Ten Tips for Vacations in Sweden

Sweden is, of course, the best place to go to try wonderful Swedish food. As a frequent travel to Sweden I’ve put together some tips to help you plan a fantastic trip. The tips are a little bit different to the tips in most guide books and just come from my own experiences.

1. Speak to the natives! Swedes love to speak English and nearly every Swede can hold a conversation in English. I’ve actually found it best not to even ask if a Swede speaks English because they can take offence! I remember one lady reacting quite huffily when I asked her if she spoke English; it was as if I had insulted her intelligence. If only us Brits were as good at languages!

2. Lunches are very good value. Eating out at lunchtime in Sweden is very good value. Expect to pay under 100 SEK (£10, $15) for a filling main course with bread, salad, a non-alcoholic drink and coffee.

3. Don’t even think about having a bottle of wine with a meal in a restaurant. Dining out in the evening is expensive. Even a bottle of rubbish plonk in a restaurant will cost at least 300 SEK (£30, $50). Naturally most people eat at lunchtime and if they have to eat out in the evening they choose beer or, if feeling extravagant, just one glass of wine.

4. Remember that the summer season is incredibly short. Swedes all seem to start their summer holiday on June 21st and finish in mid-August. Outside of these dates many places in tourist areas, including museums and restaurants, may be closed (excluding major cities) so it is worth checking before you go.

5. Sweden is surprisingly warm and sunny in the summer. In July Stockholm gets an average of 10 hours sunshine per day and a maximum of 21°C (70°F) and 61 mm (2½”) rain. For comparison the figures for London are 7 hours sunshine, a maximum of 22°C (72°F) and 58 mm (2½”) rain. It is worth noting that there is more rain (76 mm) and only an average of 8 hours sunshine per day in Stockholm in August, so go in July if you can.

6. It’s too hot indoors in winter in Sweden. Swedes hate the cold and they can’t abide draughts. They wear gloves and scarfs in October and most of them go to Thailand for the winter. They think anyone going to the ICEHOTEL is completely crazy. Their houses and hotels are overheated with perfect insulation to avoid anyone complaining: Det drar! Seasoned travels to Sweden know that the first thing to do when you arrive a hotel room in Sweden is to turn down the heating and open a window.

7. Finding an open Systembolaget is a major challenge. If you want to buy a bottle of wine, or any other alcohol other than weak beer, you will need to track down the Systembolaget, the state-run off-licence. You either follow all the cars on a Friday afternoon or you download an App from www.systembolaget.se/en. Don’t expect to find one open on a Sunday, Saturday night or any other time when you might just decide you fancy a glass of wine. Oh, and if you look under about 35 make sure you carry some ID.

8. Don’t expect to find…
•  Pepper at breakfast. Sweden is the famous Nanny State and Nanny decided that pepper is not a morning spice. As always in Sweden there’s plenty of salt to put on your eggs instead. Alternatively you can try the little tubes of disgusting toothpaste, which they pretend is caviar. If desperate, ask if the evening spice can be let out.
•  A plug in the sink. I’ve stayed in countless hotels where there has been no plug in the sink. Is it because Swedes pinch the plug or because Sweden has so many lakes that they don’t care about wasting water? I don’t know but as a Brit, brought up in a country which has periodic drought restrictions, I still hate to leave the water running without a plug in the sink. It occurs so frequently that my wife always carries a universal sink plug when she goes to Sweden!

9. There is no Systembolaget at the airport. If you are from within the EU you will need to track down the Systembolaget and hope that it is still open by the time you find it. All the alcohol at the airport is just there to tease you.

10. Try and get to a festival. Swedes take partying very seriously. They love traditions so it is like stepping back in time. Every party includes songs, snaps and beer. The best festivals are:
•  Valborgsmössoafton (April 30): bonfires and songs to welcome the arrival of spring.
•  Midsummer (June 21-23): the big one. Every town and village erects a maypole and Swedes dance round it pretending to be frogs but I’ve never understood why. It’s very colourful though with plenty of good food and lots to drink. Best in Dalarna.
•  Crayfish parties (throughout August): held outdoors in theory. It’s a kind of goodbye party to the short Swedish summer. The only party without herring.
•  St Lucia’s Day (December 13th): a cute procession of children led by a girl with a crown of candles, singing songs as they herald the start of lighter days. (The shortest day of the year was originally thought to be December 13th. Swedes stick to traditions so the date can’t be moved even though everyone knows the date is wrong.) It really is a magical ceremony.

John Duxbury

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