Malmö As a Travel Destination (Malmö vs. Stockholm vs. Copenhagen)

As someone who has grown up in and lived in Malmö for the majority of my adult life, it’s easy to see why travelers (especially from the US) would enjoy a visit to the city — but it may not be so obvious for someone who has barely heard of the city, let alone lived here.

Malmö is often described as one of the Nordics’ most underrated cities, which is understandable considering its gritty, industrial past and fairly recent period of growth and transformation into a popular travel destination.

So in this article, I’ll attempt to illustrate why you should include Malmö in your travel plans, by looking at what makes the city stand out among other European cities, and by comparing it to the much bigger and popular Scandinavian cities Stockholm and Copenhagen (which also might be part of your trip).

ℹ️ For more specific tips, ideas, and inspiration on what to do in Malmö, I’ve written a complete guide to things to do in Malmö that is filled with recommendations and interesting info, from a local’s perspective.

What Makes Malmö Stand Out From Other Scandinavian Cities?

Malmö is the 5th biggest city in the Nordic region, and although it may be old (est. 1170), Malmö is one of Sweden’s youngest cities population-wise with an average age of 36.

It also has loads of cozy and tucked-away spots (most of which aren’t too busy), and is uniquely located just one bridge (yes, that would be The Bridge) or 25 minutes away from Copenhagen in Denmark — important factors behind why Malmö is sometimes referred to as the Brooklyn of Copenhagen (if you replace Manhattan with the Danish capital) and Little Berlin (due to its big sub-culture scene and similar architecture).

One thing that sets Malmö apart from other major Nordic cities (including the Danish capital) is that it can offer similar attractions and experiences, but it does not come with the same large crowds, noisy traffic, or high costs of the bigger cities.

In other words, it can be a nice change of pace to go to small and cozy Malmö, as part of your visit to the much busier Copenhagen across the sound.

Clockwise from the left: Malmö Live, Gamla väster, Malmö Castle. Photo: Karl Andersson

Malmö vs. Stockholm vs. Copenhagen – Big Survey Data

For those of you who are curious what the citizens of Malmö think about their city, and why they think Malmö is worth visiting, the European Commission conducted a massive survey to figure out how happy people are with life in their city. And if you ask the locals, Malmö has the best green spaces in Europe, is very quiet, has great public spaces, lots of retail shop availability, and very good cultural facilities.

I also wanted to compare Malmö to the two most popular Scandinavian cities for visitors (Stockholm and Copenhagen) to see how similarly they rank in quality of life indicators, as well as with the rest of the major European cities (rank in parenthesis):

Quality of Life SurveyHow the three cities compare in the European Commission Quality of Life survey published in 2020
Malmö
VS
Stockholm
VS
Copenhagen
I am satisfied with living in my cityTotal percentage who agree
95%
VS
97%
VS
98%
I feel safe walking alone at nightTotal percentage who agree
87%
VS
93%
VS
91%
Most people in the city can be trustedTotal percentage who agree
72%
VS
83%
VS
90%
Public Transport is affordableTotal percentage who agree
73%
VS
80%
VS
60%
People cycling on a typical dayTotal percentage
28%
VS
24%
VS
37%
Cultural facilities in the cityTotal percentage who are satisfied
94%
VS
89%
VS
84%
Green spaces in the cityTotal percentage who are satisfied
96%
VS
91%
VS
92%
Public spaces in the cityTotal percentage who are satisfied
90%
VS
86%
VS
80%
Air quality in the cityTotal percentage who are satisfied
82%
VS
78%
VS
66%
Noise level in the cityTotal percentage who are satisfied
86%
VS
77%
VS
69%
Cleanliness in the cityTotal percentage who are satisfied
68%
VS
71%
VS
71%
There is corruption in the city’s local administrationTotal percentage who agree
27%
VS
23%
VS
17%

Source: European Commission, 2020

According to the survey—with more than 58 000 respondents across 81 cities—Malmö ranks 1st in Europe when it comes to citizens’ satisfaction with green spaces; 2nd when it comes to noise level (meaning it’s Europe’s second most quiet city), 5th when it comes to markets, squares, and pedestrian areas; 4th when it comes to availability of retail shops (2015); and 8th when it comes to cultural facilities.

Långgårdsgatan, Gamla väster with Malmö Live in the background. Photo: Karl Andersson

From a Rocky Past to a Commerce Boom

There is a unique spirit of overcoming obstacles in Malmö, as the city has shown a phenomenal ability over its entire history to adapt and transform itself; starting as a simple Danish ferry berth for visitors of nearby Lund in the 12th century, and eventually becoming the booming hub of commerce and creativity it is today.

To illustrate this, at least seven new businesses are started each day, and at least 30 major companies have moved their headquarters to Malmö in the last decade (among them the international furniture giant IKEA).

This makes Malmö an exciting city these days, filled with a young population that is eager to innovate and create.

Malmö Castle / Malmöhus slott. Photo: Karl Andersson

Summary

Whether you go as part of your Copenhagen trip or of your bigger Scandinavian trip, Malmö is well worth the visit. You can easily fill a single—or multiple—days in the city with good food, great sights, fun activities, and interesting neighborhoods, especially as Malmö has been experiencing both a commerce and tourism boom for the past decades.

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Karl Andersson

As a native Swede with a Finnish mother, Karl identifies as both Nordic and Scandinavian. He left Sweden at 19 to explore the world, and stayed abroad for almost 8 years—during which he backpacked, worked every job there was, earned a degree from UC Berkeley, and met the future mother of his children. He ultimately returned to his native Malmö with his love, where they now have 3 Swedish-American boys eager to explore the world.

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