Sweden is a land of incredible contrast. Home to a vast array of landscapes - from the dense pine forests and craggy mountains of the north, to the rolling hills and glossy golden beaches of the south - the gap widens even more when you take the country’s urban centres (home to 84% of the population) into account. The seven major cities, which include Malmö, Gothenburg and the capital, Stockholm - each have their own distinct character, compelling histories and wildly varying architectural styles. Despite these differences, urban Sweden tends to be stylish, modern and sophisticated, while the countryside offers simpler pleasures for those in search of peace and tranquillity.
Bordered by Denmark to the south, Norway to the north and Finland to the east, Sweden, the largest of the Scandinavian countries, shares a common heritage with the other members of the bloc but retains distinct traditions of its own. Unsurprisingly for a country whose name comes from the Old English Swēoþēod (people of the Swedes), a long mercantile history has made it one of the most culturally open and welcoming in Europe. The instantly likeable capital Stockholm has long been synonymous with style and its sharply tailored brand of chic has percolated throughout the wardrobes of the world, with hip brands such as Acne among the exports. Hipsters notwithstanding, Stockholm with its 14 islands and picturesque medieval beauty has much to offer those in search of culture, art and historical treasures, as well as a surfeit of fabulous boutiques. To the south, the city of Visby is the country’s best-preserved medieval settlement, with charming cobbled streets and the towering remains of the Sankta Karin church, which glower out over Gotland’s rolling green fields edged with pine and spruce forests.
Perhaps the most surprising of the cities though, is the southern port of Malmö, which belying its unfairly grim reputation, is now one of Sweden’s liveliest destinations. Thanks in part to the Öresund Bridge that links it to the Danish capital, Copenhagen, Sweden’s third city has undergone a real renaissance and is well worth a visit if you’ve got time.
Away from the cities, Sweden's scenery generally has a gentler charm than that the dramatic landscape of neighbouring Norway. Much of Sweden is forested, and there are thousands of lakes, including the large stretches of water between Gothenburg and Stockholm. The border with Norway is home to the spectacular Skanderna (Scandinavian) mountain chain, while in the far north you’ll find wonderfully bleak Arctic tundra – here it’s possible to see the Northern Lights. The south, meanwhile, is dominated by emerald forest, the cerulean waters of the Gulf of Bothnia and the jagged Baltic coastline. Of all the lovely spots in Sweden though, the awe-inspiring panoramas of the Stora Sjöfallet National Park take some beating. Part of the UNESCO-listed Laponian region of northern Sweden, the park’s majestic waterfalls, soaring peaks and crowded clumps of fir trees make it one of the country’s greatest natural treasures.