Sweden’s cultural gem is just 30 minutes from Stockholm

Head north instead of south when you touchdown at Stockholm Arlanda and in less than 20 minutes you’ll arrive in Uppsala. Sweden’s fourth-largest city is around 30 minutes by train from Stockholm but shouldn’t be dismissed as a second-rate satellite city.

Sweden’s cultural gem is just 30 minutes from Stockholm
Photo: Anders Tukler/Destination Uppsala

This quaint but cultivated haven is one of Sweden’s most charming destinations. It’s the country’s cultural core, with history, culture and academia galore — much of which is fortunately open to visitors.

The Local took a trip to Sweden’s most climate friendly city to find out why Uppsala deserves a solid couple of days’ exploring. Here’s what we found!

Gamla Uppsala. Photo: Kalbar/ Destination Uppsala

It’s the Swedish equivalent of Oxford

Uppsala is home to Sweden’s first university, a prestigious institution with an impeccable international reputation. Founded in 1477, Uppsala University is among the world’s hundred best universities and a dominating presence in the city. Its 13 ‘student nations’ (or unions) are dotted around Uppsala and lively student life buzzes everywhere – the city is cheaper, cheerier and more authentically Swedish than slick Stockholm.

Start planning your getaway in Uppsala

Uppsala University. Photo: Julio Gonzalez/ Destination Uppsala

Notable Uppsala University alumni include Carl Linnaeus – the naturalist who created the system for classifying and naming nature –  and Anders Celsius – the astronomer who invented the temperature scale. In fact, it was the former who allegedly flipped the latter’s scale to make zero the freezing point (although others have also laid claim to this landmark innovation).

Uppsala still pays homage to both men today — among other attractions dedicated to the scientists, you can visit the Linnaeus Museum, a biographical museum dedicated to the botanist, and see Celsius’s observatory on Svartbäcksgatan in the city centre.

Start planning your getaway in Uppsala

It’s home to the world’s best bookstore

With all that erudition in the air, it’s no surprise that Uppsala is a bibliophile’s dream.

Academia has spilled out of the university and become a big part Uppsala’s character. Consequently, the city has its fair share of bookstores — including the lovely wood-panelled kind that smell like musty old books.

But we bet you didn’t know Uppsala has ‘the world’s best bookstore’!

The English Bookshop. Photo: The Local

That’s right. In May 2018, the London Book Fair named The English Bookshop in Uppsala as its International Excellence bookstore of the year. A cultural cornerstone of the city, it’s more than a bookstore — hosting themed events and evenings with famous authors among other literary activities, it’s a product of owners Jan Smedh’s and Christer Valdeson’s passion and well worth a pilgrimage in its own right.

It’s a cultural and historical haven

Uppsala’s lengthy history began in the third and fourth centuries when Gamla Uppsala (‘Old Uppsala’) was an important Norse religious and political centre. If you’ve done your research, you may also know that Uppsala is the site of the famous burial mounds where lie the remains of three sixth century kings. The mounds, and their distinctive hillock shape, are now a symbol of city.

Uppsala has embraced its strong historic profile. There are more museums in the small-ish city than you can shake a cultural stick at.

Don’t miss the Gustavianum where you can learn about different fields of natural science, astronomy and chemistry. Make your way to the dome of the museum to marvel (a little macabrely) at its restored anatomical theatre, built by Swedish scientist Olof Rudbeck, famous for mapping out the lymphatic system.

Uppsala Konstmuseum. Photo: Niklas Lundengård/ Destination Uppsala

The crown jewel in this fascinating museum is without a doubt the 17th-century Augsburg Art Cabinet given as a gift to King Gustav Adolphus II in 1632. Each side is unique and laboriously decorated with boxes and secret compartments made to house 1,000 small objects that represented the world at the time. 

There are plenty more museums and galleries where that came from including Bror Hjorths Hus, a studio museum displaying the Swedish modernist’s art and other temporary exhibitions, and The Museum of Evolution which houses the Nordic countries’ largest collection of dinosaur skeletons.

Start planning your getaway in Uppsala

It’s heaven for foodies

Bars, pubs, cafes, restaurants — there’s no shortage of great places to refuel (and have a tipple) in Uppsala. And you won’t struggle to find some seriously top-notch restaurants, they’re right in front of you from the moment you step off the train.

The old station house, built in the 1860s, is now home to two restaurants: Stationen and Dryck&Mat, the latter of which specialises in wine, building its menus around the beverage. They’re two of 16 restaurants in the city featured in the White Guide, Sweden’s answer to the Michelin Guide. For a city that’s so easy to stroll around, you can quite literally roll out of one award-winning restaurant and into the next.

Stationen restaurant. Photo: Niklas Lundengård/ Destination Uppsala

Of course, there’s fika too. Plenty of fika. For a traditional Swedish coffee break, stop off for a cinnamon bun in Güntherska, a bakery opened in 1887 (then known as Anderssons konditori & damkafé).

There’s nature…everywhere

It’s no secret that Swedes enjoy nature and in Uppsala you’re never more than a stone’s throw from a green space.

