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Barista at a Swedish café
Few nationalities consume as much coffee as the Swedes. While drip coffee is still hugely popular, espresso drinks are increasing their market share, and baristas are in demand at coffee shops. In Sweden, a coffee break even has its own name - fika.
Photo credit: Alexander Ruas/Folio/

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.

  • Vetekatten opened its first branch in central Stockholm in 1928 and is without a doubt the grand dame of cafés in Stockholm. The cosy rooms are reminiscent of a grandmother's home, the pace is slow and the coffee is served in porcelain cups.

  • 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.

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The counter at Vete-Katten

Vete-Katten in central Stockholm is a well-preserved, traditional coffee shop with Swedish pastries of superior quality.

Photo: Susanna Blåvarg

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The counter at Vete-Katten

Photo: Susanna Blåvarg

Mazarins at Vete-Katten

Photo: Susanna Blåvarg

Buns at Vetekatten

Photo: Susanna Blåvarg

Ahlströms konditori in Gothenburg

Photo: Ahlströms konditori

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.

MR Cake in Stockholm

USA-inspired pastries and cakes of the highest quality at cafe MR Cake in Stockholm

Photo: Mr Cake

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.

Cafe Nygrens in Alingsås.

Pies and cakes at Café Nygrens in Alingsås.

Photo: Jonas