A summer road trip in West Sweden is made for curious travellers looking to experience the outdoors and reconnect with nature, whilst getting a fix of urban Scandi-cool.
In partnership with Visit Sweden, we travelled from Gothenburg to the lakes and thick forests of Dalsalnds before slowly island hopping our way down the famous Bohuslän archipelago via an idyllic car-free island. The Swedish embrace of summer, and the importance they place on being close to nature whenever the sun is shining, made it feel reminiscent of our childhood summers of old bathed in golden light.
In this post, we have shared our eight-day itinerary and key tips to bring you to a wonderful smorgasbord of the freshness, the colour, and the unspoiled wilds one can expect from a West Sweden summer road trip.
Day One & Two | Explore Gothenburg
Sweden’s second-city is an increasingly popular city break for millennials in search of a cool, stylish experience, and it’s also the kick-off point for any West Sweden road trip.
We have made a point of visiting several ‘second cities’ in the last few years as they offer a more understated and enjoyable experience than the claustrophobic overtourism which has plagued many European capitals; Gothenburg totally delivered on our expectations.
It’s compact and walkable, and a place where the casual tourist can visit a gallery or two, gorge on cinnamon buns and good coffee, enjoy the sunshine and architecture by the canal or in Haga, and indulge in some retail therapy with the stylish and sustainable fashion brands which call the city home.
It’s the sort of city that makes you want to dress, eat and live that little bit better.
We will share lot more advice for a 48-hour Gothenburg city break in an upcoming guide, but here are four experiences you can’t miss:
A walk around Haga | One of the oldest neighbourhoods in the city, it’s home to little boutiques, bakeries, and vintage stores. Get one of the best views of Gothenburg afterwards at the Skansen Kronan fortress.
Fika at Da Matteo | A Gothenburg institution, the coffee shop is one of the originals to bring a different sort of coffee culture to the city. There are a few branches, but in summer you should make a beeline for the one at Vallgatan which has a large outdoor seating area in front of the mural (and there’s a wonderful little secret garden at the back).
A boat trip down the Paddan Canal | When the sun is shining, this hour-long trip is a lovely introduction to the city and some of its stories. Find out more here.
A trip to the Botanical gardens | Sweden comes alive with flowers during the summer months, so what better place to enjoy a little nature in the middle of a city than the beautiful Botanical gardens. Be sure to go beyond the gates into Änggårdsbergen for more walking and cycling opportunities on the surprisingly wild landscapes within the city limits.
If you only have a week and want to focus more on the coast and nature of West Sweden, then it’s possible to spend only a single day exploring Gothenburg at the beginning or end of your road trip based around your flight times.
Natur | An intimate dining experience where the focus is on seasonal produce in a stylish Victoriana setting.
Café Gazette | Where the cool kids hang out in the evening, this bar and restaurant offers tasty modern tapas style dishes. We liked it a lot.
We slept at STF Göteborg City. It’s excellently located in the centre, and within walking distance to many of the city’s major attractions. It has a young vibe, good breakfast, and scores extra points for having a sustainability policy which feels serious.
Gothenburg airport is easily accessible with the Flygbussarna shuttle bus, with a journey taking 25 - 30 minutes. However, as you’ll need your own wheels for the road trip through West Sweden, you may need to consider whether you’d prefer to pick up your car at the airport and drive in only rent a car from the companies based in the city centre on the morning you’re going to leave Gothenburg.
Day Three | 72 Hour Cabins
We had heard A LOT about the 72 Hour cabins before arriving in West Sweden.
Original in design and setting, they are an architectural representation of the country’s “close to nature” lifestyle. In a 2017 case study, the five participants staying in the transparent cabins all showed a decrease in blood pressure, stress levels and heart rate after 72 hour-stays.
We only had 24 hours, but we arrived in Dalsalnds from Gothenburg with hopes for building our own barbecue in the late evening sun, a night of deep slumber and epiphanies with the stars above us, and nude wild swims in our own private spot by the water in the region known as Sweden’s Lake District.
Unfortunately, the heavens opened not long after we pulled into the remote location of Dalslands Aktiviteter - and they remained open all night, sometimes accompanied by thunder rolls and lightning strikes.
It was still a very unique night’s sleep, and mesmerising to watch the raindrops on the glass, but we just ran out of luck with the weather that day.
