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The Southwest Coast of Sweden

I'm in the process of replanning our COVID-cancelled Scandinavian trip for May/June 2023. While the original trip had solid bones, there's always room for improvement. I'm also trying to balance city and country experiences.

The basic plan is:

  • Stockholm 4 nights
  • Gothenburg and surrounding area 4 nights
  • Copenhagen 4 nights
  • Ferry to Oslo 1 night
  • Oslo/Bergen 6 nights

However, the Gothenburg piece doesn't feel right. We had originally planned to book in Gothenburg for four nights but I'm not sure we want to spend much more time in a city. Varberg, Helsingborg and Lund look interesting. We'd like to check out the islands outside of Gothenburg. Theoretically, we could make pilgrimage to Ryssby, the town our great grandparents came from but probably not. I suppose we could eventually take the ferry from Helsingborg to get to Copenhagen.

Indications are that these are daytripable but where would be a good place to base? Generally, we travel by train and accessibility is important. However, if we weren't staying in a big town, I could screw up my courage and rent a car. It feels like four days might be tight and I'm considering stealing a night from Copenhagen...especially since it's so expensive.

Any thoughts, forum friends? All advice accepted. I'm good with thinking outside the box.

Posted by
548 posts

We just returned from our COVID delayed Scandinavian trip in September 2022 (originally planned for April 2020). We travelled exclusively by public transportation and it was quicker than driving. We caught a couple of planes as they are very inexpensive and help with long distances.

Of the places on your list:

  • Stockholm - we were there for 7 nights which was lucky because I ended up in bed for six of them with COVID. We stayed in Sodermalm which was a really nice area with heaps of cafes for my husband who didn't get COVID.
  • Gothenburg - we were there for 3 nights which was about right - we caught the train to "Yotty-borrow" from Stockholm which is very quick and easy. A big (and unexpected) highlight in Gothenburg was the Volvo museum.
  • Copenhagen - we were there for 7 nights and did day trips to Helsinore (Kronborg Castle - where the ferry comes across from Helsingborg), Roskilde (Viking ship museum) and Aarhus (great modern art gallery and an open air museum where they have basically moved whole houses / flats etc and have set them up as they were at particular dates - Den Gamle By)
  • Bergen - we flew there from Copenhagen and were there for 4 nights. It was very cold, very windy and rained. We had one sunny day on a fjord. The resistance museum was a highlight (and it's free). We didn't do the Norway in a Nutshell trip as we had gone to Geirangerfjord from Alesund and were due to go to Pulpit Rock from Stavanger and that was enough fjords.
  • Oslo - We were there for 7 nights and stayed in Grunerlokka. We flew there from Stavanger.

Things to note:
1. Food and alcohol are very expensive in Norway and Sweden. If you do catch the ferry to Oslo it may be full of people with trolleys buying large amounts of alcohol. We caught the ferry from Gothenburg across to Denmark and many people seemed to be only catching the ferry to buy cheap alcohol and then going straight back to Sweden.
2. You can buy most public transport tickets using an app - and each
regional area has its own app.
3. Norwegian people are lovely, extremely friendly and super helpful. They all learn English at school so communicating is simple.
4. Swedish people do eat meatballs but they are nicer than the ones you get at IKEA.

Posted by
7440 posts

We flew from Copenhagen to Oslo in an hour--on a cheap budget airline. Then took the Norway in a Nutshell tour to Bergen.

We hit Bergen on a glorious, beautiful day. The place has the most beautiful people we've ever seen, and so sweet too.

Posted by
399 posts

To the OP: I would allocate more time to Norway, less time to Sweden (but allocate more of your Sweden time to Stockholm, an incredible city). In Norway, spend most of your time outside of Oslo, in the fjords and Bergen.

I have been to all of the places you list multiple times, and on a return trip to "Scandinavia" personally I would devote all of it to Norway. On a first trip, I prefer Stockholm and Oslo to Copenhagen, but it is understandable that a first time traveler wants an overview of what the region has to offer. Even so, given your 19 nights, I would spend at least half of those in Norway on a first trip.

Edit: I have done the overnight ferry from Oslo to Copenhagen to catch a plane home from CPH, and it is really kind of boring and the waste of valuable time otherwise. Like someone else mentioned, it is easy to catch a flight from Copenhagen to Bergen, or vice versa, instead of taking that ferry. I would recommend tackling Norway from Bergen to Oslo, although most people do it in the other direction. Finally, Norway in a Nutshell is just not enough time to enjoy the fjords. Spend more time planning that part of the trip, spend several nights in the fjords...this is the most magical part of Scandinavia.

