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The Local's ultimate guide to exploring Sweden by train

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The Local's ultimate guide to exploring Sweden by train
Taking the train is a sustainable and beautiful way to see Sweden. Photo: Melker Dahlstrand/imagebank.sweden.se
15:29 CEST+02:00
Travelling by train is an excellent way to explore Sweden from top to toe, taking in varying landscapes at a relaxed pace. Figuring out the journey itself is not always so relaxing though, so The Local has put together some tips on how to plan your Sweden rail adventure and where you should go.

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The basics

The three main cities of Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö are all well-served by rail, allowing you to explore your local region as well as venturing further afield, even beyond the Arctic Circle. 

If you're looking for a staycation, each region has its own train company with routes to take you to the suburbs and neighbouring towns, such as Storstockholms Lokaltrafik (SL) in the Stockholm area and Skånetrafiken in Skåne. See how far your travel card will take you and take a day trip to a new spot; for example, from Stockholm you can travel south to Nynäshamn by commuter train.

For long distance travel, there are several companies you can travel with for journeys across the entire country, and even into Denmark, Norway and Germany.

SJ (Sveriges Järnväg or Sweden's Railway) has more than 1,200 departures each day, covering most of the country, and is the dominant rail travel provider. It offers regional and intercity trains, as well as high-speed trains (snabbtåg) which travel up to 200 km/h, so you can get to small towns, big cities, and even connect to international hubs including Oslo and Copenhagen.

Night trains are available from SJ too. From either Gothenburg or Stockholm, you can travel to Östersund, Åre, Duved, Boden, Luleå, Kiruna, Abisko, Björkliden, Riksgränsen, and Narvik, and there's also an overnight service between Stockholm and Malmö (find the complete map here). For these, reservations are compulsory, with the options including seats, 6-bed couchettes, and single or three-bed sleeper carriages.

An alternative choice for overnight trains north from Gothenburg and Stockholm is Tågkompaniet (The Train Company), which offers routes to Boden, Kiruna, Luleå and Narvik day and night, and also runs the lines north of Härnösand. Find timetables here.


Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

The Inlandsbanan, originally built as a freight route, is now a tourist train offering slow travel options and package tours from Kristinehamn in the south of Sweden up to Gällivare in the north beyond the Arctic Circle.

Snälltåget takes passengers from Stockholm to Malmö throughout the year. In winter and autumn there's the additional option of an overnight service from Malmö to Åre and Vemdalen, two northern ski resorts, and in the summer, you can get the night train to Berlin.

SJ and most regional train services accept Interrail, Eurail, and Sweden Rail Pass tickets. If you want to see a lot of different places, these can be great value – especially if booking each leg of the journey in advance isn't an option. 

For example, the Eurail Scandinavia Pass will get you around Sweden as well as Denmark, Norway, and Finland, though there's a small supplement for certain trains. Remember that any seat reservations would be an additional cost too.

Booking tips

If you're a pensioner, full-time student, or aged under 26, you'll usually get a discount, and there are reductions for families and young children too. When booking with SJ, be aware that rail fares vary according to the time and popularity of the journey, and the best time to book is usually 90 days in advance, when you might score 70 percent off the full price. And don't forget to check for any special seasonal offers!

Swedish trains are typically very modern, with comfortable seats and Wi-Fi. On a long-distance train, you'll usually have a choice of first or second class, with various options for food and drink, and there's usually a quiet carriage for those with work to do or sleep to catch up on as well as a carriage specifically for passengers with pets.


Photo: Jörgen Svendsen/Scanpix/TT

Bucket list trips

If you're still struggling to know where to start, here are our top picks for train travel across Sweden.

Blå Tåget: Stockholm to Gothenburg

Travel time: Approximately 4 hours

Ticket cost: Starting from around 400 kronor (second class)

The journey from Stockholm to Gothenburg is one of the most popular train routes in Sweden, but this is a way of doing it differently – and it's perfect if you really wish you could travel in time as well as across the country. The Blue Train uses vintage 1960s carriages, modernized to offer Wi-Fi and plenty of charging spots, but preserving that retro feel.

