My experiences of cycling through Sweden

My experiences of cycling through Sweden

In July 2022, I spent around two weeks cycling through Sweden. Together with my boyfriend Daniel, I biked from Stockholm to Göteborg to Trelleborg, covering a total of 935 kilometres. In this post, I will tell you all about the route, the scenery, the art of bringing your bike on trains, and more. All the way at the bottom, you can find the most important things I learned on this trip. Hope you enjoy!

Why Sweden?

Initially, I had thought of cycling through Norway, since several people recommended Norway’s stunning landscapes to me. When it was announced that a new ferry would start running between the Netherlands and Norway, a sustainable trip to Norway suddenly seemed much more doable. However, when trying to align my holiday schedule with that of my boyfriend, we only had roughly 2,5 weeks overlap. I tried to configure a route that would bring us from the ferry in Kristiansand to southern Sweden, where we could take a train back to the Netherlands. Because Norway is rather hilly, this seemed a bit too ambitious for a 2,5 week trip including a few days of rest and ferry/train travel.

So, I ended up looking for options in Sweden instead. Just a few months before, I had been to København by train (departing from Amsterdam) and absolutely loved both the city and the train journey. I figured that with extending the train ride with a high speed one to Stockholm would still be very doable.

Bringing bikes on the trains

The most difficult part about this whole trip was definitely trying to bring our bikes on the trains. There was an option for a night train to Stockholm that didn’t allow for bikes, and it was a huge hassle trying to book loose bike tickets for German trains, since we already had our passenger tickets booked using an Interrail pass. In addition, Swedish trains are run by various operators, which all have different rules about bringing bikes. Getting to Stockholm by only using regional trains that allowed bikes appeared to be practically impossible. In the end, we went for some makeshift bike bags (one of them was actually the plastic fabric of an old tent) to transport the bikes in pieces. We used one bag for the two frames and all of our gear, and another for the wheels. The journey started off with walking about 20 minutes to the train station in Den Haag, from where we departed. At this point we already found out that the makeshift bike bags were a terrible idea – but there was no other option!

You may be asking: why didn’t you buy proper bikebags? Well, actual bike bags were too large to bring with us whilst cycling. And since we weren’t cycling in a circle, we also couldn’t leave the bags anywhere to picked them up at the end. We did consider sending the bags back to the Netherlands by mail. This meant having to take slower, regional trains through Germany on the way back (because those would have allowed us to take our bikes on the trains in one piece), and extending our train journey by another half day.

Transporting the bikes on the trains in itself didn’t end up being the biggest issue, since in bags they counted as regular luggage. During a layover in Hamburg, I again tried to book us bike tickets for the way back. The person at the service desk told me I was way too late: in summer you need to reserve the bike spots months in advance. Still, the bike bags were mostly fine. Only on the high speed train to Stockholm they were too big to properly fit into the luggage racks, so they blocked the corridor a little. Thankfully, the train staff were okay with that.

The biggest problem was dragging the oddly shaped and rather heavy bags from train to train, and from the train station to our hostel in København. In hindsight we probably should have put the bikes together, cycled to the hostel, and disassembled them again the next morning at the station.

The train route

The route we took to København was quite pleasant. It did not fit in one day to get all the way to Stockholm, so as said, we spent the night in København. We had some time in the evening to walk around the city, which was nice. From there, we took the SJ high speed train straight to Stockholm, which took a little over 5 hours.

On the way back, we boarded an overnight ferry in Trelleborg to Rostock in Germany with TT Line. The ferry wasn’t very bike-proof: there were no racks or anything, so we had to lay them down on the floor next to the motorbikes and cars. This is was of course totally fine, but not the best service. From Rostock, we went to Hamburg, then changed in Münster. Our final change would have been in the Netherlands at Enschede. However, there were train problems in the Netherlands… In total we took 8 or 9 different trains that day in order to reach Den Haag. Changing the route to include a few extra local trains was worth it, though, because we ended up having a mere one-hour delay.

So how was the cycling?

The actual cycling through Sweden was absolutely great! Whenever I feel down, I wish I was on my bike in Sweden again. We took road bikes and cycled mostly on tarmac, but managed to avoid motorways. There are many quiet roads in Sweden, where a car will pass you every once in a while. Quite often there are even seperate cycle paths on the more popular routes between towns. Some of these will be seperated from a road by grass and pavement; others are completely isolated and don’t have any car traffic nearby. Like the normal roads, the cycle paths were not very busy. We would see the occasional cyclist going in the opposite direction. Being from the Netherlands, it was quite special to have so much space to ourselves on the cycle paths! In general, most parts of the trip were peaceful and relaxed. Even when cycling on the car lanes, I felt safer than in the Netherlands or England.

