Something Swedish

Navigating Sweden


I’ve been living in Sweden for nearly two years now and I have a confession: I still don’t know my own neighborhood. Outside of four major streets or highways, street names are an elusive mystery to me. Having grown up in Queens, NYC, where every street is perfectly aligned with a ruler and numbered in order, I’ve never been very great with named streets. Naturally, I thought that was the problem – until yesterday.


Yesterday I had my first lone adventure in Sweden. I took the 8am train to Gothenburg all by myself so that I can get my fingerprints, photo, and signature taken for my new ID card (Permanent residence, yay!)

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Even though I’ve been to Gothenburg a dozen times before, I’ve never had to think about where I was because I wasn’t alone – especially not trying to find an address. Even though I’ve been to migrationsverket one time before (two years ago) and I was using Iphone maps, I was having a hard time. And that’s when it hit me:

Street signs in Sweden suck. Sorry to be so harsh (it was partially for alliterations sake… I couldn’t resist the 4th ‘s’ word) , but they are so different than what I’m used to, I’ve never even NOTICED street signs in Sweden before. No wonder I don’t recognize any street names. (thankfully, and obviously, I don’t drive)

Let me compare:

Street signs in NYC are ALWAYS posted in the same exact spot on every street corner – sticking out from a pole on the corner, away from the buildings in clear sight of pedestrians trying to find their way – spottable and readable from more than a half a block away. These signs are also always at the same height, not to be missed or confused with anything else.


Street signs in Sweden can be anywhere. Yes, they are on the corner, but not always every corner. They are not always at the same height (from above store entrances/ signs to almost eye level). And worse of all, they are camouflaged into the surroundings – attached to the sides of buildings, sometimes nestled next to awnings or signs.

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BTW, stumbling upon street names named after Norse gods (Odin and Frigga) was pretty awesome, I have to say.

While the street sign system is not my favorite, I do give partial credit to the addresses. The sorting of addresses on each block reminds me of how books are sorted in a library: each book shelf (block/street sign) indicating which books (addresses) you’ll find there. While I don’t think it gives a good indication of where that address will actually be, if you’re looking at the sign (if you can find it) then you’ll know if that block has the address you need.

In Queens a three part address system is used (xx – xx- xxx street), which seems confusing, but helps understand where in the neighborhood the address is located in relation to other streets. The first number being the cross street, the second number being the house number, and the third number being the street that the address is actually on. Without using cross streets in the address, dependency on a map (or knowledge of the area) is more crucial in Sweden – or so it feels for me.

Of course street signs are different everywhere, and it’s easy reading what you’re used to. This is simply not something I expected to have to adjust to. Now that I’ve noted the difference, I can start paying more attention and forcing myself to look for them – on the sides of buildings.

16 thoughts on “Navigating Sweden

  1. Have you been anywhere else in Europe? I think that the poles with street names (or numbers) are not to be found here anywhere… all street signs are usually on the corner house 🙂 But I can see now, why is that confusing for people from the US…

    • I haven’t, I assumed its set up differently everywhere, so it was just the comparison with my experience from NYC. I thought it was worth pointing out for future expats from the US because it is quite different for us! 🙂

      • well, we have red plates with street names, but still, they are (usually) at the corner house 🙂 But I agree that your system is much more fail proof…

  2. Added to the confusion is that the street sign, if there is one, is posted at the beginning of the road. After that, nothing. Not a problem in the middle of town but anywhere outside, you better know where you are going before you go there. Also, the streets sometimes change names even though it is still going straight! One nice thing, though, there are rarely any 3 digit addresses, usually just one or two. Anyway, I share with your street sign suckiness..

    • No, that is not true. At some places maybe, but it is certainly not the usual way here, the signs are utsually on most corners.

