Sweden requires the visitor to travel far, in both distance and attitude. Approximately the size of California, Sweden reaches as far north as the arctic fringes of Europe, where glacier-topped mountains and thousands of acres of forests are broken only by wild rivers, pristine lakes, and desolate moorland. In the more populous south, roads meander through miles of softly undulating countryside, skirting lakes and passing small villages with sharp-pointed church spires.
From North America to Stockholm Arlanda Airport, United has direct flights from Newark, New Jersey; Delta has direct flights from Atlanta, Georgia; Finnair has flights with connections through Helsinki; Icelandair has flights with connections through Reykjavík; Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS) has direct flights, as well as additional flights with connections through Copenhagen (United co-shares with SAS-operated flights).
From the United Kingdom, British Airways and Norwegian Air Shuttle have direct flights to Stockholm Arlanda; Ryan Air has direct flights to Stockholm Västerås and Skavsta airports as well as Göteborg City airport; Sterling has direct flights to Stockholm Arlanda, and SAS has direct flights to Stockholm Arlanda and Göteborg Landvetter.
Inside Sweden, Malmö Aviation, Norwegian Air Shuttle, and SAS connect all major cities by regular flights.
Cycling is a very popular sport in Sweden, and the south of the country, with its low-lying, flat landscape, is perfect for the more genteel cyclist. All major towns and cities have cycle paths and designated cycle lanes. Bike-rental costs average around $13 per day. Tourist offices and the Swedish Touring Association have information about cycling package holidays. The Swedish bicycling organization, Cykelfrämjandet (National Cycle Association), publishes a free English-language guide to cycling trips. Various companies, including Cycling Sweden, offer a variety of cycling tours around the country.
BOAT AND FERRY TRAVEL
Taking a ferry is not only fun, it is also often necessary in Scandinavia. Many companies arrange package trips, some offering a rental car and hotel accommodations as part of the deal. The word ferry can be deceptive; many of them are like small-scale cruise ships, with sleeping quarters, several dining rooms, shopping, pool and sauna, and entertainment.
Silja Line and Viking Line operate massive cruise ship–style ferries daily between Stockholm and Helsinki, either for single journeys or round-trip, two-day cruises. Unity Line operates a ferry service between Ystad and Winoujcie, Poland, where a minibus will be waiting to take you to the historic city of Szczecin, Poland. ScandLines operates a frequent ferry service between Helsingborg and Helsingør, Denmark. And St. Peter Line operates a ferry service between Stockholm and St. Petersburg, Russia, with stops in Tallinn, Estonia; and Helsinki, Finland, along the way.
There is an excellent bus service between all major towns and cities. Recommended are the services offered to different parts of Sweden from Stockholm by Swebus. When buying a single ticket for local bus journeys, it is usual to pay the driver upon boarding. Coupons or multiple tickets for longer journeys should be purchased before your journey from the relevant bus company or from a ticket machine at the relevant bus station.
The Øresundsbron, the 5-mile bridge between Malmö and Copenhagen, simplifies car travel and makes train connections possible between the two countries. Ferry service is cheaper but slower—it takes 45 minutes to make the crossing, compared to 15 minutes by car.
Sweden has an excellent highway network of more than 50,000 miles. The fastest routes are those with numbers prefixed with an E (for “European”), some of which are the equivalent of American highways or British motorways. The size of the country compared to its population means that most roads are relatively traffic-free. Rush hour in major cities can bring frustrating traffic jams.
Also, be aware that there are relatively low legal blood-alcohol limits and tough penalties for driving while intoxicated in Scandinavia; Sweden, Iceland, and Finland have zero-tolerance laws. Penalties include license suspension and fines or imprisonment, and the laws are sometimes enforced by random police roadblocks in urban areas on weekends. An accident involving a driver who has an illegal blood-alcohol level usually voids all insurance agreements, making the driver responsible for all medical and car-repair bills.
Major car-rental companies (“Biluthyrning,” in Swedish) such as Avis, Budget, Europcar, and Hertz have facilities in all major towns and cities as well as at airports. Various service stations also offer car rentals, including Q8, Shell, and Statoil. Renting a car is a speedy business in Sweden, with none of the usual lengthy documentation and vehicle checks; show your passport, license, and credit card, pick up the key, and away you go.
Rates in Stockholm begin at SKr 560 a day and Skr 1,450 a week for a manual-drive economy car without air-conditioning and with unlimited mileage (when booked online). This does not include tax on car rentals, which is 25% in Sweden. A service charge also is usually added, which ranges from SKr 100 to SKr 165.
