1. Gothenburg – the capital of West Sweden
City breaks don’t come better than this – Gothenburg is small but therein lies its beautiful. Discover quaint canals, the cobbled streets of historical Haga and countless green open spaces, including Sweden’s largest botanical gardens, boasting over 16,000 species. Immerse yourself in the Swedish lifestyle, soaking up the buzzing outdoor café culture with ‘fika’ (a drink, usually coffee, and a bite) or indulge in food markets, impressive museums and fine restaurants - five with Michelin stars. What’s more, there’s the city archipelago right on Gothenburg’s doorstep - easy to reach via a half-hour tram ride and a short passenger ferry.
2. Seasonal celebration
With its never-ending summer days and cosy, candle-lit winters, it’s no wonder that Swedes feel a close affinity with the seasons and they celebrate them in style. Join the Swedes as they head into the country for Midsummer Festival, a day of ribbon-flinging and maypole-dancing, as well as generous helpings of fresh strawberries, seafood and schnapps. December sees the darkest month of the year light up. Towns and villages are filled with processions of white-robed singing children led by a candlelit crowned local girl, in honour of St Lucia (the Queen of Light). Then there’s Scandinavia’s largest Christmas market, the Liseberg Christmas Market at the stunning Liseberg Amusement Park in Gothenburg, along with many more traditional markets across the city.
3. Stunning coastline and Sweden’s first Marine National Park
West Sweden’s breathtaking Bohuslän coastal region has an archipelago of 1,000 islands dotted with pretty fishing villages. Sweden’s first Marine National Park, Kosterhavet, centred around the car-free Koster Islands, is only a two-hour drive up the coast from Gothenburg. Once on the Kosters, explore quaint fishing villages surrounded by a picturesque landscape. The unique seaside location, with beaches, rocky islands and enchanting ‘Koster light’ has inspired many artists to the island. Here you can hire bikes, go diving or sea kayaking, cruise out to see the marine wildlife or try the unique seal safari.
A renowned event along the west coast of Sweden is the seafood safari. Taking place from 26 September to 6 November are the mouth-watering (and educational) seafood safaris available along the spectacular coast. The lobster safari is one of the highlights and sees visitors voyage out with a skipper and help to haul up and reset the pots of ’black gold’. Learn how to prepare and cook the lobsters and then sample the scrumptious catch, perhaps after enjoying a relaxing drink in the outdoor hot tub.
5. A Taste of West Sweden
West Sweden is fast gaining an international reputation as the ‘foodie’ capital of northern Europe due to the growing number of imaginative chefs, plus the wealth and quality of its natural produce. West coast shellfish are among the best in the world, inland forests provide a variety of game, while other districts produce fine cheeses. And the fertile farmland is ideal for growing grain and raising animals in the best organic traditions. Visitors can experience some of the most taste-bud-tantalising produce at A Taste of West Sweden-accredited restaurant, a network of 25 eateries that make the most of West Sweden’s first-class produce. It’s no surprise then that Gothenburg has now racked up the five Michelin-starred restaurants.
6. Family fun
Families are in for a wonderful holiday in the region. Enjoy outdoor activities on the Koster Islands, including seal safaris with Selin Charter. Stay in Gothenburg, where kids will love the new freefall ride at Scandinavia's largest amusement park, Liseberg. Or enjoy a unique teepee adventure in Dalsland, picking forest blueberries and making jam or exploring the lakes on a rowing boat. There’s also the Vitlycke museum, with fascinating rock carvings created during the Bronze Age period and a reconstruction of a village from this time, all set in yet another naturally-beautiful landscape. The museum offers archaeology classes for children and entry is free. Norden’s Ark is well worth a visit and is home to endangered species from all over the world, including old native Scandinavian breeds.
7. Castles and manor houses
Visit the stunning castles and manor houses here. You can even stay the night in many, including Bjertorp Manor on Vara plain and Thorskog Manor. Overlooking the historic island of Marstrand is the colossal Carlsten’s Fortress, which beginning in 1658 took 202 years to complete. Or situated on the mighty Lake Vänern is Läckö Castle, arguably the country´s most fairytale-like edifice with its 17th-century baroque towers, cupolas and mouldings built on the site of a 13th-century castle. There’s also the 18th century Gunnebo House and Garden, with its lavish formal garden and landscaped park, complete with organic garden that supplies its restaurant.
8. Scandinavian art and design
If you thought Ikea was the pinnacle of Swedish creativity, a wander around the Art Nouveau architecture of Gothenburg will make you think again. While you´re there, head to the Röhsska Museum for Scandinavian design classics or visit the super-cool independent shops and admire innovative local brands such as Acne and Velour. Check out the eclectic ‘Sculpture at Pilane 2011’ exhibition, set on historic Tjörn Island and showcasing the work of renowned American sculptor, Keith Edmier, famous for his collaboration with Farrah Fawcett. Swedes are class on canvas too, notably the modern watercolours at the nearby Nordic Watercolour Museum.
9. Outdoor adventure
Adrenalin junkies will dig West Sweden. Its rocky coastline, thousands of islands, lakes and forests provide the perfect landscape for adventurers. You’ll find all types of activities here, including sea kayaking, canoeing, horse riding and GPS mountain biking. Glide the coast in a kayak or hike deep in a forest, the home of wild animals such as elk and beaver. And join them by sleeping under the stairs in a teepee by the lake on a bed of fir twigs covered with warm, cosy reindeer skins. Adventure specialist, Nautopp, now offers more sea kayaking opportunities along the West coast that combine kayaking with comfortable seaside hotels.
10. Enviable eco-credentials
Many companies in Gothenburg and West Sweden work in a sustainable and environmental fashion, supported by the West Sweden Tourist Board’s delivery of a national Swedish pilot project focusing on quality and sustainable tourism. There’s a terrific range of eco-friendly sites and Nature's Best accredited activities - a national ‘stamp of approval’ awarded to the best eco-tourism activities in the area - such as rock climbing and kayak trips with Upplevelsebolaget or Selin Charter’s seal safaris around the Koster islands. Lobster safaris are available from Grebbestad and Wauglen Vildmark host wonderful walking tours.