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I have to confess that Sweden wasn’t really on my radar before I attended this year’s TBEX (Travel Bloggers’ Exchange) Conference in Stockholm. I hadn’t been there before (unless you count a quick day trip by train from Copenhagen to Lund), and I didn’t know a lot about the country beyond Abba, Ikea and the Vikings… But it wasn’t long before I realised how much I had been missing.

Boats on Djurgarden

Boats by the central Stockholm island of Djurgarden

Exploring Stockholm

Gamla Stan

The cobbled streets of Gamla Stan, Stockholm’s old town

Ofkcourse I only saw a tiny amount of the country. Even in Stockholm I barely scratched the surface, but what surprised me most was the sheer variety that the city had to offer. Some things I had been expecting, like the old town of Gamla Stan and the multi-coloured buildings that line the waterfront. And the natural environment: the city is built on fourteen islands, part of an archipelago of more than 20,000 islands stretching into the Baltic Sea. Stockholm is surrounded by forests, and I took a Night Safari tour to discover the wildlife that lives at the edge of the city.

Outdoor sculpture

An outdoor sculpture on the Gamla Stan waterfront

What I hadn’t anticipated was the wealth of culture in Stockholm. Everywhere you go you see the Swedish love of art and design. From cutting edge hotel design to art in the subway. From open air sculpture to world class museums. TBEX attendees were treated to admission to two very different, but equally well presented, museums: the Vasamuseet (home to the 17th century Vasa warship) and Abba:The Museum. And one evening we were hosted by the recently opened Haymarket, an Art Deco themed hotel housed in a former department store (where a young Greta Garbo once worked in the hat department).

A Trip to Swedish Lapland

Lulea at midnight

Almost the midnight sun… Lulea at midnight

I was lucky enough to be able to extend my travels to Luleå, on the edge of Swedish Lapland. Along with a group of other bloggers, I headed north on the night train, journeying 900 km through the distinctive landscape of forests, lakes and meadows.

Arctic char

Sweden’s cuisine uses fresh, local ingredients – here a dish of Arctic char

Luleå may be remote, but it is modern, with a thriving IT industry that includes Facebook’s only data centre in Europe. From here we visited Gammelstad Church Town (a very Swedish concept that I will explain in a later post). And we ate some excellent meals. That was another surprise: I hadn’t expected to find such an innovative cuisine.

What I really learnt on this trip was how much Sweden has to offer as a tourist destination. This is a massive country, about twice the size of the UK, with much more than you could explore in one trip. I want to go back and explore some of the historic towns, and to eat some more Swedish food – I’m already planning the return visit!

(I’ll be writing a lot more about what I saw and did in Sweden over the next few weeks. Many thanks to the Stockholm Visitors Board and to all the other sponsors who provided hospitality while we were there.)

Looking for a hotel in Stockholm? Check out the recommendations on Booking.com or Agoda.com. Or try a vacation rental from Flipkey.

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