25 of Scandinavia’s best secret summer islands

From remote beaches and sleepy coastal towns to the favourite holiday haunt of Swedish royalty, here are Scandinavia’s greatest lesser-known islands.  

Sweden

1. Styrso 

Best for… a city connection

Swedes come to gaze longingly at the bright clapboard houses and pastry-stacked tea shops on this quiet wooded island, where golf buggies replace cars. A new twice-daily ferry takes an hour from Gothenburg city centre to its southern archipelago, making it possible to combine lazy days with busy, bar-hopping nights. 

A five-night Gothenburg and her Archipelago tour costs £804pp, including B&B accommodation and flights. Sunvil (sunvil.co.uk; 020 8758 4722).

The Swedish city of Gothenburg

2. Tjorn

Best for… seafood 

The red and white cottages are remnants of a herring fishery which brought wealth to this island and its granite neighbours. Cross a bridge to Kladesholmen (Herring Island) to sample Sweden’s favourite fish, pickled in imaginative ways at floating hotel Salt & Sill. While there, take a boat ride on SS Silla, the world’s fastest sauna.

A six-night Sweden’s West Coast & Gothenburg holiday costs from £1190pp, including B&B accommodation, flights and car hire. Departs June 1 to Aug 31 with Scandinavia Only (scandinaviaonly.co.uk; 01274 875199).

3. Koster Islands

Best for… an underwater safari

Sweden’s national marine park, Kosterhavet, surrounds this archipelago just off the Bohuslan coast. The main islands, North and South Koster, have excellent beaches, but greater treasures lie below the surface. Dive into deep valleys for cold water corals, or snorkel through kelp forests and meadows of emerald green eelgrass where lion’s mane jellyfish and bristle worms thrive.

A seven-night Sweden’s West Coast holiday costs from £1295pp, including most meals and car hire. Flights extra. Departures between June 1 and Sept 30. Inntravel (inntravel.co.uk; 01653 617007).

Sweden’s national marine park surrounds the Koster Islands

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getty

4. The Weather Islands

Best for… folklore

These wild granite-sculpted mounds, with fishing boats clinging to their shores, are perfect places to escape and disconnect. Eat fine oysters from the mineral-rich waters and join storytelling evenings at the Vaderoarna Inn.

A seven-night Discover West Sweden tour costs from £1027pp, including flights, B&B accommodation and car hire. Departs May to September with Discover the World (discover-the-world.co.uk; 01737 214 250).

5. Gotland

Best for… medieval pastimes

Stone-age skeletons, Viking runes and crumbling 12th-century turrets make Sweden’s largest island a living lesson in the country’s history. Stroll along cobbled streets with Gothic facades and try Saffranspannkaka, a saffron pancake with red berries and cream.

A Gotland – Sweden’s Summer Secret holiday costs from £980pp, including five nights’ B&B accommodation, flights and car hire. Departs May to September. Nordic Experience (nordicexperience.co.uk; 01206 708888).

Gotland, Sweden’s largest island

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6. Faro

Best for… film fans

Somewhat overshadowed by the medieval turrets of Gotland, its smaller neighbour is still a deserving headline act. Director Ingmar Bergman took inspiration from its landscape of limestone pillars and shot several films here. He also set up home on the island, and the Bergmancenter is a museum dedicated to his work.

A six-day Gotland & Stockholm Fly-drive holiday costs from £1,125pp, including B&B accommodation, car hire and flights. Book by Sept 30. Best Served Scandinavia (best-served.co.uk; 020 7664 2235).

7. Oland 

Best for… (royal) families

Try pole pillow fighting, tug of war and archery at Eketorp Fortress. Admire ruined Borgholm Castle and World Heritage Site Stora Alvaret, a vast limestone plateau. The holiday home of Sweden’s royal family is here.

Family-friendly Stuga Fiske Oland holiday village has three-bedroom self-catering cottages from £159 for two-night stays (booking.com).

The Solliden Palace in Borgholm, the summer residence of the Swedish royal family

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8. Uto

Best for… easy escapism

It takes nearly two hours to reach the forest-fringed bays on this outer island in Stockholm’s archipelago. Hire bikes from the marina (120SEK/£10 per day) and cycle past 18th century miners’ cottages to reach sandy, easy-swim beaches. Climb the 200-year-old windmill for sunset views.

A five-night Inside the Stockholm Archipelago holiday costs from £1,185pp, including B&B accommodation and flights. Departs June 21 to Aug 16. Baltic Travel Company (08456 800 642; baltictravelcompany.com).

