Less than an hour from the sticky summer evenings of Gothenburg lies Bohuslän Archipelago, splintering into 8,000 islands and skerries, their golden rock glowing pink in the rising and setting sun. The coast runs north of Gothenburg, cutting through the North Sea all the way to Norway. The landscape here is wild and untamed; the craggy islands are dotted with red houses and fishermen boats. Coastal meadows carry the scent of pine trees, and the sound of the waves coaxes you into slowing down, your eyes open with wonder, your smile a little wider.
The archipelago is moody in winter, bringing to mind cozy evenings by the fire and long walks along the beach, the kind that fill your lungs with winter chill.
But it’s the summer when Bohuslän truly comes to life. In the daytime, it resembles Croatia and the Adriatic Coast, except much more relaxed and raw in its striking, wild beauty.
If you’re planning a summer trip to West Sweden, here are 5 things to do and see on Bohuslän archipelago.
Top things to do in Bohuslän:
1 Take a boat from Gothenburg to Marstrand
Often considered the most beautiful town in Bohuslän and within an easy reach of Gothenburg Airport, Marstrand is the perfect place to start exploring the coast.
There are plenty of ways to reach Marstrand from Gothenburg. A local bus takes only 1.5h and driving by car, between 40-50min. But if you want to get a real taste of what West Sweden has to offer, then you should travel by boat. Hop on board of M/S St Erik and make your way through the deep blue waters, seafoam churning as you go along. You’ll almost be able to taste the sea salt on your tongue when the waves splash down below. Soon after you leave the port and cross into the archipelago, you’ll be greeted by rocky islets – Öckerö, Björkö and Hälsö.
On a bright summer day, it’s hard to tell where the sea ends and the sky begins. With shades of blue high above and below, red wooden houses lining up the coast and a cinnamon bun in your hand (you didn’t think there would be no fika on board, did you?), you’ll wonder for a second if you somehow found yourself in the Mediterranean.
St Erik makes a quick stop at Källö Knippla, a charming, car-free little island with only a handful of residents, filled with that wonderful sense of calm typical for small towns. Three hours into your journey, you’ll arrive in Marstrand. The town looks beautiful from the sea, the fortress towering over the buildings and boats lined up neatly in the harbour. This is where your West Coast adventure begins.
Are you ready?
2. Explore Marstrand (and don’t miss the sunset from Carlstens Fortress!)
Marstrand sits on the very edge of the archipelago, just as it opens up to the sea. The small-town charm – hollyhocks and roses climbing up the white-picket fences, cafes serving home-baked cake, are all locked in the dramatic, rocky landscapes. Filled with salty swimming spots, natural wonders and plenty of opportunities to enjoy the sunny weather, Marstrand is the perfect place to start your island-hopping adventure.
There’s a lot of places for a nature walk or a hike, but my favourite is the route leading along Långgatan up towards the rocky outcrops hanging over the sea. Bring some cinnamon buns from Bergs Konditori, Marstrand’s oldest bakery, fill your thermos with coffee, and sit on throw yourself a little picnic the rocks overlooking the sea and the Swedish-style houses down below. To truly see Marstrand in all its glory, hike to the top of Carlstens Fortress at sunset. Bohuslän archipelago is famous for its sunrise and sunsets, known for turning the granite rocks the most beautiful shades of pink and golden yellow. There’s no need the rush – in the summer, the sun in the southern parts of Scandinavia doesn’t set till after 10pm.
Where to stay and eat in Marstrand:
There are plenty of hotel and b&bs on the island, but if you want to get a true taste of Scadninavian design (and experience a floating sauna while at it!), stay at Marstrands Havshotell. The hotel has been recently renovated, and the new rooms come with large balconies overlooking the harbour. They are perfect for sunset watching, especially if you’re not in the mood for a hike. The hotel’s restaurant Ottos Kök is known for its fabulous seafood, but don’t miss out on dinner at the Grand Hotel. Restaurant Tenan is listed in White Guide, Sweden’s response to the Michelin Guide, and their signature beef tenderloin Africana and garlic langoustine will be the highlight of your culinary adventures on the island
3. Spend the night at Sweden’s First Floating Hotel in Klädesholmen
The rocky isles of West Sweden offer some of the most delicious shellfish in the country, however, Klädesholmen is known for another Swedish specialty – herring! Nicknamed, rather fittingly, ‘the herring island’, Klädesholmen stays true to its heritage, dating back as far as 1400s, when herring salting plants were an integral part of the island life. Salt & Sill, Sweden’s first floating hotel, is dedicated to keeping the tradition alive – not only because of its name (‘sill’ means herring in Swedish) but by cultivating a passion for food and new flavours, putting – you guessed it! – herring at the centre of the experience.
