Sweden’s Cuisine: Tasting the Hand-Crafted Magic

Flowers on a table in the woods. A picnic basket lies on a fur-covered bench


In recent years, Nordic cuisine has emerged as one of the culinary world’s most exciting developments. The chefs who lead this movement have introduced diners to flavors well-known to Scandinavian diners but unfamiliar in the U.S., like berries and herbs foraged from forests and time-honored preparations like smoking, curing, and pickling. The unconventional approaches mean that every course may have an element of surprise. At the same time, Swedish chefs have been pioneers in using local ingredients and adopting sustainable practices, making those concerns central to every dish they prepare.

While the Swedish culinary scene is often heading in new and unexpected directions, many Swedish favorites are the ultimate comfort foods—open-faced shrimp sandwiches, cardamom and cinnamon buns, meatballs with lingonberries. Even the fussiest eater may find love at first bite in the country.

The passion for eating healthy and sustainably runs deep here. In fact, a new program has turned the entire country into a gourmet adventure. With Edible Country experiences, diners forage for their own ingredients before using them to create nine-course meals.

This culinary tour, however, focuses on both the simple and the celebrated restaurants and markets of Stockholm, Malmö, Gothenburg, and West Sweden. Detours to smaller towns and villages in lead to meals to remember, served in settings that almost outshine the chefs’ masterpieces.

A bowl of cinnamon rolls.


Cinnamon Bun Baking Class

On a day trip to Vaxholm Island, you’ll learn how to make cinnamon buns from a master baker, and end class with a dozen to take home (or share with the other passengers on your ferry back to Stockholm).
Edible Destinations by Epitourean


Edible Destinations by Epitourean

Edible Destinations by Epitourean is where travelers discover their culinary inspirations through unique cooking vacations and culinary getaways. Learn the delicious secrets of regional cuisines, relish the adventure of extraordinary tasting menus from today's top culinary artisans, enjoy intimate foodie tours and farmers markets, experience premium wines through orchestrated VIP tastings, and take hands-on cooking classes with talented chefs. From mini-culinary boot camps to weeklong cooking vacations, you’ll find the perfect recipe for adventure at
Stockholm over the water at sunset.

Stockholm over the water at sunset.

Photo by Raphael Andres/Unsplash

DAY 1Arrive in Stockholm

You’ll start your Swedish culinary odyssey in the country’s capital, Stockholm. The Hotel Skeppsholmen, your home for the next four nights, sits on the island of the same name—one of 14 major islands that comprise Stockholm. It’s a quiet corner of the city, with the historic center, Gamla Stan, to its west and Djurgården, home to many of the top museums (including the Vasamuseet), to its east. Skeppsholmen does have a major museum of its own, the Museum of Modern Art, but historically the island was principally a military base, guarding the routes between the city and the Baltic Sea. As the military presence has dwindled, the island has become a surprisingly tranquil area.

One of the former barracks has now been reborn as the Hotel Skeppsholmen. The building dates from 1699, and after extensive renovations, it’s now an inviting waterfront eco-hotel. Rooms combine contemporary Swedish style with nods to the property’s maritime heritage.

The hotel has also become a culinary destination, thanks to its restaurant, Långa Raden, which features traditional Swedish dishes while giving them a light and fresh updating. Dig into options like crispy cod with apple and capers sauce, meatballs with lingonberries, and perhaps the best shrimp sandwich you’ll ever eat. After dinner there, you likely wake up early, in anticipation of breakfast—a spread of fresh breads, yogurt, cold cuts, and fruit. If time allows, the restaurant will pack you a gourmet picnic. You can then find a waterfront spot to enjoy some sandwiches and cinnamon buns; they’ll even provide a blanket.
Produce in a market


DAY 2A Market and Michelin Stars

In a city with countless coffee shops and cafes serving coffee paired with a sweet treat—the Swedish meal known as fika—being recognized as Stockholm’s best is a big deal. Café Pascal received that honor when it won the coveted Gulddraken award. With its bentwood chairs, exposed bricks walls, and large windows looking out on a quiet street near busy Odenplan, it’s an inviting and cozy place. The excellent coffee and the delicious pastries—croissants, cinnamon rolls, cardamom buns—will convince you to linger. (You’ll also find savory options if you stop in later in the day.)

