The stretch of Sweden’s coastline that begins at Gothenburg and heads north is wild country that’s infused with forests and peppered with islands. Some of these islands are topped by centuries-old fortresses and their shores dotted with stately resorts; others are home to colonies of seals that number in the thousands; and hundreds upon hundreds of them are dramatic, uninhabited rocky outcroppings. Go in summer and you won’t want to miss swimming in the warm saltwater.
Head inland, and amidst the dense flora you’ll find two of Sweden’s largest lakes, as well as surprises—like an art center in a former paper factory. Whichever road you follow here, you’ll wind your way past stands of centuries’ old trees and charming villages. Of course, this being Sweden, you can also expect cafés waiting to serve you a cup of fresh, hot coffee and a cinnamon or cardamom bun still warm from the oven.
The nine-day itinerary here begins in the lively city of Gothenburg and then explores much of the coast nearby, stopping at some of the area’s most picturesque towns and islands. You’ll then head inland, where you can choose from unique overnight accommodations (a room in a grain silo, anyone?). It’s a week in a part of Sweden that few Americans know, making for a trip that you’ll never forget.
Itinerary / 9 DAYSPLAN YOUR TRIP
Gothenburg is also the city where Volvos are born—and it’s the place to begin if you’re interested in purchasing a Volvo. The company’s overseas delivery program includes two round-trip tickets to Gothenburg, one night in a hotel, shipment services, and other perks—and of course, you’ll have your brand-new wheels to take with you on your drive through West Sweden!
Before you start exploring the city, check into your hotel for the night, Upper House. Located on the top three floors of the Gothia Towers, Gothenburg’s tallest buildings, the 53 rooms offer sweeping views of neighboring Liseberg amusement park with its Ferris wheel, the city, and the sea. You may want to take a swim in the dramatic rooftop pool (featuring a glass bottom and sides) or reserve a treatment at the spa, with its floor-to-ceiling windows. Resist the temptation to get too comfortable; you’ll want to take a stroll through this gorgeous city.
A walk along Gothenburg’s historic streets and canals—created by 17th-century Dutch city planners—will bring you to Slottsskogen, the city’s largest park. It’s a favorite of locals who come to wander its twisting paths through stands of local trees: linden, maple, beech, and oaks. On your way to or from the park, stop at one of the many cafes in the Haga neighborhood, to the park’s north, to enjoy fika—the delightful Swedish custom of a coffee break complete with a baked treat.
And if you need outdoor gear before you journey up the coast, check out the area around Södra Larmgatan, Vallgatan, and Magasinsgatan, where you’ll find one of the city’s best areas for shopping.
DAY 2Marstrand Island
Though Marstrand has been occupied since at least the 13th century, it was some 600 years later when the island emerged on travelers’ maps, with seaside resorts attracting the wealthy and famous. Many of those historic 19th-century buildings remain, but you’ll visit an even older one today: Carlstens Fortress, which has protected the city since 1658. Take a guided tour led by a docent in period costume, then explore the fort’s ramparts and rooms on your own. Among the highlights is the infamous dungeon—the fortress was long used as a prison.
Outside of the town of Marstrand, the island is crossed by walking paths, offering options for everything from short excursions to full-day treks. One popular route leads to the Skallens lighthouse, at the island’s western tip.
Take the ferry back to Koon, where you’ll spend the night at the 144-room Marstrands Havshotell. The hotel is known for its spa, which features three pools, a floating sauna, and a long menu of treatments. The simple spa aesthetic extends to its guestrooms and also inspires the healthy cuisine of its restaurant.
Skärhamn is home to a naval base, but for most visitors the primary draw is the Nordic Watercolor Museum. The museum’s building, by Danish architects Niels Bruun and Henrik Corfitsen, has been recognized for its understated simplicity, blending in among the homes of the small town of Skärhamn. Its design also celebrates the intersection of nature and art: The building sits on the water’s edge in a setting that has inspired many artists over the years. The museum’s permanent collection and temporary exhibitions include pieces by leading contemporary painters from all five Nordic countries, working in a range of styles—comical, surrealist, politically engaged, and more.
You’ll leave the museum with a new appreciation for watercolor as a medium (and perhaps be inspired to pick up a brush yourself). Then continue south to Klädesholmen, a smaller island right off of Tjörn. Having admired some of Scandinavia’s contributions to the art world, you’ll now learn more about one of the region’s signature dishes in a cooking class at Salt & Sill. Pickled herring is ubiquitous in Sweden, and this class covers how to make some of its many variations (including in simple vinegar, with mustard, and with spices). You’ll end the class with a souvenir of your own jar of pickled herring, made according to your personal preferences.
