Sweden – The hidden gems you need to know

While Sweden’s three major cities often get all the attention, there are plenty of lesser-known, smaller cities off the beaten track, all offering an equally attractive mix of culture and nature as their big-city counterparts. What’s more, they’re easy to reach from the larger cities – ideal if you want to extend your city break.

Must-visit destinations in their own right, many of these accessible smaller towns are the very places that Swedes choose to holiday in. And with good reason – these hidden city gems are often situated by some of the country’s most beautiful lakes and beaches and boast a variety of attractions. Plus, their smaller size makes them easy to cover for a short break. So, what are you waiting for? Get ready to discover some of Sweden’s smaller towns.

Luleå – a sub-Arctic region and Nordic cuisine hotspot

A key destination for Northern Lights followers, Swedish Lapland’s largest city boasts a stunning archipelago all year round, together with a vibrant city life and thriving foodie scene. Ingredients are straight from the ‘wild’ Swedish pantry – think foraged and pickled ingredients like pine shoots and bilberries, as well as smoked reindeer, freshly caught fish and Kalix Löjrom (Kalix roe). White Guide-listed eateries abound, like Restaurant CG or Restaurang Arkipelag, which is located in ‘Kuststad’, Luleå’s latest hotspot area.

Skellefteå – urban innovation in a northern wonderland

Recently lauded as one of the “World’s 50 Greatest Places” to visit by Time Magazine, Skellefteå in Västerbotten County is bursting with an innovative spirit that’s transforming the city. Sustainability is a big part of this, exemplified by Skellefteå’s bold new skyscraper the Wood Hotel, one of the tallest wooden buildings in the world. Sustainably built from local timber, the hotel has panoramic views and three restaurants. Another culinary highlight is the Nordic fine dining bistro Bryggargatan. So, while Skellefteå’s magnificent nature continues to be a draw all year round – with numerous outdoor activities on offer, including world-class fishing – now you have even more reasons to discover this northern innovation hub.

Gävle – a rich industrial heritage, set in breathtaking nature

Nestled by the Baltic Sea in Gästrikland, Gävle and its surroundings offer a wealth of attractions and activities. Sporty types are catered for all year round with some of the best mountain biking, paddling, hiking, and cross-country skiing in the region. Foodies will want to try Gävle’s White-Guide approved, fine-dining hotspot Matildas Kvarterskrog, also featured in the 360 Eat Guide. Be sure to visit Gävleborg’s county museum for more insights into the region’s cultural heritage, which includes the former ironworks of Axmar Bruk, Högbo Bruk and Forsbacka Bruk.

Falun – Dala horses and heritage sites in a rural idyll

As Dalarna County’s capital, Falun once provided over half of Europe’s copper. Today, large parts of the city centre and region – including the Falun Mine and Stabergs bergmansgård homestead farm – are all part of a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. Explore the region’s mining past with a fascinating tour down the Falun Mine mineshafts. Art and design lovers will treasure a visit to the Carl Larsson-gården, the beautifully preserved home of Carl and Karin Larsson, two of Sweden’s most influential artists.

Nora – a treasure preserved, one of Sweden’s ‘wooden’ towns

One of Sweden’s renowned three ‘wooden towns’ (along with Eksjö and Hjo), Nora in Västmanland County is a living museum in its own right, and only two and a half hours from Stockholm. Stroll around Nora’s cobblestoned streets and visit the perfectly preserved 19th century villa Göthlinska Gården to see how well-to-do Swedes lived back then. Head to Glasstorget (‘Ice cream square’) to try Nora’s famous ice cream, Noraglass. First produced in 1923, it’s still made here every day. Walk over to Kvarteret Bryggeriet – the revitalized industrial heritage quarter – and stroll among the independent shops, eateries and even a micro-brewery.

Eskilstuna – from pre-loved finds to Vikings and fairy tale castles

Situated on Sweden’s legendary Lake Mälaren and only an hour and 20 minutes by train from Stockholm, Eskilstuna in Sörmland County is perfect for day-trippers. Internationally known for its pioneering sustainability initiatives, Eskilstuna is home to ReTuna, the ‘world’s first recycling shopping mall’ – a secondhand shopping emporium where everything sold is either recycled, reused or sustainably produced. Once you’ve picked up a bargain or two, make your way to Sundbyholms Slott castle and the impressive Stora Sundby Slott (literally, ‘Big’ Sundby Castle) on the shores of Lake Hjälmaren – fit for a fairy tale, turrets and all. Guided tours and outdoor dining experiences need to be booked, but the grounds are always open.

Karlstad – a slice of culture in magnificent nature

Nestled by Lake Vänern in Värmland County, lies Karlstad, a cultural gem of a town. Visit Värmlands museum for internationally renowned art and photography and the Sandgrund Lars Lerin Museum to see watercolours by Lars Lerin, one of Scandinavia’s most respected, contemporary artists. Stroll among the jetties of ‘Inre hamn’ – the buzzing ‘inner harbour’ area, packed with restaurants and cafés – and enjoy a fika at the Löfbergs kafferosteri roastery, followed by a river boat tour through town.

Lidköping – design, architecture and a baroque castle

Beautifully situated on the eastern shores of Lake Vänern in West Sweden, Lidköping is only two hours away with the Kinnekulletåget train from Gothenburg. Explore Lidköping’s rich design heritage at the Rörstrand Museum in the Rörstrand Center, the former porcelain factory, now a buzzing area with shops and galleries. Enjoy lunch or coffee in one of the city’s White Guide-listed eats such as Mellbygatans delicatessen or Bella Mi café. Make your way to Kållandsö, just outside Lidköping and visit the baroque castle Läcko Slott – one of West Sweden’s most popular attractions. Be sure to visit Naturum Vänerskärgården – Victoriahuset visitors’ centre on the castle grounds – an architectural gem that blends seamlessly into its surroundings.

Jönköping – experience John Bauer’s magical nature

Jönköping sits on the banks of Lake Vättern in Småland County and is known for its scenic beaches and magnificent forests. The city is also well known as the birthplace of artist John Bauer (1882-1918), famous for his paintings of Sweden’s mythological creatures – visit Jönköping County Museum to experience Bauer’s art in person. Set off for a few scenic adventures of your own – take the ferry from Gränna to historic Visingsö, a uniquely shaped island in Lake Vättern. Rent a bicycle or do a tour of the island by horse and carriage.

Karlskrona – a coastal gem and UNESCO World Heritage Site

Located in Blekinge County, Karlskrona is a beautifully preserved 17th century naval town –visit the portside Marinmuseum (Marine Museum) and Blekinge Museum to learn all about its illustrious history. To fully experience Karlskrona’s nautical charm though, you need to hop on a boat or rent a kayak. Aspö Island is a must-visit – take the free ferry there and visit Drottningskärs Citadel. Islands such as Trummenäs, Sturkö and Hasslö are accessible all year round and in summer, Hasslö’s vineyard Stora Horn opens for wine tastings.

Ystad – a medieval town, against a Nordic Noir backdrop

Dating back to medieval times, the little town of Ystad in southeast Skåne boasts cobblestones and brightly coloured houses as well as sandy beaches and rolling fields. It’s also home to one of Sweden’s most famous fictional characters, Henning Mankell’s detective Wallander. Follow in Wallander’s footsteps to explore the film and TV series locations, including Wallander’s favorite coffee shop, Fridolfs Konditori. Summertime, explore the beaches outside Ystad and visit the fishing harbour of Kåseberga – complete with art galleries, restaurants and quaint shops selling souvenirs and fresh seafood.