Posted on

A History Buff’s Guide to Stockholm

Back in medieval Stockholm, if you were sentenced to death for a crime, you could prolong your life by becoming the town executioner–a job they had trouble filling (go figure). One, or should we say, another downside is that you had to have your ears cut off and would be executed by the next guy who decided he’d take the job. Yearning for more quirky Swedish history? Or just want to add a couple intriguing sights to your long weekend in Stockholm? We’ve got you covered–from the Stone Age to the present.

Vasa Museum (Vasamuseet)

Underwater for 333 years, you’d think this wooden marvel would be an unrecognizable pile of mulch by now, but the 17th-century warship at the Vasa Museum is nothing short of remarkable. You’ll gape at its mast in awe, feeling both ridiculously tiny and absolutely enthralled by this treasure plucked from the sea. We won’t spoil the whole story for you as the museum has a multitude of engaging exhibits, but the gist is this: King Gustav demanded a massive warship be built–massively unstable–and it sank on its maiden voyage after sailing mere minutes in Stockholm’s harbor.
Fun Fact: This is no lackluster, run-of-the-mill warship: It features approximately 700 sculptures and decorations, with symbols from mythology, the Roman Empire, the Bible, and Swedish history and lore.
Tip: Start your visit off by entering the theater room where you can watch a short film that illuminates the history of Vasa and its recovery. You can choose a guided tour which is included in the price of admission or download the official audio guide to your phone. Also, dress in layers–perhaps due to artifact preservation, it can start to feel like you’re sinking into a cold sea yourself.

Swedish History Museum (Historiska)

If you’re a history buff, this one’s a no-brainer. Even if you’re not crazy about the old ages, this is a place where you can go dive into Viking traditions and leave after an hour without feeling guilty about the ticket price: Admission is 100 percent free. This is also one of Sweden’s more kid-friendly museums and features interactive exhibits and occasional workshops for families. The exhibitions cover more than 10,000 years of history, from the Stone Age to medieval art to modern politics.
Fun Fact: Modern culture typically categorizes the Vikings as heartless barbarians, but this museum presents an alternative look at this infamous community.
Tip: It’s one of the biggest museums in Sweden, so if you’re staying for a few days, it might be convenient to pop in for an exhibit or two, go grab some meatballs, and then return the next day to finish up your exploration.

Nordic Museum (Nordiska Museet)

Although “Nordic” is part of its name, this museum focuses almost exclusively on Swedish history, so if you didn’t find what you were looking for at the Swedish History Museum, you’ll want to pop over to the Nordiska. The Nordic Museum focuses more on cultural history such as lifestyle and traditions, ranging from 1523 until today. Wander through Swedish kitchens, gaze at intricate folk art, compare antique chairs to your IKEA seats, gape at exquisite jewelry, and discover the origins of charming Swedish rituals.
Fun Fact: The Sami, an indigenous people and a national minority of Sweden, speak nine dialects–all of which are on the UN list of endangered languages. Learn more in the Sápmi exhibit.
Tip: If you don’t have time to wander inside, the exterior of this Renaissance-style building is worth a look itself; plus, Nordiska is on the beautiful Djurgården, an island of Stockholm that features idyllic green areas and walking paths plus additional museums and an amusement park.

Drottningholm Palace (Drottningholms Slott)

They call Drottningholm Palace the Versailles of the North, and while it might not quite live up to the nickname, Drottningholm Palace is worth a trip. Hop on a bus (faster) or take a ferry (more scenic) from Stockholm to arrive at this UNESCO World Heritage site from the 1600s. Drottningholm is the permanent residence of the King and Queen of Sweden, so part of this architectural gem is off-limits, but there’s a sizable interior portion to explore plus idyllic grounds that transport you right back to 1710. Grab some sandwiches and have a picnic in between the historic hedges.
Fun Fact: In 1980, the Swedish monarchy became the first country to introduce absolute primogeniture, meaning the monarch’s eldest child, regardless of gender, is next in line to the throne.
Tip: Download the official “Swedish Royal Palaces” app for a free self-guided tour of this and other historical Swedish sites.

Stockholm City Hall

Your town hall might be a nondescript building next to a McDonald’s, but the Stockholm City Hall stands mighty along Lake Mälaren. Its boastful tower embellishing the vista of Stockholm’s famous sunsets. It’s both the host for the annual Nobel Prize banquet plus home to ceremonial halls and precious works of art. The incredibly intricate mosaics of the Golden Hall make the whole visit worth it. Guided tours are required and available in several languages. For an additional fee, you can also climb the tower for an impressive view of the city.
Fun Fact: A popular place to get married, Swedes often have to wait six months to say “I do” here, and there’s reportedly an option to pick from a short (two-minute) or long (four-minute) ceremony.
Tip: City Hall is busiest in the morning, so if you can push your visit to the afternoon, you’ll have an easier time of hearing the guide in the bellowing halls.

Hallwyl Museum (Hallwylska Museet)

If you’re in Stockholm in August and want to avoid rivers of tourists but still need your fix of history, consider a stop at the Hallwyl Museum. You might walk right past this 1898 gem in the heart of the city, the former home of Count and Countess Walther and Wilhelmina von Hallwyl. Wilhelmina was an avid collector and patron of the arts, and her home (which she always planned to turn into a museum) reflects her eclectic tastes and passions. Rare for a woman of her time to devote herself to such pursuits, Wilhelmina’s story shines as much as her possessions.
Fun Fact: The very first object in Wilhemina’s collection was a seashell–a childhood gift from her father which is now on display in the museum.
Tip: Admission is free, and you can purchase an audio guide if desired, although the written descriptions in each room (in English and Swedish) cover much of the same content.
All of these sights pair extremely well with a kanelbulle (cinnamon bun)– which is your chance to be part of history yourself by participating in an authentic Swedish fika. Although fika translates to “coffee break,” you’ll learn it’s more about having an intentional, social pause in your day. So, where are you heading first?

