Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Sweden
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.
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.
More Things to Do in Sweden
With its arresting redbrick façade and 100-meter tall bell tower topped with the Three Crowns of Sweden, the grandiose Stadshuset or Stockholm City Hall is one of the capital’s most impressive landmarks, looming over the waterfront of Kungsholmen. Dating back to 1923, the City Hall is the masterpiece of architect Ragnar Ostberg and a celebrated example of Swedish National Romanticism, now home to the city's principal government offices.
Open to visitors via guided tour, the grand interiors are equally magnificent, starting with the famous Blue Hall, equipped with a 10,000-pipe organ and the location of the annual Nobel Prize ceremony and banquet. Next up is the Council Chamber, designed to mimic a Viking Longship and decked out with Carl Malmsten furnishings, and the Golden Hall, where the elaborate wall mosaics shimmer with over 18 million pieces of gold leaf and colored glass.
Skansen is an open air museum and zoo in Stockholm, and was founded in the late 19th century by Artur Hazelius as a branch of the Nordic Museum. Its purpose is to show the different ways of life in of Sweden before the industrialization. After scouring the country, Hazelius bought around 150 houses and had them deconstructed and shipped to the site of the museum, where they were rebuilt to illustrate the spectrum of life in traditional Sweden. Only three of the buildings are not authentic, but they were scrupulously copied in full detail from historical models.
Skansen expanded tenfold since its inception, and now features various houses and workshops where you can experience traditional craftsmanship, such as butter making, weaving, shoemaking, and glass blowing. There is also a zoo containing a wide range of Nordic animals including the bison, brown bear, moose, gray seal, otter, red fox, reindeer, and wolverine.
With a history dating back to 1874, the Feskekörka 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 Feskekörka’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).
An oasis of greenery linked by the Djurgårdsbron Bridge to mainland Stockholm, Djurgården is one of the archipelago’s most visited islands, stretching along the picturesque Djurgården Canal. Dominated by scenic parklands and former Royal hunting grounds, Djurgården is a haven for walkers, cyclists and picnickers, but the island is also home to some of Stockholm’s top museums and attractions.
The top attraction of Djurgården is Skansen, an open-air museum and zoo devoted to preserving Sweden’s native wildlife and traditional craftsmanship, with over 150 reconstructed 19th century buildings displaying everything from glass-blowing to baking. The neighboring Vasa Museum is another popular draw - the world’s only intact 17th-century warship, which famously sank on her maiden voyage and now houses an impressive naval museum. Additional highlights include Tivoli Grona Lund, Sweden’s oldest amusement park.
With a stream of new bars, restaurants and nightclubs springing up along the waterfront, the island of Södermalm, or ‘Söder’ as it’s known to locals, is quickly earning a reputation as one of Stockholm’s hippest districts, popular among the city’s younger residents. Entering Södermalm from Gamla Stan, the lively areas of Slussen and nearby Medborgarplatsen are the center of island life, interlinked by the principal shopping boulevard of Götgatan, and further south the affectionately nicknamed ‘SoFo’ district is know for its fashion boutiques, vintage stores and atmospheric cafés.
Although home to a cluster of museums, including the Stockholm City Museum, Södermalm has comparatively few tourist attractions and the scenic island is best known for its cliff-top lookouts and seafront promenades which offer dramatic views over the neighboring islands.
Stockholm’s Parliament House 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 history of the world’s most distinguished awards ceremony is the subject of Stockholm’s ever-evolving Nobel Museum, with fascinating exhibitions chartering some of history’s biggest milestones. Located in the Old Town of Gamla Stan, the museum opened in 2001 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the prestigious Nobel Prize, which has been awarded to pioneers in the fields of physics, chemistry, medicine, literature and peace since 1901.
Visitors can’t help but be inspired by the exhibitions on award recipients and Stockholm-born inventor Alfred Nobel, whose unique vision led to the foundation of the prize, along with multi-media presentations of the Nobel Laureates’ achievements. Gain a deeper insight into famous honorees like Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela, Marie Curie, Niels Bohr and Henri Dunant, then go behind-the-scenes during the candidate selection process and the annual Nobel Banquet held across the water in the Stockholm City Hall.
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.