If you want to see Sweden at play, head straight for the Gota Canal. This marvel of 19th-century engineering stretches 190 km (118 mi) from Sjotorp on Lake Vanem to the Baltic Sea at Mem and is a real crowd- puller. Whether you are travelling on it or cycling alongside it you cannot help but be impressed by its sheer scale. Fifty-eight locks, some of them rising to an incredible 90 m (295 ft) above sea level, carry vessels through a chain of stunning natural lakes, making this one of the most impressive waterways anywhere on the planet.
The canal takes you through the heart of Sweden, passing historic sites, medieval churches, attractive towns and rich green forests along the way. Many steamers ply their trade along it and this gentle form of transport has much to recommend it. You can hop on and hop off these boats and, with the aid of a bicycle, it is possible to explore the wider environs.
For a more intimate experience there is nothing better than hiring a boat on anyone of the stunningly beautiful lakes that grace the waterway, stopping only to have a picnic lunch by the shore.
Most journeys are about getting somewhere, whereas riding the Gota Canal invites you to stop and marvel at every point. It offers great fishing, kayaking, Nordic walking and a whole host of other activities. Like one big joyful playground, it has become more than the sum of its parts - a wonderful potpourri of outdoor adventure.
By boat and/or bike
WHEN TO GO
Year round, but it springs fully into life from June to August.
TIME IT TAKES
Two to six days by steamer.
The gorgeous lakes of Vattern and Vanern.
The Trollhatte Canal Museum.
De la Gardie Palace - a wonderful Baroque-style building.
Birka Viking settlement on Bjorko Island.
YOU SHOULD KNOW
Organised tours, though usually all-inclusive, can be expensive, With a c _ little forward planning, it is possible to enjoy this magnificent waterway for a fraction of the cost.