When we first moved to Sweden, like many foreigners, we landed in Stockholm. We were lucky enough to live the city life for a full six months (thanks to my husband’s employer). We spent every weekend exploring neighborhoods, discovering the best playgrounds and playspaces in the museums, and becoming a connoisseur of child-friendly cafes and restaurants.
Life in Stockholm was as amazing as it looks and for us, the city life was great…for a while. It became tiresome hauling our stroller (or pram for you Brits) up five flights of stairs and even more tiresome trying to cram into the tiny 19th-century elevator/lift that was apparently designed for much smaller people than exist today. The point is, the everyday hassle coupled with the skyrocketing pricepoint of Stockholm apartments sent us searching for wide open (and more affordable) spaces.
We headed out to the suburbs in search of a house with a yard/garden for less than 6 million kronor—something that doesn’t exist within Stockholm city limits. It turns out that you can buy a nice four-bedroom house in a suburb for a fraction of the price of a closet-sized apartment in Vasastan.
Suburban life was looking good on the surface but would it measure up over time? We accepted that our priorities had changed—we weren’t taking advantage of the benefits of city life anyway—and we found a nice house in a small town on the Baltic. A town with a name that even the locals pronounce differently, which makes telling people where you live even more of a linguistic adventure.
Here are the reasons why I love our small-not-Stockholm-town
1. It’s on the Baltic
Stockholm is based on Lake Mälaren and a bit on the Baltic Sea depending on where you live, but our town has both lakes and access to the sea in spades. The northern archipelago is at our doorstep, and a quick ferry ride brings you to one of the most beautiful uninhabited islands I’ve ever seen—Ansjö. Every year we pack a picnic and take a long day trip to one of Sweden’s few National Parks. Living further away from the city means that you can find quiet space and picnic and swim in private. Time to bathe like a Swede (and by that, I mean, naked, hello!).
2. Nature in our backyard
When we lived in Stockholm, we often took a train to a more remote location to go blueberry picking and mushroom hunting. Green space was readily available in the parks, but to find berries, you have to go to a forest. In our town, our neighborhood has pockets of forest nestled between the houses that are bursting with edible berries. Our house is a few minutes’ walk away from a nature reserve. We have families of deer who eat the apples in our backyard, and my neighbors have reported moose and wild boar though we have never seen them ourselves. (Moose, if you’re reading this, please swing by our backyard, so my kids will believe we have a magical wonderland behind our house, okay? Thanks!)
3. The Northern Lights/Aurora Borealis
Due to the lack of light pollution, we have seen the aurora borealis from our back window—I’m not joking, it surprised us too. While perhaps not as bright as those seen in Kiruna, we were able to stay warm in our pajamas and watch the show for free. We don’t live that much farther north from Stockholm, but we were able to see the lights when they’d be otherwise undetectable in the city due to the ambient light. Take that, city slickers!
4. Freedom to play
We lucked out and found a house in a neighborhood with children all around the same age. With a set of loose rules (i.e., “Stay between our house and their house) and other parents who are keeping an eye out, our five-year-old son heads out the front door in the summer time and disappears with his friends for hours at a time. Our doors remain open, and there is a stream of kids in and out of all of the houses. It feels like a close-knit, trustworthy, and warm community. Sometimes, the neighbors feed my kids lunch and other times, it is my responsibility to feed a hungry horde of famished children running around the neighborhood. I couldn’t ask for a better group of families in our community.
5. Quiet beaches
My small town has a population less than 50,000, and in the summer, most of those people head off to their summer houses. We usually stay behind and enjoy the best Sweden has to offer in July—heading to the Baltic or our nearby lake for warmer waters. More often than not, we have the place to ourselves. Quiet and solitude on the beach soaking up the sun. What could be better?
6. Cross-country skiing out our back door
We live near a golf course that is a popular cross-country skiing spot in the winter. Literally, open our back door and walk for a few minutes and you are on a ski trail. Do I know how to ski cross-country? No, but the option is always there and someday I’m sure that I’ll pick it up as a hobby…maybe.
7. We randomly run into people all of the time
To be fair, this also happened in Stockholm, and it boggled my mind how often I would randomly bump into friends on the street, but this occurs with increased frequency in our small town. I look like quite a popular American when grocery shopping and I am stopped every few minutes with people saying hello and giving me hugs. I love it when this happens while I have out-of-town family visiting—it helps reassure them that we aren’t isolated or lonely living far from “home.”
In summary, living in Stockholm is pretty fabulous, but there are a lot of benefits to living out in the “countryside” especially if you have a family. We unquestionably love living in our small town and the community that we have discovered and helped build.
Written by Lisa Ferland
Lisa Ferland is a US citizen who has lived in a small Swedish town for nearly five years. She has published two anthologies about the cultural differences experienced during pregnancy, birth, and parenting abroad called the Knocked Up Abroad series. Find more on her blog here.