheat fields and brilliant spring flowers, it's a charming town with one-way backstreets so narrow that car wing mirrors have the potential to be lethal.
The focal point is the Praça do Giraldo, and its attractions include the Sé (cathedral), which has a museum of ecclesiastical treasures; the picturesque Templo Romano; and the Igreja de São Francisco, which contains a ghoulish ossuary chapel constructed with the bones and skulls of several thousand people.
The walled and cobbled medieval port of Visby is a living relic: more than 40 proud towers and the ruins of great churches attest to Visby's former Hanseatic glories. The contemporary ruins of Drotten, St Nicolai, St Lars and St Carin are all within the town walls and contrast with the old but sound cathedral of St Maria. Gotlands Fornsal is the historical museum with a fine collection of the Gotland picture stones of the pre-Viking period. During the second week of August, costumes and re-enactments commemorate medieval week. Visby is on the island of Gotland, which is serviced by flights from Stockholm and ferries from a number of mainland cities.
Öland is a small island containing ruins, fortifications and 400 windmills. The biggest Iron-Age ring fort on the island, Gråborg - with a diameter of 200m (656ft) and located in the south of the island - is an incredible sight. Nearby, Eketorp has been partly reconstructed as a museum to show what a fortified medieval village must have looked like. Equally impressive, north of here, are the ruins of Borgholm Castle, which was eventually burned and abandoned early in the 18th century. Also prominent are the lighthouses at the northern and southern tips of the island. Öland is reached from Kalmar via a 6000m (19,680ft) bridge, the longest in Europe. Öland is a popular place to celebrate Midsummer..
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