A Guide to West Sweden

Sunset in Fjallbacka, West Sweden.
Sunset in Fjallbacka, West Sweden.

Guide and Photos by Andy Christian Castillo

The coast of West Sweden is a throwback to a quieter time forgotten by most of the Western world. This image is in Grenemad.
The coast of West Sweden is a throwback to a quieter time forgotten by most of the Western world. This image is in Grenemad.

You can find more information on specific regions in West Sweden here.

What’s West Sweden's draw?

I grew up in northeastern United States, Western Massachusetts, specifically. When I was young, my family and I would pack into the station wagon and drive up to Maine for vacations. We’d stay at The Carpenter’s Boat Shop, a boathouse that built handmade boats in Pemaquid.

Because of those experiences, and others as I’ve experienced as I grew older, I appreciate the coast of New England. At least in the off season, New England is quiet; its way of life is slower than it is inland, and the people reflect that way of life in that they seem a little more peaceful.

West Sweden is the same: As an American, I find the region very similar to New England.

What makes West Sweden unique is its distinctly nordic culture, and rugged coastal landscape. Also, the wind -- both times I’ve been to the coast, a strong wind has been blowing. In my writing elsewhere, that detail has provided me with a lot of inspiration.

A rugged, industrial place

The car brand Volvo, made in Sweden is a great microcosm of the region as a whole: I toured Volvo's Gothenburg factory while writing for the Volvo Overseas Delivery Program, which provides new-car buyers with round-trip plane tickets, a night in a hotel, factory tour and then a few weeks around Europe with their new car, before it’s shipped home overseas.

Around the plant, the city included, everything is Volvo, everywhere you go. It’s a thriving place of industry -- huge ships moving in and out of port, businessmen and women hurrying past. When the city was built, the designers wanted the city to remain a car city; thus, cars are everywhere.

Gothenburg: An overview

For those seeking more of a city experience, Gothenburg, presiding as the central hub for the entire region, is close by and provides just about everything in a city you could want. It’s got culture, arts, food and adventure. The city itself has about a half-million people, and the surrounding metropolis houses around one million people.

It’s on the coast toward the lower part of Sweden -- not too big, not too small: think Boston.

Accessibility

Aside from cars, Gothenburg has a pretty great public transportation system, boasting classic blue street cars, with which I’m enamored with every time I see them. They’re a beautiful color, and stand out brightly against the city’s beautiful architecture and cobblestone streets.

Gothenburg, Sweden at sunset.
Gothenburg, Sweden at sunset.

It’s a very easy city to walk, there are a few main streets which run straight through the city. I never had trouble finding my way around, and never got lost.

Trains can bring you out of the city from Gothenburg Central Station. In the more sparsely populated areas, there are buses.

Further outside the city, about 20 or 25 minutes toward the coast, there’s a ferry system by which you can access Gothenburg’s archipelago -- on the islands, most of which are bicycle-only, you’ll have to walk or rent a bike.

As for where to stay, you can get a hostel for $25 on the low end, and of course there are a lot of upper class places too, such as Clarion Post Hotel, in the heart of the city.

Things to do

There’s a lot of things to do in Gothenburg, including a great arts scene, a lot of museums and tours -- I took one particular tour driving a 1950’s Volvo through the heart of the city, which was pretty cool.  There’s an amusement park as well, and a lot of great food -- and a craft beer scene, which greatly appealed to me. However, I most enjoyed just wandering around with a camera. It’s a great wandering city; there’s a lot to see and it’s easy to navigate.

Waiting for the tram in Gothenburg, Sweden.
Waiting for the tram in Gothenburg, Sweden.
When I went the second time, I was with my girlfriend, Brianna. We rented stand-up paddle boards and paddled, starting from about five miles away, down a river into the city.

The food is great, and very diverse. There are so many great, trendy restaurants downtown and also on the outskirts. Gothenburg has a few smaller sections in it, including Majorna, that provides great offerings as well.

My takeaway

Gothenburg is a city you definitely have to see in your lifetime. I gauge my interest of a new place by how quickly I can encapsulate it in a few words. For instance, Amsterdam is a “melting pot,” New York is “overwhelming,” and London is “chic.” To me, I Gothenburg is “trendy” -- there’s great food, it’s very accessible, stylish, and there are just so many great, intentional design elements to it, such as the blue street cars and cobblestone streets.

Dalsland: An overview

We hiked up to an overlook at Dalsland Activity Center, before staying the night in a teepee.
We hiked up to an overlook at Dalsland Activity Center, before staying the night in a teepee.

West Sweden provides a lot of options for those who enjoy getting outside. For those who enjoy hiking, there’s Dalsland: a 1,500 square mile region, inland from the coast, which is about 10-percent covered with lakes, and has a population of about 50,000 people.

