Once described by Swedish writer and bishop Esaias Tegnér as “beyond question the ugliest place in Sweden,” Varberg has come a long way since he made that assessment back in 1826.
The town on the Swedish west coast has just been given not one but two awards: one for municipality of the year, and the other for having 2016’s best town centre. Jurors praised the area for its blend of the new and the old, sighting it as somewhere where historic sights combine with innovative new ideas to make one winning package.
With an abundance of spas, excellent eating, superb surfing and 2.5km of sandy beaches to choose from, this blossoming, vibrant resort couldn't be further from the ugliness it was labelled with in the 1800s. Intrigued yet? Here are ten reasons why Varberg has been named Sweden's best.
1. It's an old health resort
In the information age it can be pretty difficult to find some time to relax, and if de-stressing is on the agenda then Varberg has more expertise than most. The town’s tradition as a health resort dates back to the 1800s, and Swedes still flock there in their thousands to take a break from the daily grind and enjoy the fresh sea air. They can’t all be wrong.
Tourists have been escaping to Varberg for centuries. Photo: Mikael Pilstrand/MarknadVarberg
2. Varberg spa bonanza
Varberg municipality has the highest density of spas in Sweden, and the pick of the bunch is the striking waterfront Bathhouse (Kallbadhuset). Built in 1903, the odd combination of orientalist and gothic architecture works surprisingly well, creating an impressive building that couldn’t look any less Scandinavian. A warm sauna in front of the sea isn’t exactly the worst way to spend your day.
Varberg's striking Bathhouse. Photo: Mikael Pilstrand/MarknadVarberg
3. Beaches that remind you of the Mediterranean
Swedish summer days can get surprisingly warm, and if the temperatures start to rise then Varberg’s beautiful sandy beaches are a good port of call. The 2.5km stretch of coastline should provide plenty of room for a dip or a picnic during even the busiest of summer days, but watch out for crabs early in the morning and late at night.
Apelviken beach. Photo: Mikael Pilstrand/MarknadVarberg
4. A place for telling fishing tales
If you’d rather make a meal out of those pesky crabs then why not take a chance to go fishing? Sweden’s west coast is famous for its seafood, and Varberg is no exception, with experienced crews available to take visitors out onto the sea for up to eight hours in an effort to catch mackerel, wolffish and more. Better still, with around 146 lakes in the area, there’s also the possibility of casting a line in fresh water, while salmon can even be caught from the nearby Viskan river.
Patriotic boats at Varberg harbour. Photo: Mikael Pilstrand/MarknadVarberg
5. It's a surfers' paradise (no, really)
A mere fishing trip may not be enough for the biggest of thrill seekers, and with Varberg recognized as northern Europe’s best windsurfing spot that shouldn’t be a problem. If you’re a beginner then wind and kite surfing courses are held during the summer season, while the presence of the largest surf shop in the Nordic region provides plenty of worthwhile expertise for novices and veterans alike.
Windsurfers brave the water at Apelviken. Photo: Mikael Pilstrand/MarknadVarberg
6. There's a hostel inside a fortress
Varberg is about more than just natural beauty: one of its most iconic attractions is the fortress, situated high on the cliffs with sections that date back to the 13th century. The local tourist board says the stronghold is to Varberg what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris or the Statue of Liberty to New York, and while we’ll leave it for you to decide whether that’s a fair comparison, its combination of architecture from a number of different centuries is certainly striking. A youth hostel nestled inside the fortress walls means guests can even stay there for the night, resting their heads where royalty once lived.
Varberg's iconic fortress… and a surfing cat. Photo: Mikael Pilstrand/MarknadVarberg
7. Real-life Nordic Noir
Any self-respecting town has a good local mystery, and Varberg is no different. In the 1800s, landowner Alfred Bexell engaged engravers to inscribe a vast number of stones on his property, with hundreds of sayings, names of historic persons and well-known contemporaries chiselled into the various boulders. When he died the stones were forgotten, but they have since been rediscovered and are now a popular tourist attraction. Around 560 names and 160 sayings have been found so far, and it's believed that there are still plenty more to be found in the future. Get hunting.
One of Alfred Bexell's mysterious stones. Photo: Mikael Pilstrand/MarknadVarberg
8. It's a haven for foodies
The quality of food can make or break a destination, and Varberg can be quietly content about its culinary offerings. One of the most popular establishments is John’s Place, a seaside establishment that has been serving fish dishes in an unbeatable location since 1970. With over 60 seafood restaurants in the town there's no shortage of choice.
Fish and seafood can be found in abundance in Varberg's restaurants. Photo: Anna Hållams/TT
9. All play and no work…
Relaxing, dining and windsurfing are all worthwhile endeavours, but sometimes it’s nice to learn a thing or two, and if educational sightseeing is the desired activity for the day, then Varberg’s Grimeton Radio Station should be at the top of the list. Opened in 1924, the station was declared a Unesco World Heritage sight in 2004, with the agency describing it as an “exceptionally well-preserved monument to early wireless communication,”. Incredibly the near 100-year-old equipment is still in operating condition.
Equipment at Grimeton Radio Station. Photo: Bobbo Lauhage/TT
10. Good for grabbing a bargain
It’s always nice to take a piece of a place with you once you’re done visiting it, and Varberg’s market offers the perfect chance to do that. Taking place in the main square every Wedneday and Saturday, the local tourist board claim the market is the best in Sweden. If you’d rather just watch the hustle and bustle unfold, then there are around ten cafes dotted around the square to choose from too. Even Esaias Tegnér couldn't complain about that level of variety.
Varberg market. Photo: Mikael Pilstrand/MarknadVarberg