With the amount of islands available at our doorstep, it’s no wonder that Swedes have one of the highest numbers of boats per capita in the world. Stockholm’s archipelago is the biggest in Sweden, with over 30,000 islands to choose from. The trend for summer escapes out to the islands started back in the 19th century, when the wealthy bourgeoisie began building large summerhouses on the islands of the inner archipelago. The lack of sanitation and the poor drainage system in the city, combined with an increasing interest for a healthier lifestyle, affected this new form of vacationing. This period happened to coincide with the art world’s transition from studio painting to landscape paintings and several artists and writers had studios out in the archipelago, including August Strindberg, Bruno Liljefors, Evert Taube, Anders Zorn and Gustaf Fröding.
The 1940s-60s saw another change in the ways Stockholmers used the archipelago for pleasure. During this period, the average city dweller started renting out little cottages on the islands and trips became more affordable, and Astrid Lindgren’s Vi på Saltkråkan became a part of the collective Swedish national psyche.
The pull of the archipelago has remained, and the area is still visited by thousands every summer. One of the major attractions over the years has been ship-diving and it’s been said that this area has the perfect conditions for the hobby as centuries of sailing combined with the Baltic Sea’s low salt content and the absence of shipworm has led to a large number of well-preserved shipwrecks in the area.
History and Life on the Islands
The original settlements in the archipelago are characterized by the traditional Swedish rural architecture with red-painted wooden houses. In contrast to the west coast’s archipelago, which is entirely focused on fishing, the islanders of the east rely equally on farming and fishing and this has greatly influenced the difference of culture and living conditions. After World War II, there was a gradual migration from the archipelago into the nearest mainland towns that offered a wider range of jobs. This migration was also due in large part to the compulsory education for children and a lack of schools out on the islands.
The archipelago has a long military history, stretching all the way back to Gustav Vasa’s time, who decided to give Vaxholm a more protective role. The building of the fort started in the mid-1500s and continued over the next 300 years, until it was finally finished in 1863. During the Russian raids of the Great Northern War in 1719, the archipelago came under attack and several towns were destroyed by fire. The Battle of Stäket was fought at Vaxholm Castle and a storming counterattack by the Swedish Army forced the Russians to retreat.
Shops and Services
Åtta Glas – Fjäderholmarna
This glass-blowing collective was started up in the early 1990s by eight students (hence the name) from Konstfack, who were looking for an inexpensive workspace. Their idea has proved resilient and now the studio is run by three Konstfack graduates: Emma Bergström, Cecilia Boström and Gabriella Högli
”It’s a beautiful island and it’s great being able to work out here eight months out of the year,” says Emma. ”Djurgårdsförvaltningen oversees the island and our space is rented out through them. They had a vision that it should be cheap for artisans to work out here and in exchange we have open doors so people can observe our work methods.”
Naam pla Tryckeriet – Fjäderholmarna
Carola Kastman and her partner Rolf are pleasantly untraditional, sporting black hair, piercings and tattoos and certainly adding a bit of a punk-rock attitude to the sunny archipelago. Carola’s collection consists of strictly black and white products decorated with skulls & bones, crows, moustaches, and other strong images. She’s been doing textile prints for close to two decades, but has only recently opened up shop on the island. “I like creating unique things with my hands and I strive to deviate from the ordinary. This island is pulsating with creativity and I get inspiration and energy from the ever-changing waters.”
Träboden – Fjäderholmarna
Pierre Morency came to Sweden in ’69 after having met a Swedish girl on holiday. Originally from Canada, he describes that moving here was like coming back home. “I really rediscovered the nature here. My father was a carpenter and I always liked to work with wood. I’d gone to business school but didn’t really like it, I prefered carving instead. The handicraft culture makes this island very special. It’s a short distance from Stockholm, but it feels like another world.”
Artipelag – Gustavsberg
Artipelag is a fresh addition to Stockholm’s cultural scene. Opened just last year, the gallery offers exhibitions of classical, modern, and contemporary art, in the forms of craft and design. The building’s history, however, goes back to 2000, when Björn Jakobson (founder of the well-known company “BabyBjörn”) got the idea to create a beautiful building for art and cultural experiences in the Stockholm archipelago to give back to the community what he had been able to experience through his many trips there. “The exhibition space is about 11,000 square feet with large windows facing the water and the rooms offer lovely lighting for the artwork,“ says assistant curator Frida Andersson. “The opening exhibition – Platsens Själ (Genius Loci) – was an attempt to articulate Artipelag’s unique blend of nature and architecture in artistic form.”
