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Autumn in Sweden: local ideas for enjoying the West Coast

Stuck for an interesting weekender idea this autumn? We delve into West Sweden's 'Meet the Locals' program, which lets you book a range of cheap, or even free, activities and experiences with locals.

Autumn in Sweden: local ideas for enjoying the West Coast
Explore the Gothenburg Archipelago like a local. Photo: Amplifyphoto/Westsweden.com

West Sweden holds many treasures – from magnificent windswept landscapes to its organic produce, and some of the best seafood you’ll find anywhere. Perhaps, however, its greatest treasure is its people. So often it’s the locals who truly know a place, including the best things to do.

Did you know there’s a whole program of activities and unique experiences on Sweden’s West Coast hosted by locals? 

Meet the Locals connects visitors with the locals of West Sweden in a range of fun experiences and activities. 

Whether you’re a visitor, have newly moved, or have been in Sweden a while, there are certain experiences in Sweden you simply need a local to show you. Like picking crisp autumn apples straight from the tree to turn into juice, the best trails for forest or island hiking, or getting the knots just right when twisting cinnamon dough into buns

In partnership with West Sweden, we meet two of the ‘locals’, Sarah and Elizabeth, to hear about some of what’s on offer.

Check out all the unique Meet the Local experiences here. Your next fun autumn weekend awaits!

Sarah Lycksten and one of her visitors on Hönö.

Explore the autumnal beauty of Hönö with Sarah

Sarah Lycksten, a photographer based in the Gothenburg archipelago, is very proud of her island home of Hönö.

“It has everything you need, like shops and cafes, but it’s also full of nature – we have two nature reserves on the island. I live five minutes away from the beach, and in many ways, it’s just like the old days.

“You also get different kinds of nature. One side of the island is very rugged, great for mountain climbing and bouldering, and the other side of the island is flatter, with forests, great for hiking.

“Even when the weather is bad, people love it.”

Consequently, Sarah cares deeply about preserving the beautiful state of the island and its ecosystems – sustainability is an issue close to her heart. This is, in part, why she decided to become involved in the program as one of the very first ‘locals’. 

“When I first heard about Meet the Locals, I was studying ecotourism – that is, how to have people come to visit the island, in a sustainable way.

“The best part is that now I get to show the beautiful natural space in which I live, but I also get to have conversations and learn about other cultures. Sometimes we really click. Everyone I’ve met has offered to show me around their own region!”

Sarah shows visitors around the island in the form of hikes that can be catered to any ability and level of fitness. Sometimes, she even invites her visitors for a bracing swim. 

“If you come, bring your swimming gear, I swim all year round. However, not everybody joins me!”

Even though she didn’t join Sarah in the water, Tripti Lalvani, originally from India and now living in Gothenburg, had high praise for her time on Hönö.

“We walked around all of Hönö and I got to see the community and the beautiful nature. I also saw Sarah’s photography workshop. It was wonderful – an outstanding experience!

“I must have travelled to 15 or 20 countries, and I haven’t encountered anything like this. These are people who want to show the very best of their country, and it gives people access to places many never think of visiting.

“Hönö is such a beautiful island, it’s a place I’ve returned to two or three times since meeting Sarah. 

“The landscape of the islands is utterly unique – and even better: Hönö is very easily accessible. It’s easy to get to by bus and ferry.”

Sarah’s island hikes have made her one of the most popular ‘locals’ taking part in the program. What she wants to stress however is that Hönö and her hikes are something that can be done at any time of the year. 

“I’d like to invite people to the island all year round – not just summer, but autumn and winter too, the island is especially beautiful all the time!”

Visiting the islands and the coast outside of summer means less crowds, less traffic, but no less beautiful an environment – you can enjoy some of Sweden’s best scenery all to yourselves!

Looking to get outdoors this autumn? Let a local show you the best spots

Elizabeth Svensson with her husband Leif.

Spend a day on the farm with Elizabeth

Everybody who meets Elizabeth Svensson describes her as a fantastic storyteller.

Elizabeth loves sharing what makes her region so special, often while knitting or cooking. “We’re so blind to what we have at home, but you really notice how interesting people think it is. It’s fun to be able to show people that.”

Melissa Callahan, an American living in Sweden who visited with Elizabeth agrees: “She is a great storyteller. Her family has been in the area so long and she has such a fantastic family history.”

It’s not just stories that Elizabeth has become known for. The retired healthcare specialist, who lives on the same farm that her grandfather built near Floby village, has drawn visitors back a number of times with her delicious creations, including the regional hålkaka.

What’s hålkaka? Elizabeth is only too happy to explain: “It’s a savoury bread. It’s round with a hole in the middle, thick and soft. It’s very normal here. I make it from my grandmother’s recipe. I bake it at a high temperature on a stone hearth.

“I bake everything myself, it’s all homemade. I don’t buy anything ready-made from the shops. They also often have a story as well, my cakes – they can be my grandmother’s recipes from long ago, for example.”

For Elizabeth, the making and sharing of food with her visitors has led to deep connections and friendships. 

Speaking of a group of Japanese visitors she has hosted, she tells: “I think we’ve definitely become friends for life. They’ve been here twice, and the third visit is planned shortly, before their student exchange is over.

“We’re very happy that these young girls from Japan came to visit us. It makes us proud that people want to come back and visit us. It’s so fun – we made sushi!”

A day of stories, food, and a wander through the countryside with Elizabeth and her husband Leif is an opportunity to unwind, take time to enjoy the simple things, and learn more about Swedish rural life. It’s also easily accessible by public transport. 

