an IN DEPTH guide to

Exploring Sweden

SWEDEN

A VAST COUNTRY WITH THE FREEDOM TO ROAM

Welcome to the enchanting realm of Sweden, a land that beckons you to discover its wondrous treasures. Here, the luxury of unrestricted exploration leads you through a myriad of breathtaking landscapes – from the majestic embrace of towering mountains to the idyllic charm of quaint, picturesque towns; from the soothing embrace of the seaside to the vibrant pulse of city life, and into the depths of ancient, mystical forests.

As I call this remarkable nation my home, I’m constantly reminded of the immeasurable value it holds. Sweden caters to every soul, irrespective of age, companionship, or inclination. Whether you yearn to immerse yourself in the grandeur of a bustling metropolis with culinary delights that tantalize the senses, or if you seek the simple pleasures of berry-picking or mushroom foraging in serene wilderness; whether you aspire to hike along nature’s pristine trails, angle for fish in tranquil waters, or embark on an exhilarating road trip – Sweden has something for you.

My personal journey has woven a tale of exploration across this land, traversing its scenic vistas by train and car, embracing the beauty of nature through hiking, camping, and cozy cabin stays. Collaborating with local communities, I’ve endeavored to promote the magic of ecotourism through the lens of photography. Here, the freedom to roam is a cherished privilege, one that I regularly embrace, and now, it’s time to extend this privilege to you.

Within this page, you’ll find my cherished collection of insights, tips, and experiences, a heartfelt guide to unlocking the treasures of Sweden’s natural wonders. So, join me as we embark on this adventure, a tribute to the splendor of Sweden and the boundless beauty of its nature. Let’s dive in and relish the journey!

TRANSPORTATION IN SWEDEN

Traveling through Sweden is an incredible experience, with many destinations easily accessible by car. The freedom to roam permits convenient roadside stops for scenic detours, leisurely lakeside lunches, impromptu hikes, or even setting up camp for the night before continuing the next day.

In most towns, a touch of nature is never far away, harmoniously blending with urban life. Whether it’s a serene forest bordering a city, an expansive network of parks, recreational areas, or the tranquil embrace of the seaside, transitioning between the bustling cityscape and the soothing embrace of nature is seamless. Moreover, public transportation options usually extend to these places as well, providing easy to access for everyone.

It’s worth noting that some companies have limited space and that each region has its own transit / bus app.

By Train

For extended journeys across Sweden, the train is my top recommendation. It’s my preferred mode of travel, offering both modern comfort and scenic beauty. I enjoy watching the landscape unfold while reading, listening to podcasts, or working. Morning trains even serve breakfast, and for longer trips, the night train is an option – I’ve taken it all the way to Norway!

The primary train company, SJ, boasts a fantastic app. It streamlines ticket management, provides timely updates on schedule changes, and even guides you to the precise platform location. It’s an indispensable tool for a seamless travel experience.

By Bike

Biking can of course be done in the entirety of Sweden, offering a wealth of biking trails for both gravel and mountain bikes, and with cities constantly improving their infrastructures catering to cyclists. Whether you seek to uncover a city’s hidden gems, traverse between destinations, or engage in the adventure of bike camping, the possibilities are abundant. Sadly it is a bit of a challenge to integrate biking with train travel.

The requirement to bring your bike aboard a train is that it has to be disassembled and packed in a bike bag. The prescribed dimensions of the bag are 140x85x30cm, with a combined weight, bike plus bag, not exceeding 25kg*.

*these rules and measurements are with SJ, other train companies might have different guidelines

OPENING HOURS

A thing visitors and expats react to are the opening hours in Sweden. It’s good to be aware of how they
work so that you can plan your trips and adventures and make sure you have what you need

Grocery Stores

On weekdays they are usually open between 07:00-21:00. This can vary depending on the size of the city / town, grocery store and its location. Weekends they typically open later and close earlier.

