The tourism industry has changed dramatically over the past few decades with the ever important goal to seek out authentic experiences during a trip. Even the typical beach go-er likely hopes get at least a glimpse of a destination’s cuisine and local vibe. But for the avid traveler really trying to experience the authentic nature of a country, it can sometimes be difficult to sort through the mass offering. Sweden may not be a typical summer beach holiday destination but in many cases this allows for travelers to more easily experience those things that are typically Swedish. So whether you’re headed to the ultra trendy and gay friendly capital of Stockholm or the northern reaches of Swedish Lapland, there are plenty of opportunities to immerse yourself in everything that’s authentic Sweden.
Safety and comfort is always one of our top considerations when recommending a destination. Sadly, there are still some 70+ countries worldwide where LGBT’s face legal obstacles as a visitor – some more severe than others. Luckily, Sweden is on the opposite end of that spectrum and is one of the most welcoming places you could choose to visit. Like most countries, you’ll find big LGBT communities and gay friendly venues in the largest cities like Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmo. The country was ahead of the curve in marriage equality and legalized same-sex marriages in 2009 also ranks fourth of 49 European countries in regards to LGBT rights and protections.
One of the easiest ways to experience a destination’s culture is through its food. Sadly, it’s all too easy to be overwhelmed by the choices and find yourself eating at the nearest chain global chain like Subway or McDonald’s. Avoid that at all costs and try to find a few local options to sample the cuisine. There are a number of typical dishes in Sweden like meatballs with lingonberry sauce or Smorgasbord. One of the simplest, yet common Swedish dishes is herring and potatoes. Once classified as peasant food, the dish has been reclaimed and it commonly eaten during major holidays. For some, herring may be an acquired taste if you’re not accustomed to pickled fish, but it shouldn’t be overlooked as it’s a local favorite. Bread is also a staple in most western cuisines and Swedish crispbread is a common item from restaurants to family dinner tables. This simple item dates back thousands of years to bakers who traveled the countryside making their breads from the from rye flour in the farms’ onsite bakeries.
Find the Hipsters
Perhaps the most authentic foods, crafts, clothing and shops can be found in the up and coming neighborhoods in major cities. Full of students, artist and hipsters, these neighborhoods are great places to find vintage shops, good food and authentic products with purpose. Ironically, hipster culture often avoids mainstream though these values are nothing more than what was historically available before mass production and globalization. Centuries or even decades ago, mainstream wasn’t a phenomenon and uniqueness prevailed. Though with the urban living we see today, we rely on these trendsetters to bring back the focus on those things that remain culturally relevant and tend to slip through the cracks over time.
Buy Local and Shop at Cool Places
In today’s ever advanced world, it’s all too easy to miss out on handcrafted products and personalized services from local vendors. Buying local and avoiding the big box store chains is a great way to find authentic products. From handcrafted fabrics by local artisans from Västanvik in central Sweden to handmade glass from seasoned glassblowers in Ggesta just outside of Stockholm, there are still opportunities to take home high quality products that bypass the assembly line. The neighborhood of Södermalm in Stockholm is great for cool shops like Grandpa or Sivletto, which offer unique goods and vintage products. Step outside the big cities and you’re sure to find great artisan foods and wonderful farmers markets with fresh food and produce.
Go to Stockholm
Self proclaimed as the capital of Scandinavia, Stockholm is a beautiful and majestic city spread across multiple islands surrounded by countless lakes and wide spanning bridges. From the old town of Gamla Stan to the trendy and hip neighborhood of Södermalm, you can explore Stockholm’s music, food and LGBT venues in this trendy and welcoming city. Immerse yourself in everything ABBA at the ABBA Museum – a true experience in the life of the Swedish musical sensations’ career. Get your fill of great food and drinks at places like Urban Deli, Meatballs for People or Omnipollos Hatt, where you can find quality food and locally produced craft beers. Most all accommodation in Stockholm is gay friendly but the Berns Hotel tops the list and hosts weekly gay parties at their onsite dance venue. Starting in April through autumn, don’t miss a meal or drinks at Mälarpaviljongen – a must visit LGBT hotspot at the edge of the water.
While Stockholm is a great start to a Swedish adventure, there’s always more to explore. Whether heading up to the university town of Umea or even farther north to Swedish Lapland, the country has ample opportunity to get your fill of authentic experiences. Umea was voted the European Capital of Culture in 2014 and it’s easy for a visitor to access the rich cultural life. From summer music festivals to the celebration of Sami culture, this city is a destination on its own and also serves as the gateway to experience farther north. Lapland is a winter destination with amazing winter adventures like dog sledding, staying in ice hotels and catching the northern lights. Though not the warmest of adventures, it’s a unique experience and one that tops the list for many.
If the winter wonderland of Lapland isn’t in your plan, perhaps heading to southern Sweden might fulfill some of your travel wanderlust. Both Gothenburg and Malmo are located in south Sweden and offer a variety of cool things to see and do. Whether it’s a visit to the Feskekôrka and botanical gardens in Gothenburg or visiting the Moderna Museet and Turning Torso Tower in Malmö, there’s plenty of Swedish inspiration in the south. This region is also known for quaint fishing villages like Mölle and Arild and beautiful seaside towns including Torekov and Båstad.
Go to a Midsummer Festival
Midsummer Festival is a celebration that takes place June 24th on the summer solstice – complete with dancing, traditional food and homemade vodka. It’s a common celebration in many northern countries but Swedes pull out all the stops. Sweden is so far north that during midsummer the sun doesn’t set until 10pm in Stockholm and near midnight in the far north, if ever. The Midsummer Festival has been a cultural tradition in Sweden for centuries and the Swedes feast on favorites like (you guessed it) herring and potatoes – a dish that takes center stage at many Swedish holidays, served with fresh dill, sour cream and chives. Midsummer is a family celebration where relatives gather together, pick flowers and make wreaths to place on the maypole and while dancing in traditional ring dances. Some of the best festivals are in the countryside often far outside the big cities.
Have you ever considered a visit to Sweden? Which authentic experience most interests you? Let us know in the comments below.
Note: This article was sponsored by Visit Sweden, however rest assured all opinions are 100% our own and we would never sacrifice our integrity for a sponsorship. Featured image by Stefan Lins via Flickr CC / BY.