Good luck.

Posted by
22593 posts

I traveled through that area (excluding Copenhagen) this summer. Lund is nice but can probably be covered in a day (I did that, and I spend a lot more time just walking around than most folks do). I liked Gothenburg a lot. Helsingborg was fine, but I was disappointed not to find more really cool architecture. To me, it's a day-trip destination, nothing more.

I know Malmo lost a lot of historic architecture due to the Swedish equivalent of urban renewal, but it still has some attractive buildings as well as quite a few museums. I was very glad I chose Malmo rather than Helsingborg as my base, but I can understand why others might choose the opposite approach.

I did not go to Varberg. For a smaller town you might consider Ystad or (near Stockholm) Uppsala.

The small villages along the west coast of Sweden do sound very nice; renting a car for a few days might be very worthwhile. The best I could tell, trying to get to the small places by public transportation was going to be very difficult, so I settled for Ystad (population under 19,000).

Some version of the Norway in a Nutshell route is recommended. The key segments are the Flamsbana train from Myrdal to Flam and the Naeroyfjord ferry from Flam to Gudvangen. The train ride from Oslo to Myrdal is also scenic, as is the bus ride from Gudvangen to Voss, though the bus no longer hits the best part of the old route because of damage to the road.

One other thing: Four nights seems really short for Stockholm if you enjoy museums. Between hitting a bunch of museums and wandering around, looking for architecture (historic and Art Nouveau), I spent over ten days in the city.

Posted by
4004 posts

For someone who is trying to balance city and country it is a very city heavy plan. If you want to visit Ryssby, it's not hard. On the contrary it is rather easy. In that case I'd rearrange the trip a bit, from Stockholm go to Copenhagen with a stop in Ryssby, and then from Copenhagen via Gothenburg to Oslo. When will this trip take place?

Lund and Helsingborg are within day trip distance from Copenhagen, and Varberg is day trip distance from Gothenburg. And they are all worth visiting in my opinion. I don't know how you define the southwest coast but the west coast is lovely in the summer, and can be crowded as well in certain places. The southern part is more flat and there are a lot of beaches.

Gothenburg is a great city, and I personally really like it. But you might want to reduce your time there a bit to focus more on the countryside. Or maybe that is what you mean by surrounding area?

I know Malmo lost a lot of historic architecture due to the Swedish
equivalent of urban renewal, but it still has some attractive
buildings as well as quite a few museums.

Malmö also has historically not been a rich city, it has been an industrial town. So fancy buildings hasn't really been the priority through the ages.

The small villages along the west coast of Sweden do sound very nice;
renting a car for a few days might be very worthwhile. The best I
could tell, trying to get to the small places by public transportation
was going to be very difficult, so I settled for Ystad (population
under 19,000).

It all depends on what small places you are looking at. Some are really easy to reach by bus or train, other are trickier.

Posted by
22593 posts

I was thinking (but didn't make it clear) more about the difficulty of linking two or more of the coastal towns. Sort of like what you run into in Cornwall--hop off the train, get to a bus stop, wait on a bus, see the village, wait on the return bus, get to the train station, wait on the train, ride the train to the next stop and repeat to reach Village #2. I'm reluctant to spend that much time on transportation if my destination may only be worth a couple of hours.

Posted by
4004 posts

I was thinking (but didn't make it clear) more about the difficulty of
linking two or more of the coastal towns.

That is how understood it, and it varies. In some areas it is very easy, in other areas it's trickier.

A difference from the UK is that schedules are usually synchronized in Sweden. Based on your example, if there is a bus connecting to a train it will usually arrive a few minutes before the train, and then depart as soon as all trains passengers have boarded the bus.

Posted by
22593 posts

That's good to know, Badger, I didn't dig down to that level of detail. If I have another trip that takes me to the west coast of Sweden, I'll follow up. In fact, I suppose I might be able to return to that area after seeing Copenhagen.

Posted by
403 posts

Thank you, everybody! It has been fun taking what was a "set" trip in 2020 and refining it.

Here is perhaps a little more context. I travel with my sister and take her thoughts into consideration. While I do most of the planning, I give her "homework" assignments and when she tell me what she likes, I try to honor it. She lives in rural Alaska and I at the base of the Colorado Rockies. We see plenty of scenic country. In cities, I find that after a while, we gravitate to open spaces like the Arno or Tiber or Murano. If I don't spend a little time by sea, it doesn't seem like a complete vacation. We travel primarily by train because it's something we both like. Even if the flight is an hour, a four-hour train trip is really breaking even. I have a pretty hectic job. I like to slow things down and do a tech-detox. We usually spend 4-nights in one place so we don't have to shift so often. We don't use our phones. We don't feel the need to see everything. We don't mind early dinners and looking at lingering sunsets. I understand the Cornwall effect. Been there, done that.

