When you first picture Sweden, a few stereotypical images and their cultural contributions might come to mind, like pastries arranged for afternoon fika, Abba, or IKEA. However, when you visit the country, you’ll get a different view entirely. The first thing I noticed when I initially travelled here was how vast the forested countryside was. From Stockholm Arlanda Airport to the town of Karlskoga, throughout most of the three-hour drive the journey took was untouched forest, the road sometimes being the only sign of civilisation. Maybe an occasional house here and there, but otherwise, a lone strip of tarmac surrounded by nature.
And there is a reason for that. Astonishingly, despite being one of the largest countries in Europe, over 95% of Sweden is wilderness. Compare that to the USA, which despite having a larger land area than Sweden, is only about 50% uninhabited. Looking at those figures, you will begin to get an understanding of why this part of the Nordics is such an adventure for outdoor enthusiasts. That, with the additional benefit of wild camping being legal in Sweden, is just a couple of the reasons why you should make Sweden your next outdoor adventure! This post will go over a few reasons why you should consider this for your next excursion into the wilds.
There are many different kinds of landscapes in Sweden
One of the aspects that makes Sweden such a unique country is its geography. Tucked in between Norway and Finland with the Baltic Sea to the south, natural historical events have helped create different biomes all over the country, and with them, different pastimes and ways to enjoy the outdoors.
The far north of Sweden is in the Arctic Circle, and here, there are few towns and taiga forests which dominate the land. To the west, much of the land border that Sweden shares with Norway is an uninterrupted mountain range called the Scandinavian Mountains. But most notably, the southwest, south and much of the east are coastal regions which, because of glacial movements during the ice ages, is an area that has been cut up into smaller islands and peninsulas. There are also all manner of rivers and water bodies that intersect and dot the mainland as well, making it perfect for navigating by water. Some tour groups specialise in organising trips along these waterways. For example, The Canoe Trip will help you organise an excursion in the Varmland province close to the Norwegian border, giving you everything you need at a reasonable price, at a minimum average of 50 euros a day and a maximum of 100 euros a day with the most expensive options selected.
You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to National Parks
Though over 95% of Sweden is uninhabited, most of it is unprotected land. However, in the unlikely scenario that the rest of the country becomes urbanised in the far future, there is still a good portion of the land that will be kept natural because of government protections. Out of the uninhabited areas in Sweden, over 15% of it is national parks.
Sweden has 30 different parks, which range from Sarek - which is in the north, has no marked trails, no accommodation, and you’ve got to hike, or cross-country ski a fair distance before you reach it - to Kosterhavet - which is the country’s only marine national park. Each one promises a unique adventure and experience, whether you hoof it over the many summits in Sarek or leave Terrafirma to see what wonders lie in the sea.
There’s a wide range of wildlife
There are many people who are attracted to Sweden for different reasons. For nature lovers, in addition to the nation’s natural beauty, one of the big draws to the Swedish countryside is that it is home to all manner of different species. The further you get away from population centres, the more likely you are to run into the different animals that call this country home, like wolves, moose and bears. If you’re especially lucky, you might even see rarer species like the Arctic Fox!
Now, you might’ve heard wolves and bears and did a double take. But don’t worry! It is rare that you will have a close encounter with these animals, never mind an aggressive one, for the simple fact that they would much rather avoid humans. At the time of writing this, there are less than 3,000 individual brown bears across a country that stretches for 172,754 square miles. If you’re still worried, though, there are some tips for surviving out in the wilderness should you get into trouble, and other worthwhile information is easy to look up on Google, like keeping your food away from your camp or making yourself known when you’re on a trail - this can be done by playing music, or even something as simple as a conversation with your friend.
They have amazing roaming laws
Depending on which country you visit, they will have their own rules surrounding camping laws, and a great thing about Sweden is that they have the Allemansrätten law, or All Man’s Right law. Fun fact: Swedish is a Germanic language like English, so there are a few words in both languages which don’t sound too far off from each other. Similar to Norway and Finland, this law makes it so that the public is allowed to roam freely, as well as camp overnight and even pick mushrooms and berries (though I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the former unless you know what you’re doing).
As with any law, there is some responsibility that comes with Allemansrätten, which can be summarised as ‘don’t disturb, don’t destroy’. So clean up after yourself, take your rubbish with you, leave no trace, and most importantly, be careful with fire. Sometimes there will be fire bans, and each county decides when these are implemented. To get a general idea of which fire bans are in effect, as well as more information about them, click here.
It is home to “the last wilderness of Europe.”