Two thirds of the region is covered by forest, and there’s very low density as far as people are concerned. While there earlier this year, I found out what orienteering was. Orienteering is essentially competitive geocaching. That orienteering is so big in West Sweden I think speaks volumes about the region’s values.

Accessibility

Dalsland is a few hours away from Gothenburg, so you’ll have to rent a car to get there. Everything is spread out, so again, a rental car is the way to go. Driving through West Sweden’s countryside is a nice plus to that.

As for where to stay, there’s a lot of camping there, so pack a tent.

Things to do

Canoeing in Dalsland, through lakes clean enough to drink from.
Canoeing in Dalsland, through lakes clean enough to drink from.
This is an adventurer’s paradise. I didn’t have as much time to explore as it deserves, but I certainly got a taste. We went to two great spots while there, both campgrounds: Silver Lake Campground, and Dalsland’s Activities. At the first, we took a canoe out into the region’s lake systems. The water is clean enough to drink, and it’s incredibly peaceful.

The second place, Dalsland’s Activities, is probably my favorite place in West Sweden. My girlfriend has always wanted to see a moose -- last year, we traveled through eastern Canada for a few weeks, and she didn’t get her wish. The activity center had a moose park, with live moose right up at a wire fence. It was pretty surreal, they’re sort of mythical beings around here -- a lot of people fleetingly see them, but they never stay around for long. That night, we stayed in “tipi tents,” overlooking a gorgeous lake, and slept on pine needles and animal hides. It was about as Nordic as I’ve ever experienced.

My takeaway

Dalsland is wonderful if you like the outdoors. Like the Gothenburg region, it’s also accessible, the roads are smooth, campsites not too out-of-the way, and it isn’t too far from the city.

Along the Coast: An overview

The bay of Fjallbacka, Sweden.
The bay of Fjallbacka, Sweden.

Perhaps West Sweden’s biggest draw is the coast, or at least that’s what I found. From quaint fishing towns to more bustling port cities, the coast has a distinct culture and topography that reflects the hardiness of the Swedish people as a whole.

Accessibility

Parts of the coast are a little harder to navigate. Like Dalsland, you’ll need a car. There are a lot of easy-to-miss coastal villages that are definitely worth a stop, but might be off-the-beaten path a little bit. I’d suggest researching and buying a guidebook.

When it comes to getting out to the many islands off the coast, there are ferries that run pretty regularly; however, it’s good to have a schedule because out on the smaller islands boats don’t come as regularly.

Things to do

What’s iconic about the coast for me are the red boathouses, they’re everywhere. And because the region is often overcast and sometimes rainy, they stand out against the gloomy as cheery, rugged structures.

My first time in West Sweden, I flipped while ocean kayaking in Grenemad, twice.

Just out of the bay in Fjallbacka, Sweden.
Just out of the bay in Fjallbacka, Sweden.

It was incredibly windy and the water was rough. My guide warned that it might be difficult, because I wasn’t very good, but I went anyways, and ultimately had a blast.

For some people, that might not have been the most pleasant experience, but for me, it was incredibly adventurous and a challenge. There are a lot of activities like that if you’re interested in them, and there are also some lower key experiences, such as a sunset motorboat cruise or bicycling on the Koster Islands, another beautiful place.

There’s also plenty of family-friendly camping along the coast.

The food is hyper-local, I found myself eating fish that’d been caught that day or the day before. West Sweden’s food is packed with sharp flavor, and everything has fish in it.

My takeaway

West Sweden is really easy to traverse. In a week, you can experience the city, canoeing in Dalsland and then a lot of little villages, each unique, on the coast.

Life is slow on the islands of West Sweden.
Life is slow on the islands of West Sweden.
As a New Englander, I found it particularly easy to integrate into: first, everyone speaks English. Second, Swedes are a lot like us in many ways, very friendly, but not overtly so. People generally keep to themselves, but open up in conversation very quickly.

West Sweden holds a special place in my heart, it’s culture, it’s landscape, and it’s people. It’s a really wonderful place, and I think you should go there someday. Like me, you'll find that West Sweden doesn't disappoint.

Andy Christian

During a deployment as a firefighter with the USAF to the sweltering Middle East, Andy was bitten by the travel bug and smitten with the allure of adventure. Since then, he’s traveled everywhere; and when he isn’t on the road, he’s dreaming of far away places.

A 2016 graduate of the University of Massachusetts Amherst he’s now at Bay Path University studying an MFA in Creative Non Fiction, and works as a beat reporter at a small daily newspaper. Andy lives in S. Deerfield Mass.