Waxholms kafferosteri – Vaxholm
Mathias Patriksson had always been interested in food and tastes, so in 2009 he decided to open up his very own coffee roastery out on his chosen island. “Coffee will go through the same voyage as wine has been doing in Sweden for the past 20 years. Wine has become more specialized and now coffee is doing the same thing. I moved out here a few years ago; as I come from the west coast I’m very fond of the ocean and seaside living. The quality of life here is simply better than in central Stockholm.”
Ostmakeriet – Rindö
“I like working with my hands and was looking for a handicraft to focus on, then one day a friend suggested cheese, so this wasn’t really planned at all!” Anna Kälvebrand’s interest in food originally stemmed from her mother running a small restaurant in the countryside. After deciding that cheese-making was her calling, she travelled up and down the country to take courses in the craft, finally starting up her own business last year. “I live in Värmdö, but there are not that many places there to start a new business and it’s usually hard to find a space. And I didn’t want to go to the city as I wanted to be out in the nature and close to home. Eventually I found this place, on an island that used to be a military base. They shut it down in 2000 and now it has become quite lively out here. It used to be just a drive-over island, but now people will actually stop!”
Eating and Drinking
Röda Villan – Fjäderholmarna
Five years ago, Peter Kothe came out to Fjäderholmarna with a plan to find a location for a restaurant. He wasn’t quite satisfied with what he saw, but as he was back on the boat returning to the city, he spotted a house behind the trees he thought had great potential. ”This house is from the late 19th century and had been a family home until we took over. In the past this was a navy island and access was strictly forbidden for the public. 25 years ago the island opened up, but this part remained closed to the public as the person who lived here didn’t want anybody around, and didn’t even want anyone to see that there was a house here, so it was a bit of a jungle when we moved in.”
Peter and his wife have done a stellar job fixing up the place and the restaurant must have the best seating arrangement in the whole archipelago: the cliffs around the building provide different levels and hidden nooks for sitting and sipping some wine, and there are even a few hammocks strung between the trees. “You can’t build anything here as everything is protected so we had to make the best of what we had. But there’s been a change in the past few years and now you can actually buy properties here, which was not allowed before. It’s great being out here in the summer; it’s close to the city but still feels like the countryside and hundreds of people come here in the summer to sunbathe on the cliffs.”
Bageriet – Sandhamn
When Anders Korling went sailing out to the archipelago in the early 1980s, he didn’t expect that he would still be there thirty years later. “The bakery was looking for staff so I ended up working for the old baker who ran this place for almost 40 years. Now I’ve been running it for ten. It was an opportunity that only comes once in a lifetime.” A graphic designer by profession, he realized that he preferred the quiet seaside life. “I like sailing but it costs a bit, so now I just live close to the ocean.”
“When I was a younger I worked and lived in YMCA camps with lots of people, and working on an island is a bit similar. If you want something it’s two minutes away, and my kids always know where to find me. Everybody knows about each other, and I’m known as “the baker” here, they don’t even need to know my name.” A couple of years ago, Anders opened up a second bakery on Utö with a colleague who’s a member of the national baking team. “After 30 years in Sandhamn I found it relaxing to come to another island. It was time to change my surroundings.”
“The big difference from when I first moved here is that the really crowded summer weeks are getting fewer. Back then it was like two months, these days it’s like two weeks. I think it’s because it costs more to be here now and to have your boat here. And the boats are much bigger nowadays and people don’t have the skill to sail them as well as we did back in the day. It’s sad that people need those big boats, and it doesn’t look like it makes them any happier.”
Wikströms Fisk – Möja
This family-run restaurant has been offering fresh catch for over 20 years, but the Wikströms have been in the business of fishing for much longer, with the fifth generation now at the helm.
“We used to have a fish shop before and people would buy fish from us and sit outside and eat it, so the restaurant seemed like a good idea,” says Stina Wikström, who runs the place along with her parents. “My father comes in with fresh fish every morning, like he’s been doing his whole life. The restaurant was a bit slow at first, but we were actually some of the first to open up a restaurant in the archipelago so we didn’t have much competition to begin with.”
