Travel Jottings

Celebrating the best bits and bobs to be found while exploring Britain, Ireland and beyond. Much is inspired by real outings, whether they were walking, cycling or photographic in nature, while virtual blundering in the name of planning them has turned up some gems too. Regardless of how they were found, I hope that they keep coming so I can continue to share new things with you.

Plotting a Visit to Sweden

Riddarholmen from across Riddarfjärden, Stockholm, Sweden

Though continually updated, the basis of this article dates from 2010 when my overseas travel beyond the shores of Britain, Ireland and the Isle of Man was work related. It was after my second trip to Sweden when I unexpectedly got a chance to explore around Stockholm and Södertälje that I felt that I at least have seen a little of the place. It was more than I could say after a business trip to Lund in 2006.

One thing that I have noticed over the years is that getting Swedish visitor information in English has improved. When I started this collection, a comment about there being a sizeable body of quality Swedish literature without much of it being translated into English rang true. Most of the information referenced here now is in English but the services of Google Translate once were a godsend.

In recent years, my explorations of the world have taken me to diverse places in Iceland, Switzerland, Austria, Norway and Spain with a return to Sweden joining these overseas escapades. Having an SLR the latest time around should mean that improved photos appear on here in time. The photos from the compact camera I had with me in 2010 now looking noisy to my eyes but it was better to have it given my luck with the weather back then.

So, with an eye on a possible future visit, here is a living compilation of the sorts of things that you need to know before you go. After all, you always need to have an idea of what to see and where to go while also sorting out such necessities as accommodation and travel arrangements. All of these are here and anything else that I find could be added too for life's explorations continue for as long as it does. More adventures may await...

Deciding Where to Visit and What to Do

Every nation state should have portals from which to start figuring out what there is to see and experience. Here are a few with Visit Sweden being the official tourist portal for the country and the other two being private endeavours. Between these, you should be able to get going on turning plans into realities and there is Information om Sverige where you can find more general information on Swedish society in a number of different languages.

For a first visit, the country is the fourth largest in Europe and is very diverse too so you have to pick and choose where you go rather than going all out savouring as much as you can at a single sitting. It helps to your homework beforehand and going there should inspire and inform future visits, always a good thing.

National Parks

There have been National Parks in Sweden since 1909 and there now is a wide variety of landscapes being preserved in these though some land was removed from a National Park for a hydroelectric scheme in the early days and the controversy appears to have had an impact on later thinking. The range includes two not far from Stockholm that are among the more accessible ones as well as others that are so wild that there are no roads and helicopter drops are common. Those within the Arctic Circle rightly are well known but that are many others as I discussed in a souvenir book from a business trip in 2010. There is a lot to get to know.

Stockholm

Having visited the city twice, I can attest for Stockholm's visitor appeal. Even with the second one involving nearly a week there, there still is plenty that I have yet to see. The city is laden with green areas that often feel so wild that you would not think that you were that near civilisation, a factor that confused me near the end of a walk along the Sörmlandsleden after darkness fell. Still, it makes for a city area where escapes from a busy city centre are only a bus, tram, train or ferry ride away.

Speaking of the latter brings us to the Stockholm Archipelago (also known as Skärgården) and sightseeing trips are operated by the companies like Stromma too. There is plenty to see since Ängsö was Sweden's first National Park and there are reserves owned by The Archipelago Foundation too. Much of this is contained within two regions: Sörmland to the south and Roslagen to the north, an area that includes Vallentuna on its mainland portion.

Returning to the mainland, Sörmland also includes the Tyresta National Park just outside Stockholm's boundaries so the city has more than one National Park nearby. It is as if there is an embarrassment of riches to complement what is to be seen in the heart of place and experienced in its numerous city parks. As much as I would recommend seeing more of a country than its capital city, it appear that doing so could need to await another time.

Gothenburg (Göteborg)

West Sweden is where you find the country's second largest city and there appears to be a lot to see and experience here too. If you fancy making it a hub from which to explore the nearby area, there also is  Kungsbacka, Marstrand and Borås for starters and there also is the Tanum World Heritage Site on the same side of Sweden. Included among these is the 614 km Göta Canal that crosses Sweden so that is a long tour if you decide to follow it all of the way and shorter spells are possible too.

Visit Lund

Business travel took me here too though being with others at a time when hours of daylight were in short supply meant that no personal exploration happened. With the nearest international airport being across the Öresund in Denmark, a history of Danish rule followed by Sweden's reassertion of its sovereignty shouldn't sound so surprising. In fact, it was the Danes who established Lund as one of Sweden's oldest cities and it is one famed for its university life too.

Swedish Lapland is one of the county's wilder corners and it includes the Abisko National Park. Kiruna is another access point, especially for those arriving by air and it has a railway station too. At certain times of year, it is the Aurora Borealis that draws people but the Kiruna Mountains must have their allure as will its location within the Arctic Circle too. The latter makes its summers both short and intense with long hours of daylight in a land of midnight sun.

In Swedish, this is known as Höga Kusten and offers a variety of outdoor pursuits. Walking and climbing as well as kayaking all get a mention and it was an article featuring the first of these that drew my attention to the area in the first place.

Östergötland

History seems a calling card in this region to the south of Stockholm though there is some hiking and kayaking to be had too. The former includes pilgrim trails dating from the Middle Ages while the latter is thanks to the area having its own archipelago. In addition to all that outdoors living, this is a place that associates itself with Sweden's early history so there should be plenty to occupy everyone.