  3. I just moved to Sweden from NY a month ago and today I was in Götebörg getting my Swedish ID card and I noticed the exact same thing! Compared to New York, street signs are so difficult to find, sometimes they aren’t even on the corner where they should be! Suffice to say, I annoyed my sambo thoroughly with my complaints 🙂

  4. I’ve lived here for so long now and never really thought of this, but you are totally right. They are just randomly put anyway, or even, not at all. Good luck with the ID!

  5. Numbered streets are pretty engenius, do they exist outside new york?

  6. We had to go to Malmö for my residency card and it took us ages to find the right place and that was even with Fredrik living in Sweden his whole life so you are not alone!

  7. Loved this post! Although I consider myself good with maps, I must admit our travels to Scandanavia had me stumped. We kept passing the same cross street (or so I thought) until we figured out what we thought was a street name was simply a sign that indicted “one way.” Clearly, I need more work!

  8. Congrats on the visa! How many months were you waiting? I’ve been waiting for a Swedish visa (for Stockholm) since July 2013. I thought I’d have it by now. It’s frustrating to wait (maybe it’s my American side—not used to waiting! haha). I wish they had a number system so I could see how many people are in front of me, before they get to my application (like at customer service stores where you can take a number and wait for them to get to your number).

    • Thanks! Are you waiting for your initial visa or an extension on an existing one? Stockholm visas are said to take longer due to the population. If you are waiting for your first visa, then a 6 month wait is not abnormal (mine took about 3 months because I was already married and moving to Halmstad, which is quiet small – but on the other hand I have heard of people waiting up to a year) The visa extension, however, only took a day before I received an email saying they made a decision and then three days later I received the mail saying that it was approved. I know what you mean about being anxious to hear back from them or at least know how close you are, there might not be a number system, but perhaps calling and finding out a status isn’t a bad idea! Good luck!

    • I just got my approval, and I was from Michigan. We had to wait from beginning of May until just two Fridays ago. My ID went for a loop, and I have to wait for it to be sent back from the states so I can pick it up at Migrationsverket… But anyways, there are certain people that will tell you the wait is getting longer because of some new computer system they are installing so that future applications will take less time. Other people will tell you it is because of the Syrian refugees. We had people pass our casefile for the application around for months without opening it, even though we knew it was an open and shut case. We even had a woman tell us that the file had been done but that the people above her had to approve the application and there was a line. The only reason our application was approved two Fridays ago was that I called the woman who had my casefile in her possession personally, and asked for an update and if she would just take a look at the file or give me an idea of how long it would take because ‘I want to go home at the end of the day, just like you.’ She told me that each case was done individually and not in a line, as previously told by another worker. She also told me she would try and get a look at it, but that she wasn’t my case worker, and then I found out the Monday afterword that she had taken a look, and it was an open and shut case, and we were approved that day.

      Before all of this, my family had never heard of anyone’s applications taking longer than four months, so all of this waiting had made us all frustrated and nervous.

      Call and find out the status of your case, ask how many more people’s hands it has to go through before it might get finished.

      Super Duper Good Luck, and hope you will be here soon!

  9. In the subdivision where I live in Houston,TX ,we are required to have our house number painted on the curb in reflective paint (so emergency responders can easily locate your house after dark).Most people also have their house number on the front of the house as well.Also the name of your subdivision is on the street sign as well.

  10. I too am an American who’s moved to Sweden recently and I completely agree on the terrible street signs! I’ve been aware of Sweden’s lack of signs, or just the terrible placements when they are around since we’ve moved and began our attempts at exploring. But my most recent experience and frustrations was not limited to Sweden’s signage, but Scandinavia in general. This past weekend my husband and I traveled to Oslo Norway for a little trip. Once we crossed the border into Norway we shut off our phones to avoid roaming charges. I felt so naked and alone! My phone is how I usually find my way, and go figure I didn’t bring a map. I had a general idea of the area and knew the street names we needed to be on, the problem was finding them! Eventually we made our way and had a wonderful trip, but whenever we relied on maps more than the street signs around us, mainly because there weren’t many!

  11. I guess this is why I get lost all the time in Copenhagen as well. I wish we had American signs!

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