Forget Denmark and head across to Malmö, where you will be served moose steak with a side of Scandinavian history. But much more than that, the city is also a living testament to Sweden's maxim of balance — or 'lagom.'
If you're visiting Malmö in Sweden, you're most likely to fly there by briefly visiting another country first — Denmark. With Malmö being located just 25 kilometers (15 miles) east of Copenhagen's Kastrup International Airport, the Swedish city is actually closer to the Danish capital than some of its own suburbs. Some even think of Malmö as an extension of Copenhagen, as they straddle both cities daily.
As you cross the 8-kilometer-long (5 miles) two-level Öresund Bridge from Denmark to Sweden, you might feel that you're heading into nowhere while crossing the Öresund — the body of water that links the North Sea with the Baltic Sea. The calm of the sea on either side will take over your sensations, as the high velocity of the train wagon or your car sways you into a somewhat subconscious vacation mode.
But before you know it, there are a number of industrial sites that come into vision on the Swedish shore as you inch forward toward Malmö on the Öresund Bridge.
Due to its convenient location at the southern tip of Sweden and its access to sea routes across northern Europe, it made sense in the 19th century to base the bulk of Sweden's heavy industry here.
The remnants of that industrial revolution are in plain sight once you reach the Swedish side of the Öresund: shipyards and cranes move into vision, erstwhile workers' tenements fill the view in the suburbs.
Even the contemporary architecture has a decidedly industrial style. The local Emporia shopping mall, which greets visitors as one of the first sights as you enter the city from the Öresund Bridge, reflects an industrial theme featuring its bent glass-and-steel facade that is reminiscent of industrial practices like melting iron in blast furnaces.
In fact, the term "rust belt" could almost come to mind at first sight, making Malmö an unlikely tourist attraction if you were to judge it solely on the merit of these first impressions.
But that would amount to major disservice to Sweden's third-largest city, which for many years has had to play second fiddle to Denmark's tourist magnet and cultural hub of Copenhagen. To truly understand Malmö, you have dive deep into its soul and learn a thing or two about the Swedish way of life.
The capital of 'lagom'
The image of a post-industrial city forgotten and abandoned in the shadow of Copenhagen is changing, as Malmö is fiercely cultivating its own distinct identity, attracting young people not only because of its large university and cheap living standards but also because of its cosmopolitan nature. A comparatively high migrant population has resulted in Malmö developing a decidedly international feel over the past years. But despite its moderate size, there is something remarkably slow and laid-back about Malmö that reflects something crucial about the Swedish spirit.
With this culture of "chill," Malmö is becoming the epitome of "lagom" — the Swedish principle of moderation and balance, which these days is all the rage in lifestyle magazines and blogs. "Lagom" has become a challenger to the Danish concept of "hygge," which dominated Western interior design in recent years. If Danish "hygge" reflects design ideas for comfort and coziness against the backdrop of long winters and cold nights, the Swedish idea of "lagom" entails similar values, but coming from within. You can imagine it as a Swedish brand of zen.
If being easy-going and mindful at all times and with all things was a philosophy, it would probably be called "lagom."
A royal welcome
First off, a disclaimer: If you're after big city lights and a booming night life, you might in fact be better off on the other side of the Öresund Bridge. However, in Malmö you get to explore the Scandinavian way of life with all its facets, tastes, colors — and "lagom."
Most of the tourist attractions center on the old town of Malmö, which actually is an island surrounded by canals, setting the heart of the town apart from its environs.
At Stortorget, Malmö's oldest square dating back to the mid-16th century, you will meet King Karl X Gustav — or rather his statue. This royal conquered various parts of Denmark and incorporated them into the Swedish Empire in the mid-17th century. Could this perhaps be the reason why Copenhageners like to underplay Malmö's charms, still holding a grudge against the erstwhile conquerors?
Surrounded by a number of colorful historic buildings, you will find yourself pondering such questions as you explore Stortorget, discovering that this place also plays an important role in the more contemporary brand of history: The peaceful square is also home to Malmö's town hall as well as to parts of the provincial government of Skane län — or Scania County.
Around a corner lies the next square that is part of any visitor's itinerary: Lilla torg. This is the city's gastronomic hub, with roughly a dozen restaurants and cafés welcoming tourists and locals to enjoy a lazy afternoon. With heaters and blankets you can lunch and munch al fresco throughout the year, though the shorter sunlight hours in winter might limit the amount of time you actually want to spend outdoors. Whatever you do, let your inner "lagom" guide you as you seek the perfect balance of all things.
At one of the eateries here, the Moosehead, you can even sample a couple of dishes featuring — you guessed it — moose, even though this is not the most typical Swedish food item you could imagine. In fact, reindeer is a far more common delicacy in Sweden, which makes you wonder whether the Christmas story of Rudolph ever managed to catch on here.
And speaking of Christmas, if you wish to experience a proper Swedish smorgasbord with lots of pickled fish and other highlights from this Scandinavian cuisine, you might want to come in December, as such elaborate feasts are indeed reserved for the holiday season, which is why they are also known by another term: julbord, acknowledging the Nordic pagan roots of Christmas known as jul or Yuletide in English.
In Malmö, one of the best places to dive into a julbord is the Radhauskällaren restaurant, which is located in the basement of the aforementioned city hall. This is where your quest for "lagom" will quickly turn into in "lanom nom nom."
To burn off all those calories, you may want to walk up and down Södra Förstadsgatan, the difficult-to-pronounce shopping mile that cuts through the middle of town. But it's not all about retail therapy here. At the nearby Form/Design Center inside the Hedmanska Garden courtyard you can get an education about modern design and architecture, and learn how these easy-going Swedes use design to tackle some contemporary environmental challenges.
If you're interested in contemporary design head to the Form/Design Center inside the Hedmanska Garden courtyard
In fact, where else would you want to learn more about design than in the country that brought us the chain furniture store IKEA, which coincidentally has one of its main head offices in Malmö. But it's not just this international conglomerate that puts a design stamp on Malmö; as you make your way through town you will notice a high concentration of furniture and design stores.
Furthermore, some of the architecture in town is also cutting-edge; in the past 15 years, the city has focused on adding some unique structures to its skyline, some of which can be seen from afar. Take, for instance, the Turning Torso, a skyscraper in the north of the city that was opened in 2005. With 54 stories and 190 meters high (620 feet), the award-winning tower is the tallest building in all of Scandinavia. The fact that it isn't an office building but residential space says everything about the Swedish: You can literally reach for the sky and still let the facts speak for themselves while resting confidently in your inner "lagom."
History lessons in a castle
Those looking for a more timeless style in architecture might want to head to Malmö Castle, or Malmöhus Slott, parts of which date back to the 15th century, where you'll meet statues of historic leaders like King Christian III of Denmark and Eric of Pomerania.
You could spend an entire day at the Malmöhus Slott and still not feel caught up on Scandinavian history
But there's also a link to Mary, Queen of Scots, whose third husband, James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, was imprisoned here in the 16th century.
And if kings and queens, design and architecture, cuisine and shopping aren't enough for you, you can just use Malmö as a convenient base to explore the rest Scandinavia, with Denmark a mere half hour away, the Swedish capital Stockholm just over four hours on the train, and Norway's capital Oslo six.
Discovering your inner Viking has never been this easy. But remember your "lagom" mantra: all good things in moderation.