Initially written for the Travel Cafe
Many people sigh picturing views of Stockholm, the charming capital of Sweden. Some might also praise the cozy Gothenburg, kingdom’s second largest city. Perhaps even Malmö can come to a traveler’s mind – a city kissing Copenhagen in Denmark through a nearly 8 kilometers long bridge of Öresund. However, just as many Nordic countries Sweden is way more than its admirable cities. I dare to say that even if you visit all of the Sweden’s biggest cities, you cannot deeply experience the real, raw and captivating beauty of this country. I believe it is impossible without feeling the scent of a lush Swedish forest. Freshness of its cold winds with a spice of crispy snow. And a kiss of warm sunshine on your cheeks after a long winter. Perhaps therefore many healthy people out north spend much time resting in summer cabins, camping, hiking, skiing.
To feel some of that, take this digital journey with me. From Gothenburg where I studied, to mid-north of Sweden where I am currently based. Let’s visit some of the divine places on a way, to help us uncover the beauty of Sweden.
We begin in a city: Gothenburg
As a student, I experienced many joyful moments living in one of the oldest neighborhoods of Gothenburg, the tiny little Haga. This area is built in the landshövdingehus (meaning the ‘county governor’s house’) style, which is characterized by a ground floor in stone and two wooden floors on top. On a corner at Haga Nygatan 28 the Café Husaren is located, well known for huge cinnamon rolls called Hagabullen. Perfectly suitable for sharing with friends!
Haga in winter – Gothenburg lights by night – on an autumn day – Hagabulle
As adorable as the city is with all of its green parks, what fascinates me the most are its islands! Gothenburg is surrounded by a picturesque archipelago stretching along the west coast. Can I even express how fun it was to go island hopping? Talks and lovely walks with fellow students from university through some of the 21 islands so serene and genuine… Nature therapy at its best!
Dazzling sunset in Gothenburg’s archipelago – photos taken by Sayaka Yoshida
The move. From west coast to northern east coast
I remember just before moving from Gothenburg to Sundsvall, one person from Stockholm warned me. “Anna, Sundsvall is a rather ugly city. Industrial, boring and cold. It is so unlike Stockholm or Gothenburg. I cannot see you living there.” I really didn’t know whether I should take his opinion into consideration. Given that many people from Stockholm don´t even like Gothenburg – which I adore.
Travelling by train I saw how the scenery changed from Gothenburg in the west coast – to Stockholm – and then to mid-north, where Sundsvall was waiting for me on the east coast. The closer I was to Sundsvall, the more rocks and stones I saw, and less plateau. There was something more and more harsh in the nature. When roofs of a huge factory emerged then I thought… Oh my, will this really be an unsightly place?
Let´s take a quick look inside Sundsvall to decide.
Sundsvall: stone, green and snow
Arriving to a tiny central train station, you can tell the city isn’t big. It’s old town just next to the station has experienced a tremendous fire in 1888. It then raised from ashes, was all rebuilt in stone and called Stenstan (literally, the city of stone). Although you can still see many well-preserved wooden houses outside of the oldtown.
Sundsvall by night and moonglade next to Sundsvall’s bridge
Sundsvall in its summer and winter outfit / Tower of the Gustav Adolf’s Church
Living in Sundsvall suits just perfectly for someone who does not want to waste life in traffic jams, and… Loves spending quality time in nature! Many unique places are easy to access from here.
There are some not to miss inside of the city too!
Overlooking the Gulf of Bothnia Sundsvall is beautifully located between two hills – North and South. Well, someone wasn’t very creative giving them the names! On the North Hill you can enjoy the city views and visit an open-air museum of the Swedish household – all surrounded by a forest. Many wooden houses and artefacts from the past are kept here. Exploring the hill, I recommend you to taste homemade gelato from Drakenglass. It can be found at a small local delicacy shop Smakrummet. Even some locals don’t know about this delicious gelato!
Views from the North Hill
On the South Hill, trails for both down-hill and cross-country skiing are waiting for winter sport enthusiasts. In all other seasons it’s a perfect destination for a run, walk or a picnic.
Cross-country skiing on the South Hill and panorama of Sundsvall from the South Hill
On the top of the South Hill a hotel is overlooking the city and its biggest island Alnö, sandy beaches of which are waiting for your feet during warm summer days.
Tranviken beach – Alnö island
In Alnö, I love a little café & bakery Virriga Bakverk located at Raholmsvägen 110B. I must admit that the majority of Swedish bakeries bake same kind of pastries and bread, but this one has a way broader taste-map. From Portugese pastel de nata to many sorts of fresh cheesecake. Or maybe everything just tastes better by the sea?
