The best things to do this summer in Vastkusten put you in the middle of rocky islands, traditional villages, and sandy beaches. The West Coast of Sweden is often overlooked as most adventurers heading to this corner of Scandinavia go straight to the Stockholm Archipelago or the arctic fells of Norrland. However, those who do plot a course to this 402-km stretch of shoreline facing the North Sea are in for something pretty special.

    It's a land of windblown islands and boulder-speckled coves, awash with quaint fishing villages where time seems to have stood still for centuries. There are herring hubs and salt-washed lagoons for wild swimmers, all of which really hits a zenith in the summer months. Make the most of your summer in Vastkusten by exploring idyllic spots on our list.

    1

    Orust

    Slow down with a cycle and a paddle

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    Orust, officially Sweden's 3rd-largest island, splinters off from the Vastkusten just a little under midway from Gothenburg to the Norwegian border. It takes only around an hour to reach by car but can feel like a whole different world, what with rustic, red-painted barns rising from shorelines scarred by salt-washed boulders.

    Orust moves to a slow pace, so is best explored at a slow pace. Even in summer in Vastkusen, cyclists find plenty to like because it's almost possible to do a ring around the whole isle without meeting a single car. The water is another fantastic way to get around. Hop in a canoe and you can escape to the rugged bays of Stocken or venture to the hidden inlets of the Stigfjorden that bisects Orust in two.

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    2

    Marstrand

    Sailors ahoy

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    Marstrand bills itself as "Sweden's sailing capital". Sure enough, oodles of high-speed sloops converge on the town each year to compete in the prestigious World Match Racing Tour. If you're keen to join them, cruise along to the end of the 168 roadway around 50 minutes' drive from Gothenburg.

    However, you don't have to be a master of the rigging to enjoy this place. A car-free centre rolls down to meet a bay that's dotted with wild-swimming spots. In the summer, birders and hikers embark on expeditions across to the Klåveröns Nature Reserve to the south. There's sport fishing, too, not to mention the mighty fort of Carlsten for the history buffs.

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    3

    Capri Naturreservat

    Take a dip close to the Norwegian border

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    The Capri Naturreservat is one of the last wild sections of the Vastkusten before the border with Norway. That puts it right at the north end of the region, just a stone's throw from the international ferry port town of Strömstad. It's one of the finest natural landscapes to visit in summer in Vastkusen. 

    It's a lovely last hurrah if you're leaving Sweden behind. The coast sort of crumbles in the North Sea here, fragmenting into low-lying islets that are beset by inlets and coves. There are rough pockets of gorse and heather topping the banks, along with both rocky and sandy beaches where oodles of swimmers come to cool off in the Scandinavian summertime.

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    4

    Klädesholmen

    Here's hoping you like herring

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    Klädesholmen is the herring hub of western Sweden. Jutting out into the North Sea from the southwest side of rock-ribbed Tjörn, it takes around an hour to get to from Gothenburg in the car. The good news? Some of the best seafood in the country will be waiting on arrival.

    Klädesholmen sports a herring factory, oodles of age-old herring skiffs, and the famous floating restaurant of Salt & Sill. Pickled dishes and tales of hardy fishing folk will come thick and fast. So will meditative summertime walks down the coast, between the red-painted cottages and swimming jetties. If you visit in the summer, drop in for Herring Day on June 6, when a local expert announces the finest herring dish in town.

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    5

    Hållö

    A pink granite island in Bohuslän

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    Hållö is one of the natural wonders of the Bohuslän region. Cut off from the mainland by a small strait that's less than 1.5 km across, it's best accessed by boat from the lively summer resort town of Smögen. You can't really miss it, because the island is formed from a curious pink granite that shimmers a rose colour above the reflective North Sea.

    The whole place has also been churned up and carved by the movements of glaciers over the last few ice ages. That's what created the strange Marble Pool, where swimmers splash in glowing turquoise waters, and the Giant's Kettles – deep plug-hole ponds that can be 4 metres from top to bottom. There are also some intriguing WWII history sites and a quirky hostel in an old lighthouse over on Hållö.

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    Fjällbacka

    Summertime escapes with Swedish stars

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    Fjällbacka is a lovely town with a long and star-studded history. You'll find it tucked under a coast mountain on the edge of the Tanum region, just over 1.5 hours' drive out of Gothenburg. Some famous names have done just that journey in the past – Ingrid Bergman is said to have holidayed in Fjällbacka by summer, while crime writer Camilla Läckberg set many of her spine-tingling novels here.

    There's a lot to do in summer in Fjällbacka, but adventurers usually head straight for the scramble up to the Vetteberget summit. That gives a wonderful panorama of the bay and the bobbing fishing boats below. The herring farms of Hjärterön are also nearby, surrounded by wild heather heath and unique coast meadows.

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    7

    Smögen

    Party your Swedish summer away on the Vastkusten

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    Smögen buzzes with life from June to August every year. The main resort town on the Bohuslän coast, it draws thousands of good-time seekers to the end of the 174 road, around 35 minutes' drive out of Munkedal. They come for laidback days and wild party nights.

    The hedonism is largely focused on the bars that cluster by the big Smögen Pier. The drinking and dining will start early in the afternoon there, especially if the sun's shining. Families shouldn't discount Smögen altogether. It's easy to break away to rugged Hållö from here, or to explore wild swimming coves like Vallevik a touch to the north.

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    photo by Kuriosatempel (CC BY-SA 4.0) modified

    8

    Väderöarna

    Escape to a land cut off from the coast

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    Väderöarna is all about connecting with the wild water of the Skagerrak strait. It's an archipelago of islets that poke above the surface some 12 km west of Fjällbacka. The journey over is part of the fun. You can either sail across on your own boat or hitch a ride on one of the summer ferries that go from Fjällbacka itself.

    The Väderöarna chain, also known as the Weather Islands, is a beautiful showcasing of untouched West Coast nature. It's home to a large seal colony, all manner of seabirds, and completely secluded shorelines that get battered by some of Sweden's largest waves whenever there's a summer storm. Don't miss the Väderöarna Inn, where local crayfish and herring is served in a traditional setting.

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    9

    Kosterhavet National Park

    Sweden's first fully marine national park

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    The Kosterhavet National Park is the first completely marine national park in the country. It lies in the waters of Skagerrak just off the North Sea, a mere 27 km south of the Sweden-Norway border, protecting some of the most biodiverse maritime ecosystems in the region.

    Coast safaris are the name of the game in the summer. Sightings of basking seals and Artic terns are common, but you can also spy out strange brachiopods and corals thanks to the algae-rich currents that come in here from the open Atlantic Ocean. Back in Strömstad, the gateway to it all, you'll also be able to sample the famous Kosterhavet lobster.

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    10

    Grundsund

    The charms of an authentic Swedish seaside town

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    Grundsund is perhaps best known as the backdrop to the long-running soap drama Saltön. It was chosen for its quaint and time-stood-still centre, which you'll find on the western shores of the isle of Skaftö, some 50 minutes' drive from Uddevalla.

    A wide canal cuts through the heart of the small town. It's fringed by red-tinged cottages and small fishing shacks, which still sell fresh prawns and lobsters to aficionados of fine seafood. If you prefer your catches already cooked, make for the harbourside restaurants on the west side of the marina. They're usually abuzz with diners and drinkers in the summer.

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    Joseph Francis | Contributing Writer

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