Three hundred years ago, Sweden was one of the great powers of Europe. However, most of its imperial territories were lost during the 18th and 19th centuries. For example, the eastern half of Sweden, present-day Finland, was taken by Russia in 1809. Today, Sweden consistently ranks at the top of lists for health and literacy, far ahead of some much wealthier countries. Despite its northern location, it is warmer and drier than other places at a similar latitude, mainly because of the Gulf Stream. Highlights include the rustic villages along the Bohuslän coast, the ancient city of Uppsala and the two great lakes, Vänern and Vättern. Fully 15 percent of the country lies above the Arctic Circle; Laponia, the largest tract of protected land in Europe, is laced with pristine rivers and desolate glacial valleys. On the island of Gotland, Visby is popular with summer cruise ships, but a few hundred yards away from the main square, most of the enchanting narrow streets are devoid of tourists.

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