The stars of Sweden's bestiary are northern predators like bears, Arctic lynx and wolf - stalking elk, reindeer and Arctic hare. But it's a twitcher’s idyll too, from Lapland to Oland. Migratory visitors include crane, eider and goldcrest, while Swedish skies are patrolled by raptors like Gyr falcon, osprey and White-tailed Eagle. Seals, meanwhile, disport themselves along gorgeous rocky shores.
Officially, around 24,000 islands lie within this unique archipelago – a mecca for kayaking, hiking and swimming spreading 80km out from the capital. Highlights include Stendörren Nature Reserve, gorgeous Uto with its bird-filled woods, seductive beaches and glorious cycle trails, plus historic spots like 17th century Trosa, the Tullgarn Palace and fortress Vaxholm. Traditional floating bathhouses beckon for cool dips.
Alongside Viking mementoes and ravishing medieval towns like Lund, Falkerberg and Visby, Sweden has a host of distinctive ancient sites. Ales Stenar is a Nordic Stonehenge on a sweeping southern coastal headland, near an imposing Bronze Age burial site at Kivik. Bohuslan's Tanum Plain, meanwhile, is a UNESCO-listed natural gallery for eye-popping 3,000-year-old rock carvings – many erotic!
Sweden does traditional villages as entrancing as the countryside they nestle in. Think red and yellow cottages, cobbled lanes, fishing huts perched by bouldery shores. Eksjo is a symphony in wood, Trosa a historic harbour idyll, Sigtuna a ravishing timewarp dotted with holy ruins. Ornskoldsvik is just one fishing beauty along the atmospheric Hoga Kusten ('High Coast').
Northern Sweden claims Europe's most remote point, amid lonely mountains and taiga explorable on foot, husky sled or skis. But other spots beckon. Magical archipelagos frame each coast: historic Ostgota in the east, sandy southern Oland, woody Lulea by the west. Bergslagen and Halsingland, meanwhile, offer bear, wolf and elk in the heart of Sweden, just 2-3 hours from Stockholm.
Sweden's larder is renowned for the brilliantly fishy: multiple ways with herring; dazzling crustacea; succulent oysters and mussels; freshwater treats like pike perch; superb caviar - the red Kalix is served at Nobel banquets. Wild herbs and a panoply of berries are foraging favourites, flavouring everything from mains to crispbreads. Add novel meats like moose and reindeer, superb cheeses and potent Swedish aquavits.
Between October and March, Sweden's vast, sparsely populated northern interior provides optimal conditions to view the aurora light show. Unlike Atlantic Ocean spots like Iceland, the weather is generally clearer too. One of the best places is the Abisko National Park, where the Aurora Sky Station takes advantage of Sweden's driest climate. Snowy expanses and frozen lakes provide beautiful reflectors.
Intriguing human life rivals wildlife in Swedish Lapland (aka Sapmi). Delve traditional culture at vibrant festivals in the Sami capital Jokkmokk. Try indigenous delicacies like elk or reindeer sauced with cloudberry, mopping up the juices with gahkko bread. For deeper engagement, learn to track animals on skis, make wood and textile crafts, or work with ice to build snow homes.
Stockholm’s forested surrounds and vast archipelago are a multifaceted natural jewel, but much of the city centre is let down by bland corporate architecture, tourist hordes clogging its 57 bridges, traffic swirl and a certain capital city smugness. Many prefer the laidback creative buzz of west coast Gothenburg, the Bohuslan gateway with a fine gourmet scene and industrial can-do edge.
When first built in 1989, the Ice Hotel near Kiruna was truly cool – a startling igloo palace unlike anything else on Earth, melting away each spring then rebuilt with new twists each winter. 25 years on, it remains a glittery oddity - but distinctive rivals in Norway, Canada, Finland, Japan, Romania and Switzerland now blunt its cachet.
IKEA does pleasant-enough pale wood furniture but its giant stores feel like part of a corporate cult that traps you on an inescapable circuit inside a blandly tasteful vision of Scandi design. It's far removed from the mid-century modern dynamic forged in the 1950s and 60s, and continued by contemporary Swedish names like Kasthall and Bjorn Dahlstrom.
While not as eye-wateringly expensive as Norway, eating out in Sweden can be tough on your wallet. Always check prices before sitting down in a restaurant, and factor in often high wine costs. For bargain daytime scoffing, avail yourself of widespread dagens lunch (lunch of the day) deals, generally offering a salad, main and drink for a bargain price.