Sweden is strangely overlooked as a road trip destination in Europe.
Despite being one of the most camper-friendly countries in Europe (and a neighbor to several of the others) it seems like rumors about cold weather and high prices discourage many from visiting. But it shouldn’t really have to be that way, at least not for people coming over for a road trip. Because while it’s cold to live in Sweden during the winter months, coming as a visitor somewhere during the late spring, summer or early autumn (May to September) will not be a problem. And while the prices for groceries are slightly higher than those in say France or Germany, laws allowing free nationwide camping will more than make up for it.
While you will have to stay out in the nature in order to enjoy the free camping (it’s not allowed in cities), that should hopefully not be a problem. The pristine and accessible nature is the reason most people visit Sweden in the first place. And if indeed you want to spend time in the cities, most of them are quite small – you are usually (even in relatively large cities) less than a twenty minute drive away from idyllic campsites.
Swedish cities are, with a few exceptions, small and far between. Even in my hometown Borås, a relatively large industrial city, you can find no less than 14 nature reserves within a half an hour drive from the city center. So it’s easy to both camp for free in beautiful locations and enjoy the city life. As far as cities go, they can be quite expensive but more often than not, they are actually quite cheap as long as you don’t
want to go to bars. A lot of the cultural heritage is subsidized by tax money and for free.
In Stockholm alone you can find 17 free museums, ranging from baroque castles to modern art, swedish history and culture. Historial churches and other historical buildings are typically free to enter too. So don’t let the slightly more expensive grocery stores or the high alcohol taxes deter you.
A Few Things that Make Sweden a Good Holiday Destination
”Allemansrätten” means ”everyone’s right” and is a law that regulates people’s access to the outdoors. It tells what you can do and not do while on land that does not belong to you. For example, you may pick mushrooms and berries and ”reasonable amounts” of other plants, but not break branches of trees.
Being very generous, it would be hard to break the law without trying.
Being made into an actual law only quite recently, it has nonetheless been an integral part of the culture for a very long time. Outdoors activities are popular in Sweden and you will often see people making use of Allemansrätten throughout all the seasons. Most important for someone on a road trip will be that Allemansrätten allows you to camp for free throughout the country. As long as you stay out of sight from nearby houses you are allowed to stay almost anywhere. That may sound a bit difficult, depending on where you are from. In crowded countries it can sometimes be quite challenging to find place where you are out of sight. But in Sweden–which with it’s 20 inhabitants per square kilometer–we’re among the most sparsely populated countries in Europe. There’s plenty of options.
The population density is about a sixth that of France, which itself is not a crowded country. Just to give you an idea, the Netherlands is more than 20 times as crowded.
So don’t worry about having trouble finding places to set up camp. With thousands of nature reserves, about a hundred thousand lakes, 30 million hectares of forest and a coast line almost 50.000 km long–there are plenty of scenic and enjoyable places to choose from. And if you would get tired during a long drive, the roads are dotted with occasional camping spots where you are allowed to stay with your camper for free.
Sweden is one of the non-native countries in the world where English is most widely spoken. Generally speaking, everyone knows it. The level may vary quite a bit from person to person, but rarely if ever will you find yourself not being able to communicate at all. This makes traveling in Sweden, especially rural areas, relatively easy compared to many other European countries. Even websites and information boards typically have English version texts. It’s easy to find information about places and activities and easy to talk to people.
Strangely enough, the most famous Swedish dish (except for meatballs) is one which barely anyone has eaten. ”Surtrömming” – fermented herring – is uncommon enough for me, as a swede, to be able to mention only two people who I am 100% sure have eaten it. While there are plenty of unique local products, it seems like Surströmming have stolen all the spotlight.
Much of the focus on food in Sweden lies not so much on actual dishes as on the ingredients themselves.
It’s easy to find small scale artisan producers of different products. Often it’s possible not only to buy products on the spot, but also to get free tours to see how the products are made. Why not visit the oldest ”tunnbrödsbageri” in the country, in the UNESCO area of the High Coast?
