Yes, the saunas are great (and these days, the Volvos, a lot less boxy). But do you really know how good things are in central Scandinavia? Riveting cities, hotels of ice, a cutting edge foodie scene and the cleanest air on earth: it’s pretty clear that the Swedes are amongst those who do it best.
We’ve got you covered with seven reasons why you should be there right now:
1. A hotel made of ice
Welcome to the world’s first and only hotel constructed entirely of ice and snow. Sound cosy? Well, actually, it is. Located far north in Jukkasjärv, ICEHOTEL is as much an art exhibition as it is an accommodation hub. Made from the frozen water of one of Europe’s last wild rivers 200 km north of the Arctic Circle, the walls, ceilings and floors here function as art canvasses of designers from a number of creative disciplines. Founded in 1989, the entire 5,500 square meter complex (including Ice church and an Icebar) melts every spring, only to spring up again the following winter.
2. The greatest treehouse of all time
If the whole arctic ice thing doesn’t float your moat, there’s always the alpine option. Located high up (but not too high up) in a sleepy township called Harads, roughly 100 km from Luleå airport, Treehotel is another awesome concept hotel: it sports ‘treerooms’ with contemporary design suspended in 100 year old spruce trees. Conceived by some of Europe’s most innovative architects, each cabin, from the dragonfly, to the ethereal mirror cube, to the UFO, is a work of art. Needless to say, the view from each secluded lodge is incredible: an inspiring vista of the glorious Lulea Valley and surrounds. Stress, you stand no chance here.
3. Air that smells like…air
First step off the plane in Sweden, you’ll notice something peculiar about the air. It’s very breathable. Like, seriously…who knew oxygen could get you so high? Indeed, this was the air that your lungs were designed to pump. Frequently listed in the top 10 cleanest air cities in the world, Stockholm sports a slick public transport network, wide cycling lanes for two wheeled travel, and the largest percentage of clean vehicles in Europe (around 5 per cent are hybrids). Add the extensive archipelago of over 24,000 islands surrounded by fresh and salt water, and it’s not hard to see why the rest of place feels so darn good to take in – the further north or inland you head, the cleaner and more invigorating it gets.
4. Home sweet Stockholm
But of course, it’s not just fresh air and Teslas that make Sweden a swell place to be. Its cities, and in particular it’s capital, offers a stunning range of things to see and do. Stockholm is a riveting hub: be awestruck in the lavish castles grounds of the 13th century ‘Gamla Stan’ old town, where tulip spires and cobbled lanes simmer in the nippy night; the glorious waterfront and ferry rides; its a cutting edge foodie and bar scene (particularly in the trendy areas of Ostermalm, and the gentrified island of Sodermalm) Even a fly by night trip will attest: Stockholm keeps it classy.
5. Nude saunas in the snow. For real.
No trip to Sweden is complete without a bona fide hot sauna experience. What’s not to love about hot wood smells, nudity, and the rising anticipation of a wall of fresh steam in your face? Whether you’re in the city, further south or high in the northern wilderness, Sweden is the country to lump yourself into a cosy wood shack, let it all hang out over a schnapps or two and sweat like a pig, before hurling yourself into the nearest subzero river for a breath-shuddering, shrinkage inducing, exasperated culmination!
6. Lapland. Just Lapland.
Indeed, the further north you head, the more incredible it gets. High up on the artic circle you’ll find the Swedish Lapland: a vast wilderness of natural delights. Here in the winter, the area becomes a white wonder world of dog sledding, ice fishing, snowmobiling and outdoor trekking; in the summer: a stunning explosion of colour where the Midnight Sun burns 24-7 over endless, lush spruce and birch. Dig the Nightless Night!
7. One amazing light show
Of the Lapland’s chief deal sealers, of course, remains the Aurora Borealis, the awe-inspiring Northern Lights, which dance and flow like eerie jade lava all over the skyline from October on. Sweden’s indigenous people, the Sami, believed they had power over the lights: whistling beneath them would summon them closer; while other ancient peoples feared them as ghostly spirits. On the other hand, if you ask the Japanese, getting jiggy under the Borealis is allegedly a sure fire way to bring about good, healthy, happy offspring.
Want to get your IKEA on in Sweden? Step right this way.
Feature image c/o Arvid Bring, Flickr