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—with some planning and a little research, you can visit this country without breaking the bank.
And it’s definitely worth the effort, given Sweden’s beautiful rolling countryside and hip, friendly cities. Read on to see how you can make traveling to Sweden a reality, even on a backpacker’s budget.
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 vigilant, though, as these tickets sell out almost as soon as they appear!
By train or bus
If Sweden is one of several stops on a larger European trip, 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.
Sweden can be reached by train from Denmark, Norway, and Germany, and having a pass can save you money on fares within the country as well. As for buses, the main operators in this region are Eurolines and Nettbuss Express, with Eurolines also offering a multi-destination, money-saving pass.
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.
Speaking of SJ, their site is incredibly user-friendly, with information about last-minute deals, student and youth discounts, and 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.
For the extra adventurous traveler, there is Tradera, an online marketplace where people sell everything from clothes to—well, 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, getting around within Sweden’s major cities could not be easier. Most of them, Stockholm included, are very walkable. However, if you know you’ll be using Stockholm’s transport system (known as SL), buy an unlimited-use travelcard for a period of 24 hours, 72 hours, or 7 days.
The travelcard has the added bonus that it’s valid for 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 the Abba Museum.
In Gothenburg, the tourist-focused City Card is likely your best option for transport. This is because, 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 and Malmö, Gothenburg, and Stockholm all have bike rental stations out on the street. For longer-term rentals, each of these cities has several bicycle shops that cater to visitors.
PRO TIP: 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.
Where to stay
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. 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.
Eating and drinking
As mentioned above, cooking in your hostel or AirBnB rental can be a lifesaver when it comes to saving money in Sweden. Dining out in this country 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, while Ica, Coop, and Hemköp tend to be much pricier. 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, unfortunately, 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.
What to see and do
Budget travelers to Sweden are never lacking in ways to fill their time. Malmö, Gothenburg, and Stockholm all offer free walking tours, which are economical and help you get the lay of the land before deciding what else you’d like to see. 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 gardens (entrance fee 20SEK or $2.40) and park (free!). 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 beyond its cities 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!
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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For more tips on how to travel on a shoestring in Sweden and beyond, request your free copy of The Ultimate Guide to Budget Travel today!