SHARE
COPY LINK
For members

SWEDISH TRADITIONS

Where to celebrate Walpurgis Night in Sweden in 2022

After two years of subdued pandemic celebrations, Sweden's Valborg celebrations will return in all their former glory this Saturday. Here are some of the biggest and best bonfires out there.

Where to celebrate Walpurgis Night in Sweden in 2022
The Valborg bonfire at the Skansen amusement park is one of the best places to celebrate in Stockholm. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

On April 30, or Valborgsmässoafton, large bonfires, said to ward off evil spirits, are lit in public parks across the country. People gather to listen to speeches and songs welcoming a brighter future. 

Over the past two years, pandemic restrictions have meant smaller celebrations and limited public gatherings for these annual festivities, but this year, festivities will take place with their full force across the country. 

Student cities of Lund and Uppsala

Some of the biggest (and most drunken) celebrations take part in the student cities of Lund and Uppsala.

In Lund, there’s a big celebration of some 30,000 people in the main city park. This is known as spontanfesten or ‘the spontaneous party’ since there are no official organisers, 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. 

Valborg celebrations in Lund. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

In Uppsala, the real action happens in the student “nations”, the student fraternities/housing associations which are not open to the general public. But expect the parks to be full of drunken students from breakfast onwards. 

A highlight is the traditional raft race down the Fyris river running through the city, for which students design their own inventive vessels. 

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. There is another bonfire by the castle in the city centre. 

Stockholm 

In Stockholm, head to the Skansen park, where there will be a big bonfire lit at 9pm near the Solliden stage, with speeches, singing, and spectacular views over the city. 

This is a great option for families, as you can make a day of it by visiting the zoo and the open-air museum of historic buildings from across Sweden. Be aware of the entry fee, although anyone with a valid student ID can get free admission. 

Most of Stockholm’s big fires are south of Södermalm, with a family-friendly option at Enskedefältet, and others in Bandängen, at Nytorps gärde, and in Årsta. 

For those wanting to celebrate in the archipelago, Grinda, near Växholm has one of the biggest events. 

Fireworks in Gothenburg’s Slottsskogen Park. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

Gothenburg and Malmö 

In Sweden’s second city, one of the best known traditions is 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.

There’s a spring concert at Nackrosdammen, a lily pond near the city centre.  And in the evening, the biggest fire will be in Slottsskogen, 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 Akademiska kören choir will perform. 

In Malmö, the municipality is not arranging a Valborg celebration this year. But the Social Democrats are arranging events around the city, in conjunction with ABF, the party-affiliated education organisation.  

By Lisa Catterall and Richard Orange

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

FOOD & DRINK

Swedish foodie secrets: How to find Sweden’s best semla

Semlor are traditional Swedish cardamom buns filled with whipped cream and almond paste. But what should you look for in a good semla, and what should you avoid?

Swedish foodie secrets: How to find Sweden's best semla

Semlor are traditionally eaten on Shrove Tuesday or Fettisdagen, as the last festive food before Lent, a traditional fasting period leading up to Easter. Fettisdagen falls on March 1st this year, so now is the time to indulge in one of the season’s best treats.

They are known as fastlagsbullar in southern Sweden, and – despite their origins – are now commonly available in bakeries from the end of the Christmas season to the start of Easter, rather than just on Shrove Tuesday.

A good semla is no more than the sum of its parts – the holy trinity of cardamom bun, whipped cream and almond paste. The ideal semla will take all of these individual parts into account, with each bite a perfect mix of cream, bun, and almond.

We asked semla-lovers on Twitter and in Malmö foodie group Malmöfoodisar on Facebook to tell us what you should look for in the ideal semla – here’s what they said.

A semla cross-section. There’s a layer of almond paste hiding somewhere under all that cream. Photo: Becky Waterton/The Local

The bun: ‘Absolutely not too dry’

Most of the people who got in touch were in agreement – a semla bun needs to have a noticeable cardamom flavour, without taking over. Rhiannon on Twitter said that “roughly ground cardamom in the bread” was important, with “a nice dusting of icing sugar on top of the bun”.

Joakim on Facebook said that, in his opinion the bun should be a “rather soft wheat bun with a light cardamom touch (the cardamom shouldn’t take over)”.

Charlotta, from the same Facebook group, said that the bun should be “fluffy with a noticeable cardamom flavour”, stating that she also enjoys “more historical semlor you can find further north where the inside of the bun is partly removed and mixed with the almond paste”.

Linnéa said on Facebook that the bun should be “soft and smooth, and absolutely not too dry”.

A semla from St. Jakobs bakery in Malmö. Nice crunchy almond paste and a good sized lid. Too much cream for me so my husband got the other half. Photo: Becky Waterton/The Local

The cream: ‘High quality’

Semla cream should be “high quality whipped cream”, Rhiannon told us on Twitter, although on Facebook, people were split as to whether cream should include vanilla or not. My prefers her semlor to have “whipped cream with a bit of vanilla”, whereas Maria said that there should be “no jävla vanilla!” using a Swedish expletive that can be best translated into English as “bloody” or “damn”.

