How is your Nordic knowledge? Impress your friends and family with these unique, quirky facts about Norway's close neighbours, Sweden.
For many outside the region, Norway and Sweden are one and the same. While the two Scandinavian countries do share a lot of history, culture, and closely related languages, there are also some key differences.
Today we look at some of the quirks that make Norway's sibling unique. From its population in relation to Norway through to popular food and cultural events, here's some of our favourite Sweden facts.
1. Sweden has twice the population of Norway
The population of Sweden is approximately 10.3 million. That's almost twice as many as Norway's population! It's also much bigger than the other Scandinavian country, Denmark, which has a population of approximately 5.8 million.
2. Sweden imports waste – from Norway!
The Swedish people love to recycle. Only 1% of waste ends up in landfill with 50% being recycled or composted and 49% being incinerated for energy. This may sound like great news but it has caused one big problem: there’s not enough waste left to keep the incinerators running.
So, Sweden has come up with a novel solution. They import waste from Norway and the UK to keep the lights on. And as a double bonus, the countries actually pay Sweden to take their waste away!
Okay, enough with the Norway facts. We are talking about Sweden after all!
3. More than half of Sweden is covered in forest
Yes, you read that right. According to Sveaskog, approximately 57% of Sweden is forested. Specifically that's 23 million hectares, which is an area equivalent to the United Kingdom.
The Swedish Forestry Act regulates how forest management in both production and environmental terms. Among other things, the Act states that there is an obligation to replant forest after felling.
4. There’s a hotel made of ice
Sweden is home to the famous Ice Hotel in the village of Jukkasjärvi. The hotel is crafted each year from two-tonne blocks of ice from the nearby Torne River.
Read more: The Cities of Scandinavia
Starting from scratch, the hotel starts to take place as soon as the cold season arrives in the Arctic. Builders and artists alike work to create a hotel that’s unique every time.
And if you ever think health and safety regulations go too far sometimes, spare a thought for the owners of the Ice Hotel. Despite being made entirely of frozen water, the gigantic igloo is still required to have fire alarms fitted!
5. Donald Duck is more popular than Mickey Mouse
In most of the world, Mickey Mouse reigns supreme as Disney’s best loved character. But in Sweden, Donald Duck is WAY more popular.
Some put this down to Donald’s rather flawed character being more relatable to Europeans than Mickey’s virtuous perfection. Whatever the reason, Donald is by far Sweden’s favourite Disney character.
Every Christmas Eve since 1959, at 3pm, the nation sits together to watch Kalle Anka och hans vänner önskar god jul. That’s Donald Duck and his friends wish you a Merry Christmas, for the non-Swedes among you!
Donald is so popular that in 2006 the country had to change the law to forbid voting for non-existent candidates as protest voters would typically write in ‘Donald Duck’!
6. A Swedish drink outsells Coca-Cola
A surprising brand that takes a backseat in Sweden is Coca-Cola, at least during the Christmas period. While many nations enjoy traditional festive drinks, such as Egg Nog or Mulled Wine, Sweden’s yuletide drink of choice is a carbonated beverage, or soda, called Julmust.
Julmust is a fermented, though alcohol-free, malt drink similar to root beer. 45 million litres are consumed in December when it outsells Coc-Cola and, in fact, every other soft drink brand combined.
Julmust then disappears from shelves for a few months when it reappears at Easter as Påskmust – the same drink in a different bottle! 75% of ‘must’ is drunk in December and the remaining 25% whenever Easter falls. Outside of these times the drink is almost impossible to obtain.
7. Stockholm's metro doubles as an art gallery
The Swedish capital city Stockholm is full of impressive architecture. But one of the most impressive sights is underground!
Around 90% of the Stockholm metro stations have been decorated, forming one of the world's most intriguing art galleries. More than 150 artists took part in the project that features mosaics, paintings, graffiti, installations, sculptures and more.
8. North Korea owes 45-year-old Volvo debt
After the Korean War, North Korea attempted to rebrand itself as paradise and started some grand engineering projects using machinery bought from the West.
Sweden was one of the first countries to jump aboard the hype train and open up financial relations. The people of paradise needed opulent vehicles to drive around in and so in the 1970s ordered 1000 Volvo 144GL luxury cars from Sweden.
The first of these were delivered in 1974. Shortly afterwards, it became clear that North Korea neither could, nor wanted to, pay for these vehicles. Instead, it was simply letting the bills pile up and, to this day the debt remains.
In typical Swedish fashion, realising there was little they could actually do, they simply kept sending invoices. And so, every year, the Swedish government recalculates the debt and sends a new invoice. The debt stands at around €300m and while the country knows there’s little chance of seeing the money, they’re making sure it never gets forgotten!
9. Sweden had a pirate King!
Scandinavia’s political history can make fascinating reading, especially the machinations of the Kalmar Union era, but one King stands out as being more bizarre than most. Eric of Pomerania became Eric XIII of Sweden on the death of his Grandaunt, Margaret I.
Eric wasn’t the best King. He inherited a war that Margaret had been winning and proceeded to lose it spectacularly, losing large parts of his Kingdom. He also managed to annoy the nobles in Sweden, Norway and Denmark – scholars will tell you that’s rarely a good idea.
