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Sweden

Sweden is a country in Northern Europe, located on the Scandinavian Peninsula. The main feature of Sweden mountains is the double-headed Kebnekaise Massif, which contains the country's highest peak, Kebnekaise nordtoppen (2,096 m / 6,876 ft). The most prominent mountain is Kebnekaise sydtoppen (1,763 m / 5,784 ft). It is the second, southern summit of the same massif, which equals it in height, but decreases every year due to the fact that it is covered by a glacier. The massif belongs to the Scandinavian Mountains, the longest mountain range in Europe. In total there are 13918 named mountains in Sweden, occupying 2/3 of its territory, also known for its pure wild nature with pine forests, lakes and several archipelagos.

Stockholm, Sweden

Naming

The name of the country in Swedish is Sverige. This word, composed of the ancient Scandinavian words “svea” and “rige” means “one’s own”, in a broader sense—“The Land of Swedes” from the former name of the country Svealand, which is one of its historical key regions. In turn, the Swedes were a Northern Germanic tribe that inhabited the Svealand and other southern territories of modern Sweden at the beginning of its history.

Geography

Sweden is one of the major Nordic countries with an area of 450,295 sq km (173,860 sq mi), fifth in all of Europe. At the same time, it is the largest in Scandinavia.

 Sweden

The country is bordered on the west by Norway by land and Denmark by the North Sea, but the countries are connected — you can get from one to the other thanks to the Øresund Bridge, which is 8 km (4.9 mi) long. To the east, Sweden borders Finland by land, from which it is separated also by the Baltic Sea. It also serves as the country’s water border with Germany, Poland, Estonia, and the other Baltic states to the south.

The administrative structure of Sweden is a bit more complicated. But I will help you understand it. The country consists of three large historical regions: Götaland in the south, Svealand in the center, and Norrland in the north. The latter, meanwhile, takes up half of the country. During the Middle Ages, the country also included a fourth, eastern region, Österland, which occupied almost all of present-day Finland.

The country is further divided into 21 counties (Swedish: län). The most populated among them are Stockholm, Skåne, and Västra Götaland. The north is sparsely populated.

Stockholm, Malmö, and Gothenburg, the capitals of the above three counties, form a kind of triangle in the south, located on the coast. The first one is also the capital of the country.

Aerial forest and lake, Sweden

National Landscape

The landscape and nature of Sweden is unexpectedly diverse for those who assume that northern territories in general are sparse compared to southern ones. It is not. Here are briefly its main features, and I’ll talk more about the mountains below:

The mountains of Sweden occupy almost all of its territory with a shift to the west at the border with Norway. But the highest of them, belonging to the Scandinavian Mountains, is in the northwest. The rest are hills and uplands with the lowest height among the named mountains being 461 m (1,512 ft) at the two peaks—Blacksås and Brandbergsåsen.

Glaciers cover many high mountain peaks. There are a total of 218 in Sweden with a total area of 198.8 sq km (76.5 sq mi). The importance of glaciers in the country's landscape is demonstrated, for example, by the course Glaciers and High Mountain Environments at Stockholm University, which you can enroll in if you study there or at another European university.

Sarek national park, Sweden

Skierffe rock summit on glacial Rapadalen river delta valley at Sarek national park

The plain, also known as the Central Swedish Lowland, extends much of the south of the country. These are the main agricultural lands of Sweden. These mainland landscapes of the country, as well as its islands, would not be so well-known without the characteristic wooden residential and farm houses painted red ochre, the signature color throughout Scandinavia and Nordic region.

Forests take 69% of the territory of Sweden, which makes it the second most forested state in the world after Finland, where forests are just over 70%. In the south, there are more mixed forests, but the farther north you move, the more pines, spruces, firs, and other evergreen trees you will find.

Forests, Sweden

The tundra is located in the northernmost and most extensive part of Sweden. This is the Lappland region, part of the larger Lapland (with one “p”), the land of the Saami reindeer breeders, which covers all of northern Fennoscandia (Scandinavia plus the Kola Peninsula in Russia).