Cecilia said that there should be “enough fluffy cream so there’s a bit in every bite”, and Charlotta told us that the cream should be “quite lightly whipped (hand-whipped, if possible), absolutely not sweetened”.

Joakim likes the cream in his semla to be “lightly whipped with nothing extra added, so the better the cream the better the flavour”.

Linnéa told us that her ideal semla had “lots of cream (vegan if possible)” – although semlor can be heavy on the dairy, vegans can also enjoy the Lenten treat if the cream is oat- or soya-based.

Some vegan semlor can be as good as – or even better than – normal cream-based semlor, which dairy company Arla awkwardly found out when a vegan semla was voted into first place in their semla competition last year. Unfortunately for the bakery in question, Arla ended up cancelling the competition, which the company’s press officer told newspaper Dagens Nyheter was due to a “lack of engagement from bakers around the country”.

The company told the newspaper that, instead of handing out a prize, they would “buy one hundred semla from each of the top one hundred entries” and donate them to care homes – with one caveat: “we’re only going to buy semlor made with cream and butter”.

Definitely a semla for cream lovers! From Hedh Escalante in Malmö. This one was bought reduced at the end of the day but was still delicious. Photo: Becky Waterton/The Local

The almond paste: ‘Chunky in texture’

The third component of a semla, the almond paste or mandelmassa can fall into two categories: smooth or chunky with pieces of almond. Rhiannon and Sebastian on Twitter both said that they preferred their almond paste “chunky”, with Sebastian saying that mandelmassa that is too smooth is a no-go, as “you’ll just be reminded of cheap peanut butter”.

Cecilia prefers a semla with “a generous amount of almond paste made from well-roasted almonds so that the paste is dark brown, with bits of almond in”.

Joakim likes a “nice soft almond paste” in his semla, saying that “it shouldn’t be a hard lump”, whereas Maria prefers “soft and chewy” almond paste in hers.

Renee said that a semla offering “something other than mandelmassa” is appreciated by those with a nut allergy, adding that her partner “insists on putting in Calvados for the mandelmassa eaters” which, although not traditional is “the real trick”.

From top left: a choux semla, traditional semla and chocolate semla. All from Mat- och Chokladstudion, Malmö. Photo from 2021. Photo: Becky Waterton/The Local

The top: ‘Wimpy little triangular lids’

Mikael prefers a lid he can use as a spoon to “scoop up the cream”, which he says rules out the “wimpy little triangular lids” many bakers go for. He also said that a small triangular lid can give a semla the “wrong balance”, leaving it “with too much bun on the bottom”.

Maria said that “it’s not necessary to cut the lid into a triangle”, and that there should be “lagom icing sugar on top”. Lagom, in case you didn’t know, is the Swedish term for “just enough”.

Cecilia likes the lid of her semla to be well dusted with icing sugar, saying that is should be “really sweet”.

Milk or no milk?

Some old-school semla eaters may be intrigued by the concept of hetvägg – a semla served in a bowl of warm milk. Thomas told us that he prefers his semla to have a “high mandelmassa to cream ratio”, served “with warm milk”.

Sebastian, on the other hand, was not a fan, telling us “for God’s sake, skip the milk thing. It’s vile”.

Charlotte said that hetvägg is good if you have “a dry semla or haven’t managed to eat it in time”, describing it as “like a bread and butter pudding using up something which has gone stale”.

No semlor were harmed in the making of this article. Except this one from Gateau, which I accidentally dropped. Photo: Becky Waterton/The Local

‘Try to eat as many as you can’

Sofi on Twitter’s best semla tip was “if it’s your first ever semla, have a home-baked one or one you get from a really good bakery. The ones you get from a supermarket may remind you of the good stuff, but if this is where you start, you’ll never learn to enjoy it”.

John on Facebook had extremely good advice: he said that you should “try to eat as many as you can. Then eventually you’ll find the one you like the best.” 

Joakim said that “most important of all is that the semla is eaten very shortly after it is made”, stating that “a semla which has been stored in a fridge has already suffered the biggest sin, with the question of whether it can even be called a semla any more”.

Semla influencers

If this article hasn’t given you enough semla tips for this semla season, our commenters also gave us their tips for the best semla influencers who have taken upon themselves the noble task of testing semlor so you don’t have to.

These semla influencers include two Instagram accounts: @gemigsemla (Give me semla), who has previously reviewed Gothenburg’s semlor in 2020 and Malmö’s semlor in 2021. The second semla influencer we were recommended was @not.so.fine.dining, who reviews all sorts of food in Malmö, but reviewed the city’s traditional semlor in 2020, and non-traditional or “dumsemlor” in 2021

Unfortunately, we did not get any tips for semla influencers in Stockholm – let us know if you know of someone we’ve missed!

Finally, Malmö foodie group Malmöfoodisar gave us their semla tips for this article – have a look at their sister groups for Stockholm and Gothenburg if you’re looking for the best Swedish foodie tips in other cities!

SHOW COMMENTS