Dalslands Aktiviteter has two 72 hour glass cabins, and they provide all the cooking, food, and outdoors essentials you’ll need for the experience - visit their website for more information. You can see and book a full selection the 72 Hour Cabins here.
We collected the rental car at 9 a.m. from Hertz in the centre of Gothenburg, and it’s a straightforward two hour drive to reach the reception for the cabins. After checking-in and maybe having your lunch in the red cabin cafe, you will drive your car to a secluded parking spot a few minutes walk from your cabin.
Day Four | Upperud
With a day of hiking ahead, you’ll have to get up and out of the cabin nice and early, but be sure to take time to enjoy the pre-prepared breakfast by the lake first though (or, in our case, hunkered down in the cabin to avoid the rain!)
From the cabins, it’s an easy hour 45 minute drive to Upperud - a small and bright countryside village - and your home for the night. Check-in to the hotel isn’t available until 3 p.m. at the earliest, so we’d recommend leaving your bags in the car, grabbing a quick cup of coffee whilst host Kirsten prepares your packed lunch and gives you a complimentary lift to the start point of the hike 10 minutes away.
The Pilgrim Path
Terminating at the tomb of St Olaf - a former King of Norway who was canonised posthumously - the hundred kilometre stretch between Västergötland in west Sweden and Nidaros (now Trondheim) in Norway was, for more than 500 years, a medieval rite of passage.
In 1527 however, at the start of the Swedish reformation, the pilgrimage was declared illegal and the hike through the spectacular Dalsland lakeland scenery forgotten by all but locals and visitors in the know. Unsurprisingly, that’s beginning to change with plans to reopen and restore the entire route, beginning with the fully marked-out stretch from Vänersborg to Edsleskog.
The length of time spent hiking today depends upon whether you attempt the 6 km or the 18 km trail. With lots of time spent taking photos etc, we completed the 6 km trail in four hours, including a short stop for lunch but should you opt for the longer hike, it’s recommended to allow the entire day.
Dinner tonight will be had back at Upperud 9:9. Wholesome, filling and tasty fare is what Upperud 9:9 specialises in - which is exactly what you'll be wanting once you've returned from your hike amongst nature! They always have a veggie option and the chef is happy to accommodate specific requests.
As the more typical Swedish summer weather had thankfully returned by the afternoon for our hike, we were able to enjoy our dinner outside on the wooden jetty by the lake with a cold beer.
A conversion done well is a wonderful thing, and at Upperud 9:9, it has been done very, very well. This 100 year old red silo now houses five beautifully cosy rooms nestled into original exposed structures, with excellent interior design and features. Kirsten is also a lovely host, who created perhaps the best packed lunch we’ve ever had on a hike (a massive upgrade from our usual tuna sandwiches).
Day Five | Sörknatten Nature Reserve + Smögen
Right! Ready to put those hiking boots back on already? It’s worth it, we promise.
Once you’ve enjoyed a lovely seasonal breakfast and packed up your stuff, instead of heading straight to Smögen, you’re off to Sörknatten Nature Reserve - about a 20 minute drive from Upperud.
Be careful with the GPS here though as it will want to lead you to the reserve via a private road - we chuckled when we rocked up to the lane to find that the owner had gone to the trouble of putting up a good-humoured sign to tell everyone that Google Maps was wrong and this wasn’t the right spot! Instead, just follow the signs to the entrance and the free carpark, which are signposted a little earlier on the road if travelling from Upperud.
From the car park, you have two options: either take on the full 7 km (one way) hike that takes you up and over the mountain ridges, or do as we did and hike 3.5 km (one way) to enjoy some of the most classic Dalslands views of lakes, thick forest, and a large expanse of beautiful blue sky.
The hike is not tricky but shoes or boots with good grip will make clambering across slippery rocks much easier. With time to take photos, the return journey should take no longer than a couple of hours.
From the Nature Reserve, you’ll have a 2.5 hour drive ahead. You can of course opt to stop off along the way for lunch, but in order to make the most of today, we’d recommend arranging another packed lunch from Upperud or picking up some snacks for the car - Smögen is so damn pretty you’ll want to make sure give yourself enough time to explore it!
Smögen is a really popular summer town for Swedes, and it’s cropping up on itineraries for more international tourists too as an excellent jump-off point to enjoy West Sweden’s sweeping coastline.
Walk the harbour | The long wooden boardwalk filled with restaurants, boutiques, and those colourful boat houses is the main factor in the town’s charm. We could have photographed it all day!