In the far north lies Swedish Lapland, an almost untouched area of natural beauty. Though much of Sweden is a wilderness blanketed by trees, some of the forested areas are used in lumber operations, though in a sustainable way which means that the trees grow faster than the rate that they are cut down. However, there are forests in this area which are completely untouched by human hands.
This region is also home to the indigenous population native to Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia. The Sami have been living here for generations (the native name for the land they call home is Sápmi), and you can learn more about their history at the Geunja Lodge, which, in line with keeping this area of land as untouched by human presence as possible, only welcome 12 groups of tourists a year, with 12 people in each group. Obviously, something like this is an expensive venture, but a worthwhile one considering it the experience of a lifetime.
There are all manner of ways to travel around the Swedish wilderness, from canoeing to dog sledding.
With the All Man’s Right law, that means you can pretty much go anywhere at any point in Sweden (obviously, weather dependent. You don’t want to freeze to death while attempting to hike the length of Sweden in winter). That also means you can choose how to get to your destination, whether that be hiking, cycling etc. We’ve mentioned different trails you could do in other Swedish itineraries, but if you would like to find out more information about a cycling holiday in Sweden, click here. Or maybe you just want to bypass the land altogether. The Canoe Trip can help you on that end by setting up a base camp and everything you need for a waterborne adventure.
However, if you’re in Sweden, why not try something new? Yes, there are vast stretches of the countryside that you can visit on two wheels or on foot, but why not wait until winter and do something you might not be able to do back home - dog sledding? For example, if you are visiting the remote town of Kiruna in the far north, you can sign up for a dog sledding tour and go on an evening adventure in Sweden’s Arctic Circle.
There are unique hotels in the middle of nowhere.
Who says that just because you’re out and about in Sweden, you can’t relax in style? Across the country, there are all manner of themed hotels for you to stay at. There are those in the more populated areas, like the Sala Silvergruva on the edge of the town of Sala, which is an underground hotel in what used to be a silvermine, or there is the accommodation outside of Arlanda airport, which is literally a hostel made from a repurposed jumbo jet.
Then, if you’re hiking through the wilderness, there are those which are a bit harder to reach. The most famous example of this is the Ice Hotel in Jukkasjärvi. Though it is open year-round, the ice attraction is only available during the winter. There is the eco-lodge, or Sweden’s most primitive lodge, Kolarbyn, which describes itself as having “no electricity, no showers, nothing fancy at all, just natural mysteriousness. And that is precisely why you are going to love this place.” There is even the Treehotel, which combines modern architectural design with a connection to nature.
It’s one of the places in the world where you can see the northern lights!
In addition to the natural beauty, unique culture and history, there is another couple of reasons why people would want to venture out to Sweden’s wilderness - and that is to see the northern lights, which are electrically charged particles from solar storms on the surface of the sun that have travelled across the gulf of space and have been caught in Earth’s magnetic field, focusing on the north and south pole.
In Sweden, the best place to view this is anywhere north of the town of Kiruna - which is another reason why you should sign up for the previously mentioned dog sledding tour - and the best viewing conditions are when you avoid any source of light pollution. But it should also be noted that the best time to see them is between September and April, when the sky is at its darkest but also when Sweden gets at its coldest, so don’t forget your mittens.
You can also see the midnight sun.
Just as you can see the northern lights at their best in winter, so too does the summer offer another unique phenomenon. Because the earth is tilted on an axis, the north pole leans closer to the sun, making the days longer in summer, and in some places, the sun doesn’t go down at all during the height of this season. This is known as the midnight sun.
Like with the northern lights, there are only a few places in the world you can see this happen. In the northern hemisphere, this includes Svalbard in Norway, Utqiaġvik in Alaska - and yes, Sweden, specifically in the Swedish Lapland region. Having a 24-hour sunlight cycle can mess with your head, though, so there are two ways you can go about dealing with this - either pack a thick sleeping mask to avoid problems sleeping, or stay up for as long as you can, enjoy this magnificent event, and take a nice long rest when you get home.
There are companies that can accommodate your adventure.
Now if you’ve read all this and find yourself in the position where the idea of adventuring through the Swedish wilderness sounds appealing to you, but you aren’t really sure how to go about planning your adventure, fear not. Websites like GetYourGuide offer kayaking tours depending on the location, like a full day of kayaking around the Stockholm archipelago, which despite being close to the capital of the country, of the nearly 30,000 different islands here, only about 200 of them are inhabited.
There are also companies like The Canoe Trip, which effectively help set you up with your canoeing and cooking equipment, allowing you a degree of independence while also having an expert nearby to help you out so you can enjoy a summer adventure in a beautiful part of northern Europe.