The country’s water bodies are represented by many lakes and rivers. The country’s largest lake, Vänern, north of Gothenburg, is the third largest in Europe after Ladoga and Onega in the Republic of Karelia in Russia. In total there are about 95,700 lakes in the country (in comparison, in neighboring Finland, which is often called "The Country of Lakes", there are twice as many—189,000). Klarälven River of 460 km (290 mi) long is the largest by drainage basin.

tundra, Sweden

Wetlands also make up a significant portion of the country, both in the forests and on the tundra. Many of them can be hiked on equipped trails.

The coastline of Sweden includes 267,570 rocky islands, most of which are gathered together in archipelagos, including the Stockholm Archipelago. From my experience, it is one of the most beautiful places you can see in life, at least in the northern latitudes. Literally. The archipelago can be reached by ferry from Helsinki or Tallinn by the Tallink Silja Line and Viking Line companies.

Sweden’s largest separate islands, Gotland and Öland, are located south of Stockholm. The former is far away in the Baltic Sea and is essentially a separate region.

Mountains of Sweden

There are at least five main areas covered by mountains, uplands, hills, and rocky islands between 50 and 2,000 m (6,561 ft) in height in Sweden: Scandinavian Mountains, Norrland Terrain, High Coast of Sweden, Stockholm Archipelago, and South Swedish Highlands. Below I will briefly describe each one:

Kebnekaise sydtoppen, Sweden

Kebnekaise sydtoppen

Scandinavian Mountains

This is the first and main mountainous area of Sweden, where the highest of the 13,918 named mountains are located. It is northwest of the country along the border with Norway. These mountains are the eastern extremity of the Scandinavian Mountains, the longest mountain range in Europe of 1,762 km (1,095 mi).

The main mountain sub-range in this part of the Scandinavian Mountains and all of Sweden is Kebnekaise Massif, which has not one, but two of the highest peaks, Kebnekaise nordtoppen (northern) and Kebnekaise sydtoppen (southern), with the same height of 2,096 m (6,876 ft). However, only the first of the peaks is the so-called “fixed mountain”, the second is covered by a glacier, which melts with enviable regularity, and thus will decrease over time.

Here are also all of the 12 mountains of Sweden over 2,000 m (6,561 ft): Sarektjåhkkå (2,089 m / 6,853 ft), Kaskasatjåkka (2,076 m / 6,811 ft), Nordtoppen (2,060 m / 6,758 ft), and others. Among the lower, but also famous mountain peaks are Helagsfjället (1,796 m / 5,892 ft), Storsylen (1,762 m / 5,780 ft), Åreskutan (1,420 m / 4,660 ft), Södra Storfjället (1,252 m / 5,801 ft), and others.

Kungsleden trail, Kebnekaise Mountain Station, Sweden

Norrland Terrain

Sweden’s second most important mountainous area is known as Norrland Terrain (Norrlandsterräng). It coincides in the territory and therefore in name with its northernmost region, but refers primarily to the lower forested areas of the rest of the north outside the Scandinavian Mountains, but also some of their peaks and valleys.

So the core of the region is Lappland, the Swedish part of the vast northern area with the same name, stretching from Norway to Russia.

It also includes about a dozen separate parts, mainly made up of plains and valleys with low hills and uplands in places like Övertorneå, Boden, and Dalarna. The highest peak of the region, Storvätteshågna (1,204 m / 3,950 ft), is located in the latter. The region, however, does not include the coastal areas, except for the High Coast of Sweden.

Norrland, Sweden

High Coast of Sweden

The third main mountain area also belongs to the Norrland Terrain and is called Höga Kusten in Swedish. It is a high seashore of up to 300 m (983 ft) and about 130 km (80.7 mi) long on the west coast of Sweden roughly in its center between the village of Nyadal, next to which is one of the most famous peaks of the coast, Hornöberget (135 m / 442 ft), and the village of Örnsköldsvik.

The uplift of the shore is due to a geological process called “post-glacial rebound”, caused by the retreat of the glacier about 10,000 years ago. But the shore attracts attention not so much because of the height, but because of the picturesque views of the archipelago that open from it.

