Artists love southern Sweden. Here, the light seems softer, the foliage brighter and the shoreline more dazzling. Skåne (Scania) was Danish property until 1658 and still flaunts its differences: the strong dialect (skånska), the half-timbered houses and the region’s hybrid flag: a Swedish yellow cross on a red Danish background.
Sweden’s southwest is diversity personified. Heading the cast is Sweden’s ‘second city’ of Göteborg and its kicking bars, cafes, museums and theme-park thrills. Just south, the Halland coast is home to sandy Blue Flag beaches and Sweden’s top surfing, windsurfing and kitesurfing.
Southeastern Sweden is a treasure trove of stoic castles, storybook towns and magical islands. Carved by the epic Göta Canal, Östergötland boasts lovable, lakeside Vadstena: St Birgitta’s terrestrial stomping ground and home to a hulking Renaissance castle. Further south, Småland sparkles with its ethereal forests, preserved pastel towns and show-off Kalmar castle.
Skåne (Scania) is Sweden at its most continental. Connected to Denmark by bridge, its trademark mix of manors, gingerbread-style abodes and delicate, deciduous forests are a constant reminder that central Europe is just beyond the horizon. Dominating the scene is metropolitan Malmö, defined by its cosmopolitan culture and striking, twisting tower.
Jämtland & the Bothnian Coast
The north of Sweden seems to have it all. There are endless pristine forests where the odds of encountering elk, reindeer and bear are high and the hiking is splendid. There are jagged mountains that provide Sweden's best skiing in winter, and host the best mountain biking in summer, along with every other mountain sport you can imagine.
Though often caught in Stockholm’s shadow, gregarious, chilled-out Göteborg actually has greater appeal for many visitors (and resident Swedes) than the fast-paced capital. Some of the country’s finest talent hails from the streets of this cosmopolitan port, including music icons José González and Soundtrack of Our Lives.
The region of Småland is one of dense forests, glinting lakes and bare marshlands. Historically it served as a buffer zone between the Swedes and Danes; the eastern and southern coasts in particular witnessed territorial tussles. Today it’s better known for the Glasriket (Kingdom of Glass), a sparsely populated area in the central southeast dotted with crystal workshops.
Sweden’s third-largest city has a progressive contemporary feel. Home to Scandinavia's tallest building, beautiful parks, edgy contemporary museums and some seriously good cuisine, the opening of the Öresund bridge in 2000 has also been undeniably positive, connecting the city to bigger, cooler Copenhagen and creating a dynamic new urban conglomeration.
Lappland is Europe’s last true wilderness. With a grand mountain range, endless forest and countless pristine lakes as your playground, it’s your chance to be a true explorer. Its great swathes of virgin land are dotted with reindeer – this is Sami country still, and your chance to delve into the reindeer herders’ centuries-old way of life.
Östergötland harbours gems on both sides of the Göta Canal, which threads diagonally across the region. Along its banks, the region’s main towns are mostly 19th-century industrial heartlands, laced with some impressive post-industrial conversions. The region’s west, bordered by the mighty lake Vättern, is a treat of flat, lush countryside steeped in ancient history.
Gorgeous Gotland has much to brag about: a Unesco-lauded capital, truffle-sprinkled woods, A-list dining hot spots, talented artisans and more hours of sunshine than anywhere else in Sweden. It’s also one of the country’s richest historical regions, with around 100 medieval churches and countless prehistoric sites.