Sweden’s east coast, bordering the Gulf of Bothnia (Bottenhavet), forms a corridor of land that is quite unlike the rest of the north of the country; the forest, so apparent in other parts of the north, has been felled here to make room for settlements. Although the entire coastline is dotted with towns and villages that reveal a faded history – some, like Gävle and Hudiksvall, still have their share of old wooden houses, though sadly much was lost during the Russian incursions of the eighteenth century – it is cities like Sundsvall, Umeå and Luleå that are more typical of the region: modern, bright and airy metropolises that rank as some of northern Sweden’s liveliest and most likeable destinations.
All along the coast you’ll find traces of the religious fervour that swept the north in centuries past; Skellefteå and particularly Luleå (included on the UNESCO World Heritage List) both boast excellently preserved kyrkstäder or church towns – clusters of old wooden cottages dating from the early eighteenth century, where villagers from outlying districts would spend the night after making the lengthy journey to church in the nearest town. Working your way up the coast, perhaps on the long train ride to Swedish Lapland, it’s worth breaking your trip at one or two of these places.
The highlight of the Bothnian coast is undoubtedly the stretch known as the Höga Kusten, or the High Coast, north of Härnösand: for peace and quiet, this is easily the most idyllic part of the Swedish east coast. Its indented coastline is best seen from the sea, with shimmering fjords that reach deep inland, tall cliffs and a string of pine-clad islands that make it possible to island-hop up this section of coast. The weather here may not be as reliable as further south, but you’re guaranteed clean beaches (which you’ll often have to yourself), crystal-clear waters and some of the finest countryside for walking.