“Dreams can be of value even if you don’t have an opportunity to turn them into reality.”
Henning Mankell, The Troubled Man
The Øresund Bridge loops across a steely strait straddling the Baltic and North Seas. On one side, Copenhagen and Denmark, the world’s happiest nation, hygge (‘cosy’) cafes serving excellent coffee, top Scandi drama ‘The Killing’ and ‘Borgen’, knitted jumpers and understated style. On the other, Malmö and Sweden, land of Abba, IKEA, leather trousers, Volvo, Pippi Longstocking and minimalist design.
Our trip had been inspired by the gripping TV crime series, ‘The Bridge’, in which top cop Saga Norén, emotionally challenged but unsurpassably driven in the pursuit of justice, drives back and forth across said bridge with her Danish counterpart, solving dark and violent crimes. There is even a tour based on the programme, described as ‘the ultimate fiction tourism experience for all who love The Bridge and the special, atmospheric vibe of Scandinavian crime drama’. Unfortunately we missed it, but our own tour of the city, wind-scoured on a bleakly cold April Sunday, took in a few desolate areas down by the docks that could easily have been part of the film set.
Central Malmö is medieval, chocolate-box pretty. Cobbled streets lead to thirteenth-century squares trimmed with tilting buildings and strewn with outdoor cafes (optimistic in the biting winds). We stayed right in the heart of things, in the comfortable Hotel Master Johan with its light, bright atrium and feasted Saturday night away a few doors down, at the hip but friendly, unusually-named restaurant, Bastard. The next day, having sought out some half-decent coffee at Lilla Kafferosteriet – surprisingly, lots of places in the city still seem wedded to grungy black filter coffee: I don’t know how the characters in the Scandi shows manage to drink so much of it! – we ventured out of the cute centre to seek out the famous Turning Torso building. Designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, it is 190m high, 54 stories high, and incorporates a 90° degree twist.
We’d already seen another side to the city as we passed through suburbs of boxy high-rise apartments on our journey from the end of The Bridge. Our route to the twisting construction took us past building sites and derelict land towards the northern edge of the centre. A cloudy sky pressed down on us, the wind chilled us through our ill-prepared spring layers and the streets were almost deserted, propelling us past occasional patches of urban scrapland where it was easy to imagine a dramatic crime scene played out. Approaching the Turning Torso, it was impossible not to be impressed by its audacious twists, its metallic feints and glassy dodges, poised and proud like an architectural boxer. With gusts of air whistling round its edges, it was also impossible not to shiver. We took refuge in the supermarket café in the Torso’s base, before retracing our steps to the centre in a bitter cold trudge.
With its grand buildings along the river, the shiny new Malmö Live cultural complex, the quaint old town and the bars and cafes adorning the squares, Malmö is an attractive city, which would feel more welcoming in gentler weather. Back in Copenhagen, we’d been equally cold. Both cities were unexpectedly chilly – we’d hoped for a mild spring break – but somehow Copenhagen gave us a warmer welcome. Maybe that’s not surprising in a country that puts such a premium on all things hygge (which can be defined enticingly as ‘the absence of anything annoying or emotionally overwhelming; taking pleasure from the presence of gentle, soothing things’). But it’s too harsh to judge a country on one brief visit, so I may have to go back to Sweden. Especially as I didn’t buy any leather trousers this time!
If you liked this, you might also like …
- My overview blog post about my 100 countries project
- My first country post on Austria: Ski disasters and the Sound of Music
- My second country post on Mexico: Surrealism, skeletons and pyramids
- My post on one of my previous visits to Copenhagen: Copenhagen in the rain
- For facts, figures and some stunning photos of Øresund Bridge
- This lovely article on all things hygge by Helen Russell
- This cool guide to a short stay in Copenhagen from 12 HRS
Cultural highlights: The Bridge tour of Malmö (note we didn’t actually do this); the Turning Torso building. In Copenhagen, stroll in canalside Nyhavn, touristy but irresistibly pretty; climb to the top of the Rundetaarn (or Round Tower) for great views over the city centre; if you’re a fan of ‘Borgen’, visit the Danish Parliament building, Folketing.
Food & drink highlights: Host in Copenhagen and Bastard inMalmö. Both are trendy but cosy restaurants and serve exciting signature menus if you’re prepared to surrender to the chef’s imagination, as well as a la carte choices if you’re not. Both are also deservedly popular, so best to book ahead if you can, although Bastard managed to find us a table on a night they’d told us in advance was fully booked. And the Torvehallerne food market is just luscious.
Places to stay: In Malmö, the Hotel Master Johan is stylish, central, comfortable and has a great breakfast (apart from the horrible coffee!) served in its beautiful light-filled atrium. In Copenhagen, I loved the design-conscious Hotel Alexandra, a small boutique hotel a stone’s throw from the Tivoli Gardens and styled in vintage 1950s and 1960s décor.