Under a warm, late-summer sun, you sit outdoors at a large communal table gazing out at the sea and preparing to experience a longstanding Swedish tradition, the crayfish party. Colorful paper adorns the scene—from the funny conical hats everyone is wearing to the plates, tablecloth, and even the candle lanterns hung around the table. Soon, massive plates of cold crayfish begin to arrive, and as you dig into this tasty delicacy and enjoy the drinks that accompany it, the table erupts in song. As the party continues late into the evening, you realize it’s a moment you’ll never forget.
Seafood and freshwater fish have long been central to the cuisine in Sweden, with shrimp, oysters, herring, salmon, and crayfish featuring prominently on the menus of the country’s leading restaurants and on the dining tables of Swedish families. In western Sweden, the most celebrated shellfish on the coast are langoustines—smaller cousins of lobsters, with a similar texture and delicately sweet flavor. Further inland, the preference is for freshwater crayfish. Both are amazing.
While some of Sweden’s fish and shellfish have limited seasons, langoustines are available year-round. And a meal of them is even more memorable when enjoyed on one of the long days of summer, ideally at a table overlooking the sea. That’s why, in August and September, one important tradition is to attend a kräftskiva, or crayfish party. From north to south, people gather to fish for and enjoy crayfish, cooked the typical Swedish way with ale and crown dill. Lots of fun traditions have developed around these parties: Wearing those silly hats and bibs, drinking snaps (similar to Scandinavian Aquavit), and singing songs.
This itinerary includes some of the best places to try langoustines and other seafood specialties in Gothenburg, its archipelago, and on Sweden’s west coast. If you’re serious about exploring Sweden’s cuisine, you may want to continue on to Skåne and Småland, where the classic red (or black before they’re cooked) crayfish is the local specialty.
And while it may be too late to fit a trip to Sweden into your summer schedule this year, Visit Sweden is inviting the world to a virtual Midsummer celebration. Their Facebook page features videos of events from Skåne, Stockholm, Dalarna, and other parts of the country. After you experience a virtual Midsummer holiday in Sweden, you’ll want to visit the country in person soon—after all, there’s no way to virtually taste a succulent langoustine.
Itinerary / 5 DAYSPLAN YOUR TRIP
DAY 1Arrive in Gothenburg
Then you’ll want to sample some of that fresh fish, by savoring a meal at one of the city’s excellent seafood restaurants. One of the most acclaimed is Restaurant Vrå, which combines Nordic and Japanese flavors in ingenious ways. Oysters are hand-picked by divers and the fish comes straight from the source; it’s all served in a cozy space inside a building that was once the city’s post office. Or book a table at another celebrated restaurant, SK Mat & Människor, which pays tribute to the heritage of Swedish cuisine by serving inventive, contemporary dishes with local ingredients in an intimate space with an open kitchen. Also, the team behind Huggorm has occasional pop-up restaurants serving unforgettable multi-course meals focused on seafood. They’re much anticipated and book up quickly, so keep an eye out.
Gothenburg offers more than just excellent food, of course. Haga, once a suburb of the city but long ago absorbed into it, delivers charm in spades along its cobblestoned streets, with traditional preserved wooden homes and cozy cafes. It’s an ideal area to stroll and window shop, stopping off for fika (a sweet treat paired with coffee) along the way. And be sure to visit the Botanical Gardens, where a dazzling collection of some 16,000 plant species stretch across more than 400 acres. Colorful orchids, lush greenhouses, and a calming rock garden and waterfall make for a relaxing experience full of visual excitement.
At the end of the day, enjoy the sweeping views from your room at the Upper House, a 53-room hotel atop the Gothia Towers that exudes a contemporary, understated elegance. Go for a swim in the hotel’s outdoor glass-bottomed pool that also features views out across this delightful city, then begin your evening in the hotel’s bar, with a glass of champagne and oysters. You could also opt for the eye-popping Dorsia Hotel, a 37-room property in the heart of historic Gothenburg. Timeless elegance comes to life among the dark-colored walls, velvety drapes, and bold accents, immersing you in a world that feels ancient and modern, as well as sexy and homey all at once.
DAY 2Hönö Island
To visit Hönö Island, though, you don’t even need a ferry—you can reach it in just over an hour by public bus from Gothenburg. And one of the exciting activities you’ll find here is taking a fishing charter out to see the how Gothenburg’s restaurants end up with their delicious bounty. Of course, one of the most authentic ways to go is aboard an old wooden fishing boat, and that’s exactly what you’ll find as you’re welcomed aboard Kastor Båtturer’s 2.5-hour Seafood Safari. You’ll feel like history has come to life as you breath the salt air and visit prime spots to find shellfish; even better, you’ll then cook and eat your catch once you get back to Hönö. Or check out Havskatten, which offers lobster safaris in season (starting in late September) and fishing trips throughout the year.
