Sweden is ideal for outdoor activities: it has thousands of square kilometres of forest with hiking and cycling tracks, vast numbers of lakes connected by mighty rivers, and a range of alpine mountains. And its concentrated population means you're likely to have the wildest places all to yourself.

Hiking

Swedes love their hiking, and there are many thousands of kilometres of marked trails that make most of the country a trekker’s dream.

European long-distance footpaths E1 and E6 run from Varberg to Grövelsjön (1200km) and from Malmö to Norrtälje (1400km) respectively. But the Kungsleden, in Lappland, is the best-known and most user-friendly trail in Sweden. Finnskogleden is a 240km-long route along the border between Norway and the Värmland region in Sweden. The Arctic Trail (800km) is a joint development of Sweden, Norway and Finland and is entirely above the Arctic Circle; it begins near Kautokeino in Norway and ends in Abisko, Sweden. The 139km Padjelantaleden is a generally easy route, with long sections of duckboards and bridged rivers. The mountainous part of western Jämtland is also one of Sweden’s most popular hiking areas.

Mountain trails in Sweden are marked with cairns, wooden signposts or paint on rocks and trees. Marked trails have bridges across all but the smallest streams, and wet or fragile areas are crossed on duckboards. Overnight huts and lodges along these trails are maintained by Svenska Turistföreningen.

The best hiking time is between late June and mid-September, when trails are mostly snow free. After early August the mosquitoes have gone.

Responsible Hiking

Rubbish

Carry out all your rubbish, and make an effort to carry out rubbish left by others. Never bury your rubbish. Sanitary napkins, tampons, condoms and toilet paper should be carried out despite the inconvenience, as they burn and decompose poorly.

Human Waste Disposal

Contamination of water sources by human faeces can lead to the transmission of all sorts of nasties. Where there is a toilet, please use it. Where there is no toilet, bury your waste. Dig a small hole 15cm deep and at least 100m from any watercourse. Cover the waste with soil and a rock. In snow, dig down to the soil.

Washing

Don’t use detergents or toothpaste in or near watercourses, even if they are biodegradable. For personal washing, use biodegradable soap and a water container (or even a lightweight, portable basin) at least 50m away from the watercourse. Wash cooking utensils at a similar distance using a scourer, sand or snow instead of detergent.

Erosion

Hillsides and mountain slopes, especially at high altitudes, are prone to erosion. Stick to existing trails and avoid short cuts.

Fires & Low-Impact Cooking

Don’t depend on open fires for cooking or warmth. The cutting of wood for fires in popular trekking areas can cause rapid deforestation. Cook on a light-weight kerosene, alcohol or Shellite (white gas) stove and avoid those powered by disposable butane gas canisters.

Equipment

Hikers should be well equipped and prepared for snow in the mountains, even in summer. Prolonged bad weather in the northwest isn’t uncommon – Sarek and Sylarna are the most notorious areas. In summer you’ll need good boots, waterproof jacket and trousers, several layers of warm clothing (including spare dry clothes), warm hat, sun hat, mosquito repellent (a mosquito head-net is also highly advisable), water bottle, maps, compass and sleeping bag. Basic supplies are often available at huts, and most lodges serve meals (but check first, especially outside high season). If you’re going off the main routes you should, obviously, take full camping equipment.

Information

The best source for hiking information is the youth-hostel organisation Svenska Turistföreningen, one of Sweden’s largest tour operators.

STF lodges sell up-to-date maps, but it’s a good idea to buy them in advance. Fjällkartan (159kr each) is the best series for hikes. Try Kartbutiken.

The best source of information on conservation is the Swedish environmental protection agency, Naturvårdsverket (www.swedishepa.se).

Mountaineering & Rock Climbing

Mountaineers head for Sylarna, Helagsfjället, Sarek National Park and the Kebnekaise region.

The complete traverse of Sylarna involves rock climbing up to grade 3. The ridge traverse of Sarektjåhkkå (2089m) in Sarek, the second-highest mountain in Sweden, is about grade 4. There are lots of other glacier and rock routes in Sarek. The Kebnekaise area has many fine climbing routes (grades 2 to 6), including the north wall of Kaskasapakte (2043m), and the steep ridges of Knivkammen (1878m) and Vaktposten (1852m).

