Founded in the 13th century, Stockholm is Sweden's strikingly elegant and beautiful capital, spread out over many islands at the meeting point of the Baltic with Lake MÐ ´laren. Stockholm, noted for its outstanding architecture, is one of Scandinavia's most attractive cities. In addition to its many man-made monuments, Stockholm boasts a world of natural beauty. One-third of the city's total land area is devoted to parks.
Guided by a strong belief in individual freedom, Sweden is governed by a constitution that is the oldest in use in Europe. The country's neutrality has allowed it to avoid wars for more than 150 years. Its cities and industry remained intact during both World Wars. A distinct political philosophy has also added significantly to the nation's success. Many of the country's social achievements can be attributed to the development of the 'welfare state' early in the 20th century. This provides its citizens with excellent medical care and substantial retirement benefits. Sweden is recognized as one of the world leaders in matters of health care and life expectancy. Education standards are high, accounting for the country's 100% literacy rate.
The Swedes are proud of their country and take great care to preserve its great natural beauty. As the country's major city, Stockholm offers a wealth of monuments and sites, fine museums, and a rich culture. There are also hundreds of excellent restaurants, as well as a great selection of trendy boutiques and exciting nightclubs.
Visitors should start their exploration of Stockholm with the Gamla Stan, the Old Town on Stadsholmen; an island in the center of the city, it has retained its medieval charm. The maze of narrow, cobbled streets, full of art studios, boutiques, antique shops, nightclubs and bars, is best explored on foot.