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VALBORG

What exactly is Swedish Valborg, and where are the best places to celebrate it?

If you've been in Sweden through the winter, you're probably ready to welcome summer with open arms. The Walpurgis (Valborg) celebrations across the country on April 30th offer you the perfect chance to do that: here's a selection of the best places to join in the festivities, and a reminder of exactly what we're celebrating again.

What exactly is Swedish Valborg, and where are the best places to celebrate it?
Stockholmers gather for a Walpurgis bonfire. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

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The name 'Walpurgis' (Valborg in Swedish) comes from the English Saint Walpurga, who travelled to promote Christianity across the rest of Europe and particularly Germany. But although she gives her name to the festivities which Sweden borrowed from its German neighbours, bonfires have been lit at the start of spring for centuries beforehand, as a way to celebrate the long-awaited end of winter.

Some Christians in northern Europe celebrated the saint on May 1st as that's the day she was canonized, and this was also the time farmers across the region would traditionally put their animals out to pasture. The religious feast day became blended with older rituals aimed at cleansing the land and ensuring fertility during the coming summer. Today, May 1st is a public holiday, and the valborgsmässoafton (Walpurgis Eve) celebrations on April 30th retain an important role in the Swedish calendar despite shedding its Christian roots.  


A local celebration in Sickla Gärde on the outskirts of Stockholm. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

Bonfires were traditionally lit as a way of warding off evil spirits and predators such as wolves, and villagers would also try to scare them away by making a loud noise through banging drums, ringing bells, and shouting.

These days, any ruckus is more likely to come from crowds of students, for whom the date is also a chance for a party after the spring exams, before things start to get serious again ahead of the summer revision season. 

Other key features of any Walpurgis celebration include a speech from a prominent local figure, and choral singing (brush up on the lyrics to 'Vintern Rasat Ut' or 'Winter has Fallen Away' if you want to be able to join in). Larger festivals will also offer food (nettle soup is a traditional delicacy) and drinks as well as other kinds of musical performances, often rounded off with a fireworks display. Some will have a political flavour, because of Labour Day the following day.

By coincidence, April 30th is also the birthday of the Swedish king, so you'll see plenty of Swedish flags raised as a sign of respect, and if you head to the area around the Royal Palace in Stockholm during the day you might catch some celebratory parades.

Many local councils and neighbourhoods organize bonfires (valborgsbål or majbrasor) in parks, so if you want a low-key festival, check out your municipality's homepage to see what's happening near you. Otherwise, we've rounded up some of the bigger and more novel celebrations across the country in the list below.


Students typically spend the day picnicking, barbecuing and drinking in a local park. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

In Stockholm/Uppsala

One of the biggest and oldest Walpurgis celebrations in the country is hosted at Skansen, Stockholm's open air museum on the leafy island of Djurgården. The music (traditional choral singing) begins at 3pm, with special events through the day and the bonfire lit at 9pm on the Solliden terrace, offering spectacular views over the city. This is a great option for families, as it's possible to make a day of it by visiting the Scandinavian animals, farmsteads, and replica of a 19th-century town to really feel like you're stepping back in time. Be aware of the 140 kronor entry fee (60 kronor for under-15s), although anyone with a valid student ID can get free admission. 

Closer to the city centre, the festivities at Riddarholmen kick off at 7.30pm with the bonfire lit an hour later. This gives you the chance for impressive photos of the fire in front of the city hall.

Or down at Rålambshovsparken in Kungsholmen, a huge family-friendly celebration is taking place from 7pm with a bonfire lit at 8.15pm, food and drink, and children's activities.

Slightly out of the centre, one of the largest bonfires is held at Hammarbybacken, which will be lit at 7pm, but events such as pony rides are on offer for children from around 5.30pm. 

Any students looking for a party, or curious visitors keen for a taste of the 'real' Valborg, should head to Uppsala. The unique part of this event is a raft race along the city's Fyris River from 10am: students build and decorate rafts which they then sail down the water on, while thousands gather to watch from the banks. Then, the student nations host traditional lunches of herring and snaps – if you're just visiting, it's possible to partake in this part of the tradition at the Uppsala Konsert & Kongress.