If you want to find other small scale producers of different products, you probably stumble upon a few them while driving through the country. Tours are a bit harder to come by, especially so free tours. But here are a few places you can visit for free or for a low entry fee:
I guess everyone has heard about the Nobel Prize. But it would surprise me if anyone have heard about ”Västerbottenost”. Except perhaps if you’ve been to the Nobel Prize party. Every year the cheese is served to royalty, Nobel prize winners and other guests. A traditional Swedish hard cheese, it’s aged for a minimum of twelve months, with no one really knowing what it is that makes the cheese so special.
Attempts have been made to produce the cheese in another factory, but it just doesn’t taste good. But while it’s not really easy to decide why it tastes good, it’s easy to say that it does! Prince Hassan of Jordan goes as far as saying Västerbottenost “what I love most about Sweden”.
It’s possible to visit the dairy where the cheese is produced and you can go for a tour and sample (and of course also buy) the cheese.
Gränna Polkagriskokeri is located on the eastern shore of Vättern, Sweden’s second largest lake. There’s plenty of history in the area, with ruins of old castles, medieval towns and viking rune stones. Vadstena is the most well known monastery in Sweden. Less well known perhaps is that traditional Swedish candy is made by hand and sold to visitors in the area. It’s also possible to watch as the candies are being made.
An interesting art, indeed, the bending of molten sugar into various shapes.
Kiviks musteri in Österlen is one of the main producers of must – unfiltered juice, also known as ”young wine”. Österlen is known for it’s beauty and many orchards. In Kiviks musteri you can visit various gardens. One of them has 70 different varieties of apple trees. There’s also an apple museum.
The 17th of July is ”the day of the beer” when beer breweries throughout the country open their doors for the public. For a list of breweries and open hours, see this list.
A big bonus, especially if spending much time outdoors, is that you legally can gather berries and mushrooms, even in nature reserves. But the rights go further than this. You may for example fish in any water that is not privately owned. So just bring some tin foil, some butter, spices and mixed vegetables and prepare some tinfoil wraped fish in front of a lake.
There’s free accommodation!
If you’d want to sleep somewhere that’s not a vehicle, there are more than 200 accommodations throughout the country that are 100% for free. I made use of some of these accommodations last year while hiking along The High Coast Trail on the east coast and enjoyed every part of it, from the wilderness and living in remote log cabins to meeting others who had come to do the same. The buildings are simple but very charming. It’s a bit like spending a night in a museum item. Some of these 200 accommodations are old farms, others are houses in fishing villages, mine workers and so forth. Typically they are maintained either by municipal government or groups of volunteers.
They are spread throughout the country but Skuleskogen National Park especially is literally riddled with them. Humble and down to earth buildings, used long ago by people tending to the animals during summer when they were let loose to graze, the buildings became obsolete as the country modernized.
Many of the huts are now in ruins, but some of them have been restored. Park rangers in Skuleskogen take care of the buildings, making sure that they are in good condition and that free firewood is available for visitors. The huts lay far from the roads and often in stunningly beautiful places.
One of my favorite places at all is the Tärnättvattnen-lakes, and just next to them is a free to use cabin for up to 4 people (but rarely full except weekends during high season).
”Stuglandet” is a book about many of these cabins and the culture of free cabins in Sweden. It lists about 200 of them, most of them in remote or at least rural areas. You can read more about the book and see photos here. While the book is in Swedish, it is possible to get a copy and translate the text using your phone. Many translation apps are very effective, translating text in real time as you point the camera on a page. It’s just to pretend you are reading through a lens, and perhaps you will find some accommodations that you will want to try out. It’s better perhaps to think of many of them as experiences in themselves or as a way to get easy access to the outdoors, rather than free beds to sleep in. Each building has a story of it’s own.
Plenty of Nature
Being at the same time the largest country in Europe (except for Russia) and one of the most urbanized countries in Europe leaves plenty of space for nature.
