Where to go
You’re spoiled for choice when deciding where to island hop in Sweden. First, you have the well-known Stockholm archipelago, with its nearly 30,000 islands stretching out into the Baltic Sea. From glamorous Sandhamn, about two hours from Stockholm, to the Feather Islands just outside the city gates, to the more remote outer islands, some of which are not inhabited, the Stockholm archipelago enjoys a well-deserved reputation for having something for everyone, whether that’s the annual regatta at Sandhamn, biking, camping and kayaking at Möja, or berry and mushroom picking nearly everywhere.
Then there is the Gothenburg archipelago, which is divided into north and south and which some say is even more beautiful than Stockholm. The southern archipelago is completely car-free, making it ideal for biking and walking, while the whole archipelago enjoys a fantastic culinary scene, with seafood taking the main stage, as well as plenty of local produce. In addition to charming villages and possibly the best beaches in Sweden (although residents of Skåne might argue this point), there are seal safaris, sea fishing and plenty of other water sports to enjoy.
While the 8,000 islands and islets in Bohuslän are technically considered part of the Bothenburg archipelago, the stark and dramatic beauty of what is arguably one of the great wilderness areas in the world has a decidedly unique vibe that isn’t found further south. That is also has absolutely fantastic seafood (and restaurants that know how to serve it perfectly) means this area is definitely worth a visit.
While everyone thinks first of Stockholm, and maybe Gothenburg, when they think of Swedish archipelagos, don’t forget the archipelagos of northern Sweden, such as the one in the Gulf of Bothnia, which is known for its natural beauty and well-preserved cultural heritage. There’s also the Östergötland archipelago on the southeast coast, which is actually made up of three archipelagos, as well as the one near Öland, known as the Blekenge archipelago. All are worth a visit, but we’ll look in detail at the two biggest: Stockholm and Gothenburg.
How to get there
A regular ferry service to the more popular Stockholm islands runs year-round (although less often in winter), while some ferry services are summer-only. You can also kayak or canoe to some of the closer islands, take a water taxi (it’s best to book ahead, as they get very busy in the high season) or rent a boat. You need a licence to rent a boat and you have to be careful where you dock, as some docks are private, but there are plenty of signs that will tell you which spots are available for temporary docking. Remember that some islands are privately owned, so do make sure you plan ahead or check for signs.
In Gothenburg, the entire southern part of the archipelago is car-free, making the islands perfect for day-trippers and overnighters. Ferries run very regularly and there are plenty of water taxis, as well as private boats for rent. If you own a valid Göteborg City Card, your trip will be free of charge. The northern Gothenburg archipelago allows cars, so you can book onto a car ferry and drive around the island of your choice, although that may limit the hopping you can do.
The best way to island hop is to rent a bike, or bring your own. You can bring a bike on any ferry, and with the long winding roads and paths through the forests as well as along the coastline, it’s the perfect way to explore before heading to the next island.
What to do
Every Swedish archipelago is all about getting away from the stress of life and getting back to nature, so it’s heading out to the forests for foraging, fishing for dinner, swimming, boating, kayaking and biking – Swedes tend to be very active and take their exercise seriously, so make like a local and have some good old-fashioned fun outdoors. There are also some great restaurants scattered about, such as the legendary Wikströms Fisk on Möja, and if you really love seafood, head to Bohuslän and go on a seafood safari.
Swedes take to the water like, well, fish, and that means that there is a lot of water traffic. Big boats, small boats, jet skis, kayakers and cruise ships – they all share the water and it’s important that you keep alert and follow the maritime rules. Storms can come in quickly and be ferocious, so do check the weather ahead of time.
Finally, it can’t be said enough: while there is a right of access law in Sweden, it’s important to respect people’s homes and property too, so if you’re unsure about whether you’re allowed to dock your boat or cross some land, do check first. Most people speak English and are quite friendly (in a reserved sort of way), so will be happy to answer your questions. And who knows, if you catch them at the right time, you might be invited to a proper Swedish island meal.