You could summarize the Swedish summer experience by saying it's all about making the most of the long days by spending them outdoors — ut och njut! (get outside and enjoy it!) as the Swedes say. That means doing your shopping at a flea market, eating in parks and on outdoor terraces even if it means being bitten alive by mosquitoes, and spending weekends hiking.
These are seven highlights of any Swedish summer.
As long as there have been humans living on what we now call Sweden, they have lived off the land, picking the berries that grow in the country's vast forests. These days, a summer's day spent hunting for fruit is a cheap and fun activity with a delicious reward. The season usually begins around mid-July, and you'd better be quick because there's sure to be competition for the best patches.
There are two caveats to mention before you head out into nature with your basket. The first is to exercise caution, since there are poisonous varieties of berries too, so either go with someone who knows what they're doing or do your own research.
The second is to be aware that Swedes are often protective about the best spots for foraging, so don't be offended if they refuse to divulge where they get their annual berry haul, and if a friend does let you in on the secret, make sure not to share it with anyone else.
You're most likely to find wild blueberries, which grow all over Sweden, while those in the know can hunt down strawberries, lingonberries, and cloudberries too.
Photo: Anna Hållams/imagebank.sweden.se
Swim in still-cold water
If you haven’t yet taken your first outdoor swim of the year, it’s time to change that.
There’s something truly special about jumping into water that you might be walking or skating over when it freezes later in the year. Sweden has plenty of lakes, many of them right by the major cities, so you're never too far from a bathing opportunity, and luckily most of the country's swimming spots are extremely clean.
It’s true that temperatures are often on the chilly side, but that’s what the sauna is for — or you can use this map to find the warmest body of water near you.
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Photo: Clive Tompsett/imagebank.sweden.se
Use an outdoor toilet
OK, this might not be as Instagram-worthy as the other items on this list, but if you’re serious about wanting an authentic Scandinavian summer, it’s a must-do. Many Swedish summer houses have an outdoor, dry toilet rather than indoor plumbing, and for a lot of people it’s seen as a feature rather than something you just have to put up with.
If you don’t have the chance to visit a summer cabin, you’ll find outdoor toilets along many of the country’s hiking trails and in nature reserves. Instead of dreading the experience, try to find the joy in getting back to basics (and remember to bring toilet paper).
Photo: Helena Wahlman/imagebank.sweden.se
Go to a concert
Dancing along to your favourite music outside is one of the best ways to spend a sunny evening. There are several major festivals that take place in Sweden each summer, including Way Out West in Gothenburg, Storsjöyran in Östersund, and Summerburst in Stockholm. Here's our pick of ten of the best.
Alternatively, just look for an outdoor concert. In the capital, the Gröna Lund theme park plays host to internationally known names and up-and-coming Swedish acts throughout the summer, and once you’ve paid for entry once, your ticket is valid for the rest of the season. The Mosebacke Terrassen in the Södermalm neighbourhood is another great outdoor music venue.
Trädgården is another Stockholm spot for outdoor music. Photo: Tove Freiij/imagebank.sweden.se
Try a new sport
The long days, summer vacation, and relaxed vibe in the cities make summer the perfect time to pick up a new sport. Perhaps you've always dreamed of paddle-boarding or kayaking around your local lake, trying out yoga in a park, or taking up climbing.
Alternatively, hiking or cycling is a great way to see more of the country while keeping fit, and you might even decide to try the classic Swedish sport of orienteering.
Photo: Henrik Trygg/imagebank.sweden.se
Eat the right food
Swedes tend to eat with the seasons, so swap the warming husmanskost of the winter for a barbecue (just check up on any local fire bans beforehand) or a classic crayfish party. Other typical summer dishes include anything you can make with berries, strawberries, or rhubarb, and of course, herring (just not all in the same dish).
The doubters might point out that in Sweden herring is eaten year-round, and that's certainly true, but late August is the traditional start of 'fermented herring season' when people crack open tins of the country's stinkiest delicacy. Not one for the faint-hearted.
Photo: Lola Akinmade Åkerström/imagebank.sweden.se
Visit an island
Really, any island will do, and Sweden is home to thousands. The archipelagos around Stockholm and Gothenburg are a good place to start for quick break from the big cities, but there’s no need to stop there. There are more archipelagos in Sweden’s largest lake, Vänern, where you can take a boat trip or kayak between islands, or up north in the Gulf of Bothnia.
For those seeking a livelier island experience, Gotland is a classic summer destination with plenty of restaurants and nightlife as well as sand and sea, reachable by flight or ferry, and Öland can be reached by a bridge across the mainland.
And up in Lapland, there are islands that feel like remote idylls: Brändöskär and Sandön near Luleå, the stunning Arjeplog among the mountains, and the unique haven of Skvalpen, which is only open to visitors from August onwards to protect the sea birds that live there.