If you plan on extensive road touring, consider buying the Vägatlas över Sverige, a detailed road atlas published by the Mötormännens Riksförbund, available at bookstores for around SKr 300 or online for roughly SKr 185.
Drive on the right; seat belts are mandatory for everyone. You must also have at least low-beam headlights on at all times. Cars rented or bought in Sweden will have automatic headlights, which are activated every time the engine is switched on. Signs indicate five basic speed limits, ranging from 30 kph (19 mph) in school or playground areas to 110 kph (68 mph) on long stretches of E roads.
Due to taxes, Sweden has some of the highest gasoline rates in Europe, about SKr 15.90 per liter (about SKr 60, or $9, a gallon). Lead-free gasoline is readily available. Gas stations are self-service: pumps marked “sedel” are automatic and accept SKr 20, SKr 50 and SKr 100 bills; pumps marked “kassa” are paid for at the cashier; the “konto” pumps are for customers with credit cards.
Parking meters and, increasingly, timed ticket machines operate in larger towns, usually between 8 am and 6 pm. The fee varies from about SKr 6 to SKr 40 per hour. Parking garages in urban areas are mostly automated, often with machines that accept credit cards; “ledigt” on a garage sign means space is available. Many streets in urban areas are cleaned weekly at a designated time on a designated day, during which parking is not allowed, not even at meters. Times are marked on a yellow sign at each end of the street. Try to avoid getting a parking ticket, which can come with fines of SKr 300–SKr 1000.
You can go on one of the highly popular cruises of the Göta Canal, which traverse rivers, lakes, and, on the last lap, the Baltic Sea. A lovely waterway, the Göta Canal with its 65 locks links Göteborg, on the west coast, with Stockholm, on the east. Cruise participants travel on fine old steamers, some of which date back almost to the canal’s opening, in 1832. The oldest and most desirable is the Juno, built in 1874. Prices start at SKr 8975 for a bed in a double cabin. For more information contact the Göta Canal Steamship Company.
Sweden’s SJ (Statens Järnvägar www.sj.se) is the state railway operator. SJ has a highly efficient network of comfortable electric trains. On nearly all long-distance routes there are buffet cars and, on overnight trips, sleeping cars and couchettes in both first- and second class. Seat reservations are advisable, and on some trains—indicated with R, IN, or IC on the timetable—they are compulsory. Reservations can be made right up to departure time. The high-speed X2000 train has been introduced on several routes; the Stockholm–Göteborg run takes just under three hours. Travelers younger than 25 years travel at a discounted fare. Up to two children younger than 15 years may travel for SKr 20 if accompanied by an adult.
Banks are open weekdays 9:30–3; larger branches until 5 and 6 on Thursday. The bank at Arlanda International Airport is open every day with extended hours, and the Forex and X-Change currency exchange offices also have extended hours. Take a queue-number ticket from near the door and wait your turn. It’s not uncommon to come across cashless bank branches in some smaller towns so it’s worth checking before traveling.
Most tri- or quad-band GSM phones work in Sweden, though handsets are single-band, where the system is 3G-compatible. Public phones in Sweden take phone cards or credit cards. Phone cards can be bought at telecom shops, newsstands, and tobacconists. Public phones support international calls. Main providers include Telia, Tele2, Comviq, Vodafone, and T-Mobile.
The unit of currency is the krona (plural kronor). Sweden is not in the euro zone.
Sweden’s major cities offer a full range of dining choices, from traditional to international restaurants. Outside the cities, restaurants are usually more local in influence. Investments in training and successes in international competitions have spurred restaurant quality to fantastic heights in Sweden. It is worth remembering, though, that for many years eating out was prohibitively expensive for many Swedes, giving rise to a home-socializing culture that still exists today. Friday evenings, for instance, are fondly called “fredagsmys,” loosely translated to “Cozy Friday.” For this reason, many smaller towns are bereft of anything approaching a varied restaurant scene.
In addition to the 12% value-added tax, most hotels usually include a service charge of 15%; it is not necessary to tip unless you have received extra services. Similarly, a service charge of 13% is usually included in restaurant bills. It is customary, however, to leave small change when buying drinks. Taxi drivers and hairdressers expect a tip of about 10%.
Comprehensive trip insurance is recommended for all vacations purchased through Vacays4U. Comprehensive policies typically cover trip cancellation and interruption, letting you cancel or cut your trip short because of illness, or, in some cases, acts of terrorism. Ask about insurance policies that cover evacuation and medical care. Some also cover you for trip delays because of bad weather or mechanical problems as well as for lost or delayed luggage.
Always read the fine print of your policy to make sure you’re covered for the risks that most concern you. Compare several policies to be sure you’re getting the best price and range of coverage available.