Six cute Swedish towns you’ve never heard of

The streets of Stockholm and Gothenburg are often jam-packed with tourists, but further afield there are plenty of adorable Swedish towns you've probably never heard of, but which all offer some unique experiences.

Six cute Swedish towns you've never heard of
Trosa in central Sweden. Photo: Gunnar Lundmark/SvD/TT

1. Ystad

We may have exaggerated the headline. If you're a fan of Nordic Noir, you have definitely heard of Ystad. This is the home of famous Swedish television detective Kurt Wallander and both the Swedish original and Kenneth Branagh's BBC version were shot on location. Tourists can go on conceptual guided tours that follow in the rugged policeman's footsteps along the town's cobble stone streets. If you would rather investigate ancient history than fictional crimes, the 11th-century town, located at the southernmost tip of Sweden, also has a fascinating history and is home to one of Sweden's best-preserved medieval Fransiscan monasteries, the Greyfriars' Abbey.

Travel here: By train from Copenhagen Airport or ferry from Poland.

Kenneth Branagh as Kurt Wallander on the BBC. Photo: Laurence Cendrowicz/Left Bank Pictures

2. Sigtuna

Founded by a Swedish Viking King Erik Segersäll (Erik the Victorious) in 980, Sigtuna lays claim to the title of Sweden's oldest existing town. The medieval town centre consists of narrow, winding streets lined by small wooden houses and handicraft shops. Many of its residents work in Stockholm and commute to and from their workplaces every day via the nearby train station at Märsta, so it is easily accessible even for just a day trip from the capital. Places to visit include Sigtuna Museum and the ruins of the remaining three of its old stone churches, erected by the towns wealthy merchants in the Middle Ages.

Travel here: The bus from Stockholm's Arlanda Airport takes just under half an hour or you can go by train from the city centre.

The vibrant main shopping street in Sigtuna. Photo: Linus Hallgren/Destination Sigtuna AB

3. Gammelstad

Located just west of Luleå in the far north of Sweden, getting here is a bit of a trek, but it is well worth it. The oldest part of the town, Gammelstad Church Town ('Gammelstads kyrkstad'), is similar to Scotland's old kirk towns and consists of a collection of some 400 cottages where visitors from further afield used to spend the night when they visited the 15th-century church. It is a Unesco World Heritage Site and the best preserved example of a type of hamlet that was once very common in northern Sweden where distances between towns were great. Famous Swedish botanist Carl Linneaus visited in 1732 and wrote that “although the summer here is shorter than all other places in the world, I would also claim that it is sweeter”.

Travel here: Fly to Luleå Airport from Stockholm.

4. Trosa

Trosa is a small town with only about 5,000 residents, but its beautiful location by the sea on the east coast of Sweden and its town centre with plenty of trendy as well as traditional shops makes it a popular destination for savvy tourists. Conveniently located about an hour south of the capital, it is a great place to spot some Swedish celebrities, with former Abba member Benny Andersson, actor Mikael Persbrandt ('Beorn' in The Hobbit to international readers) and even the Swedish Royal Family owning summer houses here. Fun fact: Trosa means 'women's underpants' in Swedish. Don't make any jokes about this – the locals have heard them all.

Travel here: By bus from Skavsta Airport in Nyköping or by a train/bus combo from Stockholm.

Trosa is popular among Swedish celebrities. Photo: Trosa Turism

5. Marstrand

From a small but wealthy fishing village in the 16th century to a vibrant sea resort for the rich some hundreds of years later, Marstrand on Sweden's west coast has seen many a visitor come and go. Even today, Swedish tourists pour into the town in summer to admire its beautiful houses, sip a coffee at its many cool cafes and take part in the annual regatta. The impressive Carlsten stone fortress at the top of the hill in the town dominates the Marstrand skyline. Oh, and if you failed to spot any celebrities when you visited Trosa, keep an eye out for members of the Swedish Royal Family in the crowds outside the posher beach cafes.

Travel here: By boat cruise or bus from Gothenburg Airport.

Marstrand with the Carlsten fortress on the right. Photo: Per Pixel Petersson/

6. Mölle

Mölle on the south-west coast of Sweden has given rise to the famous (some would say infamous) phenomenon of 'the Swedish sin' which has influenced many a foreigner's stereotypical view of the liberated Swede. Innocent though it may seem today, the reason was its then-shocking-but-oh-so-widely-popular mixed sex bathing area, which attracted visitors from all over Europe (up until the First World War there were regular trains running from Berlin to Mölle). Those of you hoping that its scandalous reputation has kept up with the times will be disappointed, but the scenic harbour with plenty of cute cafes (The Local can highly recommend the waffles) and fascinating architecture will keep most visitors happy. The dramatic scenery and craggy hills around the town are great for hiking, too.

Gorgeous seaside town Mölle is a great place to spend the summer. Photo: Höganäs kommun

Travel here: If you're travelling from abroad, rent a car at the airport in either Gothenburg or Copenhagen and drive here. If you're based in Sweden, a train/bus combo via Helsingborg is your best option.

Those were the days. Mölle at the start of the 20th century. Photo: SCANPIX

Article first published in 2015.


Sweden launches bid to become world’s top tourism destination by 2030

Forget the pyramids, the canals of Venice or the Eiffel Tower – the Swedish government has presented a plan to make Sweden the world's most attractive tourism destination by 2030 – but it's not yet clear how.

Sweden launches bid to become world's top tourism destination by 2030
Many tourists are attracted to Sweden because of its nature. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

In a press conference on Monday, Sweden’s Minister for Business, Industry and Innovation Ibrahim Baylan outlined the new strategy, which aims to make Sweden “the world’s most sustainable and attractive tourism destination built on innovation” by 2030.

Baylan referred to Sweden as a country which “is usually ranked as one of the world’s most innovative countries”, which he argued can “create value for the tourism industry”.

According to Baylan, the strategy builds on “sustainability’s three dimensions – it has to be environmentally, socially and economically sustainable”. The strategy will also “tie into the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals for 2030”, he said.

Topics covered by the new tourism strategy include the climate impact of tourism, equality and inclusion in the tourism industry and the importance of preserving shared resources such as national parks and sustainable nature tourism such as fishing and hunting.

The press release highlights the importance of natural tourism, explaining that the pandemic has led to people visiting natural and cultural environments “to a greater extent than before”, increasing wear and tear to natural areas.

DISCOVER SWEDEN: The Local’s guide to Sweden’s top destinations and hidden gems

Tourism is an important industry for Sweden, providing employment in both urban and rural areas, as well as generating wealth – before the coronavirus pandemic, the tourism industry represented on average 2.7 percent of Sweden’s GDP per year. The tourism industry also employs a high amount of people from foreign backgrounds – making up over a third (34 percent) of all employees in the industry.

During the pandemic, overnight stays declined in almost every Swedish municipality, with the biggest declines seen in Sweden’s larger cities and border municipalitites.

The government’s plans also include a focus on jobs and skill development, so that workers have the right qualifications for the industry – this reflects issues currently faced by the restaurant and hotel industry in finding skilled workers in the wake of the pandemic. 

There are currently no details as to how the government will achieve this strategy, or indeed how it will measure success. But Sweden is aiming high if it wants to be the world’s most attractive tourist destination by 2030. In 2019, it was ranked the 54th top tourist destination in the world by the UN World Tourism Organisation.