Shops

Stores typically open around 10:00 on weekdays and close at 18:00. On Saturdays they usually close around 15:00 and on Sundays they are closed (unless they can be found in a bigger shopping mall)

Liquor Store

The liquor store has a retail monopoly on alcohol and is the only place to buy wine, beer or stronger spirits. They are open 10:00-19:00 on weekdays, 10:00-15:00 on Saturdays and closed on Sundays.

Restaurants / Cafés

Times vary a lot depending on the restaurant. Some are only open in the evening while others specialise on lunches so be sure to check in your area. Sadly a lot of places are closed on Sundays.

SWEDEN AS A DIGITAL SOCIETY

Sweden is quite modern and on the forefront of integrating technology in society, and this is important to note as a visitor or expat. Cash has largely become obsolete, with few stores accepting it. Notably, buses and trains don’t accommodate cash payments. There is also an app for almost anything these days, and I have put together a list of the most important ones I would recommend for a seamless, enjoyable and secure exploration of Sweden:

  • SJ: The app for our local train company
  • Krisinformation: Set it to the region you’re in to get notifications about any crisis or danger
  • Brand Ute: Keep an eye on if it’s a fire risk anywhere due to drought
  • Naturkartan: A map showing you recreational areas, hiking trails, fire spots, biking trails, shelters etc.
  • Seek: A very handy app for identifying plants (and animals if they are still). Don’t place 100% trust in it if you plan on eating wild edibles though, ask someone with appropriate knowledge before consuming food from nature.
  • ResQ: An app where restaurants can sell leftover food at a discount so that it does not go to waste. It’s great for the environment and your wallet! Just set its location to the town you are in and see what offers pop up while you’re there.
SJ Mobile app

Bank ID

Swedes also use what’s called a Bank ID. It is an electronic identification card that lets them use a lot of services online. In order to get Bank ID you must have a Swedish Personal Identity Number and be a customer of one of the banks that issue BankID.

Swish

This is probably one of the most used apps amongst Swedes. It lets you swish money between people (or even to a store) using their phone number or scanning a personal QR code. To get Swish you need Bank ID and a Swedish phone number. You register for Swish where you usually manage your online banking services. You link your mobile number to your bank account and then you will be able to receive money through Swish. In order to send money you need to download the Swish app to your phone and activate it with Mobile BankID on the same device.

Swish makes it very easy when you are out eating with a larger group. One person pays the bill and everyone just swishes what they owe. It is also used a lot to Swish people during yard sales, smaller markets etc. Like I said, we’re basically cash-less here!

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FREEDOM TO ROAM

Before we dive deeper into what to see and do, we need to talk more about the freedom to roam and what it actually means, and what rules apply.
Because with great freedom comes great responsibility.

ALLEMANSRÄTTEN IN SWEDEN

Allemansrätten, The Right of Public Access, gives you the right to walk, cycle, ride, ski and camp on any land with the exception of private gardens, near a dwelling house or land under cultivation. This is what we refer to as the Freedom To Roam. This makes exploring Sweden incredibly accessible and easy – but it does come with responsibility. The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sums up the Right of Public Access in the phrase ‘Don’t disturb – Don’t destroy.’ 

What you are allowed to do

For more information about The Freedom To Roam and specific
rules around fires, fishing etc. go to Visit Sweden’s website.

  • You are allowed to access any land, except private residences, the immediate vicinity (70 meters) of a dwelling house and cultivated land
  • You can put up a tent
  • You are allowed to collect flowers, mushrooms and berries*
  • Driving on private roads is allowed unless there’s a sign saying otherwise
  • Swimming in lakes is allowed
  • You can access any beach as long as you stay away from private residences
  • You are allowed to catch fish in the five big lakes and along the entire coastline*

* Make sure they’re not endangered & only pick what you need
* It’s also allowed in a lot of smaller lakes but you will need to purchase a fishing permit and follow local rules, usually a gas station nearby will know more

Camping

Because of allemansrätten, you have the right to pitch a tent and camp anywhere you want (as long as it is not privately owned land or too close to a residence) for 24 hours. Of course, as with everything else, leave it better than you found it applies. So choose a good spot for your tent, don’t öeave any trash and take care of nature and the grounds you are on. You are but a visitor in mother nature.

