Instead of heading off with the crowd to typical gap year destinations like the USA and Thailand, consider pointing yourself in another direction and exploring Scandinavia instead. As well as having a bracing climate and awesome landscapes of majestic mountains and valleys, Sweden has a rich cultural history enshrined in numerous world-class museums and elegant urban architecture.
Do some car hire comparison to get a good deal and try driving around some of Sweden’s picturesque cities and towns on the country’s excellent road network for a gap year break with a difference.
Stockholm, the capital, is packed with a rich cultural heritage and the Drottningholms Palace is one of the great legacies of the country’s splendid imperial age. A palace was first built here by King Johann III in the 16th century, and although it was later destroyed in a fire a new one was built and elaborated over the years by successive residents. The predominantly Rococo style is reminiscent of Vienna at its most flamboyant, and its Baroque gardens such as the French formal gardens and the English Park contain delightful buildings like the Court Theatre, Chinese Pavilion and Castle Church. This sort of thing often comes as something of a shock to visitors who know Sweden as only one of the Viking heartlands and were expecting long-ships, strong lager and horned helmets.
Also in Stockholm, the Museum of National Antiquities (Statens Historiska Museum) is certainly worth a visit if you’re at all interested in the past of this fascinating country. The history of Sweden goes all the way back to the Stone Age and it reached its efflorescence in the 16th century. The famous Gold Room is the biggest attraction here, elegantly stuffed with gold and silver treasures found in the soil of these parts from prehistoric times right through to the Middle Ages. The Viking period is predictably the best represented, with a vast range of artefacts of the North men, but there’s also a fine collection of medieval religious artworks.
The Royal Palace is the monarch’s official residence. There was a vast fortress here in the 13th century which was gradually transformed into a royal castle as Sweden’s international prestige improved after the Viking period. King Gustav Vasa made it his official court residence in 1521 and his family lavished a fortune on it over subsequent years. Baroque and Renaissance features abound and there are magnificent rooms for visitors to explore, in a variety of different styles. You can reach the Royal Palace by taking the E4 highway from Malmo, the E18 from Oslo or the E20/E6 from Gothenburg.
The Vasa warship, commissioned in 1625 by the great King Gustavus Adolphus as part of a fleet for waging an ongoing war with Poland, is one of Stockholm’s main attractions. It was the most powerful ship of its time and could hold a crew of 445 men. This was a magnificent, awesome vessel, but there was one small problem – due to an inherent instability it keeled over on its maiden voyage and sank to the bottom in 1628, taking 40 sailors with it. It was probably just as well that the shipbuilder responsible for this splendid folly, Henrik Hybertsson, died a year before it was completed. To visit the Vasa, take the E18 from Oslo, E4 from Malmo or the E20/E6 from Gothenburg and follow the signs.
David Elliott is a freelance writer who loves to travel, especially in Europe and Turkey. He’s spent most of his adult life in a state of restless excitement but recently decided to settle in North London. He gets away whenever he can to immerse himself in foreign cultures and lap up the history of great cities.