We are pleased to present a new Solo Travel Destination Post from Butter, a member of the Solo Travel Society on Facebook. Butter lives in the United States, and submitted the following report about Sweden. Do you have a solo travel destination that you would like to recommend? Submit your description here, along with a few photos, and share it with fellow travelers!
Solo travel rating: 1 (1 is easiest, 3 is most difficult. Please see chart below)
Languages spoken: Swedish, English
Reasons to Visit Sweden
For me, the main reason to go anywhere is a combination of people and culture (and food! sort of… complicated topic).
The Swedish people are very friendly, welcoming, and open (possibly due to the copious amount of vacation time those crazy northern Europeans get – not jealous at all), making it very easy to feel right at home. Of course, it helps for English-speaking travelers that the Swedes have been ranked at the top of the class when it comes to speaking English.
Anyway, this wasn't exactly a typical Sweden trip as I mainly went in hopes of seeing the northern lights (which didn't happen, sadly), the Ice Hotel, and Stockholm in winter time. Plus, I only had a week free so I had to make it a quick trip. Sweden is supposed to be beautiful in the summer, generally the height of tourism, with its archipelago and endless summer days, which I'm saving for another trip.
Here are the highlights of my trip:
Kiruna is a small, quaint mining town in the Arctic Circle. There is not a great deal to see there aside from a beautiful little church constructed entirely of wood, but there are lots of winter activities to choose from. It certainly wasn't cheap, but it was great fun. I drove my first snowmobile through the woods and over a frozen lake as part of the northern lights tour. While it was cloudy and snowy, it was otherwise pretty mild. The ride was serene. There's nothing but snow, enormous trees, snowmobile and animal tracks. the humming of the motor, and the icy wind whooshing by. Just as I thought I was too cold to go on, we took a break at a small wooden hut with some hot lingonberry juice (Don't make that face, it's delicious! As is hot blueberry “soup.”), a hearty reindeer stew, and some sort of sponge cake and cloud berry dessert that I was too full to have more than a bite of.
If you're a dog lover, don't miss out on the husky sled ride. There are options for musher for a day or even northern lights tour by dog sled, but I opted for the day run since I wanted time to unwind after, which included a trip to the supermarket for some Knäckebröd (Swedish crispbread), caviar, blueberry soup, filmjölk (Swedish drinkable yogurt similar to kefir), Nordic salmon, and some other random stuff to munch on back at the hotel.
Jukkasjärvi is home to the Ice Hotel. It might be a bit touristy, but putting all of that aside, this is definitely worth a visit. Nature has a way of providing the most amazing building materials – ice for walls and snow for insulation. I spent my only night there in a cold room – a northern lights suite – but they do have warm accommodations as well. Most who visit spend a few nights, one in a cold room and the rest warm, since they do have all of the cold weather activities as well. Just keep in mind that everything is at a higher price point.
Side note: The main restaurant is fantastic (I'm a bit of a restaurant fanatic and there's no shortage of that in New York City, which is where I live). Every course is well thought out, and there are options for the more adventurous as well as the tame. You can also get cocktails with a giant cube of Torne River ice, which is the same ice the hotel is made of. The Ice Bar serves all of their drinks out of, you guessed it, glasses made of ice. Tip: There's a small performance venue in the back where they host live performances. There happened to be a great Swedish folk band performing the night I was there. They were fantastic. I later found out the nice folks that I shared a table with during the performance were related to one of the band members. We ended up running into each other the next morning at breakfast and they invited me to join them. Like I said, the Swedish people are very friendly!
I booked the arctic leg of my trip through a local tour company, Kiruna Guidetur, since it's pretty much the same price as booking everything yourself separately. It's also much more convenient not having to figure out local transportation (though this is not a problem if you're willing to spend more and spend your entire arctic trip at the Ice Hotel). They handled everything including the flight there, transfers, booking activities with local companies, the train to Stockholm, and, most importantly, cold weather clothing! I like to travel light so that last one was a huge plus.
Stockholm was a big change from the arctic, although it didn't feel much warmer. The city itself isn't too big, at least most of the sites are “within walking distance” (I put this in quotation marks as I really like to walk, so take this with a grain of salt). If it were summer, you could and should definitely take advantage of their bike share. There's no shortage of trains (basically 3 types of metros!), but do take the ferry (I love ferries!), especially if you go to Skansen, an open air museum and zoo. It's a fun day trip, although since it was freezing and rainy when I went, not all of the animals were out. On the plus side, there were practically no other visitors, so you get a different experience.
Gamla Stan is popular but no less enjoyable to wander through. There is no shortage of small shops (especially all the pastry shops!), cafes, and restaurants. I discovered my new favorite artist in a tiny gallery within these cobblestone streets, and some day I'll be able to splurge on his work. Best of all, there's this almost hidden viking bar (if you're near what looks to be a small town square, and see this dungeon-type place with a bright red sign that doesn't make any sense, you've found it) where once a month or so, local craftsmen gather to eat, drink, and do handiwork dressed in their old-timey clothes. That and the full-on viking decor, along with a nice mug of mead, will transport you for the evening. Don't forget to try the mussels. I ate enough to feed a viking ship.
Speaking of viking ships, don't miss the Vasa museum. You really have to see this beast in person to understand just how incredible it is that they were able to build this with such simple tools. If you do go, combine it with your Skansen visit as it's pretty much along the way back.
Lastly, depending on personal preference, Skogskyrkogården is a world heritage cemetery. It's a beautiful place to walk through with lots of open space and towering pine trees. It's a 10 minute metro ride away and free, so if you have a few hours left, take a peek.
I also recommend staying in Södermalm, as it's cheaper and literally a 10-15 minute walk from the center of Söder to Gamla Stan. Plus, that's where Pelikan restaurant is, where you can stuff your face with some legit Swedish meatballs.
One last tip: for those into photography, there's a photography museum in Söder with a panoramic view where I ended up spending a good 2 hours.
Solo Travel Destination Rating System
Safety – 1 (1 very safe, 2 safe in most areas, 3 be cautious at all times.)
Language – 2 (1 English is first language, 2 English speakers easy to find, 3 English speakers rare)
Navigation – 1 (1 easy to navigate by transit or car, 2 poor transit, car necessary, 3 not easy to get around)
Culture – 1 (1 Similar to North America or Western Europe, 2 Different from above but relaxed and easy, 3 Challenging)
Average Rating – 1 (1 is easiest, 3 is most difficult)