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A man wearing a white t-shirt, glasses and a thick beard and an apron is pouring steamed milk into an espresso cup.
Barista at a Swedish café
Photo: Alexander Ruas/Folio/imagebank.sweden.se

Things to do

Swedish café culture – steeped in tradition yet forward-thinking

Ever since the first cluster of patisseries arrived in Sweden at the end of the 19th century, the Swedish café has continued to flourish in a style uniquely its own.

Sweden has a proud café tradition. The first few decades of the 1900s could be described as the golden era of the Swedish café. Patisseries in which locals congregated for a fika livened up streets across the country. Some years after the arrival of the very first Swedish patisseries, the café was considered quite a game-changer as it provided Sweden’s emancipated female population with dedicated places in which to socialise outside the home.

As for the interior style of these sugar-laden havens, cafés in Sweden were never able to compete in grandeur with their glittering equivalent found in cities such as Vienna or Prague, nor did they ever intend to. The Swedish café was – and still is – a quaint and homely place in which to relax with good company, a home away from home. While many of the traditional patisseries from the 1920s and onwards still thrive, new breeds of cafés have been ushered in to modernise the scene. Swedish patisseries with an international twist are popping up across the country, something we predict we’ll see (and taste) more of.

Swedish cafés with heritage and elegant retro charm

You’ll find traditional Swedish cafés (konditorier) across the country, many of which feature original interiors from decades past. Swedish classics such as princess cake, mazarin (small almond tarts covered with thin icing), vanilla hearts and prawn sandwiches are much-loved staples.

  • Founded in 1928, Vete-Katten is one of central Stockholm’s authentic patisseries. With a warren of rooms and three entrances, you can choose between two distinct ambiances – a slightly grander, high-ceilinged space or the more intimate and homely backrooms, filled with antiques from several decades. Wherever you choose to sit, you’ll be tucking into high-quality cakes and pastries made on the premises using fresh ingredients.

  • Sturekatten, located a stone’s throw from Stureplan square in Östermalm, is another traditional Stockholm haunt for the sweet-toothed. With an eclectic style, it feels as though you’ve been transported into a bourgeois home from the early 20th century. And it’s not far from the truth – the café is set in the former home of two sisters who moved into this flat in 1941. Much of their furniture is still in place, adding to the unique atmosphere.

  • Gothenburg also has its fair share of classic coffee shops. Founded in 1901, Ahlströms is one of the oldest, with many original features from this era still intact. Should you struggle to choose a cake from the long line-up, we suggest you try the house variety – the Cortina cake. Inspired by the Italian destination, it’s a deliciously nutty affair.

  • The beautiful town of Östersund – located in the northern province of Jämtland – is home to Wedemarks Konditori. Founded in 1924, the art deco-style sign on the door is the original, though the interior is mostly modern. Wedemarks’ claim to fame is the sandwich cake (smörgåstårta) – a Swedish classic invented on these very premises in the 1960s. As the name suggests, this is a savoury cake consisting of layers of bread with a delicious cream cheese filling. The whole thing is often topped with a decorative arrangement of prawns, smoked salmon, lemon and dill; or ham slices and cucumber.

Swedish fika infused with international influences

In the past few years, corners of the Swedish fika terrain have been given a global twist. 

  • The American-inspired MR Cake – which opened in Stockholm in 2017 and has since spread to Gothenburg – is a prime example of the fusion patisserie movement. The space is designed to convey an industrial yet homely feel. On the menu, you’ll find treats such as red velvet croissants, cheesecake doughnuts and devil’s chocolate cake.

  • Valhallabageriet – located in Östermalm, Stockholm – also likes to shake things up, letting its international crew of bakers and pastry chefs use their creativity to dream up unique concoctions, such as vanilla and chocolate filled croissants. They prefer to honour the classics when making the semla. During the prime season of this Swedish classic, almost 15,000 buns are baked in the ovens at Valhallabageriet.

Alingsås, the “capital of fika”

If you fancy trying as many different Swedish cafés as possible within a tight radius, head to Alingsås, the so-called “capital of fika”. In this cosy town – located in Västra Götaland county, a 45-minute train ride northeast of Gothenburg – there are some 30 cafés to discover. Café Viola is one example. Opened in 1899, it’s the oldest café in town. You’ll have to try its famous meatball sandwich; it’s as Swedish as it gets. Or, discover several of the town’s most popular fika spots on the caffeine-fuelled Fika Tour.