Modern-day Vikings pillage streets of Stockholm

With picturesque cobblestone streets, cozy cafes and an abundance of history, Gamla Stan island is, with good reason, one of Stockholm’s main tourist attractions.

Modern-day Vikings pillage streets of Stockholm

But the typically quiet streets are being stormed by a new group in town: Gallivant Productions’ fresh take on tourism has Viking characters guiding foreigners on a pillaging expedition through the Old Town.

“Projecting fun and unpredictability into the streets of Stockholm is our goal,” says one of three company founders, Ellissa Nagle. Having opened for business last month, their tour gives clients an hour-long adventure through the island’s hot spots that combines facts, fun, history and laughter.

“For the last few years, we all worked for a tourism company that dealt with cruise ships,” says Nagle, explaining how she met the other business owners, Jo Sheasby and Natalie O’Sullivan. “Starting Gallivant Productions was something we threw around as a possibility for a while. We could see there was an opportunity in doing dramatized tours.”

But despite positive preliminary reviews, their mission to create the company hasn’t been an easy journey.

“It’s amazing how little information is provided in English if you want to be able to start up a company here,” says O’Sullivan, who acted as a translator for the group as she is Swedish by origin. Nagle migrated from Australia and Sheasby from England, as both have Swedish partners.

“But even though it’s taken more time, everyone has been really supportive in telling us what to do,” says O’Sullivan. “It’s been a bit of a challenge, but it’s worked out.”

For the three women, the past year has involved tax departments, collectors, proposals and research. To ensure historical accuracy, their script has been verified twice by an experienced Swedish guide. Tour participants can expect a mix of information on employment, statistics, taxes and stereotypes of Swedish culture. To top it off, the tour is led by an enthusiastic Viking guide, played by American actor Josh Lenn.

“It sometimes takes people a while to get their head around it,” says Sheasby. “But once they’ve done that they are really supportive. We would like to provide something for visitors who are looking for something more fun and interactive than the traditional type of tours. […] Tourists have heard about Vikings for so many years and they come to Stockholm, see us in the old town and say, ‘Oh my god the Vikings are here!’ It’s really exciting to see the different markets that are here.”

Though she is quick to add that they know Vikings didn’t really wear their stereotypical horned hats.

“Swedes are really concerned that we know this,” she says with a laugh. “They are sometimes a bit reserved because it’s new and different, but when they see that we are new and working with people they think it’s interesting.”

This season, their tour is titled ‘Sweden: from the Ice Age to IKEA,” and it’s packed with historical and quirky information. Participants visit Gamla Stan’s hottest spots – the Royal Palace, Stortorget square and Sweden’s national cathedral to name a few – plus learn some fun facts about Scandinavian culture and their contributions to the world; for example, an estimated 10 per cent of all Europeans were conceived on an IKEA mattress.

“The whole company is hoping to add to the atmosphere of the old town, and give people a cool experience,” says O’Sullivan, who describes the tour as a crash course in how to be Swedish.

“To be people that offer something that nobody else does is really cool,” adds Nagle. “People will always remember going on that walk with a crazy Viking in Stockholm!”


For the remainder of May, the company is offering The Local readers a two-for-one special, if pre-booked by e-mail through Afterwards, Viking hopefuls can also book online or drop-in for a tour. Children are welcome and encouraged, one child can tour for free with a paying adult. Tours are offered four times per day.

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Why is Sweden called Sweden? The Local answers Google’s questions

Why is Sweden called Sweden? Why is Sweden so depressing? Why is Sweden so rich?  In a new series of articles, The Local answers some of the most common questions that appear when you type "Why is Sweden..." into the Google search engine.  

Why is Sweden called Sweden? The Local answers Google's questions
Why is Sweden actually called Sweden? Let's find out. Photo: Google screenshot

The short answer to “why is Sweden called Sweden?” is that it’s not. It’s called Sverige

When The Local asked Henrik Williams, a Professor of Scandinavian Languages at Uppsala University, he also gave the question a short answer: “Because it’s inhabited by Swedes.” 

We can trace some form of the name back to at least the 13th century, when it was called Swearike in Old Swedish. That translates to “the kingdom of the Swear”.

Two thousand years ago, some of the people living in what is now known as Sweden were called Svear or Suiones, depending on which language you spoke and on how you spelled things (spelling varied greatly). 

The Roman historian Tacitus gives the first known description of the Svear in a book written in the year 93 CE, Germania

Everything comes down to this word, Svear, the name of the people. It means ‘we ourselves’. The Svear lived in Uppland just north of where Stockholm is now, until about the 11th century when they started expanding their territory. 

“It’s very common that people call themselves, either ‘we ourselves’ or ‘the people’” said Professor Williams. 

“We are ‘the humans’ and everybody else is something else. Everyone else is ‘them'”.

Of course, nobody uses the word in that way now, but it still forms the basis of the word Sweden.

The 8th century epic poem Beowulf gives the earliest known recorded version of the word Sweoland, land of the Swear

But at that time, there was no Sweden. Instead, the land was occupied by little kingdoms of Swedes and Goths (in present-day Götaland) and warring tribes of Vikings.

It’s unclear when the King of the Swear started referring to himself as the king of a country called Sweden, but it was probably around the time the country adopted Christianity in the 11th century. 

“Sweden” only came into regular use after 1750, when it replaced “Swedeland” in English. But in Scotland, “Sweden” had been used since the beginning of the modern era.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary in the early 17th century, people would use Sweden as the name of the people, and Swedeland as the name of the country. 

The first attested use of ‘Sweden’ was in a Scottish timber accounting log in 1503, which refers to “Sweden boards.” 

Most countries went from the Old Norse word Svíþjóð (which is still used to describe Sweden in Icelandic today) and turned it into something in their own languages, like the Old English Swíoríce, the Middle Dutch Zweden and High German Schweden

But it’s not called Sweden everywhere. 

In Finnish, Sweden is Ruotsi, in Estonian it’s Rootsi, and in Northern Sami Ruoŧŧa.

This comes from the root-word Rod, as in modern day Roslagen the coastal part of Uppland. It means rowing, or people who row. And because Finland was invaded by people from Roslagen, that’s how Finns referred to them.