9. Orust 

Best for… kayaking

Once a factory making fish crates and wooden boats, Ladfabriken is now a rainbow-hued boutique B&B. It sits on the largest island on the rugged Bohuslan coast, characterised by pink granite rocks. A maze of sheltered islets offers superb kayaking; look out for seal pups in early summer.

A three-day Paddle Package De Luxe costs from 6,400SEK/£535pp, including equipment hire, meals, guidance and accommodation. Available May 19 and Sept 22. Other dates on request for a minimum of four people. Ladfabriken (ladfabriken.eu; +46 304 52100). 

10. Aland Islands 

Best for… remote beaches

These 6,700 Baltic islands are Finnish-owned but Swedish-speaking and have their own parliament. But forget the confusing geopolitics, the sandy beaches are glorious; some have diving platforms and volleyball nets, others are footprint-free. Hire a floating sauna boat or go wreck diving.

A six-day Baltic Voyage: Stockholm, Aland Islands and Helsinki holiday costs from £990pp, including some meals and flights. Book by Sept 30. Best Served Scandinavia (best-served.co.uk; 020 7664 2235) 

The Aland Islands are Finnish-owned but Swedish-speaking

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getty

Norway

11. Vega Islands 

Best for… local living

Every summer, the residents of Lanan build little houses for the visiting eider ducks so they can harvest the valuable feathers left behind at the end of the season. Learn about the sustainable practice that’s earned Unesco status, and join local photographer Torleif Hansen for a midnight workshop to photograph more wildlife and nature.

Stays at the Vega Island Hideaway (sleeps seven) cost from €550 (£484) per night; minimum five-night stay. Off Grid Hideaways (+41 41 520 60 46; offgridhideaways.com).

12. Andoya (Vesteralen)

Best for… magical marine life

Humpback flukes silhouetted by a setting sun are a common sight off the northern tip of Vesteralen, a chain of sawtooth mountain isles linked by bridges. Sea Safari Andenes run midnight sun whale watching tours, with the whales generally close to shore.

A six-night Whales & Seabirds escorted holiday costs from £2,495pp, including flights. Departs June 22. Dates for 2019 TBC. Naturetrek (naturetrek.co.uk; 01962 733051).

Humpback flukes are a common sight off the northern tip of Vesteralen

13. Sommaroy

Best for… quirky behaviour

Coastal characters abound on the appropriately named Summer Island, an hour’s drive from Tromso. Visit the male-only Kaillkraa, a café-cum-boys’ club where each resident has a hook for his coffee cup. Caribbean-coloured beaches lie beyond the village.

A 10-day Best of Northern Norway holiday costs from £1,325pp. Flights are extra. Departures from June 1 to Aug 30. Artisan Travel (artisantravel.co.uk; 01670 785 085).

14. Fleinvaer

Best for… digital detox

Havard Lund’s futuristic ocean-view cabins sit on stilts to limit their impact on the environment. The jazz musician says his Arctic Hideaway retreat has “no shops, stress or dangerous animals”. Along with four cabins, there’s a seaside sauna, concert house and a relaxation area called the “Tower for Big Thoughts”.

Cabins from £150pp per night – or £35pp for groups of 12 – with a minimum three-night stay. Options for hosted meals. Host Unusual (hostunusual.com).

15. Lofoten Islands

Best for… photography

Rising 1000 metres out of the sea and warmed by the Gulf Stream, this popular archipelago boasts some of the finest scenery and wildlife in Norway. Connecting bridges make it easy to visit several islands. At Hamnoy, thousands of kittiwakes cover the cliff, and mountains frame the pearly white Skagsenden beach on Flakstadoya.

An eight-day Lofoten Islands – Landscapes, Fishing Villages & Birds in the Arctic Circle escorted holiday costs from £2,950pp, including most meals. Flights extra. Departs May 19 2018 and June 9, 2019. Wild Photography Holidays (wildphotographyholidays.com; 01630 647 828).

16. Skrova (Lofoten)

Best for… rooms with a view

Lofoten gets very busy in peak season, so try one of the smaller islands for epic views without the crowds. Stay in a unique converted oil storage tank for the best high-rise 360s; climb through a roof hatch to find an open-air hammock. When not mountain-gazing, laze on the beach or join a whale safari.

A four-night Lofoten holiday including two nights in the Oil Tank costs from £425pp, excluding flights. Magnetic North Travel (01664 400 103; magneticnorthtravel.com).