If you’d prefer to stay on dry land, Hönö Island is perfectly set up to explore by bike. Stop off at Ersdalen nature reserve, where ancient inland ice has shaped a dramatic landscape full of huge boulders by the ocean’s edge that offer breathtaking views. Then ride to one of the beaches and cool off with a refreshing dip in the sea, with the boulders just offshore creating a natural silhouette against the horizon. At the island’s lively harbor, the Fishing Museum is stuffed with memorabilia and features opportunities to learn about Hönö’s maritime past. After you’ve learned about how fish has long been caught here, enjoy some of the freshest selections at the bright, airy Restaurant Tullhuset, known for its shrimp sandwiches and signature Customs House fish soup. Whether you sit outside or in, you’ll enjoy the restaurant’s great water views.
After your island excursion, return to Gothenburg and settle into your luxurious accommodations at either the Upper House or the Dorsia.
DAY 3Explore Western Sweden
In the afternoon, you’ll head to an incredibly charming island that comes with a royal pedigree, along with the stunning sea views that you’ve come to expect, full of rocky outcroppings peppering the shimmering sea. Marstrand lies just off the Bohuslän coast and is Sweden’s sailing capital—its marina is typically filled with yachts. Long a center of herring fishing, it was reborn in the late 19th century as a resort for Sweden’s elite. Elegant, turn-of-the-century hotels and houses have been meticulously restored, yet Marstrand doesn’t feel like it’s been preserved under glass. It remains a popular favorite of families and others who want to enjoy a day by the sea, exploring the delightful historic town and massive 17th-century Carlstens Fortress, which sits atop the island’s pinnacle and overlooks the island in striking fashion.
Your final stop for today, Klädesholmen, isn’t far as the crow flies; it sits on an island just north of Marstrand. Since you’re not a crow, however, getting to Klädesholmen will require driving for about an hour back to the mainland. The town’s fortune was long tied to herring; today, fishermen’s cottages, a herring museum, and a herring factory reflect that legacy. And if you’ve never stayed in a floating hotel, tonight is your chance: Salt & Sill is one of Sweden’s thoroughly unique hotel gems. Two-story rooms sit on a floating pontoon with views of either the town or the outer archipelago; inside, they boast a cool, minimalist design that evokes the area’s seafaring past and modern Swedish culture.
At the end of your drive, you’ll join a truly unique experience with Edible Country. Not only is your dining table on a rock by the water’s edge, but you’ll also be helping to prepare your meal. Chef Thomas Sjögren provides the recipe, and you’ll learn to make one of Sweden’s favorite summer dishes: herring with potatoes. It’s ideally suited to the setting, as this part of Sweden is the source of much of the country’s mackerel, mussels, lobsters, and, yes, herring. Then sit down and dig in for an authentic taste of Sweden, savored with a view. And with the cooking tips you’ve picked up, it’s a meal you can recreate at home, to relive this magical experience. Duly sated, go for a relaxing walk on trails along the beautifully rugged coast.
The Edible County experience lasts for roughly six hours, from noon to 6 p.m., and is only offered on Fridays. If you’re visiting on another day or the experience has sold out, you’ll find other nearby restaurants to enjoy a meal focused on the sea’s bounty. In nearby Fiskebäckskil, Brygghuset sits on the water’s edge, with view of ships and sea. Its owners are proud of their long and close connections to the area’s fishermen, who will typically set aside the best of their daily catches for the restaurant. The fish and local produce are then turned into exquisite dishes that reflect a mixture of French and Bohuslän influences and preparations.
If you don’t want to go far after your meal, you’ll find a super-charming hotel, Slipens, adjacent to the restaurant. Cozy rooms here bring history to life, with memorabilia that pay tribute to some of the area’s colorful characters, like fisherman Gustav Berntsson, as well as Regina Andersson, who rowed a passenger ferry boat to support her family until she was almost 80 years old. You can also stroll the charming fishing village nearby, Grundsund, and take an evening kayak tour, paddling in the calm waters and letting the colors in the sky soothe you as the sun moves ever closer to the horizon. Or spend the night at Lådfabriken, a former factory that was repurposed as a hotel and opened in 2013. The colorful, four-room property sits just 100 feet from the sea, in an especially tranquil part of the Bohuslän Coast.