Next, head to the Östermalms Saluhall, a busy market housed in a beautiful 1880s building. It’s decidedly serene for an urban market, with shoppers choosing flawless fish filets and perfectly prepared shrimp. In addition to stalls selling ingredients to be prepared later, the market has a number of restaurants where you can sample their specialties. Depending on the timing of your trip, you may be among the first to see the Östermalms Saluhall after its renovation is completed in 2020. Until then, the market is in a temporary location on the adjacent square.

As you anticipate your next meal, a visit to the National museum, which reopened in 2018, provides a chance to explore Swedish art, culture, and design. Exhibitions and the permanent galleries cover a dazzling range of topics—fashion and furniture designers, the history of ceramics, and representations of Norse gods in 19th-century sculptures, to pick a few topics. One of the highlights of the reopened museum is its restaurant, where every glass, place setting, and piece of furniture has been carefully curated. In all, the work of around 80 designers is represented. The innovative and delicious dishes served by the restaurant are the creations of chef Fredrik Eriksson, famous for his encyclopedic knowledge of Swedish cooking from heritage recipes to the latest in molecular gastronomy.

Your culinary adventures for the day are far from over. Stockholm’s restaurant scene includes no less than 10 Michelin-starred restaurants and nine Bib Gourmand winners. It will be impossible to try them all in the few days you have in the city, but tonight you’ll dine at one of them—Frantzén—as long as you make reservations far in advance (perhaps even before you purchase your plane tickets).

In 2018, Frantzén became the first restaurant in Sweden to earn three Michelin stars. It’s located in a 19th-century house, though once you enter through the doors, you’ll find a contemporary and dramatic space, entirely fitting with chef Björn Frantzén’s approach to cooking. His dishes embody a mix of Scandinavian and Japanese influences and are known for their elegant presentations. You’ll follow the chef’s lead when you order the set multi-course menu (which is, in fact, the only option).
Two cinnamon rolls and a glass of milk


DAY 3Explore Stockholm’s Islands

Right at the city’s doorstep, the Stockholm Archipelago is one of Sweden’s highlights: some 30,000 magical islands scattered across the Baltic, dotted with fishing villages and beautiful summer homes. Today you’ll visit one of the most popular of them, Vaxholm, which is also one of the easiest to get to. There are frequent ferries in the summer, and the journey takes less than an hour.

After you arrive in Vaxholm, admire the restored wooden houses and, if you have time, visit the imposing Vaxholm Castle, on its own island just across a small channel from the town of Vaxholm. You don’t want to be late for your next stop, however—a cinnamon bun baking class at the Vaxholm Bed and Breakfast, led by a baker famous for her delicious version of this favorite Swedish treat. You’ll prepare the dough and then sit down to lunch in the Greenhouse while waiting for it to rise. After your meal, you’ll bake the buns and leave class with a dozen to take home. (If you share them with other passengers on the ferry back to Stockholm, you’ll soon have many new friends.)

Continue your island-hopping when you board another ferry to Fjäderholmarnas Krog, located on one of the islands closest to the capital (about a 25-minute journey). This waterside restaurant, not surprisingly, specializes in seafood—it’s a perfect place to order a popular summertime dish, crayfish served with cheese, toast, and mayonnaise.
Swedish pastries in a case. There are two signs: "Kanelbulle 25÷" and "Kardemumma-bulle 25÷."