Posted on

Biking Through Paradise in Sweden

Bike Trips Sweden

Thanks to its well-posted cycling routes and minimal traffic, it’s also exceptionally easy for visitors to maneuver, making it far from a place only for the pros. Here’s a breakdown of why you should seriously consider Sweden if you’re looking for the perfect cycling escape.

Stockholm: A Natural Launching Point for Cyclists

It’s safe to say that not every country in the world has the same commitment to bikers as Sweden does, particularly in Stockholm. The Swedish capital has lanes that are very clearly marked and cycling is embedded right into the city planning, offering a variety of different ways to get around on two wheels. For biking Stockholm itself, it’s extremely easy to rent a bike from a local shop and shoot around the various urban paths, which include waterfront parks, bridges that come with full city views and even rolling gardens on grounds that used to be the king’s personal hunting reserve (Djurgården). The city also has terrific bike-share program great for local rides, and a new and expanded fleet of electric-assist bikes promises that biking will be an even bigger part of Stockholm’s future.
But even though you could have a nice little biking holiday just cruising around Stockholm, it’s also the perfect start for a countryside adventure. Heading west out of Stockholm, you can expect rolling hills and forests of deep green in the spring and summer as well as dynamic splashes of red and orange during the fall. You’ll pass through pine-needled forests and cruise along the quiet dirt paths of Lake Klämmingen on the way to the town of Mariefred, another great staging point about 70 kilometers from Stockholm.
South of Stockholm, you can also find some of the most beautiful vantage points in Sweden while you work up a sweat. In the archipelago just below the city, you’ll encounter more thick forests, crisp lakefront air, and even a few sandy beaches along hundreds of kilometers of trails. You can also easily grab ferries in between many of the spots, allowing you to go island-hopping between stops in places like Dalaro, Uto, and Orno. This area also has some sensational hikes as well as plenty of worthy camping sites, which can easily be combined with a biking holiday.

Create Your Own Adventure

Although there is more than enough outstanding scenery along the popular route to Mariefred or the southern archipelago, they can really just serve as tipping points for a much grander adventure. For castle lovers, there’s a built-in excuse to shoot past Mariefred, which also has an impressive castle, and go all the way to renovated medieval fortress Orebro Castle. Overlooking the Svartan River, Orebro Castle is about 140 kilometers by bike from Mariefred but has a variety of great stops to break up the trip. Eskilstuna and Arboga are both natural resting places along the way, showcasing small-city living and an opportunity to dig into authentic Swedish culture. Seasoned riders might even want to keep heading west and go all the way to Kristinehamn, a small town near the shores of Lake Vanern, the biggest lake in the European Union.
Heading north from Stockholm will also yield a journey that can essentially be as long as you want it to be, with the curvy coastline along the Gulf of Bothnia taking courageous riders more than 1,000 kilometers north of Stockholm. Thanks to a series of villages dotting your trail map, there are all kinds of options when it comes to putting together a long and challenging cycling tour that takes you through the heart of small-town coastal Sweden by way of quaint country roads. A northern route is also ideal for the summer, as you can have up to 20 hours of sunlight as you head further and further north.
While more than 2,000 kilometers roundtrip is probably a bit of a stretch for most sane cyclists, a shorter trip to Sundsvall is much more manageable and the city is a draw in its own right. Although it’s still not for the faint of heart – it’s more than 400 kilometers away from Stockholm – it’s only three and a half hours by rail back to Stockholm. Hudiskvall and Gavle are also easily within biking distance from Stockholm and offer lake-hopping bridges and lush green countryside paths to enjoy.

Taking Advantage of the Weather

Chances are you’re not looking to bike it through the frozen tundra of Sweden in the middle of winter, so you’re likely looking at the spring, fall, or summer for all the obvious reasons. All three seasons are tremendous opportunities for biking enthusiasts, particularly those not afraid of the chilly morning air in the spring and fall when you’re likely to start the day in the mid-to-high 30s Fahrenheit (about 1-4°C).
But Sweden is also the quintessential summer country, which all point to it being simply an amazing place to be out in the great outdoors. Unlike other European countries that are known for biking, Sweden’s summers rarely have heat waves and typically sit around 70°F (21°C) during the heat of the day. That makes for perfect temperature conditions for bikers, who can also cover much larger distances thanks to a sunset that doesn’t come until 10 or 11 p.m. during the peak of summer. Although you do have to be ready for a bit of rain if you go in August, the wettest month of the year, it’s also not an insurmountable amount either. As the driest month of the year, March tends to be on the cooler side, but you’ll have mostly rain-free weather forecasts to go with about 40 °F (2.8 °C) during the warmest part of the day.
Thanks to a biking culture that is ingrained in the national persona, Sweden is an opportune spot for cycling enthusiasts of any experience. Although everyone would love to bring their own bike with them, local bicycle shops are also very used to renting to visitors and the country’s intuitive infrastructure will have you comfortable with your surroundings in no time. For biking adventures both small and large, you’ll simply have a hard topping a cycling trip through the sprawling natural wonders of Sweden.