The following is a guest post by Derek Hartman and Mike Walsh, a couple from Philadelphia who have been living abroad in Copenhagen Denmark since 2017. They have been to over 40 countries combined and love sharing their travel experiences as much as they love visiting new destinations. Their move to Europe was even documented on the American television show, House Hunters International. Derek and Mike started their travel blog, Robe Trotting, to cover their life abroad as world travellers and started a destination website on their new hometown called Everything Copenhagen.
One of the fun parts of travelling is getting to wander into the daily life of your destination. Malmö, Sweden may not have the international reputation of Stockholm, but it’s a hidden gem in the south of Sweden that you just can’t skip. From Copenhagen, its Danish sister across the Öresund, Malmö is easily reached by train, bus or car and it even has a small airport of its own. That makes it perfect to visit for a two-day immersion into Swedish life and here’s what to do in Malmo to make it happen!
What is Malmö?
Malmö is the third-largest city in Sweden, with a city population of 338,000 people and a metro area of over 700,000. A former industrial powerhouse in shipbuilding and construction, Malmö fell on hard times but is in the midst of a revival. New residents from elsewhere in Sweden and abroad have been attracted to the cheaper rents and close proximity to Copenhagen, infusing new cultures to the city and creating a modern feel to a medieval city.
Malmö has a small city centre known as Gamla Staden, ringed by a canal. Most of the key attractions are around this area, including Stortorget (the main square near the city hall), Malmö Castle, and its surrounding Slottsträdgården park.
Just north of the city centre is Västra Hamnen, which is surrounded by Malmö Harbor and the Öresund strait, and contains the famous Turning Torso (the tallest building in Scandinavia).
How to Get to Malmö
Malmö Centralstation is the main train station and is located conveniently in the city centre. Malmö can easily be reached by train from other Swedish cities like Gothenburg (3 hours) and Stockholm (4 hours 30 minutes). It can also easily be reached from Copenhagen Airport in 25 minutes (Copenhagen city centre is about 40 minutes away on the same train line).
The Copenhagen to Malmo day trip is popular for visitors to Denmark, but to truly experience Swedish culture, you have to spend some real time in Malmö and two days is ideal.
Where to Stay in Malmö
For more luxurious accommodations, MJ’s Malmo is a 4.5-star boutique hotel in the centre of the city and offers a glass roof courtyard.
There is also the Hotel Garden, a 4-star hotel in the city centre that offers a roof-top garden.
Closer to the train station is Moment Hotels, a 3-star bargain hotel that still offers a great location and a taste of Swedish minimalism.
Solo and budget travellers may prefer to stay in a hostel, and the STF Malmö City Hotell & Vandrarhem is known as one of the best in the area. It is located just south of the city centre (about a 20-minute walk from Centralstation).
And for a more immersive experience, the Möllevången neighbourhood is your best choice. This is a former working-class neighbourhood that has become the centre of “hip” Malmö. There are many choices on AirBnB here, and you can sample the various restaurants, cafes, and shops in the area.
What To Do in Malmö – Day 1
A Canal Tour
There are so many things to do in Malmö but the best way to start is with a canal tour. Stromma Canal Tours start just two blocks from Centralstation and offer a 50-minute live-guided introduction to Malmö. The tour will take you into Malmö Harbor, then on the canal that rings the Gamla Staden. You will get great views of Turning Torso, Malmö Castle, Kungsparken, and will be able to orient yourself for further exploration. Note that tours only run from April to September.
Malmö Saluhall Food Market
Depending on your schedule, you will want to eat before or after your tour. We recommend walking over to the Malmö Saluhall, which is a covered food market about a 10-minute walk from the dock. Inside there are a number of vendors that offer groceries like meat, fish and cheese, as well as food stands and restaurants. Since it is early in the day, check out St. Jakobs Stenugnsbageri for some delicious baked goods and sweets. For a larger meal, you can find falafel, pasta, noodles and many other cuisines.
From here it is only a 10-minute walk to Malmöhus Castle, which today contains several excellent museums. The castle itself dates back to 1434 and was built by the Danes, as for many centuries what is now modern Sweden was part of Denmark. The castle was a key fortress asserting Danish control over Malmö and the surrounding territory called Skåne.
In the 17th century, Sweden defeated Denmark in a series of wars and claimed this region, and over time the castle became less important, eventually became a prison, and fell into disrepair. In the 1930’s it was restored to its Renaissance glory, and the museums began to open.
Today it contains an art museum, natural history museum, and a nice aquarium. Depending on your interest level, you could visit for a couple of hours or stay for much of an afternoon.
