The seven wonders of Östergötland

From the natural to the man-made, the stunning, diverse region of Östergötland has many highlights. The Local uncovers some of them and ponders, is this the best place to live in Sweden?

The seven wonders of Östergötland
Cross-country skiers in Glottern Nature Reserve outside Norrköping. Photo: Fredrik Schlyter/

Östergötland, or East Sweden, is flanked by the Baltic Sea on one side, and impressive Lake Vättern on the other. It’s home to cities, including Linköping and Norrköping, and a number of vibrant towns. The region has a reputation for being a haven of innovation and industry and is well connected, with two airports and short connection time via train to Stockholm – just 1.5 hours from Norrköping and about two hours from Linköping. 

A population of 467,000 people already call this beautiful pocket of Sweden home, and more and more people are moving here. They are drawn to its work-life balance, study opportunities, exciting tech careers and affordable living, where nature and city life are both on the doorstep.

We spoke to two of Östergötland’s residents – Anna Österlund, a nature-lover who grew up in the region, and Colombian-born Hela Galvis who has lived and studied in Sweden for five years – and also got some help from East Sweden to round up seven wonders that make Östergötland so special.

Discover more about the inspiring region of Östergötland

1. Cool industrial landscapes

Östergötland has creativity and industrial innovation built into its DNA it seems. Nicknamed Sweden’s Manchester for its industrial heritage and vibe, Norrköping is a medium-sized city about 135 kilometres south of Stockholm. The city is home to former textile warehouses and paper mills from the Industrial Revolution era, which are well-preserved and located on the waterfront in the city centre.

The historic buildings and waterways, with their dams and waterfalls, are accessed via bridges and paths and make for a unique landscape. 

Both Hela and Anna highlight Industrilandskapet (The Industrial Landