Sweden is made up of 25 different provinces (landskap). There are also 21 counties (län) but provinces are generally applied when talking about geographical sections of the country. Counties are more like political divisions. This is the largest of the three Scandinavian countries (Denmark, Norway and Sweden) and the fifth-largest in Europe with 450,000 square km (175,500 square miles); only Russia, the Ukraine, France and Spain are bigger. Sweden is an oblong country, 1,570 km (975 miles) from north to south, which is equivalent to the distance between Malmö in southern Sweden and Rome, Italy. The width is never more than 500 km (300 miles) and in the south as little as 80 km (48 miles).
Half of the country is forested and there are thousands of lakes, of which Lake Vänern is the largest in Scandinavia and third-largest in Europe. The south of Sweden is flat, while the northwest, close to the Norwegian border, is mountainous. More than half of Sweden is made up of forests – most of it coniferous in the northern and central parts. The forests in southern Sweden are mainly deciduous. Sweden has a long coastline – 3,200 km (2,000 miles). Most of it borders the Baltic Sea to the east where Gotland and Öland, the two biggest islands in the country, are both located. The highest mountain is Mount Kebnekaise (2,111 m/6,755 feet), in northern Lappland.
Sweden has a population of about nine million people with a population density of 19 people per square km. Most of them live in urban areas. Stockholm is the capital and biggest city with 750,000 residents, Gothenburg is second with 470,000 people and Malmö, the third-biggest, has about 270,000. Only 10% of Sweden’s population lives in the northern half of the country; 50% live in Greater Stockholm, Greater Gothenburg and Scania (the southernmost province where Malmö is located).
Swedish is the principal language spoken in Sweden, which has evolved from Old Norse from the Viking era, with strong influences from German. English is taught in school as a second language from early ages and a foreign tourist can get by with English virtually everywhere, especially in and around the bigger cities.
The vast majority of the Swedes people are Protestant Christian (Lutheran), but there is complete freedom of religion in Sweden, as in the other Scandinavian countries. Generally speaking, Scandinavians don’t go to church on a regular basis, only on special occasions such as weddings and funerals.
Swedish meatballs are world-famous, although they don’t look or taste the same if you order them abroad. Smörgåsbord, i.e., buffet, is a Swedish word commonly used in the English language as well (smorgasbord). The word comes from the two terms, smörgås (sandwich) and bord (table). A typical Swedish smörgåsbord consists of many different types of food such as beans, cabbage, potatoes, herring, raw spiced salmon (gravlax), as well as other types of fish, meatballs and much more.
Sweden is a constitutional monarchy with a democratic parliamentary form of government. Parliamentary elections are held every four years, and the minimum age for citizens to vote in general elections is 18. The country's Riksdag is unicameral, with 349 seats. The Riksdag appoints the prime minister who then appoints a council of state which implements the Riksdag’s decisions and is also responsible for creating new laws.
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