Salt & Sill’s design, which makes it look as if it was hovering over the sea, is truly unique and the first of its kind in the country, hence earning the title of Sweden’s first floating hotel. Each of the six wooden buildings, built in a quintessentially Nordic style, sway on a pontoon resting on the water. The lower level rooms open straight into the open sea facing East, and have their very own bathing ladders. This means that you can, quite literally, jump out of your bed and straight into the sea!
“Do you want the waves rock you to sleep? Or maybe dip your feet in a dawn-shimmering sea before the morning slippers come on?” At Salt & Sill you can do both. The way the hotel hangs over the water brings to mind Maldivian villas – and given the deep blue waters surrounding you everywhere you look, the comparison isn’t exactly far-fetched.Salt & Sill
The rooms are small, but very cozy – white paneled walls, thick wool blankets and plenty of natural light are a nod towards Nordic simplicity. Each room is designed and named after a different spice (mine was called Pepper) and decorated accordingly. But it’s not the décor that makes the stay magical. Waking up to the sea stretching right in front of your window, then leaving the room barefoot at the crack of dawn, with nothing but a bikini and a towel, to then take a dip at sunrise… that’s not an experience you’re not likely to forget.
I remember my first morning at the hotel, when I wrapped myself up in a blanket and, half asleep and half-dreaming, sat on the wooden pier watching the birds and the sea wake up. The water was covered in the yellow of the rising sun, the air smelled of salt – no one was awake but me, and it felt as if the universe was throwing me a spectacle.
And if that’s not enough to convince you that Salt & Sill is made of pure magic, the hotel comes with a (floating, of course) sauna with a jacuzzi on top, perfect for a little pampering session before breakfast. There are a few things more magical than a sauna at the crack of dawn and a cup of tea before jumping in the bubbling jacuzzi, the sea views stretching for miles.
4. Bike to Skärhamn Island and visit the Nordic Watercolor Museum
You wouldn’t think that island hopping can be done by bike, but Bohuslän makes you think twice. A bike ride from Klädesholmen to Skärhamn on the mainland will take you through Mossholmen and down fishermen villages, sea views following you as you bike along. You can also take a local bus or drive, if you prefer. Thirty minutes later, you’ll arrive at a charming port where white masts cut through the sky and houses with orange rooftops perch on the rocks, immediately bringing to mind the images of seaside towns in Croatia.
Skärhamn is famous for two things – yachting and the Nordic Watercolour Museum.
You may be wondering why anyone would want to spend a summer’s day at a museum, but this place is truly special. A homage to the Scandinavian design, Nordiska Akvarellmuseet sits on the water’s edge, partially hanging over the sea. The red, wooden facades speckled with bits of blue and gray blend with nature and the granite rock, creating that calming, harmonious feeling. There are four artist studios lined up at the back, along the water. Painted the same colour as the rocky coast behind them, their clean-cut lines form a cube-like shape with long, rectangle windows cutting them at the front – a wonderful example of Scandinavian architecture.
Aside from a fabulous collection of art – the exhibition was an homage to Romeo Gigli and Mats Gustafson’s fashion illustrations, the museum has a cafe and a restaurant, both filled with light streaming through the large windows, and views of the archipelago and artist studios across the water. There’s also a small beach just a short walk away, in case you feel like lazing around in the sunshine after your fika.
5. Spend an evening in Åstol
Åstol is a small skerry north of Marstrand.
This sweet little island has only 200 inhabitants, about 150 of them permanent. Because it’s so tiny, everyone knows each other and life here is wonderfully simple. There are no cars – you can easily walk everywhere. The houses ooze that cozy, homely feel and white-picked fences have red roses growing over them – a common sight on the West Sweden islands. On summer evenings, you may find yourself fishing mackerel or sipping wine at Åstols Rökeri – a local fish smokery and restaurant hanging over the sea, which also happens to serve the b e s t fish soup and oysters I’ve ever tasted.
There are natural pools where local kids go for a dip, and the rocky hills are perfect for long, evening hikes and sunset watching. My favouirte spot to watch the sunset is by Galleri Röda Stugan – a small, red cottage sat on top of a windswept cliff, with breathtaking blue waters of the North Sea stretching as far as you can look. With the moon rising to one side and the sunset to the other, it’s as if this tiny island was hanging somewhere in between the dream and reality. Just like Bohuslän Archipelago itself.
This post was written in collaboration with West Sweden. As always, all opinions are my own. ❤