The history of Sweden began on its coastline, where hunters and fishermen utilized the natural resources of the region. In 4,000 BC, farming was introduced to these early people, and they began migrating into the mainland. Sweden was able to resist the rule of the Roman Empire, but they did enter into trade agreements with the Romans.
In the 7th century AD, the Svea people, who inhabited the Malaren Valley, became the rulers of the region, and from them, Sweden got its name. It was not until the Viking Age, from 800 to 1100, that Sweden began to impact world history. It was during this time that Norsemen, known today as Vikings, left the shores of Sweden in large numbers, raiding the European coast.
In the 9th century, Christianity came to Sweden, and Olof Skotkonung, Sweden’s first Christian king, came to the throne. Pagan worship continued until 1160, when King Erik Jedvarsson was successful in destroying the remains of the pagan Vikings.
This ushered in a period when various kings came to power and slowly unified the Swedish state. Kings prevented the aristocracy from setting up too strong a feudal system, and a period with a relatively stable monarchy lasted until 1350. Then the Black Death hit Sweden hard, eliminating about a third of the population.
When the Hanseatic League began taking over the region, the Scandinavian countries were forced to unite in order to protect themselves. Under Erik of Pomerania, the Union of Kalmar, which included Denmark, Norway and Sweden, were able to keep the Hanseatic League at bay. High taxes were necessary for this war, however, and internal struggles were the result. In 1440, Sten Sture the Elder came out as the leader of Sweden and was able to begin fighting against the Union. The revolution was quite bloody, and it was not until 1523 that Sweden was able to completely secede from the Union, with Gustav Ericsson Vasa as its king.
Gustav Vasa was able to unify the nation-state quite well, converting the country to Protestantism during his reign. When he died in 1560, his sons fought for the throne, and the Danes tried to regain control of the country, but failed. After the Vasa line of rulers left the scene, Sweden was able to recapture the remaining pieces of territory still held by the Danes.
The 17th century was the peak of Sweden’s history. The country was responsible for several major medical findings, and even had a colony in the Americas in what is now Delaware. However, King Karl XII was bit too enthusiastic about his military endeavors, and ended up losing some of his land to Russia. When he was killed, Sweden’s military powers floundered.
Thus the country entered into a period of decline, which did not improve until the Industrial Revolution in the mid 1800s. Interestingly, the addition of industry to Sweden changed the country from one of the poorest in Europe, to one of the richest, and introduced the middle class to society.
Sweden was able to remain neutral during World War I, but during World War II Sweden was not quite so neutral. The Swedes provided a haven for Norwegian refugees, yet they had allowed the Nazis to march through the country to occupy Norway to begin with. After the war, the 1950s and 1960s brought a period of economic prosperity, as the country was able to improve standard of living for most of its people and virtually eliminate poverty.
This prosperity did not last, however. The late 20th century was a period of economic struggle, which led Sweden to join the European Union in 1995. After that decision, a few reforms brought a bit more economic stability to Sweden.
- Swedes value the role of parents. New moms are given 13 months of maternity leave, and parents are given tax-subsidized daycare, including a free month of daycare for older children when they have a baby.
- Swedish is the official language of the country, but most people speak fluent English.
- The Swedes value the environment. To try to make changes, the government is phasing out all use of nuclear power plants in the country. They are also making strides to be the first country to switch entirely from petrol to biofuel.
- The Swedes value health and natural living. Interestingly, they have the highest life expectancy in Europe.
- Want to work in Sweden? The perks are great. Your employer will be required to provide you with free massage therapy, and you are guaranteed five weeks of paid vacation each year. Oh, and you can even take a sick day if you’re ill during your vacation.
- Christmas is celebrated on Christmas Eve. It is traditional for the father to go out to buy a newspaper, during which time Santa, which is usually dad in disguise, will appear to deliver presents.
- Americans may be crazed about Ikea, but in Sweden, it is considered a discount furniture store, not a trendy one.
- Sweden granted suffrage to women in 1862, becoming the first country to do so.
- Products purchased in Sweden must be guaranteed for one year, and if it fails the retailer must replace it.
- Gamla Stan – This Old Town in Stockholm is filled with history, but be careful of its winding streets. It’s easy to get lost here, but you won’t be sorry if you do!
- Drottningholm Slott – This is the private residence of the Swedish royal family. You will be impressed with its grandeur and the beautiful sculpture gardens.
- Gotland – The beautiful beaches here welcome thousands of visitors each year, while the cycling paths encourage you to actively explore the region.
- Visby – Don’t let the medieval wall here fool you. Beyond it is a thriving party town where the locals go on holiday.
- Lappland – Lappland is where you want to go if you wish to see Sweden’s mountains and wilderness areas.
- Ice Hotel – Pack your parka and book an overnight stay in this hotel, which is made new each year entirely out of ice.
- Lake Siljan – Lake Siljan serves as the backdrop of many of Sweden’s famous festivals.
- Kalmar Slott – This castle, built during the Renaissance, looks like something out of a fairy tale picture book. Keep your eyes peeled for secret passages during your tour.
- Carl Larsson Garden – The home of this famous painter is a work of art well worth touring.
- Foteviken Viking Reserve – One of the few remnants of the Viking era, this living history village is packed with people re-enacting life as a Viking.
How to Get Cash
- ATMs are common in Sweden. You are limited in how much you can withdraw from ATMs, but they are an option if you carry a credit or debit card.
- Most stores, restaurants, bars and hotels throughout Sweden accept major credit cards. However, local merchants and vendors may not. Also, domestic ferries will not accept credit cards.
- You can exchange money at an exchange booth or a local bank, but the exchange rate on credit cards is almost always more favorable. You may be best off using the ATM to get some cash and your credit card for most other purchases.
- Western Union and other money transfer services can help if you are in a pinch and have someone back home who can send money your way. Be prepared for steep fees if you have to use this service, but don/t be afraid to use it in an emergency.