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The country of Sweden

Crisp and clean, the tranquil Scandinavian country of Sweden offers a variety of experiences within its elegent and sophisticated cities, its picturesque medieval villages, coastal island archipelagos, peaceful lakes and forests and the icy tundra of northern Lapland.
 
The capital city, Stockholm, encompasses 14 islands on the shores of the Baltic Sea. It is a high-tech city with a small-town feel, filled with top class restaurants, pulsating nightclubs, cosy pubs and a full array of performing arts. Best of all, nearly everyone you meet is fluent in English. Few visitors to Stockholm can resist an excursion to discover the offshore islands: the Stockholm archipelago offers some of the most beautiful coastal scenery in Europe, and can be enjoyed from the city on a day cruise.
 
The west coast and its fishing villages is the place for gourmets, especially seafood lovers, while those digging for history will be fascinated with Uppsala, the ancient Viking city where the newest buildings date from the 18th century. A really novel excursion is a visit up north to the Ice Hotel, sculpted from ice every winter in Lapland where the Sami people enjoy showing visitors their way of life, based on their reindeer herds. Meanwhile, way down south Smaland has been christened ‘the Crystal Kingdom’ in honour of the famous glassworks that exist there in places like Orrefors and Kosta.
 
Sweden is an enchanting country, not as cold as one might imagine situated as it is in the high latitudes, and is well worth exploring whether along the meticulously maintained roads or on the extensive high-speed train system.
 
BASICS
 
Time: GMT +1 (GMT +2 from the last Sunday in March to the Saturday before the last Sunday in October).
Electricity: 230 volts, 50Hz. Standard European two-pin plugs are used.
Money: The Swedish monetary unit is the Kronor (Crown), abbreviated to SEK. One Krona equals 100 öre. Notes come in denominations of 1,000kr, 500, 100, 50 and 20. Banks exchange money during business hours Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 3pm (later on Thursdays). At other times money can be changed at airports, ferry terminals, post offices and Forex exchange offices.  There are numerous ATMs throughout the country, most of which accept MasterCard and Visa. Travellers cheques and major credit cards are accepted at most shops, restaurants and hotels.

Language: Swedish is the main language, with Lapp being spoken by the Sami population in the north. Most Swedes speak and understand English. Many also speak German and French.

Entry requirements for Americans: To enter Sweden, US citizens require a passport valid at least three months beyond their intended stay, and tickets or documentation for return or onward travel. No visa is required for stays of up to three months in any six month period.

Entry requirements for UK nationals: British nationals may enter Sweden with a valid passport, and no visa is necessary for a stay of up to three months in any six month period.

Entry requirements for Canadians: Canadians require a passport, valid for at least three months beyond the intended stay, to enter Sweden. No visa is required for stays of up to three months in any six month period.

Entry requirements for Australians: For entry to Sweden, Australian citizens require a passport valid for at least three months beyond the intended stay. No visa is required for stays of up to three months in any six month period.

Entry requirements for South Africans: South Africans may enter Sweden with a passport valid for at least three months beyond the intended stay. A visa is required.

Entry requirements for Irish nationals: Irish nationals require a valid passport, but no visa is necessary for a stay of up to three months in any six-month period.

Passport/Visa Note: The borderless region known as the Schengen area includes the following countries: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain and Sweden. All these countries issue a standard Schengen visa that allows the holder to travel freely within the borders of all. All visitors are required to have visible means of support.
Health: There are no health risks associated with travel to Sweden. Medical care in the country is excellent, and reciprocal health agreements exist with other European Union countries, including the United Kingdom. UK citizens in possession of form E111 (freely available at Post Offices and some travel agents) will be entitled to emergency medical treatment on the same terms as Swedish nationals.

Tipping: Service charge is added to hotel bills. Restaurant waiters and taxi drivers should be tipped 10%.
S
afety:
Sweden is an extremely safe country to visit. There is some petty crime during the summer months in the cities where tourists congregate, but crime is at much lower levels than elsewhere in Europe. Most visits to Sweden are trouble free.

Communications: The country code for Sweden is +46, and the outgoing code is 00. Sweden also has area codes. Public telephones are available and there is good coverage across the country for mobile telephones, which use three different GSM 900 and 1800 networks. Internet cafes can be found in all the cities and towns.