Salt & Sill is also where you’ll spend the night, so after class you may want to head to the hotel’s sauna aboard a catamaran in the harbor. Standard rooms and suites are all located right on the water and decorated in a contemporary Scandinavian style; you may be ready for a nap, lulled to sleep by the sounds of the sea. Or you may want to take a kayak tour at dusk, paddling out on the shimmering water as you experience the magic of a Swedish sunset.
DAY 4Käringön Island
Käringön’s history as a fishing village dates back to at least the 16th century, and you’ll still find fishmongers and restaurants selling and serving some of the freshest fish you’ll find anywhere. Many of the quaint homes are now owned by summer residents who have meticulously restored them. The main activity on Käringön is simply to stroll its narrow streets and enjoy the bustle of activity at the pier. There are a few sights you may want to visit, including a local museum in a fisherman’s cottage and an 18th-century church which, thanks to its 66-foot-tall steeple, serves as a local landmark.
After you’ve explored the island, head back to Orust to pick up your car and drive north to your home for the next two nights, the Bokenäset Hotel. The hotel prides itself on introducing guests to the sights and activities of the area, with hikes, fishing expeditions, and boat tours. If you prefer a more independent experience, reserve one of stylish contemporary apartments by the sea; with views of the water and nearby islands, they’re the perfect places to end each day.
DAY 5Bokenäset Hotel
After exploring the area by sea, you may also want to explore it by land. Mountain bike outings last from two to three hours and follow trails through the area’s deciduous forests. Riding at a leisurely pace, you’ll explore the area’s varied scenery, from meadows to beaches and fjords.
These are just two options. You could also choose to sign up for a tasting of local microbrews, a lobster safari, a seal safari, a Walkabout (a sort of variation on geocaching with its own app), and many other activities.
One of the highlights of Dalsland is its many lakes; some 1,000 of them dot the region. You’ll spend part of the day canoeing or kayaking on one of them, Silverlake, where you’ll experience the clean air and quiet of this pristine area. You’ll feel far from civilization here, where the only distractions are the calls of the birds on the shore and the distinct bugles of elk.
On dry land, both armchair historians and naturalists visiting Dalsland head to the Pilgrims’ Path. The walking trails follow a route that was used by medieval pilgrims making their way from West Sweden to the tomb of St. Olaf (in Trondheim, Norway). The practice was brought to an end by the Reformation, but recently it has become popular again with travelers who appreciate exploring Sweden at a leisurely pace. We recommend the hiking section between Mellerud-Edsleskog-Åmål.
In Mellerud, some of those medieval pilgrims would have prayed at Holms Church, built in the 13th century (though with many later additions). Explore a later chapter of Mellerud’s history at the Mellerud’s museum, where displays cover the emigration of thousands of residents, many to the United States. Another stretch of the Pilgrims’ Path passes through Upperud, where you’ll spend the night at the architecturally stunning hotel Upperud 9:9, with guest rooms located in a 100-year-old silo.
You can also book one of the “72 Hour Cabins” here. It’s possible these cabins have appeared in your Pinterest or Instagram feeds. With their glass roofs and glass walls on two sides, the whimsical buildings are visually stunning, but they also serve a higher purpose. You’ll soon learn to stop looking at your watch and let your schedule be determined by the rising and setting of the sun. Elsewhere in the region, you’re required to book the cabins for a minimum of 72 hours; at Baldersnäs Herrgård, however, the cabins can be booked for one to three nights.
Whichever accommodation you choose, leave some time to stop at one of Dalsland’s most unusual destinations, Not Quite, located 25 minutes by car from Baldersnäs. The old paper factory of Fengersfors has been reconfigured and renovated to house artists’ and designers’ studios, and the space is busy with carpenters, potters, and other artisans. There’s a gallery and a boutique where you can pick up a unique piece of art from your Swedish adventure. You’ll also find a café and bistro; the cardamom buns baked in the wood-burning oven are reason enough to stop.
DAY 8Sjötorp and Karlsborg
Your first stop is the town of Sjötorp, on the south shore of Lake Vänern. Have lunch at Café Baltzar and then make the short drive to Lyrestad. Check in to the Norrqvarn hotel, where you can spend the night in a themed room—like an old mill, a magic tree stump, or a toadstool.
While you’re staying there, get out an explore the Göta Canal on foot, by bike, or in a canoe or kayak. After your ride, there’s perhaps no better place for a final dinner in Sweden than one of Sweden’s Edible Country tables. Your table will be located in a lush forest grove next to the canal and within walking distance of the Norrqvarn, with delicious natural and sustainable food, thanks to close cooperation with local producers.