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Things to Do in Sweden

Travelers to the Scandinavian country of Sweden could be forgiven for arriving in Stockholm and never wanting to leave, but there’s much to explore beyond the chic, history-drenched capital city made up of 14 islands. Sure, Stockholm is a blockbuster: sleek, modern, with plenty of Scandinavian design, oodles of cultural attractions, an impressive palace on the waterfront, and the medieval Gamla Stan—start with a walking, bike, or bus tour to get your bearings. But it’s easy to get out in the Stockholm archipelago from there, and it’s worth the trip: The string of more than 30,000 islands, islets, and rocks is ripe for exploring, and its contents range from tourist-centric towns to uninhabited, unnamed rocks emerging from the sea. Gothenburg is Sweden’s second city, and is home to highlights such as Lilla Bommen, the Maritime Museum and Aquarium, Feskekörka fish market, and Liseberg amusement park, which are accessible by hop-on hop-off bus and boat tours. Moving north into central and northern Sweden uncovers a forested, farmed landscape that’s sparsely populated. Swedes take full advantage of this terrain, regularly engaging in active pursuits such as cycling, fishing, boating, skiing, and foraging for the natural bounty that is the foundation of sophisticated Scandinavian farm-to-table cuisine.
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Uppsala Castle (Uppsala Slott)
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Uppsala is one of Sweden’s most historic cities; squatting on the banks of the River Fyris, it sophisticated, leafy and dominated by its landmark castle, cathedral and university. The royal castle overlooks the town from its perch at Kasåsen and began life in 1549 at the behest of King Gustav Vasa, who built his fortified home in neat, symmetrical Renaissance style. Over the centuries, it has seen its share of ceremony, intrigue and violence, from coronations to political assassinations and abdications. The shocking murder of three members of the Sture family by the despotic and schizophrenic King Erik XIV took place here in 1567 and their tattered doublets and breeches are on show in Uppsala Cathedral.

The castle was virtually burnt down in 1702 – and much of its fragmented remains plundered to build the Royal Palace in Stockholm – but was subsequently reconstructed in 1740 with its dusty pink façades punctuated by towers on each wing. Today it has a distinctly more peaceful role as the home of three museums: Uppsala Art Museum, where funky modern ceramics from Uppsala Ekeby pottery are displayed along with contemporary Swedish artwork; the Fredens Hus (House of Peace), which highlights social and political conflicts and attempts to resolve them; and the fascinating Vasaborgen in the ruined bastions of the original castle, where the dark deeds of past Swedish monarchs are recounted in graphic detail.

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Vasa Museum (Vasamuseet)
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Built to house the wreckage of the mightyVasa warship, Stockholm’s Vasa Museum (Vasamuseet) is now one of Scandinavia's most-visited attractions, drawing over one million annual visitors. Part of Sweden’s National Maritime Museums system, the Vasa Museum is located on the island of Djurgarden and remains the only place in the world where visitors can see a fully intact 17th-century ship.

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Öresund Bridge
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Opened in 2000 and made famous by the popular TV showThe Bridge, the 5-mile (8-kilometer) Øresund Bridge dominates the Øresund Strait—the stretch of water separating Denmark and Sweden. The total length of the road and rail link is 10 miles (16 kilometers), which allows you to travel between the two countries in just 10 minutes.

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Feskekorka Market
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With a history dating back to 1874, the Feskekôrka is Gothenburg’s oldest market hall, Scandinavia’s largest fish market and the much-celebrated focal point of the city’s legendary fishing industry. Owing its peculiar name (literally: the ‘Fish Church’) to its church-like appearance, the Feskekôrka’s unique surroundings only add to its charm and a stroll around the lively marketplace is a popular pastime for tourists.

Today the busy market remains largely unchanged from its 20th-century heyday, with elaborate displays of fresh, seasonal produce and a steady stream of top chefs, local families and visiting foodies haggling over the morning’s catch. From fresh-off-the-boat cod and halibut, to live spider crabs and lobsters, seafood lovers will find everything they need here, but even if you’re only browsing, head to one of the food stalls or restaurants, where you can sample local delicacies like pickled herring, smoked salmon or seafood smörgås (open sandwiches).

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Lilla Bommen (Gothenburg Harbor)
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As Gothenburg’s principal marina, Lilla Bommen forms the focal point of the city’s waterfront and the scenic riverside stretch is home to a number of top attractions. The eponymous skyscraper, Lilla Bommen, takes center-stage, a 23-floor skyscraper alternatively nicknamed “The Lipstick” or the “Lego House” for its unusual white and red façade, and its top-floor café offers expansive views along the Göta River.