DAY 4Culture and Cuisine

One of the world’s leading photography museums, Fotografiska opened in 2010 in a restored art nouveau customs building, with postcard views of Stockholm’s old town just across the water. It’s played host to critically acclaimed exhibitions of works by Annie Leibovitz, Sebastião Salgado, and others.

In addition to being one of Stockholm’s top cultural destinations, Fotografiska has also become a culinary one—a status that was made official when its restaurant was named the best Museum Restaurant in the World in 2017, by the Leading Cultural Destinations Awards. Here, chef Paul Svensson is serious about sustainable cuisine—using local, organic produce and extracting as much flavor from every vegetable and fruit as he can, while also attempting to throw out as little as possible. The menu is proof that vegetarian and vegan cuisine can be rich and satisfying; you probably won’t even notice the absence of meat (though you can order roast chicken as a side).

Follow lunch with a stroll through either the atmospheric streets and lanes of Gamla Stan, or head south and browse the boutiques of one of Stockholm’s trendier areas, Södermalm.

This evening you’ll dine at Wedholms Fisk, a pioneer that helped make Stockholm the culinary capital it has become. Since 1985, the restaurant has been serving its seafood-centric dishes in an elegant dining room with water views. While Fotografiska is a cultural institution that has also become a must-visit for gourmands, Wedholms Fisk is an acclaimed restaurant that also became an art gallery. Located throughout the restaurant are pieces by an artist in residence, with a new one selected each April. It’s a tradition that dates back to the restaurant’s early days, when hungry artists were allowed to pay for their meals with works they had created.
A massive bridge stretches towards the horizon


DAY 5Travel to Malmö

This morning you’ll say goodbye to Stockholm and continue on to your next stop, Malmö, at the southern tip of Sweden, just across the water from Denmark’s capital, Copenhagen. You can fly, but if you opt to travel by train, the four-hour journey will take you through gorgeous Swedish countryside.

Malmö is just over the water from Copenhagen and not far from Germany, a location that helps explain why it’s often described as Sweden’s most cosmopolitan city, long open to foreign influences—a trait that characterizes most of the city’s restaurant scene, too.

Your home in Malmö will be the Elite Hotel Esplanade, located in the city’s historic heart. A stroll along cobblestone streets will take you to Malmö Castle; head the other direction and you’ll soon reach Stortorget, the city’s main square. Explore old Malmö and admire the many Dutch-influenced buildings as you work up an appetite for dinner.

You’ll be dining tonight at Vollmers, one of Malmö’s most acclaimed restaurants and the recipient of two Michelin stars. Located in a modest 19th-century rowhouse, it’s unassuming from the outside, but you’ll soon realize you’re in a sanctuary of fine dining. While casual and contemporary may be the trend in many restaurants, here the décor is decidedly old school: white tablecloths and thick carpets. The chefs, brothers Mats and Ebbe Vollmer, reimagine the flavors of Sweden’s Scania region: Red beets, smoked farm cheeses, broad beans, and other ingredients are turned into jewel-like dishes. (A tip: The name of the restaurant is pronounced with an “f” sound—“Follmers.”)
People eat health-looking food at a table.


DAY 6A Food Tour of Malmö

Explore the building blocks of Malmö cuisine today as you visit some of the purveyors who provide both professional chefs and home cooks with the highest quality ingredients.

You’ll start this morning with a visit to Fiskehoddorna, an unusual fish market located right in the city center (only about 15 minutes on foot from your hotel). Much of Malmö’s history was shaped by fishing, especially of herring. Salted, smoked, and pickled, the fish was long a mainstay of the economy. The two-story design of the fishermens’ huts dates from the 19th century. Originally, the fishermen would sleep upstairs while they would sell their catch on the lower floor. The huts long stood on the city’s western harbor, but when they faced demolition in 1956, the beloved structures were saved and moved to their current location.

Ost & Vänner—the name translates as “cheese and friends”—is sort of like a neighborhood bar with a dairy-friendly focus. You can order a plate of four different cheeses, paired with jams and preserves, as well as a beer or glass of wine, and then find a table. At night, live jazz often accompanies the cheese eating.