Kungsparken or Slottsparken
Surrounding the castle and the nearby canal are two parks, Kungsparken and Slottsparken. Slottsparken is immediately surrounding the castle and extends along the banks of the canal opposite Gamla Staden, while Kungsparken is across the canal in Gamla Staden.
Either park is a great opportunity to relax, stroll and picnic, as both are designed in the style of early 1900’s public gardens with plenty of paths, trees, and interesting views. Slottsparken, in particular, has a water theme, with two ponds and a fountain.
On a nice day, you can live like a local and stop by a grocery store for some snacks to enjoy as a picnic.
As the afternoon turns to evening, wander back into Gamla Staden to enjoy some of the oldest parts of Malmö. Stortorget is the centre of the city, with great backdrops for Instagram. This is the old market square of the city, and today it is ringed by Malmö City Hall and its beautiful Dutch Renaissance façade, among other historic buildings.
Stortorget is a symbol of Swedish victory over the Danes to claim Malmö and surrounding Skåne. At the centre is an equestrian statue of King Carl X Gustav, who ruled Sweden when Denmark was defeated.
But don’t feel you have to linger here, as just around the corner is a favourite spot in Malmö, Lilla Torv. Lilla Torv was built when Malmö grew too large for a single market, and today it retains its 16th-century charm. The market square is ringed with bars and restaurants with ample outdoor seating and is a great spot for people-watching and a pint.
To close your first day, enjoy dinner at Bastard, one of the favourite restaurants of not just tourists but also locals. Located within Gamla Staden, Bastard offers nose-to-tail modern interpretations of traditional Scandinavian cuisine. The restaurant has an “industrial hipster” décor that is true to both Malmö’s history and present renaissance. Be sure to make reservations, as this is a popular spot especially during the tourist season in the summer.
What do to in Malmö – Day 2
While your first day in Malmö focused on the central highlights of the city, day two will take you more into “real” Malmö and get a sense of daily life.
Enjoy the local parks
Runners have two great options to start Day 2 in Malmö. If you are staying in the neighbourhoods south of Gamla Stan, head to Pildammsparken. The park surrounds a large reservoir that was built in the 17th century to provide drinking water to the city. There is a 1.5-kilometre path that rings the park that is very popular and will give you an opportunity to exercise with the locals.
If you are staying in Gamla Staden or Västra Hamnen, then you can run along the Øresund in Ribersborgsstranden. This park runs along the shoreline and includes a number of paths for walking, biking and running.
Visit a sauna
Whether you exercised or not, a great way to start the day is with a trip to the sauna. Also in Ribersborgsstranden is Ribersborgs Kallbadhus, a bathhouse on the end of a pier into the Øresund. This dates back to end of the 19th century and was restored in 2009. Here you can find a café and restaurant that gives great views of the sound, and a number of hot tubs and saunas where you can relax. Saunas are a major part of Scandinavian culture, and this is a great way to relax while experiencing local life!
For the rest of the day, we will experience the neighbourhood of Möllevången. Long a working-class neighbourhood, Möllevången is a symbol of the new multicultural Malmö, where falafel and smorgasbord sit side by side. From either Gamla Staden or Kallbadhus you can take the number 7 bus, or the train runs from Central Station to Station Triangeln on the western edge of the neighbourhood.
The heart of Möllevången is Möllevångstorget, the main market square. You can find vendors selling fruits and vegetables every day, and the square is ringed with small shops and cafes. Spreading throughout the neighbourhood are other shops and cafes, and you can spend hours just seeing daily life around you.
Treat yourself to a “fika”
While walking around the neighbourhood, this is the perfect time to treat yourself to a “fika”. Swedes take their coffee breaks quite seriously, and a true “fika” means that you take yourself out of the real world and indulge in good coffee and a small snack. You can fika with friends or you can fika alone, but it is important that you give yourself a fika today!
There are a number of great cafes and coffee shops around Möllevången, but some good recommendations include Martin’s Kontordi & Café with its delicious cakes and retro décor, and Kaffebaren på Möllan, a simple but wonderful coffee shop to watch life pass by.
While in Möllevången be sure to check out Folkets Park, a smorgasbord of entertainment with rides, food, a small zoo, and a flea market. The park was founded in the late 1800s as a “people’s park”, it was renovated in the 1990s as the neighbourhood came back to life, and today is a cultural centre for Malmö locals.
Inside is also a great outdoor café and beer garden called Far i Hatten and is worth checking out for a beer and some good people watching.
Malmö offers a great insight into new Swedish culture, with a mix of tradition and modern influences from all over the globe. We hope you check it out! Skål!