“It was great growing up here. The special thing about this island is that it’s very much like it used to be, with small, traditional fishing huts in the harbour. It really hasn’t changed much over the past 30-50 years.”
Pärlan – Möja
Put on your best stripy shirt and boat out to Pärlan for some local flavour and live music. Rickard Malm, a self-proclaimed “project man” has been adding to the friendly atmosphere in Möja since stumbling upon the space a few years ago. “I was visiting my daughter who was working in Finnhamn, and I ran into someone there who encouraged me to check it out. I love good food but it’s hard to find quality food out in the archipelago. I’m not talking about fine dining, just well-made dishes. So I decided to give it a try myself.” Rickard then got in contact with one of the better chefs in Stockholm who had “Cook of the Year” credits under his belt, and together they started to rebuild the restaurant and change the approach, without being too fancy or kitschy. “We’ve basically been overbooked ever since.”
“Three of my kids are involved in the business and when they take more responsibility I can start focusing on other projects around here. The great thing about Möja is its originality as an archipelago island. It’s still working as a real and simple village and it’s a down-to-earth place that is well kept by people who often contribute their time for the greater good of the community. The grand structure fades away if you don’t work on keeping it up.”
Båtshaket – Utö
Carina Nilsson moved to Utö from the west coast over 30 years ago and met her husband within a matter of weeks. With him being a fisherman, it seemed only natural to start a fish farm, which subsequently turned into a restaurant nearly 20 years ago. “We had a little shop where we sold smoked fish and things, and after a while we figured that it would be nice to serve it with beer and wine at a proper restaurant. All our three children work in the business and even bring their friends in.”
“Utö is quite big so there’s a lot of space here, and since there’s not that much private land here, you can be all over the island and not disturb any owners. The only downside is that the sun doesn’t shine as much here as it does elsewhere in the archipelago. Besides that, we have it all and the island has remained pretty much the same throughout the years.”
Leif Lind – Fjäderholmarna
“I used to be a teacher and had always worked with ceramics as a hobby. But when this island finally opened up to the public in ’85 after having been a military island, I was interested in starting a pottery business here. It’s a beautiful island, close to nature and sea but still it’s not too far from the city. It’s a lovely place to work, but I also live out here year-round.
“I have a private boat, but it’s frozen here in the winter so I can’t use it. Luckily, in the past five years there’s a tourist boat that goes here even in the winter and they’re kind enough to let me catch a ride with them.”
Fredrik Åman – Resarö (Vaxholm)
Pilot for SAS
“I moved out here in 1997 to be close to the sea. I love boating and everything else connected with water. It’s the perfect place to raise a family! What has changed since I’ve been here is that there used to be a majority of leisure residences here but now almost all houses are for permanent living. I’m switching my job in August and will start working with real estate, so from then on I’ll commute to the office in Stockholm by boat. I’m really looking forward to that!”
Leif Gannert – Vaxholm
Board member of Vaxholm’s Historical Society
“My wife is from Vaxholm and I’ve been living here since ’81. I very much like the environment and have no intention of moving away. I must admit that we’re a bit scared about the plans of expanding Vaxholm as we’re a little community today and we want to stay the same way. But the politicians want more inhabitants and they plan to destroy a part of old Vaxholm to build more and bigger houses. It would be nice if things could stay the way they are.”
Sonja Näslund – Sandhamn
“I was born in the north of Sweden and moved to Stockholm to go to university. There I met my husband who is from here – his family has been living here continuously since the 17th century. I’ve been living here for 40 years now. It’s a very special island because of the sand of course, so we have lovely beaches. Also, we almost have no mosquitoes or ticks. What has changed most is that there are much more people here year-round now, and many more tourists during the low season. People are coming here any time of the year and it’s good for us to be able to keep our services going during the whole year.”
Titti Larsson – Utö
Handles bookings at Utö Värdshus
“I moved here from the west coast in ’81 with a friend who suggested we’d try it out. I got a job at the Värdshus and started dating the postman on the island, and we ended up having two children together. The great thing about Utö is that there are quite a lot of people here, of all ages, and you get to live in a small community and do a lot of things together. I also love the different seasons, and the view of the water is terrific. What’s different now is that there are more houses and visitors, but most things don’t change and there’s been pretty much the same people living here the whole time I’ve been here. Although, there were more kids in the school when mine were growing up, I guess we had a bit of a baby boom back then. It’s nice that even though our kids have moved away, they always come back in the summer to work.”