Sorting a Place to Stay

STF (Svenska Turistföreningen or Swedish Tourist Association)

This is Sweden's answer to the YHA/SYHA in the U.K. or An Óige in Eire and it goes under an unusual name that may be more in keeping with the wide spread of age groups that usually frequent hostels (I was the youngest in the room one night at Lochranza on the Isle of Arran in Scotland!). Their properties come in all shapes and sizes with one in an old train in Lund and an old sailing ship in Stockholm. These are the unusual ones with more conventional buildings forming the mainstay of the network.

Camping.se

In some respects, this may appear an odd entry under this heading but there are parts of Sweden where camping is unavoidable since there is no other option. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I am talking about wilder spots here but the website is about more formal facilities than you would get with wild camping. Also, it gets to including hut rentals together with camper vans and caravans before introducing some of the attractions that are there for you to enjoy. The variety makes this portal worth a look.

Arranging Travel

Air

SAS (Scandinavian Airlines System)

There was a time when this was a flag carrier for Denmark, Norway and Sweden together. Today, those nation states still have a share in the operation along with private investors. So far in its history, it seems to have avoided completely becoming a no frills player in the airline industry. As suggested by its ownership, it gets you to and from destinations in Denmark, Sweden and Norway. That means that the airline features a lot in business trips to Sweden as well as recreational ones to both Norway and Sweden.

Swedavia

This is the operator of many if not all of Sweden's airports and each airport gets its own section of the website with departure and arrival times listed along with other information on practicalities. Though physical geography means that the country is not as challenging for speedy land travel as near neighbour Norway, this still is a large place so internal air travel remains useful when you need to go to its more remote corners.

Rail

SJ (Sveriges Järnväg)

This is one of Sweden's state railway companies and seemingly is the main one to use for long distance journeys with overnight train services going north and south from Stockholm. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they serve other countries in Scandinavia too with my seeing a train bound for Oslo in Stockholm Central station. While you can plan journeys on their website as you would expect, you need to go to ResRobot for their timetables if you fancy a service overview.

MTR Express

Though they also run concessions for local public transport organisations, this appears to be MTR's only commercial operation in Sweden, competing with SJ on the Stockholm to Göteborg (Gothenburg) high speed route. Their red and black trains look newer even if I used the services of SJ on my most recent Swedish trip for a day trip between the country's two major cities.

Arlanda Express

If you are travelling from Stockholm's main international airport to its central railway station by train, chances are that you may happen on the Arlanda Express rather than local train services because there are stations serving the terminals themselves (Terminal 5 has its own while Terminals 2, 3 and 4 share one between them). The speedy travel times (20 minutes), frequent departures (every 15 minutes at times) and comfortable surroundings do not come cheap though with single tickets costing 280 SEK when I visited Sweden in August 2017. Still, it is very handy and just works so it could be worth the additional outlay and the service is well used without feeling in any way overcrowded.

Resplus

This is a system whereby you can travel on buses and trains on a single ticket, a Swedish answer to the U.K.'s PlusBus system. It also is a good jumping off point for Sweden's main train companies as well as being a good place to find train timetables as well. Anything that stops you getting lost while planning your travel has to be a good thing. As if that weren't enough there's a list of travel service providers too so it's an invaluable port of call. The same people also operate ResRobot, a multi-modal journey planning tool.

Language Note: Mainly Swedish but parts available in English.

Bus

Here, I have collected some bus companies that operate in addition to the services offered by local public transport coordinating companies like SL (see below). Of these, Flygbussarna offer express shuttle services between airports and their nearest city; an example is Arlanda and Stockholm. Nettbuss (which also operates within Norway since it is part of NSB; uses Google Translate to provide information in English and other languages) and Swebus (part of Nobina) offer longer distance services to and from airports as part of their networks but they also connect other places that trains may not serve.

Local Travel

SL (Storstockhoms Lokaltrafik)

Stockholm County's wholly owned bus, tram and commuter train (including the underground Tunnelbana) company does contract out some of its operations to private concerns like MTR but that takes nothing away from a level of integration that has a lot to teach British counterparts. Ferries between islands in the Stockholm Archipelago are part of the system too and that makes it really multi-modal. Having a single travelcard (called Access) for all of these makes the whole system user friendly too and the cost is between £30 and £35 for a week of travel across the whole network in 2017. That may sound expensive but I thought it was good value and SL also is a partner in Trafik i Mälardalen (TiM), which is even better.

Västtrafik

If you want to get about Gothenburg and its hinterland, you need to take a look at this site. It's set up with an eye on the foreign visitor too, a handy thing for a network of buses, trams, trains and ferries. With a nearby archipelago of its own, the latter could be very useful given how many of the islands only accept passenger traffic.

Language Note: English with some Swedish.

Skånetrafiken

While on a business trip to Lund in 2006, I got to see a few of the buses operated under the auspices of this local government agency during the limited time that I was found to be around the streets of the university city. Time was insufficient to allow me to explore so I cannot say anything of an experience of using these services.

Language Note: Swedish, with Google Translate button.

Waxholmsbolaget

Stockholm is a city spread across innumerable islands and some of these feel wilder than you would expect for a city. One even plays host to the country's first ever National Park. Getting around them is where this company will help and it provides services on behalf of the local council too.