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Sweden is a large, geographically varied and strangely little-known country whose sense of space is one of its best features. Away from the relatively densely populated south, travelling without seeing a soul is not uncommon. The south and southwest of the country are gently undulating, picturesque holiday lands, long-disputed Danish territory, and fringed with some of Europe's finest beaches. The west coast harbours a host of historic ports - Gothenburg , Helsingborg and Malmö , which is now linked by bridge to Copenhagen - while off the southeast coast, the Baltic islands of Öland and Gotland are the country's most hyped resorts, supporting a lazy beach-life to match that of the best southern European spots but without the hotel blocks and crowds.

Stockholm , the capital, is the country's supreme attraction, a bundle of islands housing monumental architecture, fine museums and the country's most active culture and nightlife. The two university towns, Lund and Uppsala, demand a visit too, while, moving northwards, Gävle and Gällivare both make justified demands on your time. This area, central and northern Sweden, is the country of tourist brochures: great swathes of forest, inexhaustible lakes - around 96,000 - and some of the best wilderness hiking in Europe. Two train routes link it with the south. The eastern run, close to the Bothnian coast , passes old wood-built towns and planned new ones, and ferry ports for connections to Finland. In the centre, the trains of the Inlandsbanan strike off through lakelands and mountains, clearing reindeer off the track as they go. The routes meet in Sweden's far north - home of the Sami, the oldest indigenous Scandinavian people.