4-Day Weekend on Sweden’s High Coast: Towering Cliffs and World-Class Whiskey
Even the most intrepid travelers may scratch their heads when asked about Höga Kusten (the High Coast) in Sweden. Often overshadowed by Lapland, the northern province that conjures up images of ice hotels and dog-sledding, this lesser-known northern region is arguably a diamond in the rough when it comes to adventure bucket list destinations. (The New York Times agrees and listed it as one of 52 places to visit in 2022)
Positioned on the 63rd parallel north, the High Coast is a chilly place that simmers with centuries-old folklore. Local legend has it that giants created the defining feature in this UNESCO-recognized region: The towering granite cliffs that form the highest shoreline in the world. But it’s science, not myth, that explains what happened. The cliffs are the most extreme documented example of geological uplift, a post-Ice Age phenomenon where the land rose sharply upward once relieved of the immense weight of retreating glaciers.
As the land continues to rebound, so does the High Coast’s dramatic rise in popularity—not only among Swedes rediscovering the natural wonders in their own backyards, but with outdoor enthusiasts from all over who share a penchant for art, architecture, and food. (It’s also where Fjällräven, a favorite gear brand of MJ editors, was founded in 1960.)
As Sweden welcomes back vaccinated Americans to the land of lagom, fika, and “freedom to roam,” now’s a great opportunity to uncover the mythic marvels of this vastly underrated region. Here’s how to spend a long weekend in Höga Kusten, Sweden.
How to Get There
You’ll likely enter Sweden in Stockholm, and from there, there are three ways to get up to the High Coast. The fastest is a flight to Umeå (keep a look out for the northern lights, which can be seen from the airport in wintertime). But Sweden’s hyper-efficient train system is a great option, too. Trains run regularly from Stockholm Central Train Station and make stops in towns all along the High Coast. You could also rent a car and make the seven-hour drive up, but it’s probably not wise to make the trek in the wintertime.
Regardless, renting a car is absolutely necessary to navigate the High Coast once you’re there. Our tip? Start in Umeå and work your way south.
Where to Stay Granö Beckasin Paul Jebara
Granö Beckasin: This secluded eco-lodge on the banks of the placid Umeå River inlcudes several different accommodations; all are very impressive. Spend the night in a “bird nest” treehouse, a glass-and-metal cube, or a more traditional cabin. If there’s an outdoor activity you want to try, chances are Granö Beckasin can organize it for you—everything from moose safaris to cross-country skiing to foraging for medicinal herbs and lingonberries. Upgrade your booking to full-board to savor excellent organic meals made with seasonal veggies, artisanal dairy products, and fresh-caught trout from the river a few steps away.
Norrfällsviken Rum & Kök: Family-run Norrfällsviken Rum & Kök (yep—that’s Swedish for rum and Coke) looks like a humble lodge that the Griswolds would visit on their family vacations. The rural charms of Höga Kusten run in high gear at this B&B: red-and-white exteriors, chintzy decor, and old-school saunas prepped on request. But the biggest selling point is certainly the stellar home cooking. An all-women crew whips up excellent tartare, grilled fish, and decadent desserts from the kitchen.
Ulvö Hotell: One of the finest hotels in the High Coast region, Ulvö Hotell excels at fusing countryside allure with ultra-refined service. From the outside, the property stands out from all the crimson buildings on the island; everything is painted off-white. And inside, the coastal-chic common areas, hip restaurant, and spacious guest rooms wouldn’t be out of place in the Hamptons.
Hotell Höga Kusten: Located in the town of Sandöverken, this inn is Sweden’s first entirely wind-powered hotel, and it serves up stunning panoramic views of the High Coast Bridge and the Ångerman River (if you visit, make sure to nab one of the 28 rooms that have a private outdoor terrace). It’s a great base for exploring the UNESCO-recognized High Coast Trail, which runs 80 miles end to end.
What to Do Skuleskogen National Park Paul Jebara
Skuleskogen National Park: Skuleskogen National Park in Sweden is a hiker’s paradise that covers more than 7,000 acres of road-free wilderness. On clear days, you can spot evidence of ancient geological uplift (the forces that created the High Coast) as a stark delineation in the faraway mountains: Everything below the peaks was once submerged beneath the ocean.
From the park’s five-mile main trail, you’ll pass by pristine lakes, mossy cliff edges with epic views, and valleys blanketed with towering spruce trees. This is where mythical creatures are said to roam, including vittror (frisky gnomes) and belligerent giants who, according to local legend, played Nordic dodgeball with boulders the size of their heads, creating the rock formations nearby.
Naturum Höga Kusten: Learn about the unique geological phenomena that define the High Coast at Naturum, a science museum near the Skuleberg Nature Reserve. Head inside the building—it’s partially hidden under a layer of wildflowers or snow, depending on the season—to tour interactive exhibitions on the region’s natural history. Through videos, models, and maps, you’ll come away with a much better understanding of the forces that formed the area’s incredible landscape.
ARKNAT: Each year, ARKNAT (a portmanteau of “architecture” and “nature”) invites architecture and engineering students from around the world to test the limits of design in the untamed forest. In addition to attending seminars and workshops, participants collaborate on the construction of imaginative wooden shelters and huts along the 80-mile High Coast Trail. Once built, these unique structures are open to the public: Visit them for a taste of nature-influenced architecture, or spend the night in one if you’re embarking on a longer hike along the High Coast.