Unfortunately, we are held to the USA standards of vacation and three weeks is about the limit I can get off. People's advice has aligned with my gut feelings. I'm considering completely cutting out Copenhagen. Is this a heresy? We are of Swedish descent and I think we need more time in Sweden. Not to worry, Norway fans. We'll do a customized Norway-in-a-Nutshell tour. I want to see the fjords. My sister hasn't shown much enthusiasm for Oslo but I can always try to convince her. I'm thinking about that next.

-We want to do a daytrip to Uppsala. I figure this could push us to 5 or even 6 days in Stockholm.

-Gothenburg: Is it a good base for day trips to Varberg, Helsingborg and/or Lund? Same day, different day? If we didn't see them, would we be devastated? A nice Airbnb someplace near the sea with access to connecting trains would be a dream. Scenic day trips and a snug homebase with a view is idyllic.

-Bohuslän: For sometime, I've be intrigued with this area. I look at the pictures of the coast and it speaks to me. I just don't see how we could do it without a car.

-The Oslo/Copenhagen ferry: My sister LOVES this idea. I'd have to buy her off with something better.

-Copenhagen: What are really good reason TO visit Copenhagen?

I love everybody's advice.

Posted by
250 posts

Re day trips from Gothenburg:
I don't find Helsingborg itself that interesting as a tourist destination. The main attraction (for me) was taking the boat over to Denmark to visit Helsingør and Kronborg castle (which was definitely worth it, but we came from Malmö). It's kind of a long train ride from Gothenburg just for a day trip though.

Lund is a very nice university town, but it's fairly small and I don't think it's worth the long train ride from/to Gothenburg as a day trip.

Maybe this could give you some ideas about other options from Gothenburg - includes public transportation options to islands: https://www.vastsverige.com/en/nexttogothenburg/

https://www.vastsverige.com/en/things-to-do/explore-the-west-coast-by-boat/

There aren't really a lot of cozy seaside villages that also have great train connections :) There are some really nice small seaside commuter towns (Åsa near train station Kungsbacka for example) that are convenient to Gothenburg, but it will take you so long to get around on day trips to other areas, that it's not that practical. Or you could think about staying in Varberg? I don't really know enough about the town to say whether it's a good base, but it's closer to Helsingborg and only 45 mins from Gothenburg.

Posted by
22593 posts

Allow as much time as you can for Stockholm. I believe you'll be very happy there. It's a very, very watery city.

Posted by
4004 posts

If you don't want to visit Copenhagen, it is not a must. You will not be labeled a heretic if you skip Copenhagen.

If you like open spaces and the sea, the Swedish west coast is a great place in my opinion. Varberg is day trip distance from Gothenburg, but Helsingborg and Lund is a bit too far in my opinion. I also don't think you will be devastad if you don't see Helsingborg and Lund. There are other charming towns you can replace them with, such as Varberg or some place in Bohuslän.

There are both trains and buses available in Bohuslän, so you don't need a car. But it sort of depends on where you are going, travel can be slow along the coast due to a lot of bays and peninsulas. I understand the urge to stay in one place longer, but a night in Strömstad as a stop between Gothenburg and Oslo can be worth considering.

Posted by
403 posts

Thank you, everyone! This is just the type of information I've been looking for. Off for more research!

Posted by
403 posts

We've decided to scale back and eliminate the Copenhagen part of our trip. We will add more time to Stockholm, the West coast of Sweden and the Fjords of Norway. My life is stressful enough without adding a bunch of vacation deadlines. We've good with slowing down.

Badger, can you tell me what you like about Strömstad? It does look interesting and is on the train route. I'm opening my mind to different combinations. Maybe we could base for a few days in Gothenburg then move to Marstrand for a few days and then Strömstad for a couple of nights. Is the ferry to Norway worth it?

Hopper, thank you for advice and the websites. They are very helpful.

Acraven, where haven't you been? Your observations are a joy to read.

Posted by
4004 posts

That seems like a good idea. Vacation should not be stressful.

Strömstad is in general a cute town in a charming area. And nearby are the Koster islands which are a popular destination in the summer. But there are other great options in Boshuslän as well.

Staying both in Gothenburg and Marstrand might be a bit overkill, Marstand is day trip distance from Gothenburg. If you are looking to stay in a smaller place you might look for some place a bit further away.