Roughly the size of California, Sweden has some 280,000 sq. km (108,109 sq. miles) of landmass, bordering Finland to its northeast and Norway to its west. As the northern end creeps over the Arctic Circle, the southern third of Sweden juts into the Baltic Sea. This southern tier is the site of most of the population; much of the north is uninhabited and occupies one of the last great wildernesses of Europe.

Known for its warm summers and bitterly cold winters, Sweden is a land of lakes and forests, mountains and meadows. Because of generally poor soil and a rocky landscape, Swedes have turned to mining, steel production, and forestry to spur their economy.

Swedes are known for their almost mystical love of nature. Although they travel abroad in winter to escape the cold, Swedes are their own greatest tourists when the all-too-brief summer arrives. Many Swedes have second homes in remote parts of the country.

Many visitors heading for history- and monument-rich France or Italy mistakenly think Sweden lacks attractions. This is not the case: Sweden possesses 1,140 historic fortresses, 2,500 open-air runic stones, and 25,000 protected Iron Age graveyards, and the Stockholm area alone has 10 royal castles. As in parts of the American West, you'll encounter one thing in Sweden that is not always available in other parts of Europe: the wide-open yonder. Space characterizes Sweden's vast forests, mountains, and national parks. Sometimes you can travel for miles without encountering another soul.

Stockholm is, of course, the major target of nearly all visitors. More than 7 centuries old, it is a regal place, filled with everything from the winding cobbled streets of the medieval district to the marble, glass, and granite of its high-rises in the commercial center. While many other world capitals may have passed their prime, Stockholm grows better with age. No longer as provincial as it was even 15 years ago, today it's lively, vibrant, and filled with nightlife, great restaurants, and countless shopping opportunities, along with a sophisticated, savvy population enjoying one of the world's highest standards of living. And no other European capital has such a dramatic landscape as the surrounding 24,000 islands, skerries, and islets.

But Sweden only begins in Stockholm. Take the time to explore the other cities and the beautiful scenery. Sweden is a country where you can enjoy history and urban pleasures, but the nation's heart and soul can be found in its vast landscapes. From a summer wilderness fragrant with fields of orchids and traversed by wild elk to the dark wintry landscape dotted by husky sleds and paraskiing, Sweden provides a stunning vacation experience.

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