17. Stokkoya 

Best for… sleeping on the beach

Wake up to waves licking the shoreline at Stokkoya Sea Centre, a modern take on a row of colourful beach huts. Billed as an alternative resort, it has kayaks for rent and a glass-fronted beach bar. Roar, who owns the property with wife Torild, is a former scallop and sea urchin diver, so the food is reliably good.

Double cabins cost from 1690NOK/£154 per night with breakfast during the summer season. Book directly at stokoya.no/en. Norwegian Air fly to Trondheim; from there it’s a 3.5-hour drive.

18. Senja

Best for… hiking

Precipitous cliffs plunge to the sea, creating scenery to rival neighbouring Vesteralen and Lofoten. Segla mountain is a popular hike; a four-hour trail leads to a sheer-drop clifftop overlooking the Melfjorden, where mountains rise from the water.

A five-day Islands and Fjords of Northern Norway holiday costs from £850pp, including B&B accommodation and car hire. Departures June 14 to Aug 30. Artisan Travel (artisantravel.co.uk; 01670 785 085).

Senja Island

19. Lovund 

Best for… bird watching

Few humans live on this moss-covered liisle but it’s an avian metropolis in summer. From April, 200,000 puffins nest in the scree. Watch the couples, who mate for life, showing their affection by rubbing beaks.

An 11-day Norwegian Fjords in Depth – Tromso to Bergen trip costs from £2,274pp, including meals. Flights extra. Departs May 21 2018 and May 20 2019. G Adventures (gadventures.co.uk; 0344 272 2060). 

20. Smola

Best for… off the beaten track

Smola’s flatter moorland and lakes are a contrast with the mainland. Sea eagles hover above the fishing village of Veiholmen and sheltered islets lend themselves to canoe trips. Oddly, there’s a museum dedicated to the history of marshland cultivation.

A seven-night Hidden Gems of the Northern Fjords holiday costs from £1,482pp, including flights, car hire and B&B accommodation. Sunvil (sunvil.co.uk; 0208 758 4722).

Denmark

21. Bornholm

Best for… foodies

Every June, top chefs using local produce cook off in the Sol over Gudhjem competition. At other times, dine at Michelin-starred Kadeau or have an open sandwich on rye bread at one of many smokehouses. Bornholm sits between Denmark and Poland, a 40-minute flight from Copenhagen.

A five-day Bornholm Island holiday costs from £925pp, including B&B accommodation, bike hire and flights. Departs May 1 to Sept 14. Baltic Travel Company (baltictravelcompany.com; 08456 800 642).

A restaurant near a street in Gudhjem on Bornholm Island in Denmark

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22. Samso

Best for… eco travellers

Heating plants and wind turbines make this green island 100 per cent carbon neutral, with fully renewable energy. There’s a thriving arts and culture scene; from July 23-25, Opera in Unlikely Places features arias in lighthouses and on rickshaws rolling through the countryside.

Samso Ferie seaview apartments cost from 4500DKK/£532 per week. Samso Ferie (vesborgfyr.dk; +45 2685 8683). Ferry takes 75 minutes from Kalundborg on Zealand.

23. Funen

Best for… cycling

With its fairytale castles and cobbled streets, the island where Hans Christian Andersen spent his childhood inspired many of his stories. Now Denmark’s “garden island” wants to be a destination for cyclists, with heavy investment in new trails. The lack of traffic makes this a pleasant place to be on two wheels.

An eight-day Funen – Fairytale Island holiday costs from £909pp, including B&B accommodation and bike hire. Flights extra. Freewheel Holidays (freewheelholidays.co.uk; 0800 755 5385).

A cyclist in the Postnord Danmark Rundt race time trial in Nyborg on the island of Funen

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getty

24. Mon

Best for… stargazing

A lack of light pollution has earned this island International Dark Sky Park status. In daylight, the chalk cliffs and GeoCentre Mons Klint geology museum are also impressive sights.

A three-night stay at the Moens Klint Resort Lodge costs from 3,400DKK/£402. Mons Klint Resort (moensklintresort.dk; +45 5581 2025).

25. Fano

Best for… sunbathing

At 15km long and up to 1km wide, the powdery beaches here offer plenty of room for towels. At low tide, sea birds and seals claim their own spots.

Doubles at Sonderho KRO, an inn built in 1722, cost from 850DKK/£100 with breakfast. Sonderho KRO (sonderhokro.dk; +45 75 16 40 09). Take a 12-minute ferry ride from Esbjerg.

 

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