When the Danish nobility refused to ratify his choice of successor, he fled to Gotland and took over Visborg Castle as a kind of Royal strike! But things get weirder still when, after being fully deposed, he started a career – successful by all accounts – as a pirate in the Baltic Sea, taking revenge on the Hanseatic merchants who had caused much trouble during his reign. Then, after ten years of piracy, he returned to high society as Duke of Pomerania!
10. Yes, fika is really a thing
Everyone loves to take a break from work when they can but in Sweden, the idea is baked into the culture. The practice is called fika and it’s a recognised break twice daily where workers enjoy coffee, cake and chat.
All workers take breaks though, right? Well…ignoring the fact that in the Western world many work breaks are only theoretical, fika is a communal and pretty much compulsory thing.
So much so that in most companies anyone not taking part is considered rude. Maybe that’s why Swedish employees are the fourth happiest in the world!
11. Swedes love quirky marketing
The Swedish Tourist Association loves finding new ways to market the country to people from other countries. Two of the most popular and interesting have been @Sweden and the Call a Swede phone line.
@Sweden was an initiative on Twitter where each week a new citizen would take over the account and tweet things that interested them about their country, life and work.
Tweeters would also interact with the public and answer questions about the country as they saw it. The initiative ran for 7 years and more than 350 Swedish citizens had the chance to represent their country to the world.
The Call a Swede phoneline was introduced to celebrate 250 years since censorship was abolished. The idea was that there would be a single telephone number that anyone around the world could call and talk to a Swedish person picked at random from a group of volunteers. The scheme ran for 3 months and fielded calls from all around the world.
12. The Swedes invented nicotine replacement gum
If you or anyone you know has ever given up smoking with nicotine gum, you can give thanks to Sweden.
The first product – Nicorette – was developed by Leo AB in Helsingborg. It followed the observation that smoking Swedish submariners would switch from tobacco to chewing tobacco or snus to receive their nicotine fix when on duty.
Nicorette wasn’t the first time anyone put nicotine in chewing gum but what they did do was develop a polymer that controlled the release of nicotine into the bloodstream making it possible to control levels allowing for a sustained release and a steady withdrawal, helping millions of people quit for good.
13. Making light of dark days
It can be tough living in the North of Sweden in winter when there’s less than 5 hours of daylight for months on end. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression that arises in response to a lack of daylight and affect many people in the far North of Europe.
To help combat this, one city in Sweden installed lightboxes in bus stops to allow people waiting for their transport to experience a little extra daylight during the dark days of winter.
14. Scaling the Solar System
Sweden might not be the first place on your mind when thinking of space exploration, but it does lead the world in one key astronomical way – it has the world’s largest scale model of the solar system.
Emanating from the Ericsson Dome – the world’s largest hemispherical building – in Stockholm, the model reaches 950km away in Kiruna where the concept of Termination Shock – the end of the solar system – is marked.
The scale is 1:20million and each object is marked with a model or statue. Mercury is a mere 3km from the centre while Earth is 7.6km away, Neptune is 229km away and Pluto is 300km away.
15. Sweden is the biggest Scandinavian nation
In fact, Sweden is the fifth largest country in Europe. The total land area of 450,295km2 is bigger than both Norway and Denmark. Despite being one of Europe's largest countries, Sweden also has one of the lowest population densities.
16. 63% of Sweden's population live in cities
That being said, the majority of Swedes live in urban areas. In 2018, 63% of the population lived in one of the 126 urban areas with more than 10,000 inhabitants.
17. Sweden is an economic powerhouse
Many prominent companies were founded in Sweden, especially in the areas of design and technology. Electrolux, Ericsson, H&M, IKEA, Saab, Scania and Volvo are just some of the famous Swedish names in global business.
Also, countless inventions and innovations come from Sweden. Notable ones include Tetra Pak, the pacemaker, dynamite and the spherical ball bearing.
18. Sweden is home to the Nobel Prize
Instituted by the will of Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel, the Nobel Prizes are awarded annually in Stockholm, honouring global accomplishments in various fields.
These prestigious awards cover several categories of science, along with literature. There is also the Nobel Peace Prize, but that is, of course, awarded in Norway.
19. The origin of the smörgåsbord
The smörgåsbord, a delightful buffet spread of cold and hot dishes, has its roots in Sweden. This culinary tradition showcases the diversity of Swedish cuisine, from cured fish to savoury meatballs, allowing diners to sample a range of flavours.
20. Midsummer is a major holiday
Rooted deeply in ancient traditions, Swedish Midsummer is a celebration that marks the longest day of the year, the summer solstice.
As the sun barely sets, Swedes gather to revel in the extended daylight and nature's abundance.
Central to the celebrations is the maypole, a decorated wooden pole, around which people dance in circles, often wearing traditional folk costumes. As songs of joy echo through the air, tables are laden with fresh potatoes, pickled herring, strawberries, and not forgetting Swedish schnapps.
Beyond just merriment, this festivity is also a time for folklore. Legend says that if young women pick seven different flowers in silence on Midsummer's Eve and place them under their pillow, they'll dream of the person they will marry.
21. Sweden had its own phone number
In a unique initiative titled The Swedish Number in 2016, Sweden became the first country to have its own phone number.
This allowed curious callers from across the globe to dial in and chat with a random Swede, bridging cultural gaps one conversation at a time.
Unfortunately, the experiment is now over. During the time it was open, there were 197,678 calls, of which almost one-third came from the United States.
Did you learn something new about Sweden? Which is your favourite fact? Let us know in the comments.