Kosterhavet National Park
Kosterhavet is a marine national park covering the Koster Islands and their archipelago just off the west coast of Sweden. It’s a very popular destination during the summer and thousands of people come here every year, primarily Swedes and Norwegians, to enjoy the quaint and slow-paced life on the islands.
The area (which is actually the westernmost part of Sweden) is frequently visited by boat owners who has the advantage of exploring the beautiful archipelago as they please. But the Koster Islands are also easily reachable by passenger ferries from the city of Strömstad on the mainland. The trip takes between 30-50 minutes and it’s an excellent way to spend the day swimming, hiking or just relaxing in the idyllic marine environment.
The ferries are operating all year-round, but summertime is undoubtedly the most popular (and according to some, the best time) to visit. During the winter, the islands will surely offer some stunning white views but you will have much fewer options when it comes to drinking, dining and unwinding in the summer sun. But of course – it’s all a matter of taste.
(The Koster archipelago, photo by: Nyman)
About the Islands
The island group called Koster is primarily comprised of two islands: north and south Koster. They are only about 60 meters apart, and a small cable ferry will take you across the strait if you wish to visit them both.
It quickly becomes very clear why Kosterhavet is worth preserving with a national park status. It is a quite unique natural environment indeed – and below the ocean surface, the waters are teeming with life and rich vegetation (seaweeds, coral, seals, mackerel and lobster – you name it). The Koster waters has one of the most diverse and sprawling flora and fauna in Sweden, and is currently home to more than 6.000 different animal species and algea.
The coastal terrain above the surface is just as exuberant, with roughly the same amount of wildlife diversity as the maritime. That makes an impressive 12.000 species in total, on (and around) an island area of roughly 12 square kilometers (or 3000 acres). In comparison, there’s only 300 people that are permanent residents of the Koster islands.
(The Koster islands in the summer)
Things to do on the Koster Islands
Koster is all about relaxing, taking it easy and enjoying the surroundings. On a nice day, Koster is a perfect spot for swimming and enjoying the sun. The archepelagic landscape features both secluded, sunwarm cliffs as well as small, cozy beaches between them, and you will definitely have no trouble finding suitable locations for all ages. Most beaches are quite shallow, which may be preferable when visiting with smaller children.
If you feel like getting around a bit, renting a bike is a great way of seeing more of the islands, or joining a guided tour (for about 200 SEK) if you want to learn more about the uniqe wildlife and the history of the islands.
You can also explore the islands from the waterfront. For example by renting a kayak and work your way through the archipelago yourself, or by joining a seal safari tour for a chance to check out some of Kosterhavet’s true inhabitants.
In the evenings, or when the swimming temperature is not as forgiving, a perfect way of spending your time on the islands is by simply taking a stroll and stopping by the small, local shops, bars and restaurants (there are not too many of them but their picturesque ambience surely make up for it). The primary cuisine is of course fresh fish and seafood, straight from the ocean around Kosterhavet, and it’s definitely something you shouldn’t miss when visiting.
For those who are interested, the Koster Islands hosts many painting studios and art workshops that are open for curious visitors. The serene landscape of Kosterhavet has proven to be a notable location for creativity over the years, and many artists have spent time on the islands in search of fruitful inspiration. You’ll find everything from traditional paintings and sculptures to artworks in glass, ceramics or even wool and cloth.
Strömstad (the city closest to the islands on the Swedish mainland coast) started to emerge as a fishing site in the late 18th century. During that time, the blue waters of Skagerak were very rich with herring and the city was quickly growing into one of the main fishing hubs of western Sweden, nourished by the emerging, modern fishing industry. In the prosperous years to come, Strömstad went on to become a popular leisure resort for Swedes and was frequently visited by the high society.
Today, people from all over Sweden and Norway come here during the summer for a perfect mix of recreation and relaxation in the beautiful seaside environment. The fishing activities that started decades ago are still going on in the area around Strömstad – you’ll find lots of seafood restaurant, fish markets and smokeries, both in Strömstad and out on the Koster Islands where you can enjoy the fresh, locally caught, delicacies.
Strömstad and Kosterhavet are located on the scenic west coast of Sweden, and it’s a great location if you want to experience the Swedish archipelago (two other very nice locations are the Stockholm archipelago or The High Coast of Sweden). In fact, the entire western coastline from the city of Malmö all the way up to the Norwegian border is a fantastic route, full of beautiful “summer” towns and villages such as Falkenberg, Båstad and Halmstad. These holiday hot-spots holds some of the best and most frequently visited beaches in Sweden.
(The marina in Strömstad)
Accommodation on Koster
The accommodation alternatives on The Koster Islands are not all too many but they do offer a hotel; the beautiful Hotel Koster, located in the middle of the archipelago on the southern Koster Island. The building was completed back in 1905 and is itself an exciting part of the island’s history.
From June 1st 2016 – there’s a brand new hotel on southern Koster called Kostergården (roughly translated to The Koster Homestead), that in addition to regular rooms also offer seafront cottages. It’s a good option if you’re looking for a peaceful, rural stay, yet modern with all you usual amenities.
Beside the hotels, there is also a camping site, a few cottages and guest houses available for people looking to spend the night on the island, but they’re more difficult to book and suitable vacancy is more scarce. Keep in mind that you can’t take your vehicle out on the islands so try to not bring too much luggage.
There are more lodging alternatives on the mainland in Strömstad (and the surrounding area), including hotels, spa & resorts, hostels, rentable cabins and houses. Laholmen Hotel is a good alternative very close to the harbor and the Koster ferries, or the Quality Resort & Spa for a very comfortable stay by the marina in the north part of Strömstad.
(Affordable hostels for as low as 150 – 200 SEK/night, as well as more flexible availability, is easily found in the city of Gothenburg, which is about 1.5 – 2 hour drive south of Strömstad along the coast.)
(View of a small harbour on one of the islands)
How to get to the Koster Islands?
The city of Strömstad is located along the E6 highway very close to the Norwegian border. From the harbor near the city-center, passenger ferries will take you out to the Koster Islands in about 30 – 50 minutes. If you have trouble finding a parking space, free busses will take you in to the ferry from the larger parking lots just outside the city.
You’ll find timetables and more information about the ferries at the Koster Marine website.
If you seek more flexibility there are also boat taxis operating between Strömstad and the islands, but they are of course a more expensive option.
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