Additional highlights include the Barken Viking, an early 20th-century merchant ship permanently moored in the marina and now home to a floating hotel and restaurant, the grand Gothenburg Opera House (Goteborgsoperan) and the nearby Maritiman, a floating museum of around 20 restored ships. Lilla Bommen is also the launch-point for boat cruises to the island fortress of Nya Älvsborg.

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Uppsala Cathedral (Uppsala Domkyrka)
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The laid-back and charismatic university city of Uppsala is bisected by the River Fyris and dominated by its landmark castle and cathedral. The latter began life in 1270 to house the reliquary of King Eric IX, who spread Christianity through Sweden and is the patron saint of the country. Constructed in austere red brick and today much renovated, the cathedral is Gothic in style and has two spiky spires that stand 120 m (394 ft) above the city’s rooftops. Its vaulted interior is delicately ornamented with biblical scenes and illuminated through slender stained-glass windows; the side chapels contain the relics of Eric IX in a gold-plated coffin as well as the marble tombs of several Swedish monarchs, including King Gustav Vasa, who commissioned the building of Uppsala Castle in 1549. The botanist Carl Linnaeus, who lived in Uppsala in the 18th century and introduced a classification system for plants that is still in use today, is also buried in the cathedral.

A small treasury museum in the northwest spire exhibits royal funeral crowns and a collection of medieval Far and Middle Eastern textiles. However, pride of place in the museum goes to the tattered doublets and breeches belonging to three members of the Sture family who were murdered at Uppsala Castle in 1567 by the schizophrenic King Erik XIV. Close inspection of the surrounding burial ground reveals Viking runes carved on several gravestones.

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Abisko National Park
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Located on the North Calotte Trail in Sweden’s Lapland, Abisko National Park covers 77 square km (30 square miles) of sparkling fjords, stumpy mountains, birch forest, cave complexes carved into the rock, and spectacular waterfalls crashing through canyons. Elk and reindeer populate the landscape and the 440-km (275-mile) national hiking and Nordic skiing route of Kungsleden (King’s Trail) starts within the park.

During the endless days of summer, Abisko is a paradise for hikers and cyclists, carpeted with rare orchids and Alpine flowers; in winter there’s a permanent mantle of snow and the chance to ski or try out dog sledding and ice fishing adventures at the STF Abisko Mountain Station, which is 250 km (156.25 miles) north of the Arctic Circle. High above sea level on Mount Nuolja, the Aurora Sky Station is considered the best place in the world to view the elusive Northern Lights, thanks to the clarity of the air and lack of light pollution. The awesome cable-car journey up to the Sky Station provides amazing views over the wild landscape of the national park. Visit between June and mid-July to witness the midnight sun and from November through March to catch the Northern Lights.

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Haga
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Once run-down and on the verge of demolition, Gothenburg’s oldest district underwent a much-needed facelift in the 1980s and today, the historic quarter is one of the city’s liveliest and most fashionable neighborhoods. With its cobblestone lanes and distinctive 19th-century artisan buildings, Haga oozes character and the largely pedestrianized district is crammed with vintage clothing boutiques, independent designers and quirky antique shops.

Join the city’s creative types for a stroll around Haga and once you’ve finished browsing the shops and admiring the unique architecture, stop by the legendary Café Husaren, famous for its giant cinnamon rolls – a Swedish specialty – or relax at the stylish Hagabadet Spa. Another popular pastime is climbing the nearby Risåsberget hill, where the 17th-century Skansen Kronan fortress offers stunning views over Haga below.

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Stockholm Old Town (Gamla Stan)
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With its tangle of cobblestone streets, brightly painted buildings, and bustling squares, Stockholm Old Town (Gamla Stan) is one of the Swedish capital's most photogenic districts. The historic center also boats the city’s oldest quarter—dating back to 1252—and plays host to some remarkably preserved medieval monuments.

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Turning Torso
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Dominating the city’s skyline, Malmö’s 623-foot (190-meter) Turning Torso is the tallest building in Scandinavia. Designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, the structure comprises nine 5-story pentagons, and features a top segment that twists 90 degrees from the building’s base.