Lunch at Virriga Bakverk
Part 2. One with serene nature around Sundsvall
Let´s now visit my favourite getaways to nature around Sundsvall! Each of these are located in different directions from the city and are easy to access by car.
Peace of mind by the rushing waterfall Västanåfallet
Only 20 minutes-drive north from Sundsvall, Sweden’s second largest waterfall Västanåfallet is a sublime place to relax. Come here for a promenade, meditation to a sound of falling water, some event or a picnic.
Romantic ride to old fishing villages Lörudden and Skatan
A short drive south by a coastal road Kustvägen leads us to old fishing villages of Lörudden and Skatan. Lörruden has a White Guide recommended restaurant on the seaside, serving delicious meals. In both Lörudden and Skatan you can also buy freshly caught, smoked fish and sea food.
Villages of Lörudden and Skatan
Breathtaking Höga Kusten region. Skuleberget, Skuleskogen and Ulvön
Only 1.5 hour away from Sundsvall, the UNESCO-listed Höga Kusten (High Coast) region stretches its fields of endless greens and blues. It is the highest coastline in the world!
Höga Kusten bridge
Here, the national park of Skuleskogen is a place to nurture both body and soul. Trails of this park sum up to 30 km and give you a broad spectrum of experience: stunning tranquil forests, deep canyons, cliffs and mountain tops. Whether I tailor my visit for one day or one week, I still long to come back there.
Hiking in Skuleskogen
If you only pass by and have no more than two hours, enjoy a cup of coffee with a view from the top of Skuleberget hill. It is accessible both by lift and hiking on foot.
In Höga Kusten you can also explore a serene Island of Ulvön. Looking pretty in traditional old Swedish fishing village architecture, Ulvön is considered to be an island of the extra-smelly delicacy called surströmmning. It is a lightly-salted and fermented herring. Odour is so strong that many airlines have classified it as an explosive and banned it! Filming people’s reaction while opening a can of surströmmning is trending on YouTube, although it should never be opened as an ordinary can and neither should be eaten straight out of it.
Ulvön on a traditionally gloomy summer day (just so you don‘t expect that days in Sweden are all sunny)
In Ulvön, there is even an academy of surströmming, mission of which is to uphold the genuine tradition of making and eating this so-called delicacy. Would you dare to taste it the right way? Come to Ulvön if yes!
Döda Fallet aka the Dead Falls – a living monument to nature´s tragedy
Driving north-west direction by a river of Indal, you reach a place both magnificent and tragic. Once upon a time there was a waterfall here, known as Storforsen (the Great Rapids). It tumbled 35 meters out of Lake Ragunda along the Indalsälven river in Sweden. Glacial debris had blocked the course of the Indalsälven at the falls for thousands of years, creating a reservoir of glacial meltwater 25 kilometers long, known as the Ragunda Lake. Yet in 1796, this mighty waterfall was silenced forever due to a combination of human interference and the power of nature.
This is one of Sweden’s most devastating natural disasters, site of which is called Döda Fallet (the Dead Falls). Taking a walk here gives you an out of this world feeling as you discover and touch what was under the water for thousands of years!
Döda Fallet / The Dead Falls
As it takes 1.5 hours to drive there, on a way I like to stop by two other places. One of them is Thailändska Paviljongen – the only Royal Thai Pavilion located outside Thailand. It is a memorial building for the King Chulalongkorn Rama V of Thailand who visited the region in 1897.
The Royal Thai Pavilion in Sweden
Second is a hill of Vättaberget. Here I enjoy the panoramic view of the lively river Indal, romantically rushing between the magnificent forests.
Breathtaking panorama from the Vättaberget hill
Well, please just don’t expect that all days in Sweden are sunny and warm. The more north you go, the longer and deeper the winter. Then, you can enjoy the winter activities! In Sundsvall, its neighbor cities and skiing resorts, the nearest being in Hassela. Vemdalen, Björnrike and Åre are bigger ones in the Swedish mountains, but also more far away from Sundavall.
Being curious enough to uncover the beauty… And fall in love!
All we saw along this digital journey with me is just a drop in the ocean of places to see in Sweden. I have been to more and still want to visit even more. Anyways, I hope that this little guide through my favorite places near home was enough to get a feeling of Sweden’s beauty.
What I learned while living in Sundsvall is that the charm of this city consists of small details. Not everything is marvelous here and some days it can be hard to not complain about the harsh weather. Love for this part of Sweden will rarely come at first sight. It can gradually start to bloom in your heart with each newly uncovered place. Person. Tradition. If you are curious enough, here you will certainly find your unique smultronställe – translated as ‘a wild strawberry patch’ but meaning an idyllic and very treasured place for solace and relaxation.
Text and photography by Anna Balciune. All rights reserved.