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Gap Year in Sweden

Gap years travellers can experience modern cities smattered with medieval architecture in this cool country.

Enjoy traditional festivities, outdoor activities and (if you go at the right time) the phenomena of the Midnight Sun, where the sun no longer sets.

Why visit Sweden during a Gap year?

Two words – mamma mia.

Sorry, did that put you off? If you like the outdoor life, whether for leisure/sporting activities or for peace and quiet, then Sweden is a worth a look.

It has three sizable cities: Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmo for the buzz of urban life, plus many small towns with quiet attractions. 

If you want to hear the English Language spoken properly Sweden is a good bet, and if you can learn to speak a little Swedish you will probably make some friends for life.

Sweden is the third largest of the countries of the European Union, and one of the most sparsely populated.

A land of forest and woodland (78% of the country is thus) and lakes, over 90,000 of them including the third largest in Europe – Lake Vanern.

Often cited as an example of social progress and cohesion, Sweden has the world’s most equal income distribution and the third lowest infant mortality.

It has also sharpened up its economic performance to the extent that the World Economic Forum now rates Sweden as the second most competitive world economy.

Of course there is a darker side, or have I been watching too much Wallender and reading too much Stieg Larsson?

This country was a major player in Europe during the seventeenth and eighteen centuries, primarily between 1611 and 1721, however after defeat in the Great Northern War by Russia and her allies, Sweden started to shrink back to her current borders.

Sweden has a long standing policy of non-alignment and neutrality in wars.

What to see and do in Sweden on your Gap year

Let’s start in the south with Sweden’s largest island, Gotland; located almost equidistant between Sweden and Latvia.

Very popular with Swedes during the summer months it can get a little crowded.

The island has a rich culture, originally having its own language, Gutnish which has now been absorbed in to Swedish with an accent.

There are an amazing ninety four medieval churches and a tradition of outdoor games, like Kubb and Varpa, which basically consist of throwing things at other things to knock them down.

The main town on the island is Visby which was a member of the Hanseatic League during the fourteenth century.

This League was composed of a number of North European cities with tariff and customs arrangements that facilitated the development of trade.

On the island quantities of Arabic coins have been found, a testament to the interconnectivity of world trade in medieval times.

The town is a UNESCO world heritage site with a well preserved medieval centre and is partly enclosed by a city wall – the Ringmuren.

At the northern tip of Gotland is the small island of Faro, the sometime home and place of death for one of Sweden’s and film’s greats Ingmar Bergman.

Several of his films, including "Through a Glass Darkly" were filmed there.

The island is accessed via a short ferry crossing.

Gotland itself can be reached by ferry from Oskarshamn and Nynashamn; it is possibly to fly in to Visby Airport.

If you want to try a new sporting activity, then how about Kitewing?

Essentially this is wind surfing on a frozen lake with skates replacing the board.

More details about the sport can be found at www.kitewing.com and some further information on www.visitsweden.com.

Stockholm - the heart of Sweden’s capital is mainly located on an archipelago of fourteen islands; hence the title of ‘Venice of the North’. 

Like Visby it gained importance as a member of the Hanseatic League.

Gamla Stan (old town) is a pleasant area of cobbled streets and mainly seventeenth and eighteenth century buildings, many similar to the architecture of Northern Germany.

Here you will find the baroque Royal Palace, home of Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia.

Sweden was the first country (1980) to change the succession rules to cognate primogeniture, meaning that eldest child, male or female is next in line to the throne. Crown Prince Victoria thence became heir apparent ahead of her younger brother.

The palace is open to the public, so you are able to see the royal apartments and the treasury containing the crown jewels. More details at www.kungahuset.se

Also on Gamla Stan is the Nobel Museum, dedicated to Alfred (1833-96) who wanted to be remembered for something more that the destructive power of dynamite. Further details at www.nobelmuseum.se.

In 1545 in the Solent off the Isle of Wight one of the premier ships of Henry VIII’s navy, the Mary Rose heeled over and sank.

People of a certain age remember back to 1982 when the ship was raised from the seabed.

In 1628 the Swedish warship, the Vasa set sail on her maiden voyage but, like the Mary Rose capsized in sight of land.

In 1961 the Vasa was raised, and in the eighties I saw the ship in its temporary home. What I remember was the constant spraying of water on what remained of the ship’s timbers to prevent further decay.

Now the Vasa has a permanent home on the island of Djurgarden, and from thousands of pieces the vessel has been restored to a seventeenth century warship. Well worth your time; more details at www.vasamuseet.se.

Goteburg’s amusement park is the Lisberg. Here you can experience speeds up to a hundred kilometres per hour and four G on the Atmosfear, and/or a kilometre of ups and downs including a seventy percent descent on the rollercoaster Balder.

Balder is a character in Norse Mythology whose name, in some translations means ‘the white, the good’.

The former is likely to be true; hopefully adrenaline will provide the latter.

Sweden and Scandinavia in general, has a reputation for good practical design in architecture and general everyday objects.

The Rohsska museum in Gothenburg offers a range of exhibits with an emphasis on Nordic designs of aesthetic and technical quality. More details at www.designmuseum.se.

An opportunity to see the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) appears on many peoples’ hit lists.

The swirling red, green, purple lights occur in winter in the northern latitudes where gases in the atmosphere meet solar particles (science makes it less romantic, don’t you think?).

Sweden offers many places from which to view the lights: two examples being Abisko National Park and the village of Jukkasjarvi; the latter boasting the world’s first ice hotel.

Bear in mind that the light show on any night can vary from very brief to several hours’ worth.

General Information for Gap year travellers

Fifteen percent of Sweden is within the Arctic Circle therefore when we look at average temperatures there is quite a range.

In the north, Kiruna has a January average of minus ten and in July plus seventeen Celsius.

In the south, Stockholm, minus one and plus twenty three Celsius.

Sweden is quite an expensive place to stay in with regard to accommodation costs.

The Swedes in general love the outdoor life, so you could consider a spot of camping.

Sites are numerous and usually well equipped (obviously not luxuriously equipped – this is camping). A camping card offers discounts on site costs and, in some cases the ferry crossing.

The tourism site www.sweden.se directs you to www.camping.se, but other offers may be available.

You can get combined hotel and camping vouchers, so you can wimp off to bricks and mortar if it pours.