It's no wonder that so many artists call southern Sweden home – the light seems softer, the foliage brighter and the shoreline more dazzling. Skåne (Scania) was Danish property until 1658 and still openly flaunts its uniqueness – the heavy Skånska dialect, a wealth of 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 Gothenburg and its kicking bars, cafes, museums and theme-park thrills. The islands of Gothenburg's southern archipelago are stunning and romantic, and surprisingly easy to reach.
Southeastern Sweden is a treasure trove of stoic castles, storybook villages and mystical islands. Carved by the epic Göta Canal, Östergötland boasts lovable, lakeside Vadstena, home to a hulking Renaissance castle, and kid-pleasing, candy-crazed Gränna. 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.
Gregarious, chilled-out Gothenburg (Göteborg) is the quintessential 'second city': understatedly hip and unexpectedly vibrant. Neoclassical architecture lines its tram-rattled streets, locals sun themselves beside canals, and there's always an interesting cultural or social event going on. The city is eminently walkable.
The Bothnian Coast
The lovely Bothnian Coastline runs 850km from Gävle in the south to Haparanda, on the border with Finland, in the north. It's truly the long and winding road, with the E4 highway doing the distance, marked with attractive cities and towns at manageable driving distances, at places where rivers from the mountains to the west come down to meet the Gulf of Bothnia.
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 county 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.
Situated off Sweden's southeastern coast, Gotland is the largest island in the Baltic Sea (2994 sq km in diameter). It is also one of the country's most beautiful destinations, its tranquil, sparsely populated landscapes almost haunting in their beauty. Archaeological finds attest to a human history that predates the Christian tradition, stretching back some 8000 years.
Bordering Norway to the west, Dalarnas län (county) occupies a broad swath of land in middle Sweden. It runs from the remote and rugged landscapes of Grövelsjön and Idre in the northwest for about 350km to its southeastern extent, putting it within striking distance for holidaying Stockholmers.
The historical and spiritual heart of the country, Uppsala is one of Sweden’s oldest cities, dating back to the 3rd century. It's also one of the country's most dynamic centres, thanks in part to a student population nudging 40,000. Peaceful by day and lively by night, its youthful buzz manifests most strikingly in the sheer number of laid-back boho-spirited cafes and bars.