The largest city in Skåne, Sweden’s southernmost region, Malmö is located on the Öresund strait, a quick train hop from Copenhagen over the Öresund Bridge, an amazing 10-mile marvel of engineering. Geographically, it’s closer to Italy than the northernmost tip of Sweden.
Language is not a barrier in this pedestrian-friendly city or anywhere in this progressive, highly educated country. Everyone speaks excellent English, the result of a rigorous public school program –– and Swedes’ grammar exceeds the level of many Americans.
Malmö draws part of its energy from its Stortorget, the city center square built in 1536 that is surrounded by the Old Town (Gamla Staden). The cobblestones are humming with cafes, beer gardens and boutique shops; and the square is only a short stroll from the Elite Plaza, the clean, comfy and contemporary hotel where we are staying.
A slightly younger square, Lilla Torg, established in the 16th century, is home to craft boutiques, bakeries, bistros and night life. Gamla Vaster, a neighboring residential area, is chockablock with tiny houses painted in cheerful citrus colors that visually cut through the gloom of long winters. (I got a kick out of the Michelle and Barack Obama bobble-head dolls displayed in one window.)
Certified as Sweden’s first “fair trade city” in 2006, Malmö offers a bounty of ethically produced foods and is home to Salt & Brygga, a popular bistro that serves up organic fare as well as jaw-dropping vistas of the harbor. The menu includes line-caught Norwegian cod, earthy potatoes and organic wines.
My favorite restaurant in the city is Bastard, a gastro pub known for its snout-to-tail approach to cooking, in which no animal parts go to waste. Expect such unexpected dishes as an ox heart appetizer and rabbit pie for two. Subway tile walls and a robust bar trade –– do try a Manhattan infused with chestnut liqueur –– make for a loud noise level. But the vibe remains relaxed and jovial.
Almost everywhere you go, you can spot a luxury high-rise apartment building known as The Turning Torso, the tallest building in Sweden. The structure’s 54 stories are arranged in a striking, 90-degree twist.
Visitors can’t tour the private residences, but try to work in a discrete stroll around the lobby, which features low, ultramodern leather seating and floor-to-ceiling windows that provide a view of a shimmering moat outside.
I also recommend visiting the Moderna Museet Malmö, a branch of the iconic Stockholm museum of modern art, located in an electric power plant built in 1900, and The Form/Design Centre, in Lilla Torg, which shows examples of Scandinavian design, architecture and crafts against the backdrop of a 19th century warehouse. There’s also a cool design shop and a café.
Katrinetorp manor house and farm date to 1813 have been restored as a restaurant and conference center, with a sprinkling of antique shops. There also is a glorious park and garden, which produces organic fruits and veggies for the restaurant. Meanwhile, Malmöhus Castle is the oldest renaissance-era castle still standing in Scandinavia, started in 1434 and completed in the 1500s. Formerly a fortress, it now houses the City Museum.
A weak U.S. dollar and a strong Sweden crown make shopping an expensive proposition. Unlike Italy, France and Spain, dining at cafes (and alcohol, in particular) can be a pricey indulgence.
Instead, shop for design ideas. Take lots of pictures of gorgeous, contemporary designs, stately architecture and beautiful glass and textiles to inspire you after you return home.