For qualified guides, contact Svenska Bergsguideorganisation (Swedish Mountain Guide Association; www.sbo.nu). The website is in Swedish, but under medlemmar there’s a list of guides and their contact details.

Rock climbers can practise on the cliffs around Stockholm and Gothenburg – there are 34 climbing areas with 1000 routes around Gothenburg, and some 200 cliffs around the capital. For further information, try the helpful Svenska Klätterförbundet.

Cycling

Sweden is perfect for cycling, particularly in Skåne and Gotland. It’s an excellent way to look for prehistoric sites, rune stones and quiet spots for free camping. The cycling season is from May to September in the south, and July and August in the north.

You can cycle on all roads except motorways (marked by a green sign with two lanes and a bridge on it) and roads for motor vehicles only (green sign with a car symbol). Highways often have a hard shoulder, which keeps cyclists well clear of motor vehicles. Secondary roads are mostly quiet and safe by European standards, and many roads have dedicated cycle lanes.

You can take a bicycle on some regional trains and buses. Long-distance buses usually don’t accept bicycles; Sveriges Järnväg (SJ) allows them only if they're foldable and can be carried as hand luggage. Bikes are transported free on some ferries.

You can hire bicycles from campgrounds, hostels, bike workshops and sports shops; the cost is usually around 150kr a day or 500kr a week.

Some country areas, towns and cities have special cycle routes – contact local tourist offices for information and maps. Kustlinjen (591km) runs from Öregrund (Uppland) southwards along the Baltic coast to Västervik, and Skånespåret (800km) is a fine network of cycle routes. The well-signposted 2600km-long Sverigeleden extends from Helsingborg in the south to Karesuando in the north, and links points of interest with suitable roads (mostly with an asphalt surface) and bicycle paths.

Brochures and maps are available from Svenska Cykelsällskapet.

Adrenaline Junkies

One of the most thrilling summer and fall activities is downhill mountain biking. The sport takes over ski resorts after the snow melts; fully armoured, riders carry their sturdy little bikes up the hill on chairlifts, then barrel down along rough mountain trails at exhilarating speeds. Åre Bike Park is the mother lode, with 35km of slopes, 17 trails and a potential vertical drop of almost 900m. Multiday packages are available.

Boating & Sailing

Boating and sailing are hugely popular in Sweden. The 7000km-long coastline, with its 60,000 islands, is a sailor’s paradise, but look out for the few restricted military areas off the east coast. (They're quite obvious, and marked on maps.)

Inland, lakes and canals offer pleasant sailing in spring and summer. The main canals are the Göta Canal, the Kinda Canal and the Dalsland Canal. Various companies offer short canal cruises; contact local tourist offices for details.

Those with private boats will have to pay lock fees and guest harbour fees (around 150kr per night, although some small places are free). A useful guide is the free, annual Gästhamnsguiden, which is published in Swedish by Svenska Kryssarklubben. It contains comprehensive details of 500 guest harbours throughout the country and is available from tourist offices.

Canoeing & Kayaking

With its countless lakes and rivers, not to mention the long coastlines, Sweden is a real paradise for canoeists and kayakers. The national canoeing body is Svenska Kanotförbundet (www.kanot.com). It provides general advice and lists approved canoe centres that hire out canoes (per day/week from around 350/1600kr).

Swimming

No Swedish summer is complete without a dip in the water, be it a lake, canal or sea. There are sandy beaches along the southwest coast, rocky launch pads in Bohuslän, and a combination of the two on the islands of the various archipelagos. Sweden's many lakes frequently have little public docks ideal for diving. In Stockholm there are several public beaches, but you can also swim from the terrace in front of Stadshuset (City Hall). Roped-off kid-friendly swimming areas are common and well marked across the country; many other spots are unofficial but easy to find if you just follow the crowds.

Fishing

There are national and local restrictions on fishing in many of Sweden’s inland waters, especially for salmon, trout and eel. Before dropping a line, check with local tourist offices or councils.