Take the ferry to Hållö Island | Tickets are sold on the pier, and there are regular boats taking visitors the 15 minutes to the rugged island and its lighthouse.
Boathouse photos | The most popular photo spot in town is undoubtedly by the Scandi-rainbow boathouses at the end of the boardwalk. Incredibly quaint and incredibly picturesque, it was lovely surprise to see that several are still being used to store fishing and boating gear too. West Sweden’s coastal villages and harbours all have lovely colourful cabins by the water, but these take the biscuit.
Sea swimming | A short walk beyond the colourful boathouses and the rocks, this is a lovely little swimming, sunbathing, and diving spot at the Marmorbassängen (the marble pool).
Planning your summer escape to Smögen? We’ve got a short guide coming out soon.
Skärets Krog | On the second floor, this restaurant owned by young chef Thomas specialises in west coast flavours with a modern twist. Seasonal seafood is obviously the most popular feature of the menu, but Emily was really happy with every vegetarian option provided. If your budget is a little tight, there are alternatives elsewhere on the pier.
Whilst there are plenty of options in town, we'd recommend staying close to the waterfront boardwalk if your’e only here for a night or two. We stayed at Pensionat Bryggan, but found our room and the facilities to be a little lacking.
Smögen’s popularity and size means parking is a challenge. Hotels on the pier don’t provide parking, so you’ll need to head to one of the several overnight car parks a ten minute walk from the pier (we parked at this one). However, we’d recommend that you first try and find a space here in the town centre, check-in and drop your bags off, before parking up for the day/night. Sweden is as close to a cashless society as you’ll find in Europe, so you should download the SMS Park app to pay for parking.
Day Six | South Koster Island
Another early morning we’re afraid - you’ve got a ferry to catch!
Be back at the carpark and ready to leave Smögen by 7.45 a.m. (possibly a little earlier if you’d like to see the town from above in beautiful light) and embark upon the 70 minute drive to Strömstad. You’ll be leaving your car overnight, so instead of heading straight to the ferry terminal you have to go via one of four long-term car parks on the the outskirts of town. From these, you can take a free shuttle bus into the centre.
However, depending on which car park you choose, it may not be immediately clear that there is a shuttle connection (we actually drove around a few for 20 minutes, a little concerned we were going to miss our ferry) but we can assure you that during the summer months there is indeed a relatively frequent service! If confused, make a beeline for this car park (Google Maps) where we parked up and which definitely has the shuttle connection to the ferry terminal. You’ll be aiming for the 9.40 a.m. bus to catch the 10 a.m. ferry, but can find additional departure times here. It costs 40kr for 24 hours using the SMS Park app.
The shuttle will drop you off right next to the ferry departure point (unless you are travelling on a Saturday, in which case a local market may mean you’re dropped off a few streets away), and you’ll find a couple of machines from which you can purchase your ferry ticket to the Koster Islands. As is standard across Sweden, they accept cards.
The ferry ride to the most westerly inhabited islands of Sweden is pleasant and scenic in good weather, with seating inside and on the deck. There’s also a small cafe from which you can grab a coffee and a small snack.
Arriving into South Koster, set within the Kosterhavet Marine National Park, we’d recommend heading straight for your accommodation and dropping off your bags before getting out to explore as much as the island has to offer.
Disconnect | South Koster is sparsely populated, and somewhere Swedes escape to in summer to reconnect with nature and tranquility in an idyllic setting. Come here to remember what it felt like to be a curious child exploring the outdoors until last light, put the phone away, swim in the sea, relax on the slivers of beach, and breathe the fresh salty air.
Bicycle | A big draw of the island is that it’s car-free, and renting a bicycle is not only a lovely activity but the best way to explore from harbour to harbour. Golf carts are also offered, but you’re best off with a bike.
Kayak | It’s possible to arrange kayaking trips around the archipelago with they same guys that provide the excellent lunch at Kosters Trädgårdar.
Planning your summer getaway to the Koster Islands? We’ll have a short guide out soon.
Grab lunch at Kosters Trädgårdar, an incredible organic restaurant set in a beautiful garden and small permaculture farm. The menu is seasonal, vegetarian-friendly, and the majority of the ingredients are grown onsite. We really loved it.
