The third leg of our trip to Scandinavia this past June took us down the west coast of Sweden: we rented a car in Oslo and crossed the border, following the coast as far as the Weather Islands and the Bohuslän coast—known for its lobsters and oysters—before moving on to Copenhagen.
This kind of stop, where nothing in particular is on the agenda—no particular sights or urban attraction—so often turns out to be one of the most rewarding parts of any trip. We try to include such a place on any multi-stop itinerary, but it’s often difficult to plan for. By necessity, it’s the place that’s not in every guidebook. As I mentioned in the Stockholm travelogue, we’d considered basing ourselves in the archipelago off the east coast; we’d also looked at crossing Sweden and stopping in one of the lakeside towns over midsommer. Every option held a different appeal.
In the end, the Bohuslän of West Sweden turned out to be a perfect fit: though the car rental was more expensive, driving was a more efficient means of connecting our destinations than train travel or flying would have been. And the quiet villages along the coast felt like a special secret.
We read about all of the towns—each seemed to have its own seafood claim—and checked to see what options existed in Kosterhavet National Park—a marine National Park. We chose to base ourselves in Kämpersvik mostly because it was one of the only places we could find accommodation. I couldn’t believe our fortune when we arrived.
Our AirBnB was wonderfully unique—a little cabin studio just feet from the water. It was essentially a converted boathouse. There was a queen bed and a pull-out couch, as well as a small kitchenette. We’d reserved at the last minute and asked our host if we could borrow linens (it’s common for guests at Swedish summer houses to bring their own, we learned).
We weren’t quite as lucky with the weather: it was pretty overcast and cold throughout our stay. But there were times when the sun broke through and you could see how the villages must light-up in summer.
It was a bit dangerous to have two children walking about with an un-railed deck, so we were happy to find safety jackets inside. Skyler really took to hers, wearing it even on the road.
On that first evening, we strolled to the edge of town to get our bearings.
We started to notice a few people coming out of the red house at the far end and jumping into the water—revealing that it was a sauna. Though it’s ostensibly a public sauna, the rules of use weren’t clear to us; we asked our host about it the following day only to be met with a better offer. (More on that later.)
Still, it was one of the most beautiful scenes—the water and the fading sun, the little red house with its cloud of steam. We looked around town with renewed attention to the chimneys protruding from some.
Evidence of the midsommer holiday was visible around town. A maypole remained at the football (soccer) field, and flower wreaths circled empty magnums of wine on the deck. Our host revealed an enormous bar of Toblerone his daughter and her friends had brought for the occasion and shared a segment with us. We still had some to eat when we flew back to California!
He told us he’d grown up in the village—his parents had once run a grocery store there—but now, like most residents, he returns only in the summers. Some of his childhood toys were still in the cabin.
We waited until the kids fell asleep—a bit of a challenge with the sun setting around 10pm, but not too bad as they were tired—and then sat out on the deck and listened to the water and watched the colors changing in the clouds until our fingers got too numb.
Most of what I could find written about the Bohuslän coast centered around three things: a modern floating hotel called Salt & Still, opportunities to go lobster safariing, and Ingrid Bergman.
The fishing village of Fjällbacka (herring is its specialty) would welcome the actress when she would come to spend her summers on an island just west, and has since erected a statue and named a small square in her honor. Her name is often linked with the picturesque village, even though there’s clearly more that makes it special. We decided to visit the following day.
We stopped just inside town at Setterlinds Bageri for buns and coffees.
The fishing village is spread around a large rock mountain that gives it its name. According to the tourism site, “It was in Fjällbacka that a canning factory owner invented the spiced sprat which was named ‘anchovies.'” And oil from its prize export, herring, was “sold to cities such as Paris, where it was used as fuel for streetlights.”
Though the streets were quiet during our visit, one could tell that tourism must surge during the summer months (which seem to officially begin in mid-July).
There’s a small visitor kiosk by the harbor where one can get suggestions for what to do in the region.
