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TOURISM

Six cute Swedish towns you’ve never heard of

The streets of Stockholm and Gothenburg are often jam-packed with tourists, but further afield there are plenty of adorable Swedish towns you've probably never heard of, but which all offer some unique experiences.

Six cute Swedish towns you've never heard of
Trosa in central Sweden. Photo: Gunnar Lundmark/SvD/TT

1. Ystad

We may have exaggerated the headline. If you're a fan of Nordic Noir, you have definitely heard of Ystad. This is the home of famous Swedish television detective Kurt Wallander and both the Swedish original and Kenneth Branagh's BBC version were shot on location. Tourists can go on conceptual guided tours that follow in the rugged policeman's footsteps along the town's cobble stone streets. If you would rather investigate ancient history than fictional crimes, the 11th-century town, located at the southernmost tip of Sweden, also has a fascinating history and is home to one of Sweden's best-preserved medieval Fransiscan monasteries, the Greyfriars' Abbey.

Travel here: By train from Copenhagen Airport or ferry from Poland.


Kenneth Branagh as Kurt Wallander on the BBC. Photo: Laurence Cendrowicz/Left Bank Pictures

2. Sigtuna

Founded by a Swedish Viking King Erik Segersäll (Erik the Victorious) in 980, Sigtuna lays claim to the title of Sweden's oldest existing town. The medieval town centre consists of narrow, winding streets lined by small wooden houses and handicraft shops. Many of its residents work in Stockholm and commute to and from their workplaces every day via the nearby train station at Märsta, so it is easily accessible even for just a day trip from the capital. Places to visit include Sigtuna Museum and the ruins of the remaining three of its old stone churches, erected by the towns wealthy merchants in the Middle Ages.

Travel here: The bus from Stockholm's Arlanda Airport takes just under half an hour or you can go by train from the city centre.


The vibrant main shopping street in Sigtuna. Photo: Linus Hallgren/Destination Sigtuna AB

3. Gammelstad

Located just west of Luleå in the far north of Sweden, getting here is a bit of a trek, but it is well worth it. The oldest part of the town, Gammelstad Church Town ('Gammelstads kyrkstad'), is similar to Scotland's old kirk towns and consists of a collection of some 400 cottages where visitors from further afield used to spend the night when they visited the 15th-century church. It is a Unesco World Heritage Site and the best preserved example of a type of hamlet that was once very common in northern Sweden where distances between towns were great. Famous Swedish botanist Carl Linneaus visited in 1732 and wrote that “although the summer here is shorter than all other places in the world, I would also claim that it is sweeter”.

Travel here: Fly to Luleå Airport from Stockholm.

4. Trosa

Trosa is a small town with only about 5,000 residents, but its beautiful location by the sea on the east coast of Sweden and its town centre with plenty of trendy as well as traditional shops makes it a popular destination for savvy tourists. Conveniently located about an hour south of the capital, it is a great place to spot some Swedish celebrities, with former Abba member Benny Andersson, actor Mikael Persbrandt ('Beorn' in The Hobbit to international readers) and even the Swedish Royal Family owning summer houses here. Fun fact: Trosa means 'women's underpants' in Swedish. Don't make any jokes about this – the locals have heard them all.

Travel here: By bus from Skavsta Airport in Nyköping or by a train/bus combo from Stockholm.


Trosa is popular among Swedish celebrities. Photo: Trosa Turism

5. Marstrand

From a small but wealthy fishing village in the 16th century to a vibrant sea resort for the rich some hundreds of years later, Marstrand on Sweden's west coast has seen many a visitor come and go. Even today, Swedish tourists pour into the town in summer to admire its beautiful houses, sip a coffee at its many cool cafes and take part in the annual regatta. The impressive Carlsten stone fortress at the top of the hill in the town dominates the Marstrand skyline. Oh, and if you failed to spot any celebrities when you visited Trosa, keep an eye out for members of the Swedish Royal Family in the crowds outside the posher beach cafes.

Travel here: By boat cruise or bus from Gothenburg Airport.


Marstrand with the Carlsten fortress on the right. Photo: Per Pixel Petersson/imagebank.sweden.se

6. Mölle

Mölle on the south-west coast of Sweden has given rise to the famous (some would say infamous) phenomenon of 'the Swedish sin' which has influenced many a foreigner's stereotypical view of the liberated Swede. Innocent though it may seem today, the reason was its then-shocking-but-oh-so-widely-popular mixed sex bathing area, which attracted visitors from all over Europe (up until the First World War there were regular trains running from Berlin to Mölle). Those of you hoping that its scandalous reputation has kept up with the times will be disappointed, but the scenic harbour with plenty of cute cafes (The Local can highly recommend the waffles) and fascinating architecture will keep most visitors happy. The dramatic scenery and craggy hills around the town are great for hiking, too.


Gorgeous seaside town Mölle is a great place to spend the summer. Photo: Höganäs kommun

Travel here: If you're travelling from abroad, rent a car at the airport in either Gothenburg or Copenhagen and drive here. If you're based in Sweden, a train/bus combo via Helsingborg is your best option.


Those were the days. Mölle at the start of the 20th century. Photo: SCANPIX

Article first published in 2015.

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MONEY

How to avoid huge ‘roaming’ phone bills while visiting Italy

If you're visiting Italy from outside the EU you risk running up a huge phone bill in roaming charges - but there are ways to keep your internet access while avoiding being hit by extra charges.

How to avoid huge ‘roaming’ phone bills while visiting Italy

Travelling without access to the internet is almost impossible these days. We use our phones for mapping applications, contacting the Airbnb, even scanning the QR code for the restaurant menu.

If you’re lucky enough to have a phone registered in an EU country then you don’t need to worry, thanks to the EU’s cap on charges for people travelling, but people visiting from non-EU countries – which of course now includes the UK – need to be careful with their phone use abroad.

First things first, if you are looking to avoid roaming charges, be sure to go into your settings and turn off “data roaming.” Do it right before your plane lands or your train arrives – you don’t want to risk the phone company in your home country starting the clock on ‘one day of roaming fees’ without knowing it.

READ ALSO: Ten ways to save money on your trip to Italy this summer

But these days travelling without internet access can be difficult and annoying, especially as a growing number of tourist attractions require booking in advance online, while restaurants often display their menus on a QR code.

So here are some techniques to keep the bills low.

Check your phone company’s roaming plan

Before leaving home, check to see what your phone plan offers for pre-paid roaming deals.

For Brits, if you have a phone plan with Three for example, you can ask about their “Go Roam” plan for add-on allowance. You can choose to pay monthly or as you go. Vodafone offers eight day and 15 day passes that are available for £1 a day.

For Americans, T-Mobile offers you to add an “international pass” which will charge you $5 per day. Verizon and AT&T’s roaming plans will charge you $10 per day. For AT&T, you are automatically opted into this as soon as your phone tries to access data abroad.

READ ALSO: Seven things to do in Italy in summer 2022

These all allow you to retain your normal phone number and plan.

Beware that these prices are only available if you sign up in advance, otherwise you will likely be facing a much bigger bill for using mobile data in Italy. 

Buy a pre-paid SIM card

However, if you are travelling for a longer period of time it might work out cheaper to turn off your phone data and buy a pre-paid SIM card in Italy.

In order to get a pre-paid SIM card, you will need your passport or proof of identity (drivers’ licences do not count).

READ ALSO: TRAVEL: Why now’s the best time to discover Italy’s secret lakes and mountains

Keep in mind that you will not be able to use your normal phone number with the new SIM card in, but will be able to access your internet enabled messaging services, like WhatsApp, Facebook and iMessage. Your phone will need to be ‘unlocked’ (ask your carrier about whether yours is) in order to put a new SIM card in.

Here are some of the plans you can choose from:

WindTre

WindTre, the result of a 2020 merger between the Italian company Wind and the UK network provider Three, currently offers a “Tourist Pass” SIM card for foreign nationals. For €24.99 (it’s sneakily marketed as €14.99, but read the small print and you’ll see you need to fork out an additional €10), you’ll have access to 20GB of data for up to 30 days.

The offer includes 100 minutes of calls within Italy plus an additional 100 minutes to 55 foreign countries listed on the WindTre website. Up to 13.7GB can be used for roaming within the EU. The card is automatically deactivated after 30 days, so there’s no need to worry about surprise charges after you return from your holiday. To get this SIM card, you can go into any WindTre store and request it.

A tourist protects herself from the sun with a paper umbrella as she walks at Piazza di Spagna near the Spanish Steps in Rome.
A tourist protects herself from the sun with a paper umbrella as she walks at Piazza di Spagna near the Spanish Steps in Rome.

Vodafone

Vodafone has had better deals in the past, but lately appears to have downgraded its plan for tourists, now called “Vodafone Holiday” (formerly “Dolce Vita”), to a paltry 2GB for €30. You get a total of 300 minutes of calls and 300 texts to Italian numbers or to your home country; EU roaming costs €3 per day.

Existing Vodafone customers can access the offer by paying €19 – the charge will be made to your Vodafone SIM within 72 hours of activating the deal. 

READ ALSO: MAP: The best Italian villages to visit this year

The Vodafone Holiday offer automatically renews every four weeks for €29 – in order to cancel you’ll need to call a toll-free number. The Vodafone website says that the €30 includes the first renewal, suggesting the payment will cover the first four weeks plus an additional four after that, but you’ll want to double check before buying. You’ll need to go to a store in person to get the card.

TIM

TIM is one of Italy’s longest-standing and most well-established network providers, having been founded in 1994 following a merger between several state-owned companies.

The “Tim Tourist” SIM card costs €20 for 15GB of data and 200 minutes of calls within Italy and to 58 foreign countries, and promises “no surprises” when it comes to charges.

You can use the full 15GB when roaming within the EU at no extra charge, and in the EU can use your minutes to call Italian numbers. The deal is non-renewable, so at the end of the 30 days you won’t be charged any additional fees.

READ ALSO: MAP: Which regions of Italy have the most Blue Flag beaches?

To access the offer, you can either buy it directly from a TIM store in Italy, or pre-order using an online form and pay with your bank card. Once you’ve done this, you’ll receive a PIN which you should be able to present at any TIM store on arrival in Italy (along with your ID) to collect your pre-paid card. The card won’t be activated until you pick it up.

Iliad

Iliad is the newest and one of the most competitive of the four major phone companies operating in Italy, and currently has an offer of 120GBP of €9.99 a month. For this reason, some travel blogs recommend Iliad as the best choice for foreigners – but unfortunately all of their plans appear to require an Italian tax ID, which rules it out as an option for tourists.

Contract

Though buying a pre-paid SIM card is a very useful option for visitors spending a decent amount of time in Italy, as mentioned above, there’s a significant different difference between buying a one-time pre-paid SIM versus a monthly plan that auto-renews.

Make sure you know which one you’re signing up for, and that if you choose a plan that will continue charging you after your vacation has ended, you remember to cancel it.

UK contracts

If you have a UK-registered mobile phone, check your plan carefully before travelling. Before Brexit, Brits benefited from the EU cap on roaming charges, but this no longer applies.

Some phone companies have announced the return of roaming charges, while others have not, or only apply roaming charges only on certain contracts.

In short, check before you set off and don’t assume that because you have never been charged extra before, you won’t be this time.

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