When you hear of Sweden, usually the first – and often only – thing you hear about is the capital city of Stockholm. While Stockholm is deservingly a tourist draw, the rugged west coast is one of Sweden’s most fascinating areas. From islands once believed to be uninhabitable to quaint fishing villages and some of the best seafood you’ll ever eat, west Sweden is beautiful, scenic, and most of all relaxing. And a West Sweden road trip is the best way to experience this part of the country.
What to know about traveling in West Sweden
Although most of Europe is extremely well connected by train, if you want to visit the charming villages and experience the Swedish coast, you must either rent a car or take a bus. Although we considered traveling in West Sweden by bus, doing so was going to take much longer. Instead, we opted to rent a car and do a self-guided road trip in West Sweden. We were traveling from Copenhagen, Denmark to Oslo, Norway and wanted to spend a few days exploring Sweden on the way. We took a train to Gothenburg and rented a car from there.
Renting a car in Sweden was moderately priced. Although the daily rate was affordable, where you can end up blowing your budget is renting a car in one country and dropping it off in another. Although Gothenburg and Oslo are only 3 1/2 hours away from each other, it will cost you a few hundred extra dollars to take the car across the border.
Things to do on a West Sweden road trip
West Sweden was perhaps the most memorable and relaxing part of our entire trip to Scandinavia. The small towns are charming and quiet. And because we were road tripping through West Sweden, we could travel at our own pace and enjoy the scenery. If you are planning a similar road trip here are the best things to do in West Sweden.
Gothenburg is the second largest city Sweden and by far the largest city you’ll visit on a West Sweden road trip. Head to the neighborhood of Haga and spend some time wandering through the cobblestone streets. Souvenir shops, antique stores, and plenty of cafes and restaurants line the streets. One or the most popular things to do in Haga is to stop for a fika. We actually came to love the Swedish concept of fika. In Sweden, each afternoon people stop what they’re doing, have a coffee or a tea, pair it with something sweet, and enjoy a short break. But the fika isn’t just a coffee break, it’s a time to slow down and savor the moment. It’s no wonder Sweden is one of the happiest countries in the world!
While in Gothenburg, visit Feskekôrka, also known as the fish church. The former chapel along the river now houses a fresh seafood and fish market. The city also has a beautiful botanical garden with a fantastic playground and walking trails perfect for an evening stroll.
Bohus Fortress, Sweden
Just north of Gothenburg, and before you get to the exit for Marstrand, you’ll find Bohus Fortress perched on a hill looming over the highway. The medieval castle turned prison is now in ruins. But visitors passing through can visit the picturesque fortress, which is now a museum. Keep in mind, it is closed during winter. If you love old castles and ruins, the town of Marstrand is also worth a stop, as it is home to Fortress Carlsten, an impressive castle built to protect the city from invaders 350 years ago.
Pilane Sculpture Park on the island of Tjörn is a unique and somewhat random place to visit on any West Sweden road trip. The massive contemporary sculptures in the park are sprinkled across pastures of grazing sheep.
Smögen, Sweden is a tiny village that looks like it was practically designed for Instagram. Tiny, colorful fishing houses line a wooden boardwalk along the water’s edge. We visited in the off-season and had the town practically to ourselves. Although many of the establishments were closed – possibly for season – we found an ideal seaside restaurant where we ate our weight in lobster, crab, shrimp, mussels, and a bunch of other stuff fresh off the fishermen’s boat.
The Weather Islands are an archipelago that spreads across the west Sweden coast. Most of the 365 islands that make up the Weather Islands are rocky, rugged, and uninhabited, except for colonies of seals.
Accessible by a 30 minute boat ride from Fjallbacka, the Weather Islands are truly a place to escape from everyday stresses and unwind. You can take a short day trip to the Weather Islands, take a guided tour through the archipelago, or even spend the night. If you want to stay on one of the islands, options are limited. In fact, there is only one small hotel and one restaurant. During the off-season, you’ll find a very limited number of ferries to the Weather Islands, as well.
Catching the ferry to the Weather Islands isn’t the only reason to visit Fjallbacka. The town itself is worth spending an afternoon. Fjallbacka, Sweden is famous for its lobster, which you’ll be able to order at many of the restaurants there. It is also a popular destination for fans of novelist Camilla Läckberg’s murder mysteries, as it is the setting for her novels. While in Fjallbacka, take the short hike to Kungsklyftan, or King’s Cliff. You’ll find the entrance to this beautiful hike between two granite cliffs. Overhead and wedged between the cliffs you’ll see several giant boulders. Continue past the boulders and up a staircase for a fantastic view of the tiny Town and the sea surrounding it.
Our primary goal during our road trip through West Sweden was to relax and disconnect. We love traveling off the grid and focusing on our family, and West Sweden is the perfect place for that. We took the short and scenic drive from Fjallbacka to Grebbestad. Grebbestad is yet another eye-catching small town in West Sweden. It was also the perfect place to stop for the night and feel pampered, as it is home to the beautiful TanumStrand resort. Children and adults alike will love the indoor pool and water slide. It is the kind of place where you won’t notice if the WiFi is weak because it makes you forget to check your phone.
Blomsholm is one of West Sweden’s greatest cultural heritage sites. Located outside of Stromstad, Sweden, Blomsholm contains remains from the Stone Age until medieval times. Impressive grave fields and burial mounds, and one of Sweden’s biggest stone circles, the heritage site is fascinating for those who love ancient history.
How much time do you need for a West Sweden road trip?
Visiting West Sweden should be a relaxing vacation. After all, the west coast of Sweden is practically designed to make you want to slow down and stay awhile. So don’t rush through this portion of a Scandinavian tour. If you are traveling from Copenhagen to Oslo, I’d recommend spending a few days exploring West Sweden… maybe even a week if you have the time. Give yourself the opportunity to take a detour, experience the countryside, and stop and explore when you see something interesting. Trust me, it’s time well spent. You won’t regret it!