In some countries, staying on hardened roads means making a sacrifice in terms of scenery, but in Sweden this wasn’t the case at all! We had amazing views on every day of the trip. The views were also quite diverse, with changes in both vegetation and the style of buildings. We saw numerous lakes, the sea on two sides of the country, farmlands, forests, wide open fields, rocky hills, and even beaches. My favourite part was when we approached Gränna (coming from the direction of Linköping). The last few kilometres were mostly downhill. The first part led through a forest, and later the area opened up to show the beautiful Vättern lake on the right. On our left side, we could see hills with colourful houses, and straight ahead appeared the town of Gränna. I hope the clear mental picture I have of this view will stay in my mind for many more years to come.

We also had perfect cycling weather on most days. The temperature fluctuated between 18 and 25 degrees. On one of the early days, we did cycle through the rain all morning. It started out as a drizzle but turned into a full downpour later on. I was fine with that, despite not having a raincoat. My thin longsleeve with a t-shirt over it kept me warm enough. After a tea break in a café, I changed into a dry shirt and we continued the afternoon without rain.

Day 1-4

After staying in Stockholm for a few days, we did 10 days of cycling with two days of rest in between (4-3-3 days of cycling). I always recommend starting off easy, so the first day we cycled less than the average of 93,5 kilometres a day. The second day was even shorter. Because we prefer sleeping in B&B’s or hostels, we planned our route from town to town. This to some extent determined how long we cycled each day, as we booked all of the accommodations in advance. Check out the full route here.

Our first day of rest was in Gränna, where we rented a lovely little studio on a hill. From the hammock on the porch, you could watch boats going up and down to the island in the Vättern lake. We initially planned to go to the island ourselves, but we were quite tired after four consecutive days of cycling. Plus, the island didn’t seem too exciting. We hiked to nearby castle ruins instead, which was beautiful. The town of Gränna was a bit touristy (judging by it having 7 identical sweets’ shops in a single street). Still, it wasn’t overly crowded on a summer day. Especially because of the gorgeous views, Gränna would be on my list of favourite places I’ve travelled to.

Day 5-7

Upon leaving Gränna, I noticed some traffic signs indicating a roadblock because of something that had to do with cyclists. My Swedish is fairly limited, so I didn’t know where this roadblock was going to be exactly. We kept on cycling until we indeed came across a roadblock for what seemed to be a cycling race! There were volunteers along the route who were able to direct us around the race. But for most of the way to Jönköping, we were able to cycle next to the race. We later found out is was part of an Iron Man! It was very cool to cycle along and cheer for the triathletes.

Day 8-10

Our second day of rest was in Göteborg. I wasn’t massively impressed by this city, but it was nice enough to walk around in for a day. I got to see some moose, but unfortunately they were kept in a fenced-off park. In the last three days after Göteborg, we covered a lot of distance (between 110 and 127 kilometres each day). For the largest part, we followed a cycle path that is part of the EuroVelo routes 7 and 12. This made it really easy to navigate our way down south. We were also lucky to have tailwind all three of the days. With there being no hills on this leg, we went pretty quick.

I did get three flat tires on those last days, including one as we were waiting to board the ferry in Trelleborg. For the route of the last day, we had several options. Being slightly tired and indecisive, we did some more last-minute alterations to the route, which then sent us through farm fields. By this I don’t mean that we cycled in between farm fields. No, I mean we literally cycled through them. Hence the flat tires, I suppose… Strava marked the farmlands as a route, so I promise we weren’t trespassing! The flat I tire I got when we were probably about 15 kilometres outside of Trelleborg did cause a bit of time pressure for arriving at the ferry on time. When we reached the ferry, though, it turned out the boarding time was hours after the check-in time indicated on our tickets. We had to wait outside on the tarmac (where I got my final flat tire) until midnight.

All in all, the itinerary was perfect for us! The distances were very doable, the regular rest days were much needed, and the variation in distance and surroundings kept every day fun. To my surprise, my Dutch legs (used to riding on flat ground), could cope perfectly well with the Swedish hills. We didn’t come across any real mountains, but there were definitely some good inclines at times. So, would I recommended cycling through Sweden? YES!

Most important tips

  • Most night trains and high speed trains are not very bike friendly. Either opt for slower, regional trains or invest in a sturdy bike bag for transport.
  • Bike tickets for German trains cannot be booked separately from passenger tickets (unless you visit a ticket office in Germany). For the summer months, you need to book bike tickets a few months in advance, as there are limited spots available.
  • Swedish trains are operated by numerous different regional train companies, so be sure to check their rules on bringing bikes.
  • Sweden doesn’t have a very hot climate, so packing at least one longsleeve is a good idea, even in summer.
  • You don’t need a gravel bike to find beautiful routes in Sweden. Tarmac roads are also surrounded by pretty nature.
  • It can be a little challenging to find accommodation in the area between Jönköping and Göteborg. It’s therefore good to have an idea of where you’re staying and book in advance.

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