Ice cream, go-karts, beaches, and alpacas? Explore this tiny island to find some hidden gems off the east coast of Sweden in this family travel guide.
In European countries, it is common for the entire country to shut down in August as people head off to various resorts and tourist destinations. In Sweden, that “shut down” month is July—typically the warmest weather month of the year with maximum hours of sunlight. With four weeks of vacation, what is a family to do? Fortunately, for Swedes, there are plenty of stugor (rustic cabins) to rent, and plenty of islands to visit.
One island, in particular, Öland, is located off the southeast coast of Sweden in the Kalmar region. Öland translates to “island land,” which is fairly nonsensical but essentially, it’s a long, narrow island.
Getting to Öland
There is a bus that runs between Stockholm and Öland if you want to put someone else in charge of the driving.
You can enter the island either by ferry (2.5 hours long), which deposits you on the northern side or by car across the Kalmar-Öland bridge, which is closer to the southern part of the island.
If you want to ride on the ferry, be sure to call ahead and book as soon as possible because space is limited and it sells out quickly. Payment is in cash on the dock before you load so if you change your mind and want to drive to Kalmar to visit their beautiful castle, you’re absolutely free to do so.
Where to stay
We rented a stuga/cabin in Löttorp (northern Öland), which was really nice, from Stug Knuten’s website. There are tons of camping sites that are mostly for RVs and not tents, but you should be able to find accommodations that fit your needs.
Drive 5 km in any direction and chances are, you’ll find yourself passing a Go-kart place. There are tons of go-kart tracks for various ages of children and adults. The most popular go-kart amusement park for kids ages 2-9 years is Lådbilslandet but there are tons of go-kart places throughout the island suitable for both small kids and adults. Check out my full guide to Lådbilslandet which is quite possibly the happiest place in Sweden.
Borgholm Castle is pretty neat because it’s the inspiration for the “looped square” shape that appears on Scandinavian road signs for cultural places of interest.
Did you know that that same symbol is also on every Apple computer keyboard? Why? Back in the 1980’s, Steve Jobs didn’t want to put the Macintosh symbol everywhere so he tasked Susan Kare with finding a new symbol. As a symbol of places of interest in Scandinavia, Susan thought it was the right fit for the company. The symbol itself resembles the shape of square Borgholm Castle with the round corner towers as seen from a bird’s eye view.
Not only do you get to freely explore the castle ruins but Borgholm Castle has a courtyard full of medieval games for kids. Hop on a wooden horse and try your hand at jousting or try to hit the bullseye with an old bow and arrow.
The adults in our party had more fun with the archery than the kids did. Believe it or not but bows and arrows back in the 13th century weren’t all that easy to shoot.
Don’t forget to head upstairs and check out the seasonal art installations that rotate to feature different artists from around the world. There’s also a great heart sculpture that is perfect for family portraits and the inner courtyard often holds music concerts.
Eating/Over eating—my recommendations
For the most part, head to your nearest grocery store (here’s a link of all of the local ICA stores) and picnic wherever you go. You’ll save money and not every attraction has the best options for food.
Ice Cream in Monstrous Proportions
These people don’t mess around with their ice cream portions. Serving sizes are fit for giants and/or people with an endless tolerance for lactose and sugar. If you aren’t either one of those, I’d strongly suggest sharing desserts.
My kids are six and three years old, and they happily shared a kid’s ice cream bowl because it was plenty large enough. My husband and I shared an adult serving, and it came with six scoops. Six scoops! We needed more people to help us finish it, honestly.
There is a playground with an inflatable bounce house for the kids to work off all of that sugar while you figure out how you’re going to eat all of that ice cream before it melts.
This restaurant is an institution (an institution, I tell ya!) on Öland. If you are a meat eater, then this is the place for you to go. Entrance price is a bit high, but that’s because you’ll leave so stuffed to the brim with all of the lamb and pork you can eat.
Ask the meat carvers to give you a little slice of everything, and you’ll probably have a hard time picking your favorite part of the meal.
The fees for kids are based on their age, and there are some kid-friendly food options available (hot dogs, pasta, etc.) Most likely, you will lose your kids to the Wii/movie room at the back of the restaurant for at least an hour. (This is a blessing because you still have a lot of food to eat!)
Once you’re done eating (your table reservation is for 2.5 hours), you can head upstairs to the rooftop deck with coffee and dessert ordered separately at the bar.
My recommendation: Book a table reservation for 5 pm before the restaurant gets busy and the lines become insanely long.
There’s no shortage of beaches on Öland. Want a rocky beach? They have that. Want a sandy beach? They have those too. Want a beach where you can rent a paddle boat? Check. You name it, they have it. Drive down the coast and look for the swimming person sign and go swimming.
But will the water be warm enough to go swimming? Absolutely!
Despite being in Sweden, the water on the east coast side of Öland is shallow enough that it warms up quite nicely and is pleasant for swimming. We went in early July, and the water was still a bit chilly, but in late July/August, the water will be warm enough for your kids to spend a lot of time playing in the sea.
The only consideration is to figure out the parking situation. Some beaches have free parking, but some require payment via SMS. We did not have the right app on our phone to pay for parking, and our iTunes account was US-based, not Swedish, so it couldn’t even find the app to download. We offered to pay another Swedish beach goer the 30 SEK in cash for them to pay for our car via the app but they turned us down.
When in doubt, ask someone for assistance but it’s always good to have a bit of extra cash lying around in case you need to make a deal.
Meet exotic animals
When you think of Sweden, you don’t normally think of alpacas, ostriches, and camels, but Öland has them all. A few forward thinking exotic animal breeders brought these animals from similar climates to this tiny island. Be sure to thank them for providing your family another interesting thing to do while on Öland.
Ride on a Camel
If nothing else, people will wonder where you went on vacation when they see your holiday card with your entire family riding on a camel. Feel free to bring a picnic to the camel ranch.
Why are there alpacas in Sweden? I couldn’t tell you but the man who runs the alpaca farm(?) is very nice and loves his animals. They are prize winning alpacas (I bet you’re impressed) and his little family shop has beautiful alpaca wool sweaters and goods.
Tours are on the modest side but you may get to snuggle an alpaca or two. It turns out that alpacas are not social animals at all. However, this man has raised a few to approach visitors in a friendly way.
There are also chickens running around the premises and now there are few beehives in his animal collection. Fun for the whole family.
Whether you want to sleep on an ostrich ranch or just visit to enjoy their delicious food in the cafe, swing by the Marsjö Ostrich Cultural Center in Borgholm, Sweden.
Not going to lie, the ostriches were somewhat underwhelming. They are behind a fence and you can’t interact with them and it was a bit ho-hum.
You will see signs with the word “Loppis” on them and possibly hours, although, most loppis are open every day. Grab a bike and start “loppising” around. Get to know the locals and ask them how their day is going. They’ll appreciate the conversation. I bought a fun pair of handmade earrings made from Lego bricks that I thought was such an ingenious upcycle. You never know what treasures you may find at a loppis.
Enjoy the slow and simple life
If you haven’t noticed by now, vacationing on Öland is a pretty simple affair. You’ll enjoy lots of picnics, camping, and taking pictures with exotic wildlife. The people of Öland are very nice and they graciously tolerate the thousands of outsiders on their tiny island every summer.
I can’t predict the Swedish weather (nobody can), so I suggest being flexible with whatever Thor (the Norse god of thunder, weather, and crops) sends your way.
An Öland vacation will undoubtedly involve berry picking, exotic animals, go-kart lands, and relaxing beaches for every type of traveler.
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