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Why West Sweden Gets Living Right

It’s officially summer, and that means Swedes are basking in near-24-hour daylight, whether island hopping on a sailboat excursion along the west coast or cycling through the streets of Gothenburg, its second-largest city.

But whatever the season, there are quality-of-life lessons we can learn from West Sweden in particular. Here are four that will help you fit in with the locals as a traveler—and that you can emulate when back at home.

1. Respect the Fika. More than a caffeine fix, fika is about taking the time to savor your coffee, along with good company and conversation. It’s so fundamental to the sense of Swedish wellbeing that this break has been formalized in some employee contracts. Even in the darkest days of winter, you can spy bundled-up Swedes enjoying their fika at a sidewalk café. The cobblestone town of Alingsås in West Sweden counts the most cafés per capita and recently appointed itself “the capital of fika,” complete with guided tasting tours. In Gothenburg, about 40 minutes away, Café Husaren has its own claim to fame: the world’s largest cinnamon buns (kanelbullar). It’s the classic coffee accompaniment, and one you can even whip up in your own kitchen by following this recipe.

2. Maximize Your Time Outdoors. Ninety-seven percent of Sweden is uninhabited. Just imagine the potential—essentially a lifetime’s supply of nature experiences, including pristine reserves, secluded beaches, and pine and birch forests. Gothenburg makes a great jumping-off point for exploring the picturesque Bohuslän archipelago, whose 8,000 islands extend north to the border with Norway. The Koster Islands, specifically, have been declared Sweden’s first and only marine national park. Do as the Swedes do and explore by kayak; there are no strong currents, and the water is warm in summer and early autumn.

3. Dine on What’s Fresh or Foraged. In West Sweden, the catch of the day is drawn from cold, mineral-rich waters that yield some of the world’s best fish and shellfish. Swedes may not fully appreciate how good they have it! But they certainly take advantage, enjoying herring with all kinds of dishes and with traditional celebrations at Christmas and Midsummer, not to mention lobster and crayfish. (You can experience the region’s bounty by joining local fishermen on a seafood safari—with a satisfying meal as your reward.) Swedes set a worthy example for rethinking our own approach to food. Consider their recent grades awarding restaurants for sustainability or the Allemansrätten (right of public access) that allows Swedes to forage far and wide for stuff like raspberries and chanterelle mushroom, as long as they show respect for local residents and nature.

4. Craft Your Toasts. Swedes do their drinking right: custom calls for making eye contact with your friends and making a lively speech—or a few—before bottoms up. While aquavit and vodka are traditional drinks of choice, craft beer is increasingly popular. Credit goes to microbreweries turning out award-winning brews, notably Stigbergets Bryggeri, which has drawn acclaim for its Walking Porter and Saison. It’s part of a flourishing beer scene in Gothenburg. The free-flowing beer is all the more encouragement to strike up a conversation with the Swedes at the next table—and to take their convivial spirit and appreciation of quality craftsmanship to heart.

Related: West Sweden’s Best Road Trips