With a reputation as a high-cost destination, Sweden often gets cut from the budget traveler’s itinerary. Although there is good reason for this—Sweden is certainly not cheap—you can visit this country without breaking the bank. All it takes is some planning and a little research.
And it’s definitely worth the effort, given Sweden’s beautiful rolling countryside and hip, friendly cities. So read on to see how you can make traveling to Sweden a reality – even on a backpacker’s budget.
In order to avoid breaking the bank, plan your Scandinavian visit for late August and September. Flights and hotels are cheapest at this time because it is not peak travel season. Keep a close eye on prices when they start to drop in order to get the best deal. You can do this by signing up for alerts on websites like Expedia.
In addition to lower prices, the weather at this time is mild and the temperature remains warm enough to still enjoy outdoor activities. However, snow has been known to fall in September, so don’t forget your jacket!
One of the largest expenses of any trip, the initial cost of a plane ticket can be hard to swallow. Fortunately, a number of budget airlines, including Pegasus, easyJet, Ryanair, Air Baltic, Smart Wings, WizzAir, and others have routes to Sweden. These flights usually arrive either in the capital, Stockholm, or the country’s second-largest city, Gothenburg. Budget carriers often advertise sales several months in advance, so sign up for email alerts to receive messages about possible deals.
Alternatively, try price comparison websites like Skyscanner, which show you the lowest fares to Sweden across all airlines. If you’re flexible, aim for mid-week flights, as weekend tickets are often the most expensive.
Another option is to look out for special sales and mistake fares. Websites like The Flight Deal aggregate these unusually cheap deals for easy access. Stay diligent, though, as these tickets sell out almost as soon as they appear!
By train or bus
If Sweden is one of several stops on your European vacation, consider an Interrail pass (for European residents) or a Eurail pass (for non-European residents). These passes allow you to prepay for a set number of train journeys (for example, 5 days of travel in one month) at a lower rate than individual tickets would cost. Note that Sweden can be reached by train from Denmark, Norway, and Germany.
As for buses, the main operators in this region are Eurolines and Nettbuss Express. Eurolines also offers a multi-destination, money-saving pass.
In addition, Eurolines offers a fully-loaded luxury coach experience equipped with comfortable, luxury accommodations such as air conditioned seating areas, free WiFi, and lounge seating. Discounts are offered for individuals ages 4-25 and those over 60 years of age.
Nettbuss Express provides similar quality accommodations for their customers. But tickets can be pricy, so buy online to obtain the best deals.
Sweden offers extensive rail and bus networks, and the golden rule for booking domestic travel here is to buy early. As a budget traveler, it can be hard to plan in advance, but the best train fares are usually available around ninety days ahead of time. This is because SJ, the Swedish rail company, releases new batches of tickets in these intervals.
SJ’s site is incredibly user-friendly. It provides information about last-minute deals, student and youth discounts, and even a budget calendar to help you find the lowest fares. Make use of these resources and abide by the budget-traveler commandment of traveling on off-peak days for the best prices.
If you’re a super adventurous traveler, check out Tradera, an online marketplace where people sell everything from clothes to bus and train tickets! The site is in Swedish, but with a little help from Google Translate, you might be able to score a lucky deal.
Fortunately, most of Sweden’s major cities are very walkable. However, if you know you’ll be using Stockholm’s transport system (known as SL) frequently, buy an unlimited-use travelcard for a period of 24 hours, 72 hours, or 7 days. A 24-hour card is 125 SEK (about $13.85), 72- hours is 250 SEK (about $27.65), and a 7-day card is valued at 325 SEK (about $36.25).
The travelcard provides the added bonus of a ferry ride to the beautiful island of Djurgården, which features several historical buildings and scenic natural areas. It is also home to two of the city’s most famous museums: the Vasa Museum, with its staggering warship exhibit, and ABBA: The Museum, an interactive museum about the world-famous pop band.
In Gothenburg, the tourist-focused City Card is likely your best option for transport. In addition to free admission to various museums and attractions, the Gothenburg City Card also offers completely free use of all public transportation.
Still, before you jump the gun and buy that transport pass, consider renting a bike. Sweden boasts incredibly bike-friendly cities with lots of lanes on major roads.
