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In coastal Sweden, life revolves around the harbor. The waters around villages such as Kungshamn (shown here) and Lysekil supply most of the country's seafood, especially oysters and lobsters. (Photograph by Christian Åslund)

Insider’s Guide to Sweden’s West Coast

A favorite of the late Ingrid Bergman, the Bohuslän coast feels a bit like a secret French Riviera. What the high-latitude region lacks in American tourists it makes up for with plentiful seafood and bright seasonal sunshine.

Here’s the lowdown on visiting this Swedish wonderland.

> When to Go:

If solitude and seafood are a priority, stick to late spring for oysters and late September for lobsters.

Midsummer celebrations beginning in June linger through August, with vacationing Swedes filling the otherwise placid stillness with sailing, kayaking, and yachting.

> Where to Eat:

The creamy mussel soup at Brygghuset on Fiskebäckskil’s harbor is worth the 20-minute ferry ride from Lysekil on its own.

People-watching at this stop for passing yachts and sailors is a bonus—and so is the stroll to and from the ferry through cobblestoned streets lined with elegant pastel cottages.

With blue communal tables inside and overflowing produce and flower gardens out back, Kosters Trädgårdar on South Koster Island looks like the backdrop of a Carl Larsson painting. Order the catch of the day and some local cheeses with island-grown berries and vegetables.

> What to Explore:

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Sea kayakers paddle in Lysekil’s Gullmar Fjord, next to small islands of pink granite shaped by the ice age. (Photograph by Christian Aslund)

Based in Lysekil, Nautopp Seakayaking offers paddling tours (at right), including day-trips to the outer Lysekil archipelago and longer journeys along the coastline, as well as kayak rentals ($54 per day).

Or join a seal safari on the Soten, a restored 60-foot luxury steamer from 1915 that departs from the Havets Hus aquarium in the Lysekil Harbor. Captain Göran Hahne, who began working on boats as a deckhand at age 12, is a walking encyclopedia of Swedish maritime and military history.

> Where to Stay:

Strandflickorna Hotel in Lysekil was built at the turn of the 20th century as a spa retreat. That serenity endures in the backyard garden, wood-fired sauna, and outdoor tub overlooking the Gullmar Fjord. The Sea Studio has two glass walls and a deck with a ladder leading to the sea.

The Hotel Koster has a large outdoor restaurant and a lawn where crowds listen to live music under the midnight sun, which is said to be brighter here on South Koster than anywhere else in Sweden.

Occupying three different buildings, most of its 78 modern rooms offer views to the sea; breakfast is served in a historic mansion. Bike paths, beaches, and hiking trails start right out the front door.

Stora Hotellet Bryggan sits harborside in Fjällbacka, a 17th-century fishing village and also the hometown of present-day mystery novelist Camilla Läckberg. Nautically themed rooms have sunny terraces, and a seaside deck serves hot buns for breakfast and seafood for dinner.

> What to Read:

Stick with what the Swedes do best: spine-chilling thrillers. So far, all of Läckberg’s crime novels have been set in FjällbackaThe Ice Princess is her first and involves a body suspended in a bathtub of frozen water.

> Travel Trivia: 

  • The Swedish Constitution legislates the tradition of allemansrätten—the right to roam on public and most private lands.
  • Sweden ranks third in thirsty coffee drinkers of the world, after the Netherlands and Finland.
  • Built in 1874, the Gothic-inspired structure that houses Gothenburg’s indoor fish market is so beautiful it’s called Feskekörka—“fish church.” 

This piece was reported by Stephanie Pearson to accompany “Sweden by the Sea,” a feature she wrote for National Geographic Traveler’s June/July 2014 issue.