Sweden takes its place among the seven largest countries in Europe and is size-wise roughly the equivalent of Spain or the state of California, USA. Despite its large area, its population is only 9.7 million, making it sparsely populated with only about 23 inhabitants per square kilometre. This compares to the EU average of more than 100 people per square kilometre. The country is characterised by its long coastline, extensive forests and numerous lakes, making for beautiful scenery combined with a rich and varied wildlife. Throughout the country there are large numbers of moose (elks), roe deer, foxes and hares, and there are also smaller populations of wolf, bear, lynx and wild-boar. There is a popular misconception that polar bears walk the streets of the average Swedish town. That may well have been the case had it not been for the Gulf Stream, the warm Atlantic current that provides Sweden with a more favourable climate. The four seasons all have their own distinctive character and the contrast between the long, bright summer days and equally long, not-so-bright winter nights is vast.
Sweden is located at roughly the same latitudes as Greenland and Alaska, with 15 per cent of its area north of the Arctic Circle. During a few weeks each summer, the sun never sets in the Swedish Arctic. Similarly, it does not rise there for some time during the winter months. Summers are moderately warm throughout the country. In the north, winters are long, often with snow and sub-zero temperatures for several months. The further south you go however, the winters are milder. Sweden is a constitutional monarchy. King Carl XIV Gustaf is the head of state but the duties that come with this position are essentially ceremonial and he exercises no political power. Instead, with Sweden being a parliamentary democracy, all power comes from the people. Everyone has the same rights and a chance to have their say. General elections are held every four years and some 7 million people are entitled to vote and influence which party will represent them in parliament, county councils and municipalities. Sweden has a long tradition of peace – the country has not been at war since 1814. It prides itself on being a society that promotes gender equality, tolerance and inclusiveness, and consistently ranks high in terms of life expectancy and standard of living.