At 3pm, in front of the University Library you can watch (or take part in) the Donning of the Caps. The Vice Chancellor waves her own white cap as a signal of spring to the students gathered in the square, who in turn wave their own and then put them on. This is followed by a performance from a male voice choir on the library steps. Later in the evening, there are two large bonfires: one at the Royal Mounds in Gamla Uppsala, lit at 9pm and followed by fireworks, and one at Valsätrakyrkan also lit at 9pm, with music and a DJ later in the night.

At the other end of the scale, if you want something more peaceful, take the boat out to Grinda, a serene archipelago island just two hours from the city centre. Their Walpurgis celebrations include a bonfire, lit at 8pm, with the island inn offering special deals on accommodation if you choose not to camp or stay in the hostel.

In Skåne

University city Lund is home to one of the biggest events in the entire country; last year 30,000 people descended on the city park (Stadsparken) to celebrate the arrival of spring to the southern city. Things kick off with picnicking throughout the day; this is known as spontanfesten or 'spontaneous party' since there are no official organizers, but like most things in Sweden, it's actually fairly well planned. The picnics last until 3pm when things get set up for the official celebrations. These begin at 8pm with a bonfire, music, and later a fireworks show. Find information in English here.


Walpurgis is big in Lund. Photo: Johan Nilsson/SCANPIX/TT

Meanwhile in Malmö, there's plenty planned in the Folkets Park. Some of the city's favourite food trucks will gather for a street food fest from midday onwards as part of a week-long spring festival, with music and other activities before the bonfire gets lit at 8pm

In Gothenburg

In Sweden's second city, one of the best known traditions is the Chalmerscortégen (The Chalmers Cortège), a carnival parade run by the Chalmers University of Technology. It's been going since the 1900s, with around 50 floats representing a satirical take on major events that have taken place over the past year. Each April, thousands gather to watch the parade make its way through the city streets, and it starts at 6.15pm.

Gothenburg's Student Association also hosts a celebration in Trädgårdsföreningen from 2pm, with musical performances and speeches from university groups.

And in the evening, the biggest fire will be in Slottskogen, where 'witches' will light the bonfire, and plenty of activities are on offer for families and people of all ages. The celebrations start from 4pm with the fire lit at 8.30pm.

The celebrations often finish with fireworks. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

Elsewhere

LinköpingAnother student spectacular, this celebration is hosted in Borggården, next to Linköping Castle, from 3pm. There's singing, the donning of the caps, and speeches, but no bonfire this year due to a fire ban. Earlier in the day, students hold a champagne and strawberry breakfast in the Trädgårdföreningen park. 

Sundsvall Norra Berget: The northern city's open air museum provides an atmospheric setting for the celebrations. The bonfire is lit at 6pm, and there will also be a small food and crafts market, and activities for children from 5.15pm.

Karlstad: At Mariebergsskogen, the fire will be lit at 8.15pm with views out over the water, more singing, and plenty of food and drink.

Luleå: In the far north of Sweden, there's more reason than ever to celebrate the warmer months, and it's also one of the most beautiful spots to do so. In the Gammelstaden church town, a Unesco World Heritage site, the celebrations begin at 18:30 and include sheep shearing, for a real taste of the older farming traditions. The bonfire is lit at 9pm. 

Article first published in 2018 and updated for 2019

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HOUSING

Moving to Gothenburg? The best areas and neighbourhoods to live in

Whether you're moving to Sweden’s second biggest city for the first time or are looking for another neighbourhood, The Local talks you through some of your best options.

Moving to Gothenburg? The best areas and neighbourhoods to live in
Which neighbourhood of Sweden's second city is right for you? Photo: Per Pixel Petersson/imagebank.sweden.se

First of all: where to look? The city of Gothenburg suggests on its website that sublets, houses and townhouses to rent all across West Sweden can be found on Blocket, a popular digital marketplace (in Swedish).

Other alternatives for rentals include the sites Bostaddirekt, Residensportalen and Findroommate, as well as Swedish websites like Hyresbostad and Andrahand. Note that some of the housing sites charge a subscription or membership fee. There are also Facebook groups where accommodation is advertised. An example in English is Find accommodation in Goteborg!.

If you’re buying, most apartments and houses for sale in Gothenburg and West Sweden can be seen on the websites Hemnet and Booli. Local newspapers often have property listings. Real estate agents (mäklare) can also help you find a place.

