Swedes seem to take such a high level of pride in maintaining quality lodging that even the most humble hostel or country cottage feels like a special hideaway. And that's not even taking into account the magnificent lakeside castles and sylvan manor houses that open their doors to overnight visitors.
Thanks to the rigorous oversight of lodging associations that gauge hotels, inns and farmstays, you will find that even the most basic properties in Sweden are fit for a king.
Sweden is one of 15 European nations that follow a standardized system to classify hotel quality. The Hotelstars Union examines 270 different criteria and awards between one and five stars to each hotel.
Based on those standards, 96 percent of all evaluated Swedish hotels are rated with three or four stars. The official Hotelstars directory lists a single one-star hotel and just 19 two-star hotels in the entire country. It's obvious that Swedish hoteliers take great pride in maintaining high standards for their properties.
Three-star hotels have a reception desk staffed at least 14 hours a day, Internet access, baggage service, and guestrooms with private bathrooms and televisions. A five-star hotel will staff a reception desk 24 hours daily, have restaurants that are open every day of the week, and offer turn-down service, minibars, bathrobes and extra toiletries in rooms, among other amenities. There are two five-star hotels in Stockholm: the Grand Hotel and the Nobis Hotel.
You may see some star-rated hotels further designated with the word "superior," which means the lodge has tallied enough points to fall into the higher end of its star category range. The aforementioned Grand Hotel, for instance, is the only "five-star superior" hotel in the country.
Another term you'll likely encounter is garni, which indicates that the only food the hotel serves is breakfast. Hotels in Sweden generally include buffet breakfasts -- some of which can be rather lavish -- in the nightly hotel rate.
The star rating is posted on a sign outside the main entrance, along with a sticker indicating the year it was rated.
Sweden Hotel Resources:
In Sweden, you can live in your own fairy tale fantasy by staying at one of the many castles and manor houses that have been converted into grand hotels. The majority are concentrated around Lake Malaren, Uppland and Stockholm -- the region that comprises Sweden's "Royal Capital."
Between Malmo and Stockholm there are 10 different castles and mansions offering overnight lodging. These include the 14th-century Hackeberga Castle, which sits on one of seven private islands on a lake of the same name, and Bjertorp Slott, an Art Nouveau-style mansion built in 1914.
As these are generally five-star properties, you can expect rates of at least $400 per night, which includes breakfast. Many are known for their gourmet restaurants and extensive wine lists, and package deals including additional meals are often available.
Sweden Castle and Manor House Resources:
Whether you want to lend a hand by participating in chores or just relax on your own, more than 300 working farms throughout Sweden offer lodging to guests.
Farms that are registered with the national farmstay organization Bo Pa Lantgard ("Stay on a Farm") agree to meet certain criteria and are rated on a scale of one to five "corn ears" (comparable to a hotel star rating, with five ears equivalent to a first-class property). Accommodations fall into two categories: bed-and-breakfast-style rooms with often-indulgent homemade meals to start the day, or so-called "self-catering" cottages or cabins where you are responsible for your own meals.
You can opt to help with such farm duties as chopping wood, collecting eggs or feeding animals. Some farms offer more leisurely activities too, including fishing, birding, horseback riding and bicycling. Hallstad Farm in Vastergotland, for example, is a traditional farm where the owners raise Icelandic horses, cattle, sheep, lambs, rabbits and pigs. The owners of Torpet Farm in Hardehall farm the land using workhorses instead of heavy equipment and also run a horse school for competitions and train horses for animal-assisted therapy. On the other side of the spectrum, Skatauddens Farm in Norrbotten has a floating wood sauna off a small dock on a lake.
Most farms are open to guests year-round. In fact, they are popular in the winter, especially as many farms with guest accommodations are within 30 miles of ski resorts. Check for special weekend rates.
Sweden Farmstay Resources:
Sleeping aboard a permanently docked, recently renovated ship would seem to be a pricey and posh lodging option. But in Sweden, the af Chapman is actually a reasonably priced hostel in Stockholm.
Called vandrarhem, hostels in Sweden can be found all over the country and are open to travelers of all ages. It's a popular option for budget travelers, with several hundred hostels everywhere from mountain ski areas to islands and beaches -- even former state prisons, as is the case with the 26-room Gamla Fangelset in Umea.
Most hostels offer breakfast buffets and access to kitchens and living and dining spaces. Guests are expected to bring their own linens and towels (or rent them) and to clean their rooms "to the satisfaction of the next guest" (or pay for cleaning services).
Sweden Hostel Resources:
The majority of the Swedish countryside is still blanketed in old-growth forests, rolling meadows and azure lakes. Tucked in the middle of it all are cabins and cottages that are available to rent.
Privately owned cottages usually rent by the week, with higher, peak-season rates between June and August. Quite a good number of the cottages seem quaint and historic from the outside but are decked out with more amenities than you would expect. On the website of the home rental company Stugknuten, for example, we spotted one listing on the island of Gotland for a gingerbread house-like cottage, with whitewashed walls and decorative cedar shingles on the roof. But inside, there's a sleekly designed and fully equipped kitchen, flat-screen televisions and modern furniture.
Note that the standard in Sweden is for guests to bring their own bed linens and towels and to clean before departing.
Sweden Cottage Resources:
Camping is a popular activity among Swedes during the short summer season. The National Swedish Campsite Association operates more than 500 campsites across the country, with 75,000 camping pitches and 9,000 cabins.
To stay at a campsite, you must purchase a camping membership card; the Camping Key Europe card can be bought online at Camping.se or at the first campsite you visit. The card is valid through the end of the year and includes some travel discounts (such as reduced fares on ferries to and from Sweden) and accident and liability insurance while you're staying at the campsite.
Sweden Camping Resources:
--written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma