Capital city: Stockholm
Population: 9.74 million (SCB)
Government: Unitary parliamentary democracy, constitutional monarchy
Currency: Swedish krona (SEK, kr)
Main language: Swedish
Main religion: Christianity
Bordering Norway to the west and Finland to the north-east, Sweden occupies the central swathe of the Fennoscandia region. With a 7,000 kilometre coastline on the Baltic Sea, Sweden was once the centre of a dominant northern European empire, but has been famously neutral since its last conflict with Norway ended in 1814. Today, under a democratic parliament and largely symbolic monarchy, Sweden is part of the European Union and enjoys a high standard of living.
From early Germanic settlements through the Viking age and beyond, Sweden has been a culturally fluid country and continues to attract inward migration well into the twenty-first century. Up to 15% of the population is believed to have been born outside Sweden, yet the country retains a strong identity of its own. The Sami traditions of the north sit alongside the modern cities that are now home to 85% of the population, contributing to a diverse and vibrant Swedish culture.
With Sweden’s sparsely populated countryside and beautiful scenery, it’s understandable that many people there like to spend time outdoors and enjoy the natural surroundings. The most popular sport to play and watch in Sweden is football, but equestrian sports, ice hockey and numerous other winter sports are also enjoyed by this highly active nation. Sweden has a proud history of exporting music from all kinds of genres, so fashionable festivals and varied nightlife abound, while museums and heritage sites attract tourists and academics alike.
Food and drink
Traditionally hearty and warming, Swedish cuisine comes from a fairly simple style of cooking, although top chefs have developed modern interpretations that embrace more sophisticated techniques too. Historically there was something of a north/south divide, with game meats common in the Arctic regions and seafood more readily available in the south. Today, the staple foods include potatoes and different breads, with favourite dishes like meatballs, herring and crayfish popular across the country along with a number of sweet treats. Coffee is widely consumed, while fruit soups are a Scandinavian tradition that can be served hot or cold. Beer or snaps are usually the alcoholic drinks of choice.
While Swedish is the official language in Sweden, it is widely considered to be mutually intelligible with Norwegian and Danish. This has led some scholars to debate whether the three should be considered separate languages or different dialects of one language. However, neither Norwegian nor Danish are officially recognised languages of Sweden. The next most widely spoken first language is in fact Finnish, while Sami, Meänkieli, Yiddish and Romani Chib are also recognised as minority languages. English is widely spoken as a second language.
Those who imagine Sweden as a frozen landscape are often surprised to learn that much of the country enjoys a temperate climate despite its latitude. In fact, it is only in the very extreme north of Sweden that the arctic climate really takes hold, with long cold winters and brief summers. Central and southern Sweden actually have a climate more akin to that in Britain, with cool winters and warm summers. However, the longer summer days and longer winter nights do tend to change people’s perception of Swedish weather.
Safety and security
Sweden is considered a very safe place to live and work, with the vast majority of reported criminal acts recorded as minor offences. Road safety is also very good, and while wintry conditions can make some areas treacherous, the country generally deals with snow and ice on the road very efficiently. As driving laws are quite strict in Sweden, foreign nationals should ensure that they are familiar with the rules of the road – particularly the tough legislation relating to drinking and driving.