Majorna on a hot summer’s day. Photo: Björn Larsson Rosvall/TT

Majorna

Majorna is a residential area in Gothenburg that has transformed from being a classic working-class district to becoming a hip and restaurant-dense cultural hub in Gothenburg. The buildings typical for Majorna are three storey buildings with the first storey built in stone and the topmost two built with wood — the houses traditionally called Landshövdingehus. This neighbourhood just west of the city center, beautifully positioned between the river Göta älv and the park Slottsskogen, is hugely popular with young families.

Majorna was traditionally populated with industrial workers and dockers. The area is still supposed to have a strong working-class identity, with many people living in Majorna seeing themselves as radical, politically aware, and having an ‘alternative lifestyle’.

This doesn’t mean, however, that one can live in Majorna on a shoestring. The average price per square meter here is approximately 55,000 kronor as of May 2021, according to Hemnet.

Eriksberg on Hisingen. Photo: Erik Abel/TT

Hisingen

From the centre of Gothenburg it’s only a short bus or tram ride across the river to Hisingen. It’s Sweden’s fifth largest island – after Gotland, Öland, Södertörn and Orust – and the second most populous. Hisingen is surrounded by the Göta älv river in the south and east, the Nordra älv in the north and the Kattegat in the west.

The first city carrying the name Gothenburg was founded on Hisingen in 1603. The town here, however, was burned down by the Danes in 1611 during the so-called Kalmar War and the only remnant is the foundation of the church that stood in the city centre.

Hisingen housed some of the world’s largest shipyards until the shipyard crisis of the 1970s. Over the last 20 years, the northern bank of the Göta älv has undergone major expansion. Residential areas, university buildings and several industries (including Volvo) have largely replaced the former shipyards.

Hisingen comprises many different neighbourhoods — Kvillebäcken, Backa and Biskopsgården are only some examples. At Jubileumsparken in Frihamnen, an area bordering the Göta älv, there is a public open-air pool and a spectacular sauna. Further inland you’ll find the beautiful Hisingsparken, the largest park in Gothenburg.

Apartment prices are still relatively low in certain parts of Hisingen, while the housing market in other neighbourhoods is booming. The average metre-squared price on Hisingen lies around 41,000 kronor.

Gamlestaden

Gamlestaden or the Old Town was founded as early as 1473, 200 years before Gothenburg’s current city centre was built. You can take a seven-minute tram ride towards the northeast to this upcoming district (popularly known as ‘Gamlestan’) which, like Majorna, is characterised by the original Landshövdingehus in combination with an international atmosphere.

What was once an industrial centre, mostly the factory of bearing manufacturer SKF, is now rapidly turning into something new, as restaurants and vintage shops move into the old red-brick factory buildings.

The multicultural neighbourhood is also close to the famous Kviberg’s marknad (market) and Bellevue marknad, where you can buy everything from exotic fruits and vegetables to second-hand clothes, electronics and curiosa.

The Gamlestaden district is developing and should become a densely populated and attractive district with new housing, city shopping and services. In the future, twice as many inhabitants will live here compared to today, according to Stadsutveckling Göteborg (City development Gothenburg). Around 3,000 new apartments should be built here in the coming years. The current price per metre squared in Gamlestaden is 46,000 kronor.

Södra Skärgården. Photo: Roger Lundsten/TT

Skärgården

It might not be the most practical, but it probably will be the most idyllic place you’ll ever live in: Gothenburg’s northern or southern archipelago (skärgården). With a public bus or tram you can get from the city centre to the sea and from there, you hop on a ferry taking you to one of many picturesque islands just off the coast of Gothenburg.

There are car ferries from Hisingen to the northern archipelago. Some of the islands here are also connected by bridges. The southern archipelago can be reached by ferries leaving from the harbour of Saltholmen.

Gothenburg’s southern archipelago has around 5,000 permanent and another 6,000 summer residents. The archipelago is completely car free and transportation is carried out mostly by means of cycles, delivery mopeds and electrical golf carts.

Most residences here are outstanding — wooden houses and cottages, big gardens — and always close to both nature and sea. Finding somewhere to live, however, is not necessarily easy. Some people rent out their summer houses during the other three seasons. When buying a house here (the average price being 5.5 million kronor) you have to be aware that living in a wooden house on an exposed island often comes with a lot of renovating and painting.

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