The High Coast of Sweden is one of the two parts of the UNESCO site, along with the Kvarken Archipelago, a similar area on the opposite shore of the Baltic Sea in Finland.

High Coast of Sweden, Sweden

Stockholm Archipelago

The fourth mountainous zone of Sweden, worthy of your attention, is also an archipelago, the largest in the country and the second in the Baltic Sea after the Archipelago Sea and therefore much more famous in the world than the previous one.

The archipelago begins right within the city limits of Stockholm (hence the name), which is also located on islands. For example, the famous high peak in the city center is Skinnarviksberget (53 m / 173 ft), which can be climbed for a picnic. The archipelago stretches as much as 60 km (mi) from the coast, including some 30,000 rocky islands of varying sizes ranging in height from a couple of tens of meters (feet) to a hundred or more. The islands form incredibly picturesque skerries with many cozy bays, in which yachts and boats are parked.

Among the more remote places of the archipelago from Stockholm, I liked the small town of Nynäshamn south of the Swedish capital, which can be reached by train in a couple of hours.

Stockholm Archipelago, Sweden

South Swedish Highlands

The fifth and final main mountainous area of Sweden (Sydsvenska Höglandet) is located and coincides with the Götaland region. This part of the country is also not devoid of hills, so it is known as the South Swedish Highlands / Uplands.

The landscape of South Swedish Highlands is similar to the Norrland Terrain and represents the mountains around 100–200 m (328–656 ft) high, but there are also higher ones, including, for example, Skuruhatt (302 m / 990 ft) in Eksjö municipality. In short, there are low mountains in southern Sweden, too.

Among the differences between this region and others are the 13 deep canyons that crisscross its territory.

South Swedish Highlands, Sweden

Best Hikes in Sweden

As the leading country in Scandinavia on par with Norway, Sweden is literally covered in various natural areas and marked hiking trails of varying lengths, many of which begin right in its capital, Stockholm.

Hiking Areas

In addition to the aforementioned mountainous regions, as in other countries, its main protected natural areas are national parks and nature reserves.

Sweden has 30 national parks located throughout its territory. The best known of them is Sarek National Park in the Scandinavian Mountains due to the fact that it includes Kebnekaise Massif with the highest peak as well as 6 of the 12 mountains above 2,000 m (6,561 ft).

The second most popular is Abisko National Park. Located north of Sarek, it attracts hikers because of the most popular long hiking trail, Kungsleden (King’s Trail), as well as Sweden’s largest alpine lake, Torneträsk.

Abisko National Park, Sweden

Next, it’s hard to make a clear choice to close this top 3. But let it be Tyresta National Park, closest to Stockholm, known for its gorge and one of the largest virgin pine forests in Sweden.

Then there are 5,111 (yes, five thousand one hundred and eleven) nature reserves in Sweden, which cover 85% of its area. However, most of them are located in the northern counties of Jämtland, Västerbotten, Norrbotten, and others,—for example, Vindelfjällen Nature Reserve. Among the closest to Stockholm are Paradiset Nature Reserve and Stendörren Nature Reserve.

But of course, there are other areas for hiking outside the above two types. One of the most popular in spite of its remoteness from the south of the country is Three-Country Cairn (Swedish: Treriksröset) on the border of Sweden, Norway, and Finland. It may be reached from the latter by hiking an 11 km (6.8 mi) trail from the village of Kilpisjärvi through Malla Strict Nature Reserve.

Malla Strict Nature Reserve, Sweden

Long Hiking Trails

There are more than 400 different marked hiking trails in Sweden. Of course, it is not even possible to list them all here, so I will highlight only the most famous of the long trails. For this, let's first take the list of 12 STF's Signature Trails, which the Swedish Tourism Association (Svenska Turistföreningen) singles out itself. They differ from the others in a number of parameters, including beauty, length of at least 30 km (98.4 m) and three days of hiking, and others. Then, if you take the five trails on this list in each of the five sides of the world within Sweden, you get the following:

  • North: The King’s Trail (Kungsleden)—the most famous hiking trail in Sweden in Abisko National Park and Vindelfjällen Nature Reserve—440 km (270 mi)
  • East: The High Coast Trail (Höga Kustenleden) along the High Coast of Sweden, the UNESCO Heritage Site—128 km (419 mi)
  • West: The Bohusleden Trail (Kuststigen Bohuslän)—another (partly) coastal trail in Strömstad municipality north of Göteborg—376 km (1.233 mi)
  • South and center: The Sörmland Trail (Sörmlandsleden) in Södermanland County south of Stockholm—1.000 km (621 mi) of connected trails

Malla Strict Nature Reserve, Sweden

There are also two famous and even longer hiking trails from Finland to Norway or vice versa that cross the Swedish territory. In the south, it is the St. Olav Pilgrim Trail (St. Olavsleden)—600 km (372 mi), in the footsteps of Norway’s King Olav Haraldsson, who once walked it; and in the north, it is the Arctic Trail (Nordkalott)—800 km (497 mi), in the totally wild and cold Arctic scenery as the name suggests.

Skiing in Sweden

In the wintertime, from being one of the main countries for hiking in Scandinavia, Sweden is turning into a leading destination for Alpine and cross-country skiing, and snowboarding. There are a total of 256 ski resorts in the country. The largest of these is Åre in Jämtland County, including three main ski areas: Åre Björnen, Åre By, and Åre Högzon. The resort has a total of 91 km (56.4 mi) of slopes and 34 ski lifts.

Learn more about these and other ski resorts in Sweden, including open and closed ski lifts and slopes, at the World Mountain Lifts section on PeakVisor site.

Winter ski, Sweden

Tourist Information

Before or after your hike, visit one of Sweden's official tourist offices, which can be found in almost every city, regardless of size. However, the main one, Visit Stockholm Contact Center, prefers to communicate online in the spirit of the times. But it has several offices in the city that you can visit in person, for example:

Royal Djurgården Visitor Center

Djurgårdsvägen, 2, Stockholm, Sweden

Open every day from 9 am to 5 pm

+46086677701

info@royaldjurgarden.se

Visitstockholm.com

Visitsweden.com

You will also find useful the websites of the regions of Sweden mentioned in this guide: Visitsweden.com/where-to-go/northern-sweden, Hogakusten.com, Vastsverige.com (West Sweden), and Visitsormland.se.

Sarek national park, Sweden

Sarek national park

Accommodation

When hiking in Sweden, you will find absolutely every type of accommodation in almost every locality, from apartments to the famous Scandinavian cottages with saunas. However, this applies to itineraries near towns or along the coast.

In the mountains, as in other parts of Scandinavia and the world, the most common type of accommodation is various mountain cabins (such as huts and lodges). Like trails, in Sweden, they are managed by the Swedish Tourist Association (Svenska Turistföreningen) and come in several main forms: hostels, hotels, guest houses, mountain stations ("a marvelous cross between mountain hotel, hostel, and bed-and-breakfast"), and mountain cabins. You can tell them apart by the prefix STF in front of the name.

You can also camp everywhere thanks to the locally famous "Right to Roam" law, even on private territory, except for the national parks and reservations where it is allowed on special sites for camping. True, it is often prohibited to build a fire on them in the summer during the danger of fires, but a gas burner will help you out.

autumn, Sweden

Cities and Resorts

To form the top 10 cities of Sweden by population to the first three—Stockholm, Malmö, and Gothenburg — you can also add Uppsala, Västerås, Örebro, Linköping, Helsingborg, Jönköping, and Norrköping.

Stockholm, Sweden

The main Swedish coastal towns and resorts are Härnösand and Örnsköldsvik between the starting and finishing points of the High Coast Trail in the east and even more picturesque Stenungsund, Lysekil, and Smögen in Gothenburg Archipelago in the west. In the north, these are Östersund, the capital of Jämtland County, and the village of Åre in the same country—the closest town to the namesake ski resort.

Visby is the main town on Gotland Island in the Baltic Sea. The whole town is another UNESCO World Heritage Site in Sweden among 15 in total.

Lund, Sweden

Lund, old street
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