You may have heard: Scandinavian countries are incredibly expensive. A recent report by the World Economic Forum lists Sweden as number 8 on a top ten list of most expensive countries in the world to visit (Norway and Denmark are on there too). But that doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy the fika, fjords, and Gävle Goat as much as someone with a much larger savings account. Here are some ways to shave down your costs and enjoy your trip to Sweden on a budget.
1. Budget airlines are your friend.
Budget airlines are getting a lot more popular and flying more routes — you might be able to fly in to smaller Swedish airports at rock bottom prices on Ryanair or Easyjet. Check nearby airports, also; Copenhagen’s Kastrup airport is a 30 minute train ride from third-largest Swedish city Malmö, and a great entry point for many cheap airlines (including my favorite, overly-purple Icelandic crew WOW Air). Check baggage weight limits and get creative — see how light you can travel to avoid extra charges!
Tip for seat reservations: if you check in as soon as you are able to on bucket airlines, you will always be assigned a middle seat. If you wait until a few hours before your flight, everyone who paid for quality seats will have already paid, and all the middle seats will have been distributed to anyone who checked in earlier… all that will be left is windows and aisles!
2. Book budget hotels and AirBnbs.
This seems like a no-brainer, but if you leave your accommodations booking until the last minute before your trip, you will be stuck with the priciest options. Consider booking outside of the main town areas — an Airbnb in central Stockholm starts at over $100 USD plus fees, while moving to slightly further out Södermalm or Norrmalm regions drops prices by almost half. Public transportation in Sweden is excellent, and you will easily be able to take trains or buses from wherever you are staying to any tourist attraction you can imagine. There are also budget hotels and hostels in all of the major cities, and if you book in advance, you can nail down some good deals.
Out of major cities, you may be more limited in options but don’t give up! Small towns still have budget options, and if you are feeling particularly intrepid, you could consider camping. Allemansrätten (the “right to roam”) is part of Swedish law, and means you can camp for free even on private land, as long as you don’t stay for too long. Remember, though: respect for the environment is paramount in Sweden, so don’t chop down trees, light illegal fires, or leave a bunch of litter around.
3. Limit your alcohol intake or buy from the source.
Sweden has high alcohol taxes — the highest in the EU. A bottle of Bailey’s costs 12 Euro in Germany and almost twice that (the equivalent of 23 Euro) in Sweden. This means markups in bars are extortionate — it is not uncommon to pay 120 SEK (around $13 USD) for a cocktail with a shot or two of hard liquor in it. Government-owned alcohol monopoly System Bolaget is the only place to buy booze over 3.5% (beers below that, usually called “folköl”, can be purchased in a grocery store); it is cheaper to buy there and mix your own drinks than buy in a bar, as long as you are aware of the early closing hours: Systemet closes its doors promptly at 3pm on Saturdays, so get moving for your weekend needs.
If you are in a part of Sweden that is close to Finland, you could join a “booze cruise” out of Swedish waters to enjoy much cheaper alcohol prices — an option enjoyed by many Swedes, which obviously includes the benefit of a little tourism along with your price discount. If you are arriving in Sweden by airplane, you may wish to consider pre-buying alcohol at the Duty Free in the airport for best prices, if you think you won’t mind hauling it around with you.
The cheapest option, of course, is to not drink as much. However, a lot of Swedes find it difficult to loosen up without a drink or two, so if you’re going out clubbing with some new local friends, plan for some pregaming before you hit the dance floor. Happy hours can sometimes yield ferocious discounts on bar drinks also, so consider timing your drinking to earlier in the evening.
4. Avoid sit-down restaurants when possible.
Consider eating in restaurants to be more of a splurge than an everyday occurrence. I have yet to go to a Swedish restaurant that wasn’t 100% delicious, but the meals can easily soar in price, especially if you add in a glass of wine or dessert (they also can take upwards of 4 hours, which taxes even the hardiest of butts). Especially in Stockholm, you’re better off exploring budget-friendlier options.
Buy your own food at grocery stores (cheapest grocery stores are ICA, Netto, and Lidl) and cook at wherever you’re staying; Airbnbs and hostels usually include access to kitchen facilities. Eat at the cheaper takeaway — there is a joke in Malmö that the most Swedish food you can buy is a falafel roll. Enjoy a delicious halloumi tallrik (a fried cheese plate with french fries and a side salad) for around 55 SEK, about $6 USD. A lot of restaurants have breakfast (“frukost”) and lunch buffets for discount prices, and if you are creative, you can fill up your tummy and make a couple of sandwiches to slip into your pockets for later. Frugality is also a very Swedish trait. Don’t ask for a doggie bag, though; most restaurants aren’t allowed to provide takeout containers, by food safety laws. You could bring your own if you were feeling really motivated and thrifty, though!
Definitely bring a refillable water bottle, though — water in restaurants is usually free, but bottled water can cost you 20-30 SEK apiece, and tap water in Sweden is so clean they are actually confused by water filters.
5. Free wifi and/or grab a local SIM.
Most cafes, restaurants, and public places have free wifi access, often with access codes posted prominently. Rather than paying for expensive overage charges, or fancy international roaming, take advantage of public wifi to post Instagram stories of yourself at the Vasa Museum. You can also check out local cheapo SIM providers Comviq or Hallon and ask about temporary pay as you go SIM access. Cell service in Europe is notoriously cheaper than in the United States, and you can get a pay as you go service for quite low prices, without having a Swedish ID number (personnummer).
6. Finagle your public transport.
The Arlanda Express (the airport shuttle from Stockholm’s largest airport) can cost up to 300 SEK while the local bus service Flygbussarna only costs 99 SEK. If you will be in any one city for more than a day, look into multipass cards; for example, in Skåne, you can buy a Jojo card for 20 SEK, which then gets you discounts on all public transit tickets when you load it, much more so than buying individual tickets for every bus trip. These multipass cards can work on local ferries as well. You could engage in the fine Swedish tradition of “plankning”, or hopping the turnstiles, but be warned: the fines for stealing public transit rides can be quite steep, so it will cost you a lot more in the long run.
Many cities are incredibly bike-friendly and have local bike rental services with multiple stations all over the city. Look into your options for whatever city you’re visiting and see if it works for you. You don’t need a helmet, but I warn you: Swedish cyclists are more lackadaisical than North American cyclists. You are more likely to see people cycling with one hand and texting with the other, or using their bike to transport their kids to daycare, than spandex-dressed road warriors.
7. Free stuff to do all day.
Most major cities in Sweden are full of free museums, and even the ones that aren’t free often have access to free exhibits. Stockholm alone offers access to the Nationalmuseum, the Medieval Museum, and the Moderna Museet without paying a single kronor.
Botanical gardens and parks have beautiful walking paths that are open year-round. You can do a self-guided walking tour or a free guided walking tour to catch all the sights you might have missed just wandering around on your own (although that’s fun too).