In the afternoon, sign up for a MovEat (formerly Madamilen) Food Tour. These events are the spontaneous creation of MovEat followers, and tour themes are determined by individual organizers. One day it may be signature cocktails, and another might be vegan dishes. Each tour typically includes 10 stops, and you can find upcoming ones on the group’s Facebook page. While MovEat’s followers are mostly Swedish, most Swedes speak English and will be glad to have you join their culinary outing.

This evening, you’ll dine at one of Malmö’s culinary highlights, Bastard—a Bib Gourmand–recognized restaurant with a tavern-like atmosphere. If you’ve already had so much to eat today that a full dinner doesn’t sound appealing, Bastard is also perfect for an evening cocktail paired with a meat-and-cheese board. It’s also located just a half block from your hotel, so go ahead and order one more cocktail.
A woman walks through a market with a bag of groceries.


DAY 7Wanås Castle

Check out this morning from the Elite Hotel Esplanade and head to Wanås Castle, located to the north of Malmö—it’s about 90 minutes by car.

It is also a journey back in time. The 11 rooms of the hotel, which opened in 2017, are located in 18th-century buildings. Other buildings date from as early as the 1440s, while a 16th-century step-gabled Renaissance building has the most distinctive profile.

Guestrooms are all decorated in an understated Swedish style, using local and sustainable materials—an ethos that extends to the restaurant as well. The menus change with the seasons, but you can expect dishes that incorporate local beef and produce from nearby farms. Mushrooms and wild berries, when in season, are gathered from the beech forests that surround the estate. In between lunch and dinner, you can explore the sculpture garden featuring works by contemporary Swedish artists or curl up with a book by the fireplace.
A bottle of vodka. A label reads: 
"Swedish Vodka
Absolut since 1879"


DAY 8A Spirited Stop in Ahus

Spend a leisurely morning at Wanås, enjoying the serene quiet of this rural corner of Sweden, before departing for Ahus, roughly 25 miles to the south on the Baltic coast. The town’s population numbers under 10,000 in the winter, but every summer that figure triples, as visitors come to spend time on its beaches and also participate in the time-honored tradition of eel parties, when locals eat smoked eels and wash it down with vodka.

Most of that vodka is produced by Absolut, which has its distillery in Ahus. It is surely the town’s, and one of Sweden’s, most famous exports. On the Absolut Home Experience tour, which last 90 minutes, you’ll learn about the process of creating vodka, and then take a class in making cocktails. You’ll create your own signature drink with the helpful guidance of a mixologist.

Afterwards, have your designated driver take the wheel, or arrange for a taxi, and continue on to Daniel Berlin Krog. Located in the decidedly off-the-beaten-path town of Skåne-Tranå, Berlin has lured foodies to this remote part of the country to discover how the restaurant earned its two Michelin stars. It’s partly thanks to Berlin’s almost fanatical passion for his ingredients—he doesn’t merely select them at a local market but hunts or forages for many of them himself. His menu also embodies the adventurous and playful spirit of Nordic cuisine, using familiar ingredients in unexpected ways—like a sorbet of sorrel, caramel flavored with rosemary, or cinnamon dusted over liver mousse.

Because of its remote location, the restaurant can make overnight arrangements at a nearby inn or hotel when you book your table, so you won’t have to end your evening with a long drive.
A ship docked at sunset


DAY 9Gothenburg

As you continue your culinary tour of Sweden, you’ll return briefly to Malmö this morning before boarding a train to Gothenburg. While you won’t be in Malmö long, you’ll have enough time to stop at a gourmet destination you haven’t visited yet.