Photo: Niklas Lundengård/ Destination Uppsala

In the spring and summer, you can hire canoes and kayaks and go for a paddle on the Uppland canoe trails or Fyrisån river; there are also plenty of recreation areas and exercise trails where you can swim, fish, hike or just sit and enjoy the typically Swedish surroundings.

Uppsala doesn’t shut up shop during the winter. Ice skating paths are ploughed once the lakes have frozen over and nearby Sunnerstaåsen has slopes for skiers and snowboarders.

It’s great for gigs (and an overnight getaway)

If you want to see ‘the next big thing’, it’s likely they’re planning a gig in Uppsala.

Some of the world’s biggest bands (including Black Sabbath before they were known as Black Sabbath) knew that if they wanted to make a name for themselves, Uppsala is the place to do it. Why? They knew the city’s many international inhabitants would be sure to spread the word far and wide. Even Nirvana knew about this small Swedish city — the legendary grunge band scheduled their first international gig in Uppsala (which, unfortunately, was cancelled).

Photo: Malin Kellhorn/ Destination Uppsala

Gigs aside, there’s a year-round calendar of events as well as the famous Uppsala Reggae Festival in July.

Start planning your getaway in Uppsala

Cosy up after a jam-packed day in the city at Hotel Villa Anna, a boutique hotel with reasonably-priced rooms and a great restaurant, or discover one of many more great places to stay while discovering this fascinating city.

This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and sponsored by Destination Uppsala.

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The three tasty treats that make spring in Sweden a forager’s dream

Although parts of Sweden are still under snow at this time of year, spring is in full swing here in Skåne in the south of Sweden. Here are The Local's top tips for what you can forage in the great outdoors this season.

The three tasty treats that make spring in Sweden a forager's dream

You might already have your go-to svampställe where you forage mushrooms in autumn, but mushrooms aren’t the only thing you can forage in Sweden. The season for fruits and berries hasn’t quite started yet, but there is a wide range of produce on offer if you know where to look.

Obviously, all of these plants grow in the wild, meaning it’s a good idea to wash them thoroughly before you use them. You should also be respectful of nature and of other would-be foragers when you’re out foraging, and make sure not to take more than your fair share to ensure there’s enough for everyone.

As with all foraged foods, only pick and eat what you know. The plants in this guide do not look similar to any poisonous plants, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry – or ask someone who knows for help.

Additionally, avoid foraging plants close to the roadside or in other areas which could be more polluted. If you haven’t tried any of these plants before, start in small doses to make sure you don’t react negatively to them.

Wild garlic plants in a park in Alnarpsparken, Skåne. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Wild garlic

These pungent green leaves are just starting to pop up in shady wooded areas, and may even hang around as late as June in some areas. Wild garlic or ramsons, known as ramslök in Swedish, smell strongly of garlic and have wide, flat, pointed leaves which grow low to the ground.

The whole plant is edible: leaves, flowers and the bulbs underground – although try not to harvest too many bulbs or the plants won’t grow back next year.

The leaves have a very strong garlic taste which gets weaker once cooked. Common recipes for wild garlic include pesto and herb butter or herbed oil, but it can generally be used instead of traditional garlic in most recipes. If you’re cooking wild garlic, add it to the dish at the last possible moment so it still retains some flavour.

You can also preserve the flower buds and seed capsules as wild garlic capers, known as ramslökskapris in Swedish, which will then keep for up to a year.

Stinging nettles. Wear gloves when harvesting these to protect yourself from their needles. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Stinging nettles

Brännässlor or stinging nettles need to be cooked before eating to remove their sting, although blanching them for a couple of seconds in boiling water should do the trick. For the same reason, make sure you wear good gardening gloves when you pick them so you don’t get stung.

Nettles often grow in the same conditions as wild garlic – shady woodlands, and are often regarded as weeds.

The younger leaves are best – they can get stringy and tough as they get older.

A very traditional use for brännässlor in Sweden is nässelsoppa, a bright green soup made from blanched nettles, often topped with a boiled or poached egg.

Some Swedes may also remember eating stuvade nässlor with salmon around Easter, where the nettles are cooked with cream, butter and milk. If you can’t get hold of nettles, they can be replaced with spinach for a similar result.

You can also dry nettles and use them to make tea, or use blanched nettles to make nettle pesto.

Kirskål or ground elder, another popular foraged green for this time of year.
Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

Ground elder

Ground elder is known as kirskål in Swedish, and can be used much in the same way as spinach. It also grows in shady areas, and is an invasive species, meaning that you shouldn’t be too worried about foraging too much of it (you might even find some in your garden!).

It is quite common in parks and old gardens, but can also be found in wooded areas. The stems and older leaves can be bitter, so try to focus on foraging the tender, younger leaves.

Ground elder has been cultivated in Sweden since at least 500BC, and has been historically used as a medicinal herb and as a vegetable. This is one of the reasons it can be found in old gardens near Swedish castles or country homes, as it was grown for use in cooking.

Kirskål is available from March to September, although it is best eaten earlier in the season.

As mentioned, ground elder can replace spinach in many recipes – you could also use it for pesto, in a quiche or salad, or to make ground elder soup.