Via Ferrata Skuleberget Paul Jebara
Via Ferrata Skuleberget: Whether you’re an expert climber or a total novice, be sure to make an excursion to Skule Mountain, Europe’s largest via ferrata site. (Via ferratas are climbing routes with steel cables installed; you clip in with a carabiner and use foot- and handholds to ascend a mountain.) Skule offers four graded routes of varying difficulty along the mountain’s 820-foot east face. After you summit, celebrate your climb at FriluftsByns Toppstuga, a rustic wooden cabin that serves drinks and nosh with incredible views.
Mannaminne Paul Jebara
Mannaminne: Dreamed up in the ‘80s by legendary Swedish artist Anders Åberg, this open-air museum (it feels more like a bizarre, stuck-in-time theme park) is one of the most popular attractions on the High Coast. Scattered across 50 buildings—including a Wes Anderson-esque hotel you can stay in—Mannaminne is an eccentric assemblage of local and international art and objects, like a Swedish Draken fighter plane and a vintage accordion collection.
Ulvöhamn Paul Jebara
Explore the Ulvön Islands: From the towns of Köpmanholmen (year-round) or Ullånger, Docksta, or Mjällomslandet (summer only), take a scenic ferry ride to the Ulvön Islands. The main fishing village, Ulvöhamn, was once the most populous town in northern Sweden and the hub of the area’s herring fishing industry. This is also the home of surströmming, the region’s hallmark fermented herring product. It gives off a notoriously rancid stench—so pungent that it’s illegal to open a can indoors in Stockholm.
Don’t pack any in your suitcase, either: It’s banned by a few airlines for being potentially explosive. Ulvöhamn can be explored in half a day (don’t miss the beautifully painted walls of the 17th-century Ulvö Chapel), giving you plenty of time for a schvitz in the Ulvö Hotell’s sauna and a dip in the ice-cold harbor waters.
What to Eat Mjälloms Tunnbröd Courtesy Image
Mjälloms Tunnbröd: Founded in 1923, Mjälloms Tunnbröd is the oldest maker of tunnbröd, the traditional flatbread of Sweden. Today, the bakery churns out around 300 feet of these handmade crackers every hour. Chef Torbjorn Ullsten heads the family-owned company (“I slipped on a banana and fell into the business”), and he recently opened a new bagarstuga (bakery cottage) and gourmet grocer in Ullånger.
Stop by to sample a slew of different flavors of flatbread (definitely ask for the blood cracker), as well as bread loaves, pastries, and other artisanal eats. Ullsten can also arrange a private lunch in the shop, where he cooks neo-Nordic dishes like mountain cow stew with almond potatoes and zingy lingonberry sauce.
Gårdsbutiken: This one-stop gårdsbutiker (farmshop) just outside the town of Nordingrå is stocked with Nordic culinary delicacies, from homemade marmalades and preserves to herbs and honey. Grab some goodies to go, or have a sit-down meal in the cozy restaurant and cafe.
Fiskarfänget: This rustic fish tavern and market tucked inside an old boathouse in Norrfällsviken is a perennial favorite among locals. Pre-COVID, Fiskarfänget’s signature buffet featured a bounty of fresh-caught seafood, but today you’ll likely have to order off the menu. Regardless, the food is excellent. Weather permitting, snag an outdoor table on the bayside patio and enjoy the tasting menu, which features over a dozen sea-to-table bites like smoked herring, peel-and-eat prawns, and more.
Ulvö Hotell Paul Jebara
Ulvö Hotell: You can’t leave the High Coast without a taste of surströmming (the flavor could be described as pungent cheese with a metallic aftertaste). The version whipped up by Ulvö Hotell’s head chef Tobias Andersson is the way to go. Andersson’s elevated preparation includes a blend of local herbal seasonings and a topping of pickled red onions and tomato, all served on crisp tunnbröd crackers.
That’s not all chef Andersson is famous for. Almost every ingredient on his seasonal menu is sourced from around the High Coast. Definitely get the moose steak with blueberry sauce if it’s on the dinner menu, and wash it down with a local Hernö Gin cocktail.
Where to Drink Hernö Gin Courtesy Image
Hernö Gin: Distilled from organic botanicals in Sweden’s first—and the world’s northernmost—ginbränneri, Hernö Gin earned honors in the International Wine & Spirit Competition for five consecutive years. Founder Jon Hillgren infuses heaps of passion and expertise into his product; he even named his trio of hand-hammered copper stills Marit, Kierstin, and Yvonne. Pop in for a tasting to see why Hillgren’s gin is so well-loved. And keep an eye out for other gin-related developments: There are plans to build a “gin hotel” in the High Coast hub of Härnösand and open a trendy bar in Stockholm.
High Coast Distillery: If you head to the northern edge of Ådalen “where the gravel road runs out,” you’ll find one of the world’s northernmost whisky distilleries and the home of renowned High Coast Whisky. Visitors can get an hour-long tour of the historic facility, which gives you access to the malt silo, warehouses, and more.
The Bishops Arms: Nestled inside the Scandi-cool Elite Plaza Hotel, this harborfront gastropub in Örnsköldsvik is a convivial spot to warm up. The restaurant offers over a dozen beers, single malt whiskys, and hearty English-style pub fare.