Can I make a fire?

If you find a camping spot near a wind shelter (there are loads of them in Sweden), chances are there is a fire pit. Same goes for public beaches marked as swim spots. In designated pits you are of course allowed to have a fire. If you are out in the wild, you are also allowed as long as you take the proper precautions: Check local regulations, clear the ground, don’t start fires on rocks and keep water at hand. Use dead fallen trees and branches. Do not gather anything from live trees, and don’t take too much! If you are in a National Park you are not allowed to start a fire – unless there are designated spots for it, check the local park info!

Click here to see if there’s a fire ban in your area or download the app Brandrisk Ute,
available both in the AppStore & Google Play.

If you don’t have your own outdoor and camping gear there are several stores that offer used gear, or places where you can even rent it. Here’s a list of some of the most recommended ones:

  • Tracks Recycle | Physical store (also online) in Gothenburg selling used outdoor gear.
  • Naturkompaniet | Sweden’s biggest outdoor store. They rent tents, backpacks and outdoor kitchens.
  • Fritidsbanken | Borrow sport -and outdoor gear for free for 14 days. Available across the country.

The best water in the world?

Sweden is consistently ranked among the top countries for tap water quality in the world, so there is no need to buy bottled water here. And if you are out hiking in mountainous regions, feel free to drink from fresh, cold streams of glacial water. Fill up your bottle while you are at it as well! Just make sure it’s moving water and you’re good to go!

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Woman foraging for mushrooms in a Swedish forest

“This is a principle, protected by the law, that gives all people the right to roam free in nature. Sleep on mountaintops, by the lakes, in quiet forests or beautiful meadows. Take the kayak out for a spin or experience the wildlife first hand. Pick berries, mushrooms and flowers from the ground – all completely free of charge. The only thing you have to pay, is respect for nature and the animals living there.”

FORAGING IN SWEDEN

You are allowed to forage for food in the wild, just make sure you are not on private property. Mushrooms and berries are free to pick, but make sure you know what you’re picking. There are few poisonous berries in Sweden, but it’s very important when it comes to mushrooms as there’s a lot of dangerous ones. Don’t pick anything you’re not 100% sure about! Some of the most easily identified things to pick that are tasty to use in pies, for jam or with food is definitely blueberries & lingon berries.

There are a few things you are not allowed to gather in the wild, like spruce shootsjuniperchaga and birch sap. For that you need to own the land or have permission from the landowner. It’s also worth looking up if there’s anything restricted in the specific region you’re in! And remember to forage in a sustainable way; make sure it’s not an endangered specie and don’t take everything off a bush or tree – we need to leave some for animals and for the plant to proliferate.

edible mushrooms in a basket

WHERE TO GO / FINDING ACCOMODATION

Alright, now that we know more about what we are allowed to do and how to behave in nature, we can continue talking about how to find good spots and where to go in Sweden.

My favourite way to enjoy Sweden is to be outside, and we love going out for the day to do a little hike in a forest and then have lunch somewhere. Sometimes we just bring sandwiches and snacks – other times we plan to make a fire and cook. After living in a place for a few years we’ve found some spots we return to, and we know where there are fire pits and where there is firewood and where we need to bring it ourselves (can be purchased at most gas stations).

Sweden is divided into 25 provinces. They are historical, geographical and cultural regions that have no administrative function, but remain historical legacies and the means of cultural identification. Throughout Sweden and its provinces there are 30 National Parks and around 4000 Nature Reserves! In these you will find an amazing collection of landscape types and experiences. From leafy beech woods and coral reefs to majestic mountains and deep forests.

