When you think of islands, you typically picture swaying palms, soft sands, and umbrella drinks. But by definition, an island is simply any piece of land surrounded by water. These archipelagos and landmasses are common in Scandinavia. In fact, Sweden's estimates up to 30,000 alone. Divided into the north, the central and the southern regions, there are year-round ferries that can take you island hopping to give you a feel for each's unique vibe. Everyone will have his or her personal favorite, but here are a few we think you simply can’t miss.
For the City Slickers – Stockholm
Situated across fourteen islands with 50 bridges connecting Lake Mälaren to the Baltic Sea, Sweden’s capital is technically an archipelago. The landscape has been shaped – and is still being shaped by glaciers and shifts a little bit every year. The downtown area is virtually surrounded by water with cheerfully bright houses dotting the shore. The architecture of the palaces, museums, and castles highlight the contrast of the old-world grandeur meets modern sophistication.
For the History Buffs - Gotland
Home to the UNESCO World Heritage walled town of Visby, the medieval buildings date back 700+ years. Called the “Pearl of the Baltic,” Visby is equally intriguing to history buffs as the photography enthusiasts. Embark on a walking tour of the trading houses, church ruins, and 44 defense towers and try to imagine what life would have been like in the early 17th and 18th centuries.
For the Nature Enthusiasts - Koster Islands
The Koster islands consist of two islands, North Koster and South Koster, and are famous for their unspoiled beaches, rugged scenery, and the magical "Koster light." It is easy to navigate by bike on the car-free roads. There is not just one but several fishing villages in this natural paradise. At Naturum Kosterhavet Exhibition Centre on South Koster, you can learn everything you need to know about Kosterhavet National Park, Sweden’s first and only Marine National Park. For an adventurous outing, follow the “snorkel trail,” which has markers designating what type of marine life to look out for at each stop.
For the Rich and Famous - Marstrand
The island of Marstrand is the sailing capital of the West Coast, home to Marstrand Regatta, Match Cup Sweden and other major boating events. It also doubles as the "see and be seen" island for Swedish elite, full of colorful holiday homes and a bustling harbor. To make the most of your trip, take in the view from the grand Carlsten's Fortress, charter a boat, and stay at the former residence of King Oscar II, the Grand Hotel Marstrand.
For the Cosmopolitan Crowd - Smögen
Despite looking like a sleepy fishing village, Smögen is actually “Sweden’s liveliest summer town.” The picture-perfect boardwalk buzzes with cosmopolitan bars and restaurants, drawing both millennials and those looking for a seaside escape. Wake up early to experience a fish auction before hopping on the ferry to nearby Hållö to see bizarre glacier carved nature. Ranked as one of the top ten wilderness areas by CNN, you can hike up to the lighthouse and pay a visit to Nordens Ark, an endangered animal sanctuary.