While many of Sweden’s food halls are in wonderfully ornate 19th-century buildings, the Malmö Saluhall is a more recent addition to the cityscape, having been completed in 2016. Located in a former freight depot that was roofless and in a state of decay, the Saluhall’s building has been masterfully repurposed and is now the city’s most visited food market. Produce, cheese, and other ingredients are for sale, and it also houses some 20 restaurants. Many open later in the day, but you can still get a breakfast of a perfectly baked cinnamon roll and some coffee before heading to the train.

After a three-hour train ride, you’ll arrive in Gothenburg, where you’ll make your way to the Dorsia Hotel & Restaurant, just a few minutes on foot or by taxi from the station. The hotel is an exuberant, even decadent, 37-room property with Belle Époque-inspired décor. On a journey that’s often about the indulgence of multi-course meals, it seems fitting to stay in a hotel that opts for luxury over restraint—from the colorful décor to the extravagant furnishings.

The hotel has an ideal location in the heart of Gothenburg’s old city center, which was once encircled by a moat. As you wander the area near your hotel, you’ll pass some of the city’s oldest buildings and its liveliest shopping streets. The mix of old and new is perhaps best embodied by Kungstorget, which is both the location of a 19th-century market hall and new, extremely popular food trucks. Get a snack from one of them and continue your exploring.

You may want to start your evening with a cocktail at your hotel, perhaps on the rooftop terrace if the weather is good. You could also head over to the famous Ölhallen 7:an for a beer. Gothenburg has a thriving beer culture, with many microbreweries located in the city and in the surrounding region. Ölhallen 7:an pours a large selection of these beers. There’s no food, but that’s not a problem, since you’re only stopping in before heading on to Michelin chef Stefan Karlsson’s SK Mat & Människor for dinner. At the intimate restaurant with seating for around 40 guests, the open kitchen allows diners to watch chefs prepare their dishes, inspired by Sweden’s culinary heritage, and to ask questions about them.
A woman gathers leaves from a garden


DAY 10Gothenburg and Gunnebo

Start this morning with a visit to the Haga neighborhood. This area is one of Gothenburg’s oldest and most charming. Located just on the other side of the moat, it’s an easy walk from the city center. You may want to start your exploration at the Café Husaren, which is famous for its enormous, delicious cinnamon rolls. Afterwards, stroll the pedestrian-only Haga Nygata, admiring the historic buildings—many of which now house boutiques and restaurants. Don’t miss out on sampling West Sweden’s seafood—it’s the best in the entire country.

On the way back to your hotel, you’ll pass Artilleriet Kitchen. This store is a great place to pick up gifts for any friends who love to cook or entertain, or you can get something for your own kitchen—perhaps a handblown glass carafe, tea towels, or even something entirely utilitarian. Here, items as basic as vegetable peelers or toast racks are so exquisitely designed that they look like works of art.

In the afternoon, you’ll join one of Sweden’s famous Edible Country experiences at Gunnebo House and Gardens—an 18th-century manor house that’s about a half-hour away from the city center on public transportation. You can tour the house itself, built in the neoclassical style popular in Sweden in the late 1700s. You’ll start your culinary experience by finding the ingredients for your meal in the kitchen garden and forest nearby, and then you’ll prepare dishes conceived by Hannes Högberg, Gunnebo’s head chef.

By the time you get back to Gothenburg at the end of your Edible Country afternoon, you’re unlikely to want a big dinner. Bar Himmel is a bar and restaurant on the stairs of the Gothenburg Museum of Art. On a warm evening, it’s an ideal place to enjoy a small plate or snack while watching life on Avenyn, the city’s lively boulevard that’s busy night and day with diners and shoppers.
People gather on the side of a boat to filter water out of a container. The sun sets in the mountains


DAY 11Lyckorna and Ljungskile

This morning, you’ll pick up a rental car and travel north for just under an hour to Lyckorna, a seaside resort from the late 19th century that sits just to the south of the town of Ljungskile. Both have long been popular destinations, thanks to their location between the island of Orust and the mainland, providing shelter from the weather and an especially favorable climate.

