At the southern tip of Sweden, just a Scandi-noir bridge away from Denmark, Malmö is a fascinating pocket of a city that’s colourful, welcoming and easy to explore. It’s Sweden’s up-and-coming city, proud of a young and growing multi-cultural population, and a dedication to sustainability, with restaurants, hotels and the public transport system all putting the environment at the heart of what they do.
Wherever you are in the city – one of the hip modern neighbourhoods, or the cobbled streets of the historic centre – there’s an embarrassment of exceptional places to eat and stylish places to drink. Or just wander around by the city’s canals, parks, squares and beach (Malmö enjoys a milder climate than its more famous city-break spots to the north), taking in this laid-back city to a soundtrack of cawing gulls and bicycle bells.
What to do
Sauna and swim
Stretching out over the chilly waters of the Öresund, the beautifully symmetrical Ridersborgs Kallbadhus has a distinctly Wes Anderson look. Five saunas – two female, two male, one mixed – warm you up, while a bracing dip in the open sea cools you off. Take a deep breath and give the cold plunge a go – you’ll hate yourself for a moment, then thank yourself for the rest of the day. 75kr (£6); weekdays 10am-7pm (8pm Wednesday), weekends 9am-6pm.
Torture your taste buds
Upon entering the Disgusting Food Museum, you’re given a sick bag (your ticket) and a bingo card full of weird and wonderful dishes the venue dares you to try. But don’t let that put you off. The museum displays some of the world’s foulest food – Zimbabwean stink bugs, Mongolian sheep eyeball juice, British black pudding – but also gives a history of the changing perceptions of food. For example, lobster was once considered so foul it was fed to prisoners, so there’s hope for those stink bugs yet. Entry is 195kr (£15.50); Wednesday to Sunday 11am-5pm.
Dinosaurs in a castle
The red-bricked Malmöhus Castle is the oldest preserved Renaissance castle in Scandinavia, but that’s only part of the appeal. The moat-wrapped Castle Island it sits on is home to a range of attractions – chief amongst them the Malmö Art Museum, which champions Nordic contemporary art in its permanent collection, alongside pieces from Scandinavia and beyond dating back 500 years. Families will also enjoy the site’s dinosaur centre, with models and fossils of prehistoric creatures from the region, and aquarium. Visits cost 40kr (£3) which covers all attractions; daily except Monday 11am-5pm (late opening until 7pm Thursday).
Where to stay
In the heart of the central Gamla Staden (old town) district, MJ’s is slap bang in the middle of the action. They love a flamingo here, and the pink theme – with shades of green – runs throughout the hotel. There’s a sense of decadence and a Gatsby vibe, with black-and-gold bathroom fittings and champagne in the minibar. After dark the lobby area becomes a popular bar. Doubles from £94, B&B; mjs.life
Messy green lettering on the wall tells you you’ve found the environmentally conscious Ohboy Hotel, which offers neat, functional rooms in the Västra Hamnen (Western Harbour) district. The plant-heavy façade is designed to attract butterflies and bees, and is watered by rain collected from the roof. Each room comes with its own fold-up bike, perfect for exploring the city’s 490km of cycle paths. Doubles from £109, room only. ohboy.se/en
A one-minute walk from the station, Moment Hotel subscribes to an ethos of “lean living”, with smaller rooms and stripped-back amenities. The look is minimalist, with bright natural colours. It’s a place to crash – a base for exploring, not somewhere to hang out – but a stylish, affordable and well-located one. Doubles from £80, B&B. momenthotels.com/en
Where to eat
You’ll need to book ahead to get a table at Aster in Malmö’s rapidly regenerating docks, formerly home to busy shipyards. Inside this high-ceilinged, factory-style setting, everything’s cooked on the flame – grilled octopus, grilled lamb, grilled pollock – and accompanied with vegetables and herbs grown at their own farm just outside the city. Tuesday to Thursday 5pm-12am, Friday to Saturday 4pm-1am.
Ruth’s starts the day serving pastries and delicious breakfast bowls – rice pudding with pomegranate and almond shavings, Turkish fried eggs – and ends with an ever-changing dinner menu. It’s not exactly tapas, but they recommend that you take two or three dishes per person. You don’t have to ask us twice. 9am-10.30pm daily.
Browse, dither and sniff out whatever you fancy at Saluhall, a popular food hall in a smartly repurposed warehouse, with units selling pizza, noodles, burgers and curries. When you’ve finished eating food, buy more to take home from one of the deli counters. Weekdays 11am-8pm (9pm Friday), weekends 11am-5pm.
Where to drink
Enjoy the highest cocktail you’ll get in Malmö at the Sky Bar, with unrivalled views over the city’s streets, squares, canals and docks. The barmen here do classic and contemporary mixes, sipped under low lighting – the rum-heavy Queen’s Park Swizzle is a favourite. Sunday-Thursday 5pm-12am, Friday 4pm-1am, Saturday 11.30am-1am.
In the city’s Västra Hamnen (Western Harbour), Bar Italia has the seasons covered. Smooth hot chocolate for when there’s a chill in the air and a wide gelato cabinet with some unexpected flavours (whisky!) for sunnier days. Takeaway’s the play here, cup or cone in hand to wander the waterfront boardwalk. Daily 11am-8pm, extended to 10pm Saturday and 9pm Sunday.
Where to shop
Wander 20 minutes south of Gamla Staden and you’ll find Mitt Möllan, a once-tired shopping centre turned creative arcade hub. There’s an eclectic mix of unique stores here: Möllans Te (a Chinese store selling tea and plastic toy dinosaurs), La Kasbah (Moroccan ceramics and lamps), Beyond Retro (vintage clothing) and more. In other units, artists get to work behind glass fronts, and there’s a buzzing central food hall with cheap global options. Monday to Thursday 11am-8pm, Friday 11am-9pm, Saturday 11am-7pm (individual store times vary).
Designed by Santiago Calatrava and completed in 2005, the Turning Torso, corkscrewing upwards from the ground in Västra Hamnen, is Scandinavia’s tallest building. Looking like a warped cheesegrater, the Torso is 54 twisting floors of residential space and meeting rooms in the middle of Malmo’s greenest neighbourhood.
Nuts and bolts
What currency do I need?
What language do they speak?
Swedish, though English is widely spoken.
Should I tip?
10 per cent in restaurants.
What’s the time difference?
One hour ahead of GMT.
How should I get around?
Green (in every sense) buses run throughout the city. Tap on using your bank card; 28kr (£2) for a single ticket, double that for a 24-hour pass. Most places of interest can easily be reached on foot, or hire a bike from Travel Shop for 200kr (£16) per day.
What’s the best view?
Sitting on the boardwalk of Västra Hamnen as the sun sets over Denmark, with the Öresundbron (“The Bridge” of Scandi-noir TV fame) silhouetted against the day’s last light.
Almost everywhere’s cashless, so don’t load up on a pile of banknotes from the ATM.
Trying to fly less?
A new sleeper train route between Hamburg and Stockholm puts Malmö within 24-hour range of London, provided you grab an early Eurostar to Brussels and onward connection to Hamburg. If arriving into Malmö at 3.52am doesn’t appeal, day trains can get you there via Brussels, Hamburg and Copenhagen. Factor in a night in Belgium or Germany on the way if not taking the sleeper.
Fine with flying?
There are no direct flights from the UK to Malmö’s own airport; the nearest international airport with good UK links is Copenhagen, 35 minutes’ journey across a sea bridge.