Explore the beautiful Bohuslän region north of Gothenburg
Come to Sweden, she said.
With over 200,000 islands in between her borders, Scandinavian sister Sweden boasts the most islands offshore of any country around the world. Exploring archipelagos is an essential part of the experience here in Sweden if you ask me. Even the Swedish capital Stockholm straddles a series of islands that are best experienced by boat. But if you want to see Sweden off the beaten path, beeline to Bohuslän. This is Western Sweden. And it is beautiful.
WHICH ISLAND TO CHOOSE?
When you have so many pretty little plops of land to choose from, how do you narrow it down? Well, if you own a boat or know a seaworthy captain – step aboard and set sail. Choose a few and cruise between. If you don’t, no worries. You too can explore the Bohuslän archipelago on this western shore of Sweden. There are ferries for that. And fun to be had. And fresh seafood to be tasted. And vistas for swooning. Come see. Come to West Sweden, she said. My vote is on Åstol. This tiny carefree, car-free island is an idyllic place to spend a weekend away in Scandinavia.
TAKE THE FERRY FROM RÖNNÄNG, SWEDEN
Åstol is just one of the 8,000 islands and skerries (uninhabitable islets) sprinkled in the waters around Bohuslän. This is the second-largest archipelago in Sweden, outside Stockholm. We picked one of the tiniest and I’ll wager prettiest in these parts, but Åstol is only reachable by boat. North of Gothenburg take the bridge to Tjörn and find your way to the ferry landing at Rönnäng. A kitschy restaurant and bar next door offers something to drink, eat or enjoy if you have to wait for the next boat. The weather was less than wonderful on our welcome voyage to Åstol and I was happy the trip across was short, even if not so sweet. When you have a few minutes, sail with us across to the beautiful soothing sounds of Swedish singer Alice Boman in the video below.
VÄLKOMMEN TILL ÅSTOL | WELCOME TO ÅSTOL
This island idyll has less than two hundred homes on either side of the natural harbor here. When the herring industry was booming, beginning in the late 18th century into the 19th, this island boasted more inhabitants and many of the simple white structures you see today were built during that time. We found a fabulous fisherman’s cottage for rent through Airbnb. Our host, Marcus met us at the dock and helped us pull our bags to the house. Our cottage was one of the oldest on the island, from 1798. It has been lovingly renovated and was truly cozy. We were especially smitten with the old wood burning fireplace and happy to have it after our windy and wet crossing.
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WHAT TO DO ON ÅSTOL
Part of what we loved about this island was how little we felt we had to accomplish to experience this place. No agendas or tours to take. This was a wonderful slow weekend away. Perfect for perambulating. Wander through cute little lanes and along the harbor. Follow the path across gorgeous swirling granite for vistas of sailboats and fisherman at sea. It probably takes all of thirty minutes to walk the whole way around. In warmer weather, bring your suit to swim in the brilliant blue water.
FIND THEE SOME FISH
While you can probably charter a boat for an afternoon at sea, we were happy and satisfied with just tasting the local catch. A brilliant tip from our host led us to one of the red fishing huts on the harbor and a young man selling recently caught and freshly cooked langoustines, or Norwegian lobster. The Danes call them jomfruhummer (virgin lobsters.) Some even know them as deep water crayfish. Whatever you call them, they were darn tasty. These peachy-pink deep-sea crustaceans were cooked in a boil of salt, pepper and some dill and perfect dipped in a little aioli. Eaten outside, it was about as local a lunch as we could have hoped for.
ÅSTOLS RÖKERI | ÅSTOLS SMOKEHOUSE RESTAURANT
If no one is selling fresh fish plucked from the sea, you can still get your seafood fix on the island. Head to Åstols Rökeri (Smokery) at the front of the harbor opposite the ferry dock and take a seat, hopefully outside. We lucked out that the rain stayed away and we could enjoy our smoked fish with views of the water. Try the house specialty the peel and eat smoked shrimp. So tasty. The more Scandinavian or adventurous in your group could go for the pickled herring, done three ways. I do like herrings, but was excited about the fish soup I’d seen earlier on the menu. Swedes do the best fish soup. My daughter, not quite as keen on the fishy fare, opted for the Swedish pancakes on the kids’ menu. When in Sweden, I say.
HOW TO GET TO TINY ÅSTOL SWEDEN
We don’t own a car here in Copenhagen, so spending a weekend away on a carfree island makes perfect sense for us. It is possible to reach the area by public transportation via the Öresundstäg/Øresundstog train which travels regularly between Copenhagen Central Station and Göteborg/Gothenburg. From here you can take Vasttågen local train to Stenungsund and the catch a Tjörn Commune bus to Rönnäng, park your car and catch the ferry to Åstol. Plan a full day of commute, sans car, between 8-9 hours. Prices will vary depending on time of day and who is traveling. Note that on the Öresundståg, adult ticket prices apply traveling withing Sweden from age 20, but from the day you are 16 in Denmark.
With our extended group of six, we decided to rent a car from Copenhagen and made our way north to Helsingør, Denmark. From here you can catch the ForSea ferry to Helsingborg, Sweden that sits right across the Øresund. We call it “the sound” around here. It’s quick. It’s cute. It’s sustainable! The efficient twenty-minute ferry route runs every 15-30 minutes and you can buy a discounted ticket online to use whenever you roll up. I love that flexibility. No pressure. And you’ll never have to wait too long.
GOOD TO KNOW: ForSea prioritizes efforts to lower CO2 emissions and their ferry operation’s impact on the marine environment. Travelers can support the green mission by choosing to cross the Øresund on one of the battery powered vessels that now shuttle passengers and vehicles back and forth.
Two battery-powered ferries are the first step on our sustainability journey for an even better ferry route [in this region.] … we are sailing towards zero emissions and towards the future too”, says Johan Röstin, ForSea¹
TJÖRN FERRY TO ÅSTOL
The ferry from Rönnäng on Tjörn travels between little Åstol and nearby island of Dyrön all year round several times a day. Tickets do not need to be booked in advance and can be purchased at the port self-serve kiosk or on board with cash or card. Bikes can come aboard free of charge when space allows. If the sea is calm, step up top for beautiful views as you come into the island. Comfy seats inside when the weather is less welcoming.
Find tickets and timetables here.
WHERE TO STAY ON ÅSTOL
You can find Marcus’ Airbnb here. The home pictured here had beds for four in one open room upstairs. A fifth could sleep on the couch, but if you need a bed or two more – an even tinier annex next door can house the rest of your party, just ask.
Or stay in Rönnäng and take the ferry over for the day:
I love Sweden. I do. I know, I know. I live in Denmark. Shhhhhhh…. don’t tell the Danes. Or do. They need to know about this place too. There is something different on this side of Scandinavia. Not better or worse. But really quite wonderful. I love Sweden. And itty bitty Åstol is a perfect place for a weekend away. Have you been? Or do you have another favorite place in the Bohuslän archipelago? Please share. I’d be happy to head back. Soon please. Ja and takk! Cheers from here. Come to Sweden, she said.
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