Sweden is in the geographical region known as Scandinavia in northern Europe. Lush, large forests cover half of the country and over 100,000 lakes dot the landscape. The lakes, and over 24,000 islands, are all open to the public through Sweden's tradition of right to public access.
Sweden is 977 miles (1,572 kilometers) long and is bordered by Norway on the west and Finland to the east. Three stretches of water separate Sweden from Denmark—the Skagerrak, the Kattegat, and the Öresund straits.
Sweden's Arctic north has been called the "land of the midnight sun," because during the summer months the sun never sets. Even in the capital of Stockholm in the south, the summer nights last only four hours and the sky doesn't deepen beyond twilight. But winter lasts until May and the nights are long and the days are short.
In the fall and spring, there are spectacular light shows in northern Sweden known as the "aurora borealis," or "northern lights." The dazzling green or red lights, which fill the late night sky, are caused by collisions of tiny particles high in the Earth's atmosphere.
Map created by National Geographic Maps
PEOPLE & CULTURE
Sweden is one of the least populated countries in Europe, with a population of less than 10 million people. Most people used to live in the countryside, but as the country became industrialized in the 1900s, many moved to the cities of Malmö, Göteborg, and Stockholm.
During the 1930s, Sweden developed the welfare system, known as "the Swedish model." Under their system, all Swedes have access to publicly financed health care, help for the unemployed, child care, schools, elder care, and at least five weeks of paid vacation per year.
Ancient forests, broadleaved woodlands, mountains, and wetlands provide rich habitats for many endangered animals and birds. Swedes love the countryside and Sweden was the first country in Europe to create national parks. Today, there are 29 national parks and many nature reserves and wildlife sanctuaries.
Sweden is the center of an effort to save the critically endangered arctic fox, which is on the brink of extinction with fewer than 200 left in Europe. During the winter months, their fur turns from brown to white to match the snowy landscape. The northern forests are home to brown bears and wolverines, which are related to badgers and otters, not wolves.
Carl Von Linne, known as Carolus Linnaeus, was a well-known Swedish botanist, born in the 1700s. Linnaeus invented the method for naming plants and animals which is used today. Every living thing has a Latin name that is divided into two parts. The first part gives its group, or genus, and the second part of the name gives its kind, or species.
GOVERNMENT & ECONOMY
The monarch is the head of state in Sweden. King Carl XVI Gustaf has largely ceremonial duties and the government is run by elected officials. There are 349 members in the Riksdag, or Swedish parliament. Members of parliament vote for a prime minister, who then appoints members of the cabinet.
Sweden is a member of the European Union, but does not use the euro as currency. They have kept their own currency, the Swedish krona, as a way to keep their identity. Sweden prides itself on being a neutral country. Since the mid-1800s and during the two World Wars, Sweden remained neutral, not fighting for one side or the other.
People first came to Sweden about 10,000 years ago. For thousands of years, they were hunters and gatherers and in the first centuries A.D. they traded goods with the Roman Empire. The name Sweden comes from the warlike Svea tribe that became powerful around 500 A.D. Swedes call their land Sverige, which means "land of the Svea."
The Svea began to make raids along the coasts of northern Europe and became known as Vikings, which means "pirate" in an old Norse language. Some Swedish Vikings often stole from the people they raided and settled in their lands. Others became rich by trading goods and slaves.
Sweden elected kings until 1544, when the parliament changed the rules. The crown was then passed on to the king's descendents. King Gustav IV was forced to give up his throne when he and his allies lost Finland to Napoleon's allies in 1809. During its history, Sweden ruled both Finland and Norway.