Lots of visiting Swedes will stay in a sommarstuga (summer house) they own or have access to, but we were based in a practical and modern cottage at Kostergården. As well as amenities such as a bar, restaurant and on-site bike rental, the cottages have self-catering facilities and are a convenient 5-minute walk from the ferry terminal and beach.
A return ticket for Strömstad - Koster Islands costs SEK 130 for an adult, and you can view the summer timetable here.
West Sweden is made for island hopping, and there are many other islands which you can easily reach and explore by coastal ferry. You can find more suggestions and information on islands to visit and how to reach them here.
Day Seven | Grundsund + Fiskenbaksil
After a quick breakfast, make your way over to the pier to catch the 9.10 a.m. ferry back to Strömstad. The thirty minute journey back delivers you straight to the shuttle bus stop in town, but you’ll have a little time to kill before the next departure (10.55 a.m.). If you’re feeling peckish, we highly recommend making your way to Backlunds, just around the corner for coffee and quite possibly the best cinnamon bun in West Sweden.
Once you’ve picked up your car, it’s time to put your Spotify playlist back on and cruise down the coast for just under two hours to the island of Skaftö. The drive is delightful, through forests, along the coast and past quintessential countryside properties - be sure to enjoy it.
Skaftö primarily served as our entry point to the stunning Bohuslån archipelago. Composed of 8,000 or so islands and salmon-pink granite rocks which stretch all the way up to west coast, the archipelago is a haven for those who like to be out on the water. CNN went so far as to recently call it one of the last ‘great wildernesses in the world’. Setting off from the fishing harbour village of Grundsund, which sits right on the archipelago, we explored a a small section of it with Clara from Balanspunkten. Located on the harbour front, this family run company offers a variety of kayak-based activities, from an easy few hours to multi-day excursions. With the sun on our backs, being out on the water was an absolutely wonderful way to enjoy the coast of West Sweden from a different viewpoint.
After a stove-cooked lunch out on the rocks and some rather strenuous paddling on the final stretch, we made our way 10 minutes along the coast to Fiskeäbacksil, our final stop in West Sweden. Another small traditional harbourside community, Fiskeäbackil’s delightfully pretty whitewashed homes framed by roses (and rather splendid boats moored in its harbour) certainly gave the impression of this being perhaps the ‘posher’ and grander side of West Sweden in comparison to Grundsund’s more rickety and rustic red-rust hued charm.
Ask a local (or a regular visitor) where to eat in Fiskeäbacksil and there’s one place that will come up again, and again: Gullmarsstrand. For lovers of seafood, their seasonal, ever changing menu brings the best of the ocean to your plate, but the really crowning glory is the spectacular sunset that can be enjoyed from the restaurant, with large windows giving views on the ocean and over to the mainland.
We were based at Slipen’s Hotel, a recently upgraded place by the water which is the epitome of stylish design. There are individually sourced pieces of furniture and rooms that tell the stories of local legends - and it’s really really well done. Their restaurant is home to quite possibly the largest whisky collection we’ve ever seen! They offer free parking and free bikes for guests to explore Fiskeäbacksil.
Day Eight | Back to Gothenburg
Definitely a spot to enjoy before the sun gets too harsh, we’d recommend getting up nice and early for morning a stroll through the delightful streets and alleyways of Fiskebäckskil - it’s the sort of place that just screams out to have its photo taken, alive with flowers and the prettiest pastel palette.
And then to end, in the most quintessentially Swedish summer holiday way possible, enjoy one last jump off the jetty into the cool, clean water (this became a bit of a West Sweden ritual for Andrew).
And that’s it - the end of what we hope will give you just as lovely a week road tripping to and from the nature and coast of West Sweden as we had. You can read more about our trip in this heartfelt entry from our travel journal - ‘A Very West Sweden Summer’.
All that’s left now is to jump in the car and make your way back to Gothenburg airport!
The drive takes around two hours, so if you’ve got an evening flight, feel free to explore the coast as you head south. A popular destination around an hour’s drive from Gothenburg is Marstrand Island, which buzzes with activity during the summer months. Photograph the pretty wooden houses, explore the Carlstens Fortress or take in the view from Pater Noster light house.
The island is reached via a two minute passenger ferry from Marstrands färjeläge to Marstrandsön. See ferry timetable here.
We visited West Sweden in partnership with Visit Sweden.
To find out more about why West Sweden is a little bit different, and get more inspiration for your own summer road trip, check out this article on the Visit Sweden website.