“If they don’t have a car then I’ll pick them up from the square in Floby, it’s only 10 kilometres to us, it’s no problem – there’s a train station there.”

Reflecting on her time with Elizabeth, Melissa reinforces the deep connection she felt meeting Elizabeth as a local: “The thing that I appreciated the most was that it was so welcoming. The whole experience was very comforting. I would totally do it again. Actually, I was just thinking about calling her up!” 

Why not spend a day with locals in the Swedish countryside, picking and juicing apples?

Curious to explore? 

Whether you’re living in Sweden or just visiting, Meet the Locals has something for everyone. 

You could choose to cruise around Låstad in a classic car or learn about Gothenburg from someone who knows it best. You could be mountain biking through the forest, or baking iconic Swedish fika – with new ‘locals’ signing up, the possibilities grow each year. 

‘Meet the Local’ activities are free or low cost, are readily accessible by public transport and many are available no matter what the season. 

Find out how you can spend an unforgettable day in West Sweden 

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TRAIN TRAVEL

My night on board Sweden’s new sleeper service from Hamburg

Our reporter Richard Orange took the new SJ EuroNight sleeper home from Hamburg at the start of this month with his two children. He tells us what it was like.

My night on board Sweden's new sleeper service from Hamburg

As we clambered onto the s-bahn at Hamburg Central to race across to Hamburg Altona, Alan, the friendly English chemistry researcher who had volunteered to show us the way, made a quick calculation.

“I think you’ll have at most two minutes to make it to the train, and you need to make it up to the station and up two flights of stairs.”

I rated our chances at less than 10 percent. I had booked the new sleeper launched by Sweden’s state-owned train company SJ at the very last minute (and at considerable cost) after discovering to my horror that the Danish seats-only night train I’d been planning on taking did not run on Saturdays.

My two children and I had been on the train since our Eurostar left London at 9am, and I didn’t fancy putting them through a night on the platform at Hamburg Central.

Our reporter with his traumatised-looking children, Finn (9) and Eira (10).

Hamburg Altona, a terminal station in the west of the city, is the departure point for SJ’s sleeper. Normally, the metro trip would only be slightly inconvenient, but when you’re racing to make a connection, it’s a nightmare. Thankfully, the sleeper will start to depart from the central station in March.

The moment we hit Altona, Alan, who lives nearby, shot off, me and my two children trailing behind as he flew up staircase after staircase.

Finally we arrived puffing at the platform, where we could see a train with an SJ logo, but the entrance to the platform was blocked. Had we missed it? “Do you have a ticket?” asked the guard, wearing a warm SJ jacket, and when I said yes gestured to the long line of people snaking right out to the station door.

I don’t think I’ve ever been more grateful for a system failure. It turned out SJ had somehow lost access to the records of who was supposed to be on the train, or where they were supposed to sleep, and were having to work out the sleeping arrangements manually, one passenger at a time.

Alan, a researcher at Hamburg’s Max Planck Institute, wished us goodbye and we joined the back of the queue, where we met a Swedish woman who’d come all the way from Italy with her red setter, a journey she said she’d been doing quite regularly ever since the sleeper service was launched in September.

Annoyingly, she told me that it was possible to get a reduced price on the sleeper if you have an Interrail card (as we did). When I checked, you could get a couchette from Hamburg to Stockholm for about 385 kronor, about a third of the price we paid. I went back to the guard and asked if there was any chance of getting our money back, at which point he erupted in mocking laughter.

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Half an hour later, at about half past ten, we finally got our seats. The woman who’d come from Italy was turned back, however, as she hadn’t booked a bed in a special dog compartment for her red setter.

We trundled up to the train, finding a young couple and a man with a Middle-Eastern background already in bed with their sheets laid out.

“It’s got beds! I’ve never been on a train with beds before!” Finn exclaimed as he sawn the couchette compartment. Unfortunately there were only two beds for us. The Thai-Swedish SJ guard disappeared into her cabin when we pointed this out, and after a short phone call came back and told the man with a Middle-Eastern background that he had to move to make space for us.

“I hope that wasn’t some kind of discrimination,” I said to the young couple after he’d gone. It was probably because he was travelling alone, however, and we later discovered that he’d been upgraded to a luxury two-person sleeper cabin, which assuaged my guilty conscience. In a further sign of the guards’ ability to improvise, when I bumped into the woman with the red setter while brushing my teeth, she said they’d also managed to accommodate her.

The couchette cars are refurbished, with free water, and USB ports for recharging your various devices. They are old, but they’re comfortable enough and Eira and Finn were both fast asleep within minutes of the train rolling out of the Hamburg.

I had just about drifted off by the time I was woken by border police at the Danish border at around midnight, sleepily reaching down from the top couchette to show them our passports.

My hope was that departing more than an hour late would delay our arrival in Malmö, which was scheduled for just before 4am, but unfortunately, the train normally travels more slowly than it needs to to allow passengers a proper night sleep, so it easily made up the lost hour.

At about quarter to four I got a friendly knock on the door, and shook the children awake in time to see the lights of Malmö’s Turning Torso tower as we crossed the Öresund Bridge.

For the remaining five or ten minutes, Eira and Finn excited pointed out “Swedish” out-of-town shopping centres until the train arrived at a completely deserted Malmö station, from where we took a taxi home.

How to get an interrail discount on the Hamburg Stockholm sleeper

On the sök resa or “search journey” page on SJ’s website, you need to click on the drop-down menu next to resenärer or “traveller”, then, when you see your name, click on ändra or “change”. Then click on another drop-down menu on välj ett kort or “choose a card”, at which point you can press Interrail and fill in your Interrail card number. You can find a guide on how to do it here on SJ’s website

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