Cities like Stockholm, Malmö, and Gothenburg all have bike rental stations out on the street. In Gothenburg, the first half hour is free, and the number of rentals per day is unlimited, so you can score a couple short trips for no fee at all.
For longer-term rentals, seek out bicycle shops that cater to visitors, like Sweden’s City Bikes.
One of the most important aspects of budget travel is finding the right accommodation. Sweden’s cities have plenty of hostels, with an average dorm bed costing around 220SEK (about $26) per night.To maximize value, look for free breakfast, a fully functional kitchen (so you can make your own meals), and pedestrian access to downtown. Websites like HostelWorld display copious options that fit a wide variety of price ranges, suited for any backpacker’s budget.
If you'd like some more privacy or are traveling in a group, flat rentals through Airbnb can provide cost-effective accommodation, especially considering they often come with a kitchen.
For the extra budget-conscious traveler or the person looking for a more authentic experience, Couchsurfing is a great option. In this online hospitality network, you can request to stay with a local in his or her home, absolutely free of charge.
If you leave the city to see some of Sweden’s picturesque natural vistas, your best bet for accommodation is good old-fashioned camping. Sweden has some of the world’s most generous wild camping laws, which allow you to pitch your tent, for free, in the country’s uninhabited countryside.
It is important to maintain your distance from buildings and, of course, treat the land with respect. But this gorgeous natural hotel room is all yours at no cost.
Dining out in Sweden is rather expensive, and even most casual cafes cost 1.5-2x more than in other parts of Europe.
Cooking your own meals is a good place to start, but don’t just walk into any grocery store thinking you’re going to get a bargain. You’ll find the best value on groceries at Netto, Willys, and Lidl. For a small taste of authentic Swedish cuisine, throw some lingonberries, jordgubbar (Swedish strawberries), or smoked salmon into your shopping cart.
If you can’t stomach the idea of missing out on the local fare, either visit a lunch buffet (these usually offer large portions at lower prices) or make your way to a ‘gatukök’, or street food stall. These stalls serve cheap dishes like Swedish meatballs, sausages, and hot dogs at a fraction of restaurant prices – around 25 to 50SEK ($3-6).
Or try supplementing your cooking with Sweden’s famous pastries and cakes, such as the princesstarta (princess cake) or kanebullar (cinnamon buns).
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When it comes to nightlife in Sweden, the cost of drinks and cover charges at bars and clubs can really drive up your budget. If you’re going to go out, stick to beer, which is consistently cheaper than cocktails. You can also buy your own drinks at the state-owned liquor stores, known as Systembolaget, or seek out happy hours, which are common early in the evening.
As a budget traveler to Sweden, you’ll never lack in ways to fill your time. Malmö, Gothenburg, and Stockholm all offer free walking tours, which are economical and help you get the lay of the land. Although technically these tours are completely free, don’t be stingy; give your guide a tip!
Gothenburg’s cheapest must-see sites include its Botanical Garden (free!) and greenhouses (entrance fee 20SEK or $2.40). Stockholm has heaps of places to stroll around at no cost, including the historic Gamla Stan district, the archipelago, the island of Djurgården, and the lakeside Monteliusvägen walking path.
But the best of Sweden lies in its stunning natural wilderness. Sweden has 29 national parks, many of which are accessible by bus and train. The northern part of the country, which reaches into the Arctic Circle, can treat you to the northern lights (aurora borealis) or the midnight sun, which doesn’t set in the summer.
Although these places may seem remote, there are plenty of guides on how to reach them. And, the best part is, they’re 100% free!
Now that you know how to find fun, cost-conscious activities in Sweden, you’re probably wondering how much money you should bring. Below is a breakdown of some of the expenses you may incur while visiting Sweden.
Note: Prices for Airbnb’s are dependent on the number of beds required, the amount of space needed (the number of rooms), and the location.
PRO TIP: Once you have decided how much money you would like to bring, look at the exchange rates between the U.S. dollar and the Swedish Krona. Websites such as Bloomberg provide raw data that reveals the value you will receive after exchanging your currency, as well as the net change between the two.
Despite the rumors, Sweden can be a cost-effective destination—even for the budget backpacker. With a proper plan, you can make this captivating Scandinavian country your next port of call, with money left to spare.
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