Local permits (fiskekort) can be bought from tourist offices, sports stores or camping shops and typically cost 50kr to 200kr per day, depending on season and location.

Summer is the best fishing time with bait or flies for most species, but trout and pike fishing in southern Sweden is better in spring or autumn and salmon fishing is best in late summer. Ice fishing is popular in winter.

An excellent web resource for fishing in Sweden is www.cinclusc.com/spfguide, or contact Sportfiskarna.

Skiing

Large ski resorts cater mainly to downhill (alpine and telemark) skiing and snowboarding, but there’s also scope for cross-country (Nordic) touring.

SkiStar (www.skistar.com) runs the ski resorts at Sälen, Vemdalen and Åre, among others. Check the website before travelling for early-bird deals on lodging and tickets.

For cross-country skiing, the northwest usually has plenty of snow from December to April. The Kungsleden and other long-distance hiking tracks provide great skiing. You can also ski along parts of the Vasaloppet ski-race track in Dalarna (the town of Mora is a good starting point). Most towns have illuminated skiing tracks.

Take the usual precautions: don’t leave marked routes without emergency food, a good map, local advice and proper equipment including a bivouac bag. Temperatures of -30°C or lower (including wind-chill factor) are possible, so check the daily forecasts. Police and tourist offices have information on local warnings. In alpine ski resorts, where there’s a risk of avalanche (lavin), susceptible areas are marked by yellow multilingual signs and buried-skier symbols. Make sure your travel insurance covers skiing.

Skating

When the Baltic Sea freezes (once or twice every 10 years), fantastic tours of Stockholm’s archipelago are possible. The skating season usually lasts from December to March. Less ambitiously, there’s skating all winter on many city parks and ponds, including Kungsträdgården in Stockholm, with skate-rental booths nearby.

Dogsledding

Sweden’s Sami have readily adopted dogsledding as a means of winter transport, following in the footsteps of the indigenous people of Siberia, and excursions are available in most northern towns. Apart from being the most ecofriendly means of exploring the Arctic regions, it’s also one of the most enjoyable ways of getting around, allowing you to bond with your own husky team and to slow down and appreciate the surrounding wilds as the mood takes you. Most operators offer anything from a two-hour taster to fairly demanding multiday expeditions, staying overnight in rustic forest cabins or Sami winter tents.

Snowmobile Safaris

While some may argue that snowmobiles are noisy and not terribly ecofriendly, they are the Arctic equivalent of an all-terrain vehicle and essential for travel within isolated areas, not to mention for rounding up reindeer. Travelling by snowmobile allows you to access difficult terrain and cover more ground than by dog- or reindeer sled. Snowmobile safaris (including night rides to see the northern lights) are offered by operators in all major northern towns. It’s cheaper to ride as a passenger behind an experienced driver, though snowmobiles are available for hire to those with a valid driving licence (get a snowmobile permit from the nearest tourist office). Trails are marked with red crosses on poles.

Golf

Sweden has about 500 golf courses, open to everyone, and many hotel chains offer golf packages. Björkliden, near Abisko, is a golf course 240km above the Arctic Circle, and at the Green Line golf course at Haparanda, playing a round means crossing the Swedish–Finnish border four times. Green fees range from 550kr to 1450kr per day, depending on the season and the kind of course (prices are higher near metro areas); for more information, contact Svenska Golfförbundet (http://sgf.golf.se).

Birdwatching

There are many keen ornithologists in Sweden, and there are birdwatchers’ towers and nature reserves everywhere. For further information, contact Sveriges Ornitologiska Förening (www.birdlife.se).

Horse Riding

Sweden’s multitude of tracks, trails, forests, shorelines and mountains make for some fantastically varied riding. Everything from short hacks to full-on treks are on offer (two hours/half day/full day start around 400/650/950kr) on Swedish or Icelandic horses. Trips can be arranged through local tourist offices.

Guided Tours

We recommend tours tied to various areas, but the hostel organisation Svenska Turistföreningen is also reliably good. Its events and tours are generally affordable, ecologically minded and fun, and mostly based on outdoor activities (eg kayaking and hiking). Equipment rental is often available. Prices are lower for STF members.