Contacts

Swedish Tourist Office: +46 (0)8 789 2400 (Stockholm) or www.visit-sweden.com
Swedish Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 467 2600
Swedish Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 (0)20 7917 6400
Swedish Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 241 8553
Swedish Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 (0)2 6270 2700 (Chancery)
Swedish Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 426 6400
Embassy of Sweden, Dublin, Ireland: +353 (0)1 474 4000
United States Embassy, Stockholm: +46 (0)8 783 5300
British Embassy, Stockholm: +46 (0)8 671 3000
Canadian Embassy, Stockholm: +46 (0)8 453 3000
Australian Embassy, Stockholm: +46 (0)8 613 2900
South African Embassy, Stockholm: +46 (0)8 243 950
Irish Embassy, Stockholm: +46 (0)8 661 8005
Emergencies: 112

Airports

Stockholm-Arlanda International (STO)

Location: 28 miles (45kms) north of Stockholm Time: GMT +1 Contacts: Tel: +46 8  797 6000 or  797 6100 Transfer to the city: The Arlanda Express trains to Stockholm Central station run every 15 minutes between 5.35am and 11.35pm daily. Buses run to the city every ten minutes between 6.40am and 11.05pm each day, taking 40 minutes to make the journey. Taxis are available at a fixed rate of  SEK435 for the trip to the city centre. Car rental: Avis, Europcar and Hertz are represented at the airport Facilities: The airport is well-supplied with banks, bureaux de change, ATMs, restaurants, bars and shops. The SkyCity centre inside the airport complex provides every conceivable amenity for travellers, including a luxury hotel and health club. All the terminals have lounge areas with power points for recharging mobile phones and laptop computers.

Parking: There are several parking areas adjoining each terminal with different price categories, whether it be short term, long term, indoor in multi-storey parkades, or outdoors.

Website: www.lfv.se

STOCKHOLM:  The Swedish capital, Stockholm, is not only Scandinavia’s largest city but also its most enchanting, with its centuries-old alleyways and squares being spread across an archipelago of 14 islands. Locals are extremely proud of the fact that here one can go ocean-fishing in the heart of the city.

This historic metropolis with a small town heart also boasts a multitude of museums, an abundance of restaurants, a plethora of parks, fun fairs, a never-ending nightlife (licensing hours extend until 5am) and a rich cultural life. It all adds up to ‘never a dull moment’, particularly in the summer when the sun virtually never sets because of its being positioned in the far northern latitudes.

Most tourists are initially drawn to the quaint Gamla Stan (old town), a warren of narrow cobbled-stone streets overshadowed by historic houses, radiating out from the sumptuous Royal Castle where Swedish royalty has resided since the 13th century. Despite the medieval heritage, Stockholm is no staid, old-fashioned enclave. Citizens have developed a reputation for being trendy, daring and innovative, especially in the global realms of IT and fashion, often setting the pace in the design and technology fields.

Stockholmers are also immensely concerned with the environment, and the city-scape is made up of one-third water, one-third green space, one-third buildings and the cleanest air of any city in the world. Take a deep breath, pack a picnic, hop aboard a ferry, and make for one of the parks where you will undoubtedly be treated to a free concert; or head for the legendary shopping districts of Biblioteksgatan (exclusive European boutiques), Odengatan (antique treasures), Drottningsgatan, Harrngatan, Hotorget or Stureplan. There is culture to be soaked up too, with more than 150 museums to visit, art festivals galore, architecture to be admired (including the City Hall where the Nobel Prize banquet takes place), and a world-renowned Opera to attend.

It may be old, but Stockholm is a destination for the young and energetic, as yet not over-run with tourists like many other European capitals.

Royal Djurgården

Stockholm’s main attractions are conveniently packaged close to the heart of the city on the island of Djurgården, crammed with entertainment options, museums, restaurants and wooded green space. Once upon a time the island was a royal hunting ground. Now visitors can hunt for souvenirs at the Handarbetets Vanner (handicraft centre); browse the art galleries; enjoy thrills and spills at Gröna Lund, Sweden’s oldest amusement park; explore Sweden’s past at the Skansen open-air museum; meet Nordic wildlife at the zoo; and watch folk dancing. Also on the island, accessed with a pleasant stroll along the waterfront, is the Junibacken fairy-tale fun centre, the National Museum of Cultural History and the fascinating Vasa Museum featuring a fully rigged restored 17th-century galleon raised from Stockholm harbour. Top off the day with a meal at one of the many excellent restaurants.

