Birka (Björko island, west of Stockholm) – this is one of Sweden’s first real towns, and a worthwhile visit for those interested in Viking history (a daytrip must be organized to go there). During Viking times, Birka on the island of Björkö in Lake Mälaren, was the central hub and the most important marketplace in the entire Mälar Valley. It was founded in the 8th century AD, drawing in travelers from other parts of Scandinavia. Nowadays, this site has a wealth of ancient remains that have been excavated and studied since the 19th century.
The Stromma tour company organizes boat trips from the dock at Stockholm’s City Hall (during the Summer) to Birka. A round trip fare through their service is SEK 345 per person. See its website for more details on this exciting trip: http://www.stromma.se/en/Stockholm/The-Archipelago/Day-trips/Birka—The-Viking-City/
CAR RENTALS – it’s easy to rent a car in Stockholm. Most major international car rental companies have offices and rental locations at all of Stockholm’s airports. It’s possible to book ahead of time or at the airport. To rent a car you will need a national driving license and a valid passport. Stockholm’s inner city has road tolls for Swedish-registered vehicles, so be sure to ask if tolls are included in the price.
The following car rental agencies operate in Stockholm:
The Kingdom of Sweden, like its neighbors Denmark and Norway, is best remembered by historians for its status as the one-time legendary home of Scandinavia’s Vikings (going as far back as the 8th century AD). From that time until approximately the 11th century, the seafaring Vikings voyaged into other parts of Europe (from UK & Ireland, to northern Spain, the Mediterranean, Russia (including the Black Sea), as well as points far west like Iceland, Greenland, and possibly even Canada. Runestones found throughout Sweden commemorate some of these voyages
It wasn’t until the 17th century that Sweden, which previously went through periods of conflict with neighbors such as Denmark, became a power in its own right (seizing territories from Russia, and Poland-Lithuania as a result of various conflicts, including the Thirty Year War). For a period, Sweden also fought battles in some German states against the powers that be there. By 1809, Sweden lost territorial influence to Russia, whose empire was on the rise by then, forfeiting to the Russians the area known as “eastern Sweden” – which became the “Grand Duchy of Finland” (an autonomous part of that empire, and the predecessor state of modern-day Finland).
Sweden went through significant changes by World War I. By that time, it became an industrialized economy, and a modern parliamentary democracy. Decades before it became industrialized (between 1850 and 1910), Sweden’s then-agrarian economy forced as many as one million Swedes to look for opportunity in America (particularly in the Chicago, Illinois area and the mid-west U.S. state of Minnesota). Sweden was neutral during both World War I & II, as well as remaining outside of both the NATO and Warsaw Pacts during the Cold War period (this, even through Sweden had solid ties with the USA and other western governments). In 1995, Sweden joined the European Union, even though it still retains its own currency, the Swedish Krona (SEK). In recent decades, Sweden has been world-famous for its social welfare state. Even as it chipped away portions of it in recent years, Sweden still has one of the highest standards of living in the world.
Sweden’s current high standard of living these days has attracted immigrants from the developing world (with as much as 15% of the country now being foreign-born). The country’s tourist economy has not been as prominent as neighboring Denmark (2.9% of Sweden’s GDP, compared to just over 8% of GDP in Denmark). However, slowly but surely (in part due to word-of-mouth) more and more tourists – from as close as nearby Denmark (which has a bridge connection to Sweden), Norway, Finland and Germany, as well as countries further out, like the UK, and the USA, are starting to explore the country’s capital Stockholm and other parts of the country. The role of individual Swedes in popular culture – ranging from the pop group ABBA in the 1970s, to electronic House music DJs of the early 21st century (like Swedish House Mafia, Avicii, Alesso, and Eric Prydz) have raised the country’s profile globally. Also, in the 21st century world of high technology, the Swedish company Ericsson is known the world over (becoming the world’s largest provider of wireless network equipment by 2012, with a market share of 38%).