There’s a lot more to Sweden than the mainland. When you include all of the little rocky outcrops and sandy atolls, there are an incredible 220,000 islands to choose from. No surprise, then, that many Swedes have tales of glorious summers spent sailing. This guide will steer you straight to some of the best Swedish islands. We’ve given details on how to reach them (we’ll assume you’re leaving your private yacht at home) as well as tips on what you can see when you arrive. Ready? Then we’ll set sail.
There’s a map showing all of the islands we’ve recommended at the bottom of this page.
It’s a bit of a slog from the city centre but if you want to experience the Stockholm Archipelago at its sleepy best, set your sights on the tiny island of Finnhamn. There’s very little to do, and to be honest, that’s kind of the point: pack plenty of supplies (there’s no big supermarket here) and spend your days walking, barbecuing, or hopping into the clear blue sea from the low grey rocks that skirt the coastline. Choosing where to stay is easy: there’s just one hostel on the island.
Ferries run by Waxholmsbolaget travel to Finnhamn from central Stockholm, with a journey time of around five hours.
For many Swedes, the number one summer escape is Gotland. Surrounded by the Baltic, it’s a big, rural island that offers sandy beaches, wild seascapes and plenty of pretty farm scenery. The main reason to come here is for a wander around Visby, a gorgeous walled town full of wonky half-timbered buildings. Stuff your face with yummy cakes at one of the myriad coffee shops, then burn off the calories with a look around the town’s main museum, which is full to the rafters with artworks and historic exhibits. Back out in the countryside, you can swim, hike and bike to your heart’s content. Just avoid week 29 (late July), when rich kids from Stockholm descend on Visby to party and show off their wealth by pouring champagne down the sink (yes, really).
Marstrand is the kind of place your mind drifts back to months after you’ve visited. On a sunny day, there’s just something special about the boats bobbing around in the harbour, the cute little houses with terracotta roofs, and the noisy seagulls whirling around overhead. Located about 50km north of Gothenburg on Sweden’s west coast, Marstrand actually spans two islands that are linked together by a ferry – the smaller of the two is crowned by a stone fort that’s full of interesting tales. Swedes tend to congregate in the harbourfront restaurants, gorging on tasty local seafood.
Local transport provider Västtrafik runs buses from Gothenburg. See our Gothenburg guide for info on buying tickets.
Long, skinny and edged by unspoilt beaches, Öland seems to have been built for summer holidays. The fact that it’s linked to the mainland with a road bridge only adds to its appeal, especially among folk with caravans. Apart from the sandy beaches (which are ace for swimming) highlights include a castle, a royal residence and a Unesco World Heritage Site with 5,000 years of human history.
Planes and trains run to Kalmar; from there it’s a quick bus ride to the island.
The Weather Islands
Tired of modern life? Want to spend your days swimming, spotting seals and sweating in a sauna? Take our advice and head to the most westerly point in Sweden: the Weather Islands (Väderöarna). The hundred-or-so rocky islands have a special windswept beauty, just like the name suggests, and they are a lot more tranquil than other islands closer to the mainland – indeed, most are totally empty. There’s a single guesthouse, which serves up oodles of local shellfish. Bring clothes that can put up with lashings of wind and rain, and pack a couple of good books.
Small boats ferry visitors to the islands from Fjällbacka and Hamburgsund, both on the Swedish mainland north of Gothenburg.
Forming a natural bottleneck in the gulf that leads to Finland, the cluster of forested Swedish islands known as Holmöarna is home to fewer than 80 year-round residents. Natural beauty abounds – from forests to bogs and beaches – and there are loads of opportunities for hiking and birdwatching. The main island, Holmön, has a museum dedicated to boats.
Ferries connect Norrfjärden (north of Umeå, on the mainland) with Byviken on the island of Holmön. If the sea is frozen, you may be able to take a snowmobile across.
Adrift in the middle of Vättern, Sweden’s second-biggest lake, Visingsö was once the home of Swedish kings. Unusually, it’s partially covered by oak trees. The story goes that, back in the 19th century, the Swedish navy planted hundreds of saplings in the hope of using the timber for boats. Today the grand oaks have reached full maturity, but the navy has – unsurprisingly – moved on from using wooden boats. The island has enough beaches and historic sights for a couple of days of lazy exploration, and the town of Gränna (on the mainland) is famous for its sugary, red-and-white-striped candy.
Car ferries depart for the island from Gränna, with a journey time of around 25 minutes.
Of all the little car-free islands you can reach using Gothenburg’s public transport network, Brännö is our favourite. Borrow a bike from the ferry landing and head out to discover sedate swimming spots and areas of thick forest. When the weather allows, there’s nothing better than setting up a picnic on the warm, smooth rocks, with views of the sea all around.
From central Gothenburg you can take the tram to Saltholmen and then hop aboard a ferry bound for the island. Our guide has info on paying for the boat trip.
For the ultimate Robinson Crusoe experience in Sweden, try Gotska Sandön. This uninhabited sand island is around 40km north of Gotland (see above) and is a protected nature reserve, complete with pristine beaches, rolling dunes and a colony of curious seals. With your own tent, it’s possible to pitch up in one of the designated areas (our guide to camping in Sweden has more on the rules campers need to be aware of). Otherwise, basic cottages and cabins are available to rent through the Resestugan website.
Unless you have your own boat, you’re restricted to the public ferries which serve the island from late May to early September. The departure point on the Swedish mainland is Nynäshamn.
Around 130km northeast of Sundsvall on the ‘High Coast’ (itself a World Heritage Site), charming Trysunda is often called Sweden’s most beautiful island. Away from the idyllic, hook-shaped harbour, which is edged by rust-red wooden cottages, there are shallow pebble beaches. Don’t be put off by how far north the island is; in summer, the weather can get surprisingly warm.
Public boats for Trysunda leave from Köpmanholmen, on the Swedish mainland.