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More Things to Do in Sweden

Stockholm City Hall (Stadshuset)

Stockholm City Hall (Stadshuset)

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Stockholm City Hall (Stadshuset) looms over the Kungsholmen waterfront and is one of the capital’s most impressive landmarks, with a redbrick façade and 328-foot (100-meter) tower topped with the Three Crowns of Sweden. Dating back to 1923, the hall contains elaborate ceremonial chambers which are open to visitors via guided tours.

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Stockholm Royal Palace (Kungliga Slottet)

Stockholm Royal Palace (Kungliga Slottet)

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With its baroque facade, lavish Royal Apartments, and impressive treasury, the Stockholm Royal Palace is everything you'd expect from a regal abode. Although the Swedish royal family now resides in Drottningholm Palace, the Royal Palace still holds an important role, both as a historic monument and as the host of banquets and receptions.

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St. Peter's Church (Sankt Petri Kyrka)

St. Peter's Church (Sankt Petri Kyrka)

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As one of the oldest buildings in Malmö, the 14th-century St. Peter’s Church is a must-see sight for history buffs. Noted for its flying buttresses, the church also contains late medieval frescoes and a 17th-century altarpiece —one of the largest in the Nordic countries. The church’s interior walls were whitewashed during the Reformation but some elaborate fixtures remain.

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Djurgarden

Djurgarden

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The island of Djurgården is one of the Stockholm archipelago’s most visited islands, dominated by scenic parklands and former royal hunting grounds stretching along the picturesque Djurgården Canal. A haven for walkers, cyclists, and picnickers, Djurgården is also home to some of Stockholm’s top museums and cultural attractions.

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Sodermalm

Sodermalm

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This up-and-coming island district in central Stockholm was once considered the slum of the city. But today Södermalm, often referred to simply as “Söder” (Swedish for “south”), is the bohemian sector of the area full of hip cafes, cool vintage shops, and fantastic waterfront views.

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Malmö Castle (Malmöhus)

Malmö Castle (Malmöhus)

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Originally built in 1434, Malmö Castle (Malmöhus) was once an important strategic stronghold for Denmark. Having been rebuilt in the 16th century, Malmöhus is Scandinavia’s oldest surviving Renaissance castle and now encompasses the Malmö Museum, a complex dedicated to the natural history of Sweden.

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Gustaf Adolf Square (Gustav Adolfs Torg)

Gustaf Adolf Square (Gustav Adolfs Torg)

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Built in 1629 and known simply as Stortorget (Big Square) for two centuries, Gustaf Adolf Square gets its name from the plaza’s statue of Gustavus Adolphus, king of Sweden from 1611 - 1632. Notice how the statue’s finger points to the ground. Story goes, the king rode up Otterhällan Mountain and pointed to the fields surrounding the canal below, saying “The city shall be placed here.”

Snap a pic of yourself doing the same pose as Gustaf, and you won’t be the only one. Said to be one of the great military leaders of European history, the king is said to have steered Sweden to greatness in the Thirty Years War, so Gothenburg’s main square seems a fitting place for his statue.

On the north side of the square, see Gothenburg City Hall, a neoclassical dream of gleaming white pillars, and a popular place to get married. Also look out for the city’s law court. Its 1934 extension, by leading Swedish architect Gunnar Asplund, has been much lauded by fans of his modernist style.

At Christmas, a huge Christmas tree lights up the center, and Gothenburg’s most famous winter market fills the plaza, harking back to the 17th century when farmers’ carts filled the square and boats filled with food for sale jammed the canal.

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Waldemarsudde Museum

Waldemarsudde Museum

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Originally the home of Sweden’s Prince Eugen, Waldemarsudde in Stockholm may be the country’s most beautiful art museum. In addition to being one of Sweden’s best known landscape artists, the Prince amassed a massive collection of works by both established and unknown artists over the course of 60 years. Today, more than 3,000 of his own pieces and more than 3,000 other works are housed at Waldemarsudde, with his collection of Swedish art from the turn of the 19th century considered one of the best in Sweden.

Waldemarsudde is set in a 70,000 square meter park surrounded by the Stockholm Harbor on three sides. It consists of a castle-like main building known as the Mansion, the original manor home known as the Old House, a Gallery Building and an old linseed oil mill. The ground floor of the Mansion has been preserved as it was when the Prince was alive, while the upper two floors are now used for temporary exhibitions or for displaying the Prince’s art. The Gallery Building hosts temporary exhibitions as well.

