Destination of the week: Sigtuna

Destination of the week: Sigtuna
Just a short journey from the capital, the pretty medieval town of Sigtuna is one of Sweden's historic gems, writes Jennifer Heape.

Setting out from Stockholm’s Central Station on a glorious, clear-skied November day with The Beatles’ ‘Day Tripper’ on an iPod loop, the scene was nicely set for an excursion to the beautiful small town of Sigtuna.

Indeed, looking out the window as the train wound its way through the city and past Lake Mälaren, it could have been a view from the height of summer had not the gleam and sparkle of a heavy ground frost proved otherwise.

The hour and ten minute journey to Sigtuna comprised of first catching a regional SJ train to Knivsta, then changing onto a bus bound for Sigtuna. The bus itself was warm, comfortable and bang on time.

Knivsta train station however seemed totally bereft of any signs to show where to catch the bus from. Luckily, some unsuspecting fast food stall attendants were on hand to help.

For those not in the mood for a bus treasure hunt: on leaving the platform, turn right at the underpass, right again along the road, and the bus stop for Sigtuna is just next to a gym called Form, about 100m from the station.

Another thing to consider is that there is no shelter at the bus stop – no problem on a sunny day, but it would probably make for a pretty miserable experience in rain or snow. Alternatively, another route to Sigtuna changes at Märsta, which is a larger station stop.

A definite plus point to taking the bus is the opportunity to see some of the very charming Swedish countryside. As the bus trundled its way to Sigtuna, scenes sped by of traditional Falu red houses and barns, rural churches, green fields and horses out to pasture.

The bus stopped right in the centre of town and Sigtuna quickly showed its age; the town’s main drag, Stora Gatan, is the oldest street in Sweden, dating back to AD 980.

Nestled on the shores of the beautiful Lake Mälaren, Sigtuna’s proximity to water and its many green spaces and swimming jetties make the town a hit in the summer months. However the sheer cosiness of the place, with its winding streets and centuries old wooden houses, many only one storey high, make Sigtuna a delight in winter too.

Along Stora Gatan, the quaint main street, there are many attractive shops and boutiques selling handicrafts and clothes, alongside art galleries and a jumble of cafés and restaurants.

There are several great places to eat in Sigtuna, but for an easy lunch, Café Myntet offers a fine selection. Alongside the usual filter coffee, Myntet serves up a range of gourmet brews and their menu ranges from a small sandwich from 25kr, to helstekt oxfile (long-cooked beef) for 109kr. The chicken focaccia at 59kr is definitely recommended.

Another suggestion is Café Tant Brun, which is set in a beautiful 17th century house. With low ceilings, open brickwork walls and rustic tables, this is a perfect place to enjoy the traditional Swedish pastime of fika (‘coffee and cake’).

For those more interested in history, the ruined churches of St. Olof and St. Lars are not to be missed. Built during the 12th and 13th centuries, the churches were reduced to rubble during the Restoration.

Furthermore, Sigtuna has more runic stones than any other town in the world and some of these can been seen outside the ruined churches. The stones date back to the 11th century and were erected by rich merchants and people living in the town.

If you would like to try your hand at deciphering the stones, a guide can be picked up at either the tourist office or the museum.

Albeit not the largest museum, the Sigtuna Museet is well worth a visit. The collection is beautifully presented and contains some real gems, such as the large collection of Viking jewellery. The museum is open from 12 noon to 4pm daily, except for Mondays when it is closed, and costs 20kr for adults, 15kr for students and children are free.

The Church of St. Maria is another fascinating Sigtuna sight which. The church is the oldest building in use in the town and the earliest brickwork dates back to the mid 13th century.

The outside of the building is impressive enough, but the inside is stunning. St. Maria’s features two beautiful mural paintings from the 14th century, an intricately carved 17th century pulpit, and an early Middle Ages baptismal font.

As a day trip location, Sigtuna really does have it all – a serene waterfront, impressive historical artifacts, great cafés and restaurants for all budgets, and delightful shops.

Despite the picture perfect scenes at every turn, on turning away from the main street you are reminded that people really do live in Sigtuna.

The domestic patchwork of pretty houses and neatly kept gardens, not to mention the mundane additions of banks and supermarkets, thankfully redeems the town from feeling like a mere tourist trap.

So whether you are a visitor to Sweden or Stockholm, or a resident in the mood for a relaxing and picturesque day out, Sigtuna should be right up there at the top of the list.

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