A Road Trip Through Småland
with Jonas Henningsson
Join Jonas Henningsson, journalist, photographer and editor, on a road trip through Småland.
Småland possesses all the landscapes you’d expect to find in an entire country. The natural scenes shift dramatically from the Northern Highlands, through deep forests and inland lakes, to the archipelagoes along the coastline at the Baltic Sea. But, that’s not to say that Småland doesn’t have defining characteristics. Traditions have been carefully nurtured, while history has been kept alive here. In recent years, Småland has also established itself as a hub for creativity and innovation.
Text and photograph: Jonas Henningsson
I’m approaching the landscapes of my childhood from the North. Lake Vättern catches my eye, the massive inland lake’s glittering reflection follows me as I leave Jönköping. This scenic stretch of highway is one of the most magnificent in Sweden. The sky is blue, and the water is clear today. The large sun softens the picturesque landscape, giving it an air of effervescence with its deep greenery and summer colours. I pass the city limits and soon find myself in the deepest parts of the John-Bauer forest, in a little village called Bunn. From here, I take the winding gravel roads through beautiful rolling hills, complete with scattered red cottages, glittering lakes, and elegant birch trees. Lilacs cluster along the roadside. This is exactly what Småland looks like in the brochures for tourists. But it’s also exactly what it looks like in the memories I collected during my childhood.
Of course, Småland offers so much more than red cottages and lilacs. Outside Huskvarna, I cycle past apple groves that seem to melt into rolling greenery, the landscapes reminiscent of Tuscany. I visit farmers who cultivate the land’s endless treasures. Some of these farmers are almost entirely self-sufficient – an achievement in today’s modern world. While the past feels intact here, there are also many glimpses into the future. One of the country’s best hotel destinations is in Växjö. Not far from there, straight into the wilderness, I’m blown away by Europe’s longest zipline, which zips over trees and streams at incredibly fast speeds. Just south of here, you can explore Sweden’s newest National Park, a fascinating inland archipelago bestowed with a thousand untouched islands. So many artists have found tranquility and creativity in the forests of Småland. The same can be said of those who create in the Kingdom of Crystal. My encounters here always inspire introspection and thoughts of flight – perhaps I should move here and start creating?
From the Crystal Kingdom, the forests open up and I come to the coastal city of Kalmar, a historical location that’s a must-see in Sweden. After grappling with its very boring image (I know this because I grew up here, and in the 80s there was not a vast supply of cheer), the city has transformed and is now simmering with creativity and innovation. Ironically, it was the city’s comprehension of its historical significance that enabled it to embrace modernity.
And so continues the journey along the coast. Sweden’s most charming village Pataholm and the summer city Västervik are tucked away in an archipelago that I always long to return to.
Småland. An entire country in one landscape.
Lunch at Sjön
We sit facing Lake Vättern, which looks like a glittering mirror, and survey the water. Down from Restaurant Sjön, the city’s popular beach stretches out. It isn’t large, but it frames the bay splendidly. We watch as people greet one another with picnic baskets and settle beside the water. The restaurant Sjön was where the city’s celebrity chef Tommy Myllymäki got his start. The restaurant has gone in a different direction now, but the food is still exceptionally good – especially the burger. And, as I said, Lake Vättern provides a stunning backdrop.
Follow John – A magical experience for the whole family
The Jönköping County Museum has a magical exhibition that families with children should not miss. When children step into the museum, they’ll find a room full of costumes to dress in – this will keep them busy for a while. Adults can follow the thoughtfully designed exhibition that will surprise, impress, and even depress a little. It explores the complicated, fascinating life and marriage of John Bauer and his wife, Ester. The exhibition has been designed to be accessible, including for those with visual impairments.
Jönköping to Bunn – 35 kilometres
A magical boat tour between Lake Bunn and Lake Ören.
Where did John Bauer find his inspiration? Yep – in the forests between Lake Bunn and Lake Ören. You can find yours here too, by taking a Bauer-themed tour. With a full picnic basket, the guided tour by Sigge Axelsson is an in-depth and exciting experience. The route showcases the best wilderness in Småland, with enchanting passages where trees hang over the boat as we glide under small bridges. All the while, Sigge points out sights and shares a stream of delightful anecdotes.
Bauergården - Stay and Experience this Magical Place
This is a little pearl! An extraordinarily warm and welcoming hotel in the perfect location for anyone who wants to explore this idyllic part of Småland. Hotel Bauergården has a fantastic restaurant that serves locally-grown and regionally-inspired food. You’ll also find friendly staff who are ready to tell you all about what you can do in the region.
Bunn to Örserum - 17 kilometres
Smoked in the style of Småland
The wonderful smell of smoke fills Hugos Isterband in the small, quaint village of Örserum. Here you’ll find authentic isterband - a traditional dish in Småland comprised of lightly smoked sausage. It’s typically made from ground beef and pork, sometimes moose, and served with pearly barley and onions – as it has been since the 30s. The smoke lingers in the garden and the store, attracting regular customers and curious travellers alike who make purchases over the counter. This is how it has always been done, in a place where time seems to stand still.
Örserum to Rudenstams Farm Shop and Cafe - 19 kilometres
Biking at Lake Vättern
“Now you can turn around!”... Elna Dahlstrand signals with her hand to show off the view we fought the sloping paths east of Lake Vättern to see. The views are truly magical. Lake Vättern gently reflects the summer day, the air smells of hyacinths, freshly cut grass, and farmland. “This is Swedish summer at its most beautiful”, I think when my pulse starts to return to normal. We’re on a path that forms part of the famous Vätternrundan - the world’s largest recreational bike ride. Elna has, of course, participated in it before. She’s an elite cyclist who rides road bikes but prefers mountain biking. Today, she brought her daughter Lovis along in a child seat. It’s obvious that Lovis is used to this, as she obviously enjoys the speed and slopes. We see Lake Vättern and Lake Landsjön, as we roll through villages and past horse stables, greeting locals along the way. We continue along magnificent rolling hills, smattered with apple groves, all the way to Vista Kulle where we find ever better views.
Crisp and Crunchy!
On the steep, sunburned slopes down towards Lake Vättern, Rudenstams Farm Shop and Cafe is nestled amongst the green rows of apple trees. We can see grapevines from the tractor and wagon we ride through the estate, guided by third-generation apple farmer David Rudenstam. David explains that his grandfather started growing apples in the 40s, inspired by his travels in the United States. He noted that the Americans were producing lots of fruit in conditions just like those in Skärstadalen. Upon his return, he convinced the other farmers in the area to start growing apples – if they can in America, so can we! Along the way, his business expanded. Today, they also produce wine (including the Solaris grape) and have a production factory that creates an exciting range of products, including cider and a Swedish soft drink known as ‘must’. Children love the tractor tour and the Swedish fika in the cafe which, of course, comes with apple pie.
Rudenstams, Rudu Gård to Vandalorum, Värnamo - 84 kilometres
Design Dreams at Vandalorum
Vandalorum in Värnamo is a must-see on any trip. The Design Centre and Art Institution is home to works of international acclaim. I love to return here time and time again to see what has changed – they show about fifteen different exhibits from contemporary artists and designers each year. The building’s interior it a work of art in itself, with furniture by Mats Theselius, Bruno Mathsson, Hans J. Wagner, and Jonas Bohlin. And the sculputres, both inside and out, should not be missed!
Open daily, adults pay a 100 SEK entry fee while children under 18 are free.
There’s a lovely restaurant, Syltan, with great, local food that you shouldn’t miss either!
Eat & Drink: Madame
In an industrial building right in the middle of the city, there’s an old rubber factory known today as Madame. It is a creative hub in Värnamos, with a stageshow theatre, library, and cinema. Madame is the centre of it all, gastronomically and socially. The charm of the industrial past effortlessly intertwines with the contemporary atmosphere. The happy murmur of those mingling in the bistro is contagious, as I try a traditional dish: meatballs and mashed potato. Visit their website (in Swedish)
Varnamo to Isaberg – 46 kilometres
Isaberg Bike Park
If your family likes mountain biking, Isaberg Bike Park is a must visit! Isaberg Mountain Resort is Sweden’s largest mountain biking facility. It truly has something for everyone – from beginners to professionals, and from small toddlers to older adults (yes, there are electric mountain bikes too!). The facility has over 20 trails, lift access biking, pump tracks, and technical features. Children’s courses are available. And you’re all welcome to discover Isaberg without a bicycle too. It’s a place for exploring Småland’s wilderness – and there’s enough of it to keep you and your family busy for days!
Isaberg to Sjöborgen - 95 kilometres
Sjöborgen outdoor cooking and brewery
Sjöborgen boasts one of the best locations on the lake to enjoy summer. During the warmer months, Tuesday is marked ‘Steak Tuesday’, so it’s often fully booked. It’s easy to see why! From the bar - Sjöborgens Dryckeri, I take a winding path over a small hill towards the lake. There’s an outdoor kitchen with the traditional potato pancake dish – raggmunk – and steak cooking over a fire. Soon, we find ourselves sitting with a lovely view of the lake and the taste of traditional Småland dish on our lips – including lingonberries, of course. Peter and Malin, who run Sjöborgen, practice what they preach. Almost everything is produced locally on the farm. They raise the animals, catch the fish, and grow, harvest, and forage from nature, such that they’re rightfully considered self-sufficient. As for the potato pancake? I understand why people make the weekly pilgrimage on Tuesdays.
“The secret is the potatoes we use, and that we use the skin, it makes it tastier”, says Peter. Then, there’s the open fire, the careful production, the rural environment, and the view. Everything enhances the taste!
Sjöborgen to Huseby Bruk - 42 kilometres
For the whole family
Huseby Bruk is a preserved historical site with an ironworks and castle. My visit started with afternoon tea in the manor house, which was built in 1844. The carvings on the wall tell the story of the Stephens family, who moved here in 1867. Florence Stephens was the last in the family line, living on the estate until she died in 1979. Today, Huseby is the perfect excursion for the whole family – with exhibitions, a restaurant, an orchard, and a cafe. And tons of fun activities for children!
Huseby to Växjö - 22 kilometres
World-class through and through
PM och Vänner isn’t just a world-class hotel and gastronomic experience. It’s more than that. It’s a destination of itself - one that uplifts the entire city. From its start in the early 90s, PM och Vänner has grown to earn a place high on many people’s bucket list. Few destinations appear on so frequently on ‘must-see' lists but, when you arrive, you’ll understand why. No detail has been spared. Everything is done with care, love, and passion. Don’t miss the PM Bar, with its rooftop pool and sophisticated air. The breakfast is incredible, with the fresh baked bread arriving from PM’s own bakery around the corner.
Åsnens National Park – Sweden’s Newest National Park
Småland has a fascinating inland archipelago with over one thousand untouched islands and 700km of coastline, did you know that? Åsnen is Sweden’s 30th National Park and its newest, so it attracts wilderness enthusiasts, outdoorspeople, and families alike. The National Park in Åsnen is comprised mostly of water, but there are deep coniferous forests, deciduous forests, and magical wetlands ready to be discovered too. You can hike, paddle, or bike your way around – while your children can go to fishing school, ride Icelandic horses, or search for Åsnen’s Big Five: a moose, a sea eagle, an osprey, a loon, and a crane. They’re going to love the fascinating wilderness here!
Växjö to Little Rock Lake, Klavreström – 48 kilometres
Wow the Whole Family Europe’s Longest Zipline
Woooohooo! I felt a little shakier than I expected when I walked over the suspension bridge towards my first zipline. It’s high, so I need to defy my survival instincts to throw myself from the tower. The feeling when I place my feet down safely on the next tower is indescribable! Wooohooo! The adrenalin rush and the smile that won’t go away say it all. I follow my guides, Eric and Mohanah, for seven more rides. Some are really high, some take us to our next destination at speeds of 70km per hour. After every ride, my smile grows bigger. It’s fun for the whole family, with different loops for different ages. And you’ll find more here than ziplines. You can hike, discover the wilderness, enjoy the sauna and the magical views, go rockclimbing or camping in the forest, and you can eat the traditional potato pancake dish, raggmunk with Småland-style pork sausage. The area is thoughtfully-designed to be kind to the wilderness, which is amongst the most dense and mysterious in Småland.
Little Rock Lake to Ösjöbol - 8.6 kilometres
Art and Culture: The Affable Persson
The village Ösjöbol is certainly not big. I got lost in a thought and found myself outside of the village. But a U-turn later, renowned glassblower Morgan Persson is standing in front of me. Together with Elin, they form Persson & Persson. The pair have four small children and an incredibly charming home in the heart of Småland.
Morgan grew up on the western coast in Varberg. The word is that he was once a talented volleyball player in Hylte. But when he focused his attention on glassblowing in Orrefors, his life took him in a different direction. Elin and Morgan met in the Kingdom of Crystal, and they eventually found themselves with their own glassworks in Ösjöbol. They transform bottles and cans into new objects by heating them up. While the objects themselves are new, they still carry traces of what they once were. Much like the artist in the Hylte jumper standing in front of me. We sit in what was the village’s local store, where the merchant counter is still intact, as is the country ambiance. There’s an on-site cafe. So, between coffee sips, we speak philosophically and personally about life, before I continue on.
Ösbjöbol to Målerås - 53 kilometres
An Intimate Glassworks
Målerås has been one of the most well-known glassworks since it opened in 1890 in a village with the same name. It houses an exhibition, shop, and restaurant so you can spend a long while here. If you have children with you, there is so much for them to do. Outside, there’s an old stream train as well as the Children’s Kingdom of Crystal, where they can play on a climbing frame or discover the mini glassworks. For those who are a little older, there’s an interactive app you can download that follows Ebba and Ture on an adventure through the glassworks at the turn of the century. Maybe they’ll want to explore Trollstigen too – a path through the woods where kids can go troll spotting. Big kids and the little ones alike love trying glass blowing for themselves. And you can attend ‘herring-evenings’, where you travel back in time to when the glassworks was the village’s social centre. Visitors can experience music, traditional food and drinks – and, of course, glassblowing.
Målerås to Kosta Boda - 22 kilometres
Kosta Boda Art Gallery
I start my visit to Kosta by peeking into the fantastic local art gallery – where you can marvel at the skillful workmanship of world-renowned artists, like Bertil Vallien, Göran Wärff and Åsa Jungnelius. The gallery building itself was designed by Bruno Mathson in the 50s, so it has an air of lavish modernity. You can rely on finding exhibitions of extraordinary quality here.
You can be a glass blower too!
“It’s only natural that you’d want to try glass blowing yourself”, I think to myself as I head to the Kosta Glascenter. Once I arrive, I meet Niklas Fröjd who has worked with crystal his whole life. He has worked in Kosta for many years, but his job has taken him to New Zealand and South Africa too. It’s a joy to watch him as he works, deftly crafting the molten sand – even as it reaches 1100°C. It’s also incredibly fun to try for yourself!
The Kosta Glascenter offers short courses and longer training programs.
Kosta Boda Art Hotel
The Kosta Boda Art Hotel is an award-winning, spectacularly designed hotel that features a spa, including an indoor and outdoor pool, and several restaurants – each with incredible food. Don’t miss the Glass Bar, a stunningly unique bar made from glass, where you can order beer made locally at the Emmaboda Brewery.
Kosta Boda to Boda Glassworks – 30 kilometres
Outside-of-the-box Culture: The Glass Factory
Creative, innovative, and lovely – The Glass Factory at the Boda Glassworks is maybe the most innovative space in the Kingdom of Crystal. This is where you’ll find the freelance designers and glassblowers. There’s an exhibition displayed in a fantastic industrial setting that elegantly intertwines the historical with the modern. Fun activities await for children, including an exhibition called “Abstractemption” where kids can put their hands into boxes to feel (but not see) different objects. They can also paint glass, hunt letters in the exhibits, or get creative in the play corner. There’s a small shop and a cafe on site too.
Boda Glassworks to Kalmar – 47 kilometres
For Fika-Hungry Families: Krusenstiernska Gården, Kalmar
When Kalmar’s Old Town was destroyed by a fire, the city decided to build a garden in its place. We find ourselves in the largest remaining portion of this garden, sitting and enjoying our fika (a Swedish coffee break), listening to a history lesson between bites of a delicious carrot cake. The estate belonged to Hermina von Krusenstierna in 1874, and she filled it with heirlooms. Many of these were inherited from her grandfather, Colonel Mauritz Salomon von Krusenstierna, who collected them during his travels around the world. Back then, they lived off the land, raising their own animals and growing their own crops. Today, it’s one of Kalmar’s finest retreats. Don’t miss the museum! It has been preserved to show exactly what it was like when Hermina lived here. And be sure to check out the summer theatre too – it's immensely popular.
Explore The Kalmar Castle
Kalmar is one of the most interesting historical cities in Sweden, with cramped houses still standing in the Old Town and in Kvarnholmen – which is where the city centre was relocated to in the 17th century. Kalmar Castle, with the Kalmar Sound in the backdrop and the lovely island Öland looming in the distance, attracts a lot of attention. The castle offers an exceptional vantage point for the city wall, which was built in the 12th century and updated about 400 years later. Kalmar Castle has both permanent and temporary exhibitions, so you should check the site for information about what’s on.
Eat and Drink: Postgatan
The lovely Postgatan is a new addition to Kalmar’s burgeoning culinary map. One of the best, if the information from the grapevine is correct. Regionally sourced, handpicked, and specially selected, the exemplary short menu is designed by owners Johannes and Viktor based on the available produce. With decor featuring embroidery spelling out ‘Småland’, it’s impossible to forget where you are. The menu is fun and fresh, featuring Smapas – Småland's tapas. Regulars come in for the raw beef platter time and time again. I order a plate of Smapas with a wonderful spring onion soup, baked prime eggs from Botul’s happy hens, crispy chicken skins, and buttery chicken mousseliné. The albarino wine matches perfectly. It continues this way. The food and the wine in symbiosis. It’s lovely here - I’m pleased to say the word on the grapevine was absolutely right!
I also visited Postgatan’s sister location, Kallskänken across the street. Kallskänken offers a relaxed atmosphere, with a pizza oven and craft beer from Ängöl Brewery – which is a stone’s throw from here.
Accommodation: Hotel Packhuset
Centrally-located and incredibly cosy, Hotel Packhuset is located right down by the water. Outside the window, you see sailboats bobbing and people walking on the pier. There’s an intimate restaurant and bar where you can regroup and rehydrate for your next outing in the city.
Alternatively, there’s no shortage of wonderful hotels in Kalmar’s Old Town, with restaurants, bars, and beaches all just around the corner.
Kalmar to Pataholm – 34 kilometres
Pataholm and Förlig Wind Cafe
A trip along Småland’s coast would not be complete without a stop in Pataholm, one of Sweden’s smallest and quaintest villages. If you arrive by boat, you can dock right in the heart of the village and wander up to the charming Förlig Wind Cafe. Open throughout the summer months, it’s located in the village centre. You won’t find more charming cobblestone streets! You should set aside time to visit the Hullgrenska gardens too. Sometimes, you’ll find a flea market sprawling across the lovely garden. You can also rent a canoe and explore the archipelago. We recommend paddling to the idyllic, leafy Alsterån River.
Pataholm to Västervik - 112 kilometres
Västervik shines in summer, it’s a worthwhile stop along the coast. Not least of all because it is the gateway to a stunning archipelago. Just outside the city, you can join a tour, run by Skärgårdstrafiken, and hop off to explore the islands Loftahammar, Hasselö, Idö, och Rågö.
Paddle from Västervik to the outer archipelago
Kayakers love it here. There is arguably no place better for paddling in all of Småland. You can start your journey in the city centre or along the coast, and travel between myriad islands before reaching the outer archipelago, within about half an hour. The sprawling web of trails offers calm waters and tranquility, perfect for paddling. There are several rental stores and guides in the city, including Ostkusten Kajak which offers children’s paddling tours, as well as yoga paddling, full moon paddling, and multi-day trips - where you can explore Gryts Archipelago or Tjust Archipelago to the south.
Accommodation: Sail in at Slottsholmen
Slottsholmen on Water is a new hotel and restaurant that offers incredible views over the archipelago. The sail in concept is attractive to those who prefer to keep their boats close to their room. Of all the rooms available, the two-level Mamma Mia suite is the most impressive – inspired by Björn Ulvaeus, of ABBA fame, who wanted to create a world-class hotel experience in his small hometown. The restaurant sources local ingredients but draws inspiration from near and far. The popularity of the cuisine quickly gained traction, while the outstanding, summery views exemplify Småland.
The Short Route: 3 days, two nights
The Long Route: One week
Jönköping - Huskvarna - Bunn - Värnamo – Isaberg (Hestra) - Moheda - Huseby Bruk/Grimslöv – Växjö – Åsnens Nationalpark - Zipline LIttle Rock Lake (Klavreström) - Ösjöbol - Målerås - Kosta - Boda - Kalmar - Pataholm – Västervik
We have listed all the tourist offices available in Småland. Find contact details here!
Cycling tour guide
With 5000 lakes, numerous streams and a 270 km coastline, Småland offers many opportunities for trips on water.
Archipelago fishing in Västervik
Västervik is one of Sweden's best sport fishing locations - not just for pike fishing, but also for good sea trout and perch angling.
Your steps echo between the old walls as you walk through the vault, into Kalmar Castle's courtyard.