Address: A 10-minute walk from the city centre across the Djurgarden bridge; Telephone: Skansen: Tel: +46 (0)8 442 8000; Website: www.skansen.se; Transport: Vintage tram; buses 44 or 47; or ferry; Opening time: Grona Lund opens between May and September, days and hours vary. Skansen opens daily 10am to 4pm, up to 10pm in the height of the summer season

Royal Palace and Gamla Stan

The official Swedish Royal residence is one of the largest and most glorious palaces in Europe, dating from 1754 (although it was built on the remains of an earlier medieval castle). The Baroque edifice is in the heart of Gamla Stan, the old city, of which many of its 608 staterooms open to the public all year round. Visitors can admire the Hall of State, the Royal Treasury, Apartment of the Orders of Chivalry, Gustav III Museum of Antiquities and the Royal Chapel. In front of the palace the changing of the guard ceremony takes place each day (12.15pm, and 1.15pm on Sundays) with splendid pomp and ceremony that rivals the similar tradition played out at Britain’s Buckingham Palace. Gamla Stan itself is a treasure-trove of Swedish architecture from the 17th century. Today tourists throng the alleyways, once notorious for brothels, but now lined with shops and restaurants, and admire the 13th-century Cathedral, the Storkyrkan.

Telephone: +46 (0)8 402 6130; Website: www.royalcourt.se; Transport: Metro stop Gamla Stan, or bus 43,46,55, 59 or 76; Opening time: Closed Mondays. Open 10am to 4pm between 15 May and 31 August. Open 12pm to 3pm between 1 February and 14 May, and 1 September and 31 December; Admission: SEK 110 (combined ticket for the whole palace) or SEK 70 for selected parts of the palace

City Hall

Stockholm’s main landmark, the distinctive red brick City Hall (Stadshuset) building, has stood on Kungsholmen (King’s Island) since 1923 and become world-renowned as the venue for the annual Nobel Prize Banquet. The rather practical and austere façade, dominated by three golden crowns atop a tower, hides an extraordinary art nouveau interior. The plush council chamber itself has a vaulted ceiling resembling an inverted Viking longboat, echoing the Viking tradition of using overturned vessels as shelter in winter. Most impressive, though, is the magnificent Golden Hall, its walls covered with handmade mosaics. The view of Stockholm from the tower is unsurpassed.

Address: Hantverkargatan 1; Telephone: +46 (0)8 5082 9058; Transport: Underground station T-Centralen/T-Rådhuset, or bus 48 and 62; Opening time: Tours depart daily at 10am, 11am, 12pm and 2pm in June, July and August, and at 10am and 12pm daily the rest of the year. The tower is open daily from 10am to 4.30pm; Admission: SEK 50 for the interior tour; SEK 15 to ascend the tower

Museum of National Antiquities

Sweden’s history from prehistoric times to the present day is fascinatingly laid out in the Museum of National Antiquities, which contains a hoard of archaeological artefacts and treasures, including an impressive collection of gold objects recovered from the tombs and treasure caches of the Vikings. The museum’s most prized possession dates from the Middle Ages. This is the splendid gold reliquary, set with precious stones, which contained the skull of Saint Elisabeth of Thuringia.

Address: Narvargen 13–17; Telephone: +46 (0)8 5195 5600; Website: www.historiska.se; Transport: Metro station Karlaplan; bus 44, 47, 56, 69 or 76; Opening time: Closed Mondays. Open 11am to 5pm, but late opening until 8pm on Thursdays during winter; Admission: SEK 60

The Archipelago

The city of Stockholm stretches across 14 islands, but the archipelago, of which they form but a tiny part, consists of more than 24,000 islets, famed for their natural beauty, wildlife, fjords and spectacular channels and straits. A highlight of any visit to Stockholm is exploring this unique natural wonderland, and summer time is the time to do it, whether individually or on one of the many organised boat tours on offer. The standard tour is the ‘Thousand Island Cruise’, lasting 11 hours, which takes you to the outer islands and allows passengers to spend time ashore on some of the larger islands, like Nämdö, renowned for its handicrafts. Meals are provided on the cruise boat, Vaxholm III. Those with less time to spend can opt for a shorter cruise from between two or six hours, or travel on the high speed ‘Cinderella’ waterjet boats that service many of the islands. Do-it-yourself travellers can make use of the regular Waxholmsbolaget ferries that service the inhabited islands. The islanders are very hospitable and bed and breakfast accommodation is available for those seeking a longer getaway and perhaps wanting to stay a few days to experience island life.

Address: Archipelago tour information is available from the Tourist Centre, Sweden House, Hamnagatan 27; Telephone: +46 (0)8 789 2415; Opening time: Tourist Centre opens 9am to 6pm weekdays and 9am to 3pm weekends

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