Every country and culture have their breaktime traditions, like Spain has the siesta or Britain has afternoon tea, to take a much-needed respite throughout the day. Sweden is no different. Except there’s a little something more to theirs than merely taking five.
In the simplest terms, the Swedish tradition of fika is a coffee break. But as one of the most common words you’ll hear on your travels to Sweden, you come to understand it goes deeper than stopping at a café for a cup of coffee and a pastry. Those are certainly the basics of the practice, but it’s also about a mentality of socializing and taking time to connect with friends and colleagues.
The people of Sweden partake in fika with coworkers in the middle of the workday or make it a longer outing with friends on a weekend. Fika is so ingrained into the Swedish culture, that some companies have it written into employment contracts as a dedication to holistic health and well-being. You can participate in fika for yourself when visiting the country, whether you make it an outdoor picnic with fellow travelers at a local park or pop into a coffee shop for a quick sit-down.
Fika has its origins in the Swedish word for coffee, kaffi. Coffee was introduced to Sweden in the 18th century, but its importation and consumption was banned from the country five times between the years of 1756 and 1817. To disguise their partaking in consuming the beverage, the citizens inverted the letters of kaffi, thus creating the tradition of fika. But today, it’s enjoyed out in the open with friends and colleagues alike. There is no need to hide it, as it’s no longer considered a threat to Swedish culture, as was the opinion voiced by botanist Carl Linnaeus in the 19th century.
When participating in your own fika, you have a choice of delectable Swedish treats. Considered the country’s national cake informally, the princess cake offers a light and airy option with vanilla pastry cream and dashes of whipped cream, topped with green marzipan and a pink marzipan rose. Other fika favorites include strawberry cake, kladdkaka (or sticky cake), cinnamon rolls and cardamom buns.
Some of the best fika cafes in Stockholm according to Condé Nast Traveler are Mellqvist Kaffebar, an out-of-the-way establishment that’s one of the most popular coffee shops in the city, and Green Rabbit, a café opened by Mathias Dahlgren, a Michelin-starred chef. You can also try Café Pascal for a shop with a more modern style or stop by Johan & Nyström for a more immersive coffee break experience.