For more options along the same route, SJ offers several departures each day or there's the high-speed MTR Express.

 

A post shared by Per Ekström (@pextrom) on

Inlandsbanan

This 1,300-km route stretches almost the entire length of the country. Although originally built as a freight route, the Inlandsbanan is now aimed at tourists, running only during the summer months.

The train stops for meal and activity breaks, including swimming and fishing in the country's lakes and berry-picking in the countryside, as well as pausing for photo opportunities – look out for reindeer, elk, lynx and wolves! It's possible to extend the journey into neighbouring Norway, or choose one of the company's package tours, with themes such as adventure travel or Sami culture.

Some of the southern parts involve switches to a bus if you do the full journey, but from Mora in the central Dalarna region, it's a train-only experience. If you've only got a short time, the northernmost section (from Östersund to Gällivare) provides the most impressive views.

Travel time and ticket costs vary significantly depending on the route and package you choose, but the full trip is a long one! A 14-day pass starts at 1,995 kronor for over-25-year-olds (but two under-15s can travel for free), while a 10-day trip from Kristinehamn to Gällivare starts at 9,990 kronor for an adult sharing a double room. More information can be found here.

 

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Kiruna - Narvik

Travel time: Between 2hrs 39 and 3hrs 22

Ticket cost: Starting from 115 kronor

A cheaper and faster option for exploring the north is to tackle the final stretch of the epic Stockholm to Narvik (Norway) route, one of the world's most beautiful train journeys. Depending on the time of year, you might see the northern lights and midnight sun, go dog-sledding or check out the Ice Hotel, and all year round you'll get views out over mountains and stunning scenery.

There's also the option to get an Arctic Circle Pass, allowing you to get on and off the train at different stations (there are 12 to choose from), for up to three days in total. You can reach Kiruna from Stockholm on an overnight train, with two services departing each day.

Malmö - Copenhagen

Travel time: Approximately 35 minutes

Ticket cost: Starting from around 111 kronor with the Öresundståg, while tickets for the 32-minute SJ high-speed train start at 145 kronor

Train is the fastest way to make the journey between these two capital cities, and you'll cross the famous Öresund Bridge. The trip should get off to a good start as Malmö's train station is modern with award-winning architecture and plenty of facilities – and views from train journeys across the world projected onto the walls while you wait for the train. 


The spectacular bridge. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Lidköping - Mariestad (via Kinnekulle)

Travel time: Approximately 50 minutes

Ticket cost: Starting from around 104 kronor for second class

This stretch was recently voted Sweden's most scenic train journey, so it's a beautiful starting point. 

You'll ride over the Kinnekulle plateau mountain, passing through an area known for its stunning natural beauty and wildlife. Once in Mariestad, there are well-preserved 18th-century buildings to admire, the cathedral to visit, and the option of boat tours or bathing in the vast Lake Vänern.

Huskvarna - Bankeryd

Travel time: Approximately 16 minutes

Ticket cost: Starting from 30 kronor for an adult

It's only a short trip, but if you sit on the east side of the train you'll get a clear, uninterrupted view of Lake Vättern for the entire journey, making it well worth doing if you're in the southern region of Jönköping. Find more information and book tickets through Jönköpings länstrafik.

Ljusdal - Ånge

Travel time: Approximately 1hr 4 minutes

Ticket cost: Starting from 95 kronor

SJ operates this route in the geographical centre of Sweden, taking in charming villages, vast forests and lakes such as Letssjön and Hennan along the way. Ånge is known for being the hometown of a surprisingly high number of Swedish musical acts, and there's beautiful nature to explore, or you could get the train onwards to Sundsvall or to Trondheim, Norway in the opposite direction.

Torsby - Kil

Travel time: Approximately 1hr 15 minutes

Ticket cost: 130 kronor

Tågkompaniet operates this stretch, via Värmlandstrafik, which is a single, non-electrified track. It passes through the Fryken chain of three lakes and has been running for over 100 years.

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