Then check into the impossibly charming seaside resort, the Hotel Villa Sjotorp. The gingerbread woodwork on the façade and the ceramic stoves inside help make the hotel feel like a fantasy-book vision of a Swedish country estate.

Today, you’ll have lunch at Musselbaren. Even if you don’t speak Swedish, you can probably guess what this waterfront restaurant specializes in: mussels, and specifically blue mussels. The kitchen here realizes that the mussels don’t need much help from them to be turned into a delicious meal. They’re served simply steamed with some fresh bread and aioli.

Just as you foraged for the ingredients of your meal yesterday, you can also join an expedition aboard the M/S Martha, the restaurant’s ship, to harvest mussels.

Other outings travel to areas that are both open and closed to fishing, where you’ll gather samples of mussels, lobsters, crayfish, oysters, and prawns. On these expeditions, the goal is not to catch your dinner, but to contribute to vital research and knowledge that will help assure the health of the seas and the fish populations here. Other options for your afternoon include a boat tour of the archipelago or a fjord departing from nearby Uddevalla.

You’ll have dinner tonight at Hotel Villa Sjötorp’s restaurant. The restaurant prides itself on working with local suppliers, from farms that provide berries and other produce to fishermen who catch the lobsters and fresh fish that are mainstays of the menus, which change frequently depending on what’s in season. It’s received the coveted A Taste of West Sweden recognition, limited to restaurants that are committed to using sustainable and locally sourced ingredients.x
Two people paddle their kayaks up a river at sunset. They are surrounded by small rocky islands.


DAY 12Kosterhavet

This morning you’ll continue your travels north, to Kosterhavet National Park. Located on several islands at the northern end of Sweden’s west coast, and also including the waters that surround them, the park protects coral reefs and marine life that aren’t found anywhere else in the country. Encompassing more than 150 square miles, it’s home to thousands of different species of animals, both on land and in the sea.

The islands are mostly closed to cars—you’ll leave yours behind in Strömstad when you board the ferry for a 45-minute ride to the park. At the orientation center, you can pick up maps for the various trails on the islands. North Koster has two routes that follow the coastline of the island. Watch for the geologically fascinating shingle fields here.

On South Koster, different trails lead through a variety of landscapes: forest, marshes, meadows, and even a sculpture park. If you climb up Valfjäll, the highest point on the island, you’ll be rewarded with views of the entire archipelago.

After your morning of exploring the islands on foot, have lunch at Kosters Trädgårdar. These organic gardens are also recognized by A Taste of West Sweden, and while there’s a farm shop selling their produce, you may want to opt for lunch at the restaurant. This is farm-to-table cuisine in its truest form, with the vegetables on your plate having likely been picked only hours earlier from soil just meters from your table.

After your meal, rent a kayak for the afternoon and paddle your way around some of the islands. Rentals typically include the kayak itself, a paddle, and a life vest, but you’ll want to bring your own bottle of water. You can also join a tour with a guide. And download the Boating in Kosterhavet guide before your adventure to get a sense of some of the ecological highlights you can expect, as well as some basics on how to be a responsible visitor to Kosterhavet. Tonight, you’ll sleep at one of the two hotels on the island, Kostergården.
Oysters and wine on top of a pile of seaweed.


DAY 13Return Home

After you catch an early ferry back to the mainland, you’ll drive back to Gothenburg Airport this morning to return your rental car and journey home.

If you look at a map of the country, however, you’ll realize you’ve barely begun to explore it all. Sweden has 22 Michelin-starred restaurants, and you’ll have dined at just three of them. And because this trip was mostly focused on southern and western Sweden, you’ll likely want to delve into the dishes typical of the north, where reindeer and game are more predominant. Since you’ve only scratched the surface, you’ll need to return in other seasons to visit other regions of the fascinating country that is Sweden, and to taste all the varied flavors of its cuisine.
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