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Stockholm National Museum

Stockholm National Museum

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The Swedish National Museum (also referred to as the National Museum of Fine Arts) is the national gallery of Sweden, located in central Stockholm. The benefactors, King Gustav III and Carl Gustaf Tessin, amassed an impressive art collection for the museum that is available for your viewing today. The gallery is home to about art spanning the Middle Ages to 1900, and the museum features an important 18th century Dutch and Flemmish collection, including Rembrandt, Ruben, and Frans Hals the Elder. In addition you can also admire a lovely collection of porcelain objects, paintings, sculptures, and modern art. The art library for the public and the academic community.

The original museum, called the Royal Museum, was founded in 1792. The current building was then built, inspired by North Italian Renaissance architecture, by architect Friedrich August Stüler in 1866.

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Botanical Gardens

Botanical Gardens

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Opened in 1787 by Sweden’s King Gustav III, the University of Uppsala Botanical Gardens are one of the city’s most popular destinations. In addition to outdoor gardens and a tropical greenhouse, the grounds house a café, special exhibition hall, and gift shop.

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Tivoli Gröna Lund

Tivoli Gröna Lund

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Located on Djurgården island in Stockholm, Tivoli Gröna Lund is Sweden’s oldest amusement park. Most of its structures are old commercial and residential buildings dating from the 19th century, giving it a uniquely historic look and feel. From roller coasters to rock concerts, Gröna Lund entertains visitors of all ages.

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Liseberg Amusement Park

Liseberg Amusement Park

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Whether you prefer a nostalgic ride on the spinning teacups or a stomach-churning rollercoaster descent, there’s something for all ages and tastes at Liseburg amusement park, Gothenburg’s most thrilling attraction. Since opening its doors back in 1923, Liseberg has been consistently voted among Europe’s top amusement parks, drawing in over 3 million annual visitors and hosting a range of live music, dance and theater events during the evening hours.

Of course, the main draw is the amusements and there are around 40 hair-raising rides to choose from. Thrill-seekers can defy gravity on the award-winning Balder wooden roller coaster or the 1.4-kilometer Helix roller coaster; brave Europe’s tallest free falling ride, the AtmosFear; or enjoy the views atop the iconic Liseberg Ferris Wheel.

Liseberg is also the center of Gothenburg’s yuletide festivities with the amusement park getting a festive makeover during the holiday season, serving up seasonal delicacies, mulled wine and traditional handicrafts at its atmospheric Christmas market, and even erecting an Icebar, built with ice blocks shipped in from Swedish Lapland.

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Gothenburg Opera House (Goteborgsoperan)

Gothenburg Opera House (Goteborgsoperan)

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With its dramatic perch on the Gota River waterfront and a façade inspired by its maritime surroundings, the Gothenburg Opera House (Goteborgsoperan) is undoubtedly one of Gothenburg’s most impressive buildings. Inaugurated in 1994, the grand venue is the creation of architect Jan Izikowitz, and its ship-like silhouette and 26-foot tall Bård Breivik sculpture add a modernist edge to the industrial landscape of Gothenburg Harbour.

A large part of the opera house’s popularity is due to its varied roster of entertainment and the 1,300-seat stage plays host to an array of operas, musicals, classical concerts and ballets throughout the year. Behind-the-scenes tours are also available, offering visitors the chance to peek into the dressing rooms, watch the expert wigmakers, stage designers and costume tailors at work, and browse the extensive library, said to contain over 15 tons of sheet music.

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Stockholm Parliament House (Riksdagshuset)

Stockholm Parliament House (Riksdagshuset)

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Stockholm’s Parliament House (Riksdagshuset) is the seat of parliament in Sweden, better known as the Riksdag. Built between 1897 and 1905, the building was designed in a neoclassical style, with a Baroque Revival style façade. Today, it consists of two wings. The east wing is the original House of Parliament, while the west wing used to be the head office of the national bank. Occupying nearly half of the island of Helgeandsholmen in Stockholm’s Old Town, Parliament House also houses the Riksdag Library, which holds a variety of parliamentary documents and international legislation and is open to the public.

Visitors to Parliament House are welcome to observe everything that takes place in the parliamentary chamber, whether it is listening to debates and votes or attending public hearings or seminars. The public gallery to the Chamber holds 500 visitors, while the public gallery of the former first chamber holds 150 visitors and the gallery of the former second chamber holds 200 visitors. The latter two chambers are open for public hearings. Tours of the building are also available.

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