If I’m being perfectly honest, Sweden wasn’t totally on our radar for the summer. We knew we wanted to go to Scandinavia since none of us had ever been, but we were just thinking of visiting Copenhagen and the fjords in Norway. But we have some friends who were visiting Stockholm, and they’d mentioned to us before how Sweden is such a lovely place to visit, so we decided to take them up on their very generous offer to come stay.
BOY were we blown away. We had no idea how pristinely beautiful, historically interesting, and kid-friendly Sweden was (not to mention how lovely the Swedes are). It was truly one of the very most family-friendly destinations of our entire trip. Here’s why!
1. OUTDOORS. If your kids are anything like ours, they’d gladly live every day entirely out of doors. Swedes are famous for caring about their land and enjoying it to the fullest. And no wonder – it’s gorgeous!!! Stockholm is actually built on a number of islands, and getting out on the archipelago outside the city is just magical. There are truly endless outdoor activities – boating, hiking, beaches, winter sports, and on and on. Nature is a big deal even right in the middle of the city, so our kids were thrilled to run through green spaces galore. Plus, animals are incorporated into a lot of the places! It’s really a lovely and calming way to live.
2. MUSEUMS. Sweden had museums unlike any other place we visited. Of course, they have traditional art museums. But what we loved was all the museums that were so unique to Swedish culture and heritage. Nordiska is specific to cultural heritage, Junibacken is based on Swedish children’s literature, and the Vasa Museum is all about the great ship and the history surrounding it.
Best of all is that EVERY single museum went out of its way to cater to young children. You know how some museums have a “children’s exhibit” that’s tiny and clearly just there to check off a box? All the museums in Stockholm that we visited could not be further from that. Each of them had activities and exhibits that were practically museums unto themselves, and that provided depth and insight and understanding for the kids. They left not just having had fun, but having gained a deeper appreciation for Swedish history and culture. Which is exactly what we all want as parents.
3. COST. Yes, Sweden is expensive. There’s no getting around that. However, practically everything for kids is free! Museums, exhibits, activities, transportation…there is such a culture of including children, and making it easy to bring them along because there are provisions made for them.
4. FOOD. Swedish food? Really? No one was more surprised than my vegetarian self. You know what’s even more surprising? Some of the best food we had was at museum cafes!! We had a couple of incredible cafe experiences and I was talking to my friend, who then told me that apparently Swedes really go out of their way to serve incredible quality food at museum cafes, and that many locals actually just go and eat in the cafes without even visiting the museum.
Every single one had loaves and loaves of self-serve freshly baked bread with heaps of fresh butter, delicious soups, fresh and veggie-friendly meals, and, of course, Swedish pancakes. I was shocked that every cafe had not just one, but multiple vegetarian-friendly meals; it was much easier finding interesting veggie-friendly fare there than even parts of Italy, where we were occasionally limited to simple pastas. They were a bit pricey, but considering they truly were nice, restaurant-quality lunches, it was more than worth it.
5. PEOPLE. I alluded to this before, but Swedes really did seem to cultural recognition of children. So much seemed to be planned with children in mind right from the beginning. Even our ferry had an elevator in it! Italians seemed to fawn over the children and just loved on them always. Swedes are much less warm and fuzzy; instead, they tended to treat the kids like actual people, talking to them, and not just to us. There was a recognition of children as humans that was unique, and a regard for others as important and worthy of respect.
Swedes also tend to be very proud of their heritage. We were lucky enough to be in Stockholm during Midsommar, and it was so fun seeing some traditional celebrations.
6. CREATIVITY. So much of the learning that happened in Sweden was open-ended and available for interpretation. Even the kids guides were very little of, “find this person” or “what date this happen?” Instead, even those asked thoughtful questions and encouraged all of us to broaden our perspectives. Millesgården had a scavenger hunt of statues, but asked the kids questions about the stories, the design, and the layout. It got them walking and appreciating. Nordiska had a model old Swedish children’s village with which the kids could interact. Play is so important, and the Swedes seemed to understand that. They truly encourage kids to be kids.
7. CLEANLINESS. I mean, I know, in theory, that if you’re visiting, then you’re only there a short time and it doesn’t matter that much. But it kind of does matter! Everything in Sweden was just so pristine. Even the construction seemed somehow cleaner. Swedes really take a lot of pride in cleanliness and health and it showed. There were lots of lovely castles and palaces that were all so well maintained and organized. And the air was practically drinkable, it was so clear and crisp. It makes for such a peaceful, enjoyable experience.
Have you been to Sweden with kids? How do you think it compared to other European countries?