Guide to the Swedish capital of coffee and cakes
The Swedish tradition of fika, or coffee and cakes, is booming. The concept of "Swedish fika" is now recognised internationally and people at home are baking like there’s no tomorrow. If you want to experience Swedish fika at its best, you should really head for Alingsås in West Sweden.
The café town of Alingsås, the Swedish coffee-and-cake capital or quite simply the Capital of Fika. A much-loved child has many names, as the Swedish saying goes, and Alingsås is no exception. With a fine tradition of coffee and cakes and around thirty cafés in a relatively small town centre, the saying fits.
There’s a guide below to the most awesome cafés in Alingsås, but first let’s talk about how this town reinvented itself into a café town extraordinaire after the demise of its textile industry.
Our baking history started in 1733, when Anders Sundgren of Alingsås was awarded one of the country's first baker’s licences by the Swedish king. But we have to go back a few more years to understand why this took place in Alingsås .
Despite its small size, Alingsås had managed to distinguish itself as one of Sweden’s leading industrial cities at that time. In the vanguard of this development was one of the town’s pioneers, Jonas Alströmer, who founded Alingsås Manufakturverk. He is perhaps best known among Swedes for bringing the potato to Sweden. The industrial boom in the area, largely based on the textile industry, meant that more and more women were employed. The baking industry started because many women were not able to bake at home as often as before, and for many people, bread was the mainstay of their daily diet.
Accommodation in Alingsås was extremely overcrowded at the time, and families often lodged working relatives and friends. Things got very crowded around the breakfast tables, so cafés started up to fill the demand for food and space. The concept of workers’ cafés and the culture of coffee and cakes was born.
Discover the picturesque town
Alingsås is now a lovely wooden town in which many of the buildings from the 19th century have been preserved. Stroll around the cobbled streets and along the river Lillån that runs through the centre, discovering charming courtyards with friendly cafés as you go. If you visit the town during the autumn you’ll have the opportunity of seeing Lights in Alingsås, an event where world-leading light designers illuminate public places with colourful light installations. It is easy to get here on intercity trains from Stockholm and regional or commuter trains from Gothenburg.
Photographer: Hanna Ahlström
But that’s enough about what a lovely town Alingsås is - here’s a list of the city's three most popular cafés
Ekstedts Bageri & Café
The stylish metal plaque above tells us something of the café’s history and traditions. Ekstedts has supplied the locals with fresh-baked bread and sweet pastries since 1886. The coffee is roasted in Alingsås and the range of cakes is a perfect example of Swedish baking tradition. There are pastries, buns, cakes and shortbread galore, not to mention the delicious combination of airy and creamy in the Budapest pastry. The interior of the café is a bit of a squash and a squeeze, but in an entirely pleasant way. The outdoor terrace is more spacious, and during the Lights in Alingsås it is transformed into the town’s most atmospheric courtyard.
Photographer: Jonas Ingman @ Bruksbild
Nolbygårdens Ekobageri & Café
Nolbygård is on the outskirts of Alingsås, where the baker really infuses the place with ecology and recycling. Country loaves, cardamom buns, sponge cake topped with flaked almonds and toffee glazing, wonderful cakes of almond paste topped with icing, classic home-made shortbread made with butter and sifted spelt flour. The 1900’s building feels very welcoming with its floral wallpaper, tiled stove and traditional furniture. The founder was also a train fan, so you can pack your hamper and sit in a charming rail bus that is parked in the garden. It will probably go down very well with small children!
Nygrens is the place to meet, whether you’re having afternoon tea with your best friend or if you are colleagues looking for a change of scene; or a long session of cakes with your grandchildren after a Sunday buffet. The interior décor walks the line very elegantly between antique and modern. Well-used stick back chairs and natural brick walls mix with velvet sofas and crystal chandeliers. The range of pastries is wide with many typically Swedish-American varieties: sticky-bun cake, cookies and berry pies as well as savoury sandwiches made from the café’s own, freshly-baked bread. Outside is one of the oldest courtyards in Alingsås, perfect for enjoying your coffee and cake.
Photographer: Jonas Ingman
As well as these three cafés, which are all included in the White Guide’s list of Sweden's best, there are many other lovely places to taste coffee and cakes in the Capital of Fika!
Are you curious about the Swedish fika culture?
Every Saturday at 10.30 from May to October there is a guided coffee and cake tour of Alingsås. A knowledgeable guide will tell you all about the history of Swedish fika in Alingsås and rest of the country, in Swedish or English. Naturally, you’ll stop at some of the best cafés and end the tour with a superb green marzipan princess cake!