Most visitors to Fjällbacka include a climb up the wooden staircases to the summit of Vetteberget, for a better view of the islands offshore. We looked from Skyler to Hudson to our stroller and opted for a short ferry ride instead.
After a short crossing, we came to a dock with a young boy catching crabs and collecting sea stars in a bucket. Hudson was fascinated, and the boy’s grandparents offered that we let him stay there, saying that they’d watch him while we went to find out about lunch.
Every now and then I’d wander down the lawn to peek and make sure he was alright. It was kind of amazing! It seemed at once completely natural, but also so foreign—I have a hard time imagining this happening in California. The boy spoke limited English, and so the grandmother or grandfather would often facilitate; the grandfather explained that every young child there would at some point learn to use a crabbing pole—a miniature rod with a clothespin instead of a hook—and that he’d give Hudson a lesson.
He explained that it’s a primer in patience and coordination: you must keep the pole low even once the crab has taken hold, and slowly move your net below it without prompting the crab to flee.
Skyler discovered the resident chickens and pot-bellied pigs, and we all thought what a different place it must have been a few days prior when they celebrated midsommer around the Maypole.
Lunch was delicious! They made pizzas for the kids, and Aron and I both had wonderful fish. His was whole, flavored with lemon-butter and caperberries, and my fillet was perfectly poached.
I think we would have lingered longer, but our host was leaving for Gothenberg soon and, if we could catch him before he left, he’d said he would let us use his private sauna.
We rushed back, agreeing it would be a worthwhile time to let the kids watch an afternoon movie so that we could alternately run from the sauna to the sea.
(It was SO cold!)
When their movie had ended and Skyler awoke from a short nap, we took Hudson back to the diving board at the edge of the village. That kid amazes me—he’s so brave when it comes to this sort of thing!
Aron lept off first and waited for him to jump in. We warned him again that it would feel really cold, but with a short countdown, he didn’t hesitate. And then, as soon as he felt the water, he practically climbed atop Aron’s head to get away from it!
That night we drove into Grebbestad for dinner. The skies had turned grey and rain was beginning to fall, so we went straight for a table at Grebys. Though we based our choice on looks alone—the restaurant and inn sits in a restored cannery—this was easily my favorite meal of the entire trip. Everything was incredible.
All of the seafood came from the local waters—even the bread was a Seaweed bread made in a local bakery. I didn’t expect to enjoy the pickled herring, but it was amazing.
We shared a seafood platter that would let us taste Kämpersvik lobsters and Grebbestad shrimp.
The children’s menu was impressive as well. One of my favorite features was that you could order some simple cut vegetables with dip as a starter as soon as you sat down! Why don’t more places offer something like that?!
On the other hand, we were surprised that pancakes with strawberry jam and whipped cream was a kids’ main dish, but almost every adult seemed to expect that our kids would be having that for dinner.
Such a beautiful and delicious meal.
On the drive south, we made a stop at Norden’s Ark Zoo on the suggestion of friends back home. Just inland from Smögen, the zoo houses about 80 endangered species from all over with the goal of re-introducing them into their natural environment. It was a great stop for the kids, and a lovely setting to see some animals we’d never before encountered—like the Pallas Cat or the Tadjik markhor, with its corkscrew-shaped horns—though we’d hoped the focus was going to be more local than it turned out.
As ever, the playgrounds were lovely and integrated throughout.
From there we drove past the major western cities of Göthenberg and Mälmo, crossing into Denmark over the 5-mile (!) Øresund Bridge—the longest combined road and rail bridge in Europe—and driving through the 2-1/2-mile Drogden tunnel. (Sidenote: we hadn’t looked up the toll in advance and had a bit of a shock when we got the 54 Euro receipt.)
Leaving Sweden, we agreed that we could easily spend an entire vacation there.
In fact, one could fill two weeks alone on the Bohuslän coast—kayaking, island-hopping, fishing, and hiking; and we were, as usual, sorry to leave so soon.