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Just a stone’s throw from Denmark, a heady mix of medieval cities and lush beech forests stretching across the expanse of Sweden’s Skåne region is waiting to be discovered. Boasting vibrant modern cities and whimsical old towns, south Sweden has an allure that is hard to resist.
Discover the best of south Sweden in your rental car with this relaxed road trip that lets you fully immerse yourself in everything from the thriving arts culture to leafy valleys and eclectic coastal towns.
Connected to Denmark by a 16km stretch of road that encompasses the Öresund Bridge, Malmö is a city of contrasts. Just 45 minutes from ultra-cool Copenhagen, Malmö is a worldly city that exudes a certain grittiness not characteristic of other Swedish cities.
The Dutch-Renaissance buildings and cobbled streets of Gamla Staden (the Old Town) are juxtaposed with the ultramodern waterfront development of Västra Hamnen, home to Scandinavia’s tallest building. From elegant parklands in the city centre, you’re just 20 minutes’ walk from long beaches, perfect for enjoying Swedish summer days.
A treasure of Sweden’s Skåne region, Lund is the country’s second-oldest city, surrounded by groves of Beech trees and home to a charming medieval old town. Its impressive architectural legacy is dominated by the arresting cathedral, the focal point of the old town. However, it’s the esteemed university that keeps Lund thriving. The oldest of Sweden’s universities, dating back to the mid-17th century, Lund university nevertheless injects a certain youthfulness into the local arts and dining scene.
Easily combined in a day with a visit to Malmö, which is just 20 minutes’ drive away Lund is full of green spaces and historical pockets to explore.
As you drive further north, towards the centre of the Skåne region, the lush forested area of Söderåsen National Park will reveal itself. The elongated bedrock ridge in Scania exposes the park through deep-fissure valleys, deciduous forests and rippling streams. A haven for local wildlife, the park is home to fallow deer, badgers, polecats and ermine as well as an abundance of birdlife.
From Scania's highest point, 212 metres above sea level, you can admire breathtaking views across the Skåne countryside, which is one of the largest expanses of uninterrupted deciduous forests in northern Europe. In autumn, the forests create a kaleidoscope of gold, saffron and deep red as leaves blanket the forest floor. Swap your wheels for hiking boots for an afternoon and explore one of the many marked trails.
40 minutes’ drive west towards the seafront lies the coastal city of Helsingborg. Just 4km from Denmark across the Øresund Strait, the city shares a Danish sense of creative expression. The city really comes to life in the summer, with a multitude of arts and theatre events taking place.
The medieval old town and remains of Kärnan tower are reminiscent of an ancient era full of Swedish-Danish wars. For a more opulent look at Swedish grandeur, make the 5km trip north to visit the neo-Renaissance Sofiero Palace and its Rhododendron gardens.
Continuing north, you’ll stumble across the recreational port town of Halmstad. Set at the mouth of the Nissan river, Halmstad’s mild climates, golf courses and pleasant beaches attract large numbers of visitors in the summer. Tylösand Strand is the best of the soft, white sandy beaches, stretching across 7km.
Stroll through the colourful streets of Storgatan, especially the pedestrianised area in the north, before making your way to Stora Torg, a square taken over by local markets and flanked by Sankt Nikolai Kyrka.
Jump in the car 20 minutes inland to explore the southern end of Brearedssjön. A system of waterfalls concealed by beech forests, where the Fylleån river drops 35 metres as it cascades over jagged rocks.
Complete your nearly 400km journey by spending at least a day and a half in Sweden’s second city, Gothenburg. Neoclassical buildings flank tram-rattled streets, Dutch-style canals complement leafy boulevards, and an attractive waterfront teems with all things nautical. Spend a traditional Swedish afternoon in one of the many cosy cafes along the Avenyn. Fika, the concept of making time for friends and colleagues with a cup of coffee and cake, is a ritual for the Swedes.
With Sweden taking the title for having the most islands of any nation, at a whopping 221,800, you’d be missing out if you didn’t explore at least one of them. Leave the car behind and spend a few hours exploring Brännö in the southern part of the Gothenburg archipelago. Narrow roads are dressed in small wooden houses and bikes replace cars on this charismatic island whose history is imbued with farming and shipping.