STF – Swedish Tourist Union

If you plan on exploring a lot of the hikes and National Parks in Sweden it might be worth considering becoming a member with STF. It is the Swedish Tourist Union, and a membership with them only costs 345 SEK / year and gives you benefits like these (and much more):

  • Always a discount at the STF accomadtions
  • Membership prices on activities and courses
  • Their magazine Turist sent to you and as a e-magazine
  • 10-15% discount on train trips

By supporting STF you also help ensure that they can continue doing their work keeping nature accessible to all of us by maintaining trails, having accommodations set up by the bigger hiking trails and educating people about nature and the freedom to roam. A few years ago we hiked to Helags where there is an STF run mountain station. Arriving at a station like this after a day of hiking is so nice! There’s a lovely restaurant and a little store with local food & crafts as well as cabins to stay at if you’re doing longer hikes.

So how do you go about finding good spots out in nature that suit your needs, are accessible to you and maybe aren’t the typical tourist spots that are frequently populated and crowded?

Ask the locals

One of the best ways is to get to know and ask locals. Preferably people living out on the countryside as well as people that fish and hunt a lot. They move in nature in a different way and usually have a few gems that a lot of people don’t know about.

Use Instagram

This might not be the most obvious choice, but Instagram has actually helped me find good spots a few times. When you go to the search tab in the app you can actually search based on places and there you have the option to filter ‘nearby places’. Once you click a place in the list you see it on a map and photos people have tagged in the location. This is a great way to scout and find spots that might fit your needs!

You could also do this but search for a specific place, like the town you’re in or about to visit. This requires you to filter out what you are not interested in though. When I do that for my hometown I get a lot of selfies, baby photos and pictures from the gyms. But in between all that you can see which restaurants people are eating at or what places they are visiting. It’s kind of like anonymously asking the locals.

Naturkartan

Now this is my favourite way to find new areas to explore. What a gem of an app this is! It’s available both on Google Play and The App Store and it is such a great tool. When you open it up it will show you nearby nature reserves and national parks, and you can have a look on the map and filter for what it is you’re looking for; Be it biking, hiking, recreational areas, shelters, places with a fireplace etc. Thanks to the app we found a little lake with a fire pit really close to home.

naturkartan

an example of that it looks like if I have Naturkartan set to my home town and filter for things of interest to me

AirBnb

A great way to explore Sweden and something we really love doing is to rent a cabin through Airbnb. We either know of an area in Sweden we’re interested and put in the dates we want to go on Airbnb’s website, then we use the map to look at a more exact location and what cabins are available. Or we just move around the map all over Sweden picking where to go based on the look of a cabin, the surroundings or availability.

With the cabin as a base we can then spend a few days exploring the area. We usually go with a couple of friends and so the cost of the cabin, gas and food gets fairly inexpensive. I have a huge list of cabins saved on Airbnb for when the cabin fever hits!

Free Cabins

Sweden is also home to a lot of free cabins. They are all over the country and it’s first come first serve. You are allowed to spend a night or two before moving on. If no one shows up you can stay for longer, but if you have been there for two nights and someone arrives you are obligated to pack up and give the space to the next person. They vary in size, style and what amenities they offer. Many have bunk beds and a fireplace, some are frequently stocked with firewood.

 There’s actually an entire book guiding you to them!

Stuglandet - A book about free cabins in Sweden

Hopefully you now know enough about Sweden to feel confident in exploring our beautiful nature in a safe and sustainable way. Most of all I hope I have peaked your interest and that you feel inspired to roam free amongst our forests, towns, archipelago, mountains and lakes.

I have a lot to see still and will continue to explore Sweden for as long as I live. As I do so I will keep updating this guide so make sure to save it for easy access and come back to it to revisit the information shared. Hopefully you will also share it with others and help spread this information further!

With that said I wish you have many wonderful experiences here and don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions or discover anything you think I should add to this.