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Rock Out in Sweden

Rock Out in Sweden

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When most travelers think of Stockholm, the design, cuisine, and fashion credentials of the glorious Swedish capital first come to mind. But just to the east of the cosmopolitan city lies the enchantment of the largely untamed archipelago, thousands of islands sprawling some 150 miles into the Baltic Sea.

Known as Skargarden, or "garden of skerries" (skerries are small, rocky islands) by the locals, the Stockholm archipelago consists of more than 30,000 islands -- most uninhabited and some no larger than diminutive rocks, while others contain pine forests and beaches -- spread in the shape of a handheld fan across still water. The islands were formed of granite deposited by glaciers during the Ice Age; those closer to Stockholm appear rough and rockier, while on the eastern outskirts closer to Finland, sandy beaches await the adventurous.

In the mid-20th century the archipelago, once dominated by remote fishing villages and farms, became popular with Stockholmers, who continue to maintain thousands of traditional red summer cottages on the islands. Outdoor recreation possibilities such as kayaking, hiking, and ice-skating now attract visitors year-round, with a range of accommodation options from swank hotels to pristine campsites, depending on the season. LGBT travelers can expect to feel comfortable at any location, as the Scandinavian country enjoys a well-deserved reputation for equality. Same-sex marriage became legal in 2009 with support from the Church of Sweden.

Less than four hours by boat from the mainland to its outermost points, the archipelago makes an ideal destination for day trips, weekend island-hopping, or jaunts for more extended reflection. The classic journey begins in central Stockholm on a ferry. Glide by Vaxholm Castle, a 16th-century fortress built on an island just outside Stockholm, and notice the magic of the ever-shifting light as the boat sails through the tree-thickened central archipelago over tranquil, brackish water. The distinctive natural lighting, which lasts for up to 18 hours around the national holiday of Midsummer in June and as little as six hours in the snowy winter, has attracted generations of Swedish artists from August Strindberg to ABBA and Girl With the Dragon Tattoo author Stieg Larsson.

Step into history with a stop on Bullero in the outer archipelago. Located within a national park, the island showcases nature, especially birds, and traditional culture as preserved at the hunting lodge and studio of the influential early-20th-century wildlife painter Bruno Liljefors. Now a museum, the site offers a nature exhibition and art reproductions, while a walking trail extends from the lodge around the island to secluded swimming spots. Liljefors owned the island and received guests there including the artists Anders Zorn and Albert Engstrom.

Eastward, on the way toward Helsinki, the lively village of Sandhamn or "sand harbor" anchors the island of Sandon, a Northern Europe hot spot for sailors that also attracts guests seeking beauty, exercise, and quiet in winter. Larsson, the late author of the Millennium trilogy, gave one of his main characters a summer home in the village. A resort scene buzzes around the Seglarhotellet yacht club and hotel, which offers accommodations, spa services, and fine dining options throughout the year. On the other side of the harbor sits a charming old town of maze-like streets and small, colorful houses nestled among pine groves. Refresh with a drink at the Strindberg Cafe or a fresh-baked cinnamon roll at the Sandhamns Bageriet during the traditional fika, or Swedish coffee break, before heading back to Stockholm or the next island.


FLY Stockholm is the gateway to the archipelago for most international travelers. Reach the capital on SAS Scandinavian Airlines, the national airline of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, which in 2010 became the first in the world to host same-sex weddings in the air. SAS operates an LGBT microsite at FlySAS.com/gay.

CRUISE Ferries depart for the archipelago from the Stromkajen and Nybrokajen quays in Stockholm. Private boats also are available for tours. For more information on travel options and islands to visit, including Bullero and Sandhamn, check out VisitStockholm.com.

STAY If you're based in Stockholm, the five-star Sheraton hotel (SheratonStockholm.com) in the central business district offers Scandinavian design with stellar views of Lake Malaren, the Old Town, and City Hall, site of the annual Nobel Prize ceremony. On the islands, accommodations include hotels, bed-and-breakfasts, hostels, campsites, and private cottage rentals; book at VisitSkargarden.se.

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