I recently went out to a remote nature reserve in northern Sweden and stayed for a few days with my uncle and some of his friends (they were all involved in the creation of the nature reserve, being archaeologists, biologists and so forth). Throughout those days we saw plenty of wildlife, documented a few humble historical sites (mainly carvings in trees and rocks, known as bodristning and excavated a few old Sami campsites. We ate
more blueberries and mushrooms than I’ve ever done before, with berries especially pretty much covering the forest floor. The nights were pitch black without a single source of light pollution. The silence and the stillness made it feel a bit as a place outside of time. Drinking schnapps by the campfire, with one of the members (a biologist) ”talking” to the owls through whistling was a very welcome break from city life.
And it’s just one place out of thousands, spread throughout the country.
It’s possible to reach even extremely remote places easily. Most of the country is accessible by road. Largely it is so because forestry is such a big industry. Roads through even extremely remote areas are well maintained, making it possible to – if you want – be completely on your own in nature.
5 of my favorite places
A national park and one of the largest marshes in Europe. Hiking the loop around it, you will spend much of the time on board walks built in the marsh itself. The views are vast and beautiful and the sound of the wind in the many grasses and wild flowers quite something too. There are pine trees growing out in the marshes too, but as the soil is so depleted of energy these trees never become more than a few meters tall, even if they are hundreds of years old. The strong winds twist their stems in branches in all perceivable
ways, making for lots of chances of unique landscape photos.
It’s considered one of the most diverse places in Sweden as far as birding goes.
One of the largest islands in the Baltic sea, it’s known as ”the island of the sun and the wind” and a popular holiday destination. Not only the weather makes it worth a visit, but the many nature reserves and the historical heritage sites (it’s one of the densest areas of the country for historical reserves). It has lots of activities related to food, such as a harvest festival and lots of artisan producers that sells their produce on the own farm or small factory.
A cultural and natural UNESCO world heritage site, Höga Kusten (”the high coast”) is home to Skuleskogen National Park and just next door to The Bear Country national park. It’s also a part of the country where traditional culture is unusually alive. The rugged but very accessible scenery is some of the best in Sweden.
Take the boat out to one of the many islands for an overnight trip. Or hike in Skuleskogen National Park and sleep for free in the many old log cabins dotted throughout the national park.
Bohuslän is located on the northwest coast of Sweden, just below the border to Norway.
It’s the part of the country that most of all perhaps used to be culturally connected to the sea. There are several beautiful archipelagoes, an underwater national park and plenty of small picturesque fishing villages. For more remote history, there are thousands of viking rune stones, stone age megalithic graves, bronze age rock art and so forth. The rock carvings in Tanum are recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage.
When during 2008-2009 I lived in Grebbestad, I would sometimes find beautiful cultural heritage sites while just out for walks.
One of the best and most famous heritage sites is Greby Gravfält. It’s a field with more than 180 graves and the largest of it’s kind in Bohuslän.
Bohuslän also great because it’s easy to reach beautiful Norway from it.
Millesgården Carl Milles was a Swedish sculptor. Inspired by the sea and mythology, his sculptures are very successful and can be found throughout the country, often in prominent places such as Poseidon in front of the government building in Gothenburg. Always when working, however, Milles would keep a copy for himself to put in his garden on Lidingö island in Stockholm. After he died the house and garden turned
into a museum with adjoining café. A very special museum, it’s a must visit if you visit Stockholm.
Nimis is an odd place. Located on a rocky beach in the nature reserve of Kullaberg, Nimis is a group of surreal structures built entirely by driftwood. The artist Lars Wilks has been building them over the course several decades, retreating to the beach when in need of a breather. There’s been a lot of controversies involved and many attempts by various groups to remove the structures. Right now, it’s been quiet for a while, but you never know what will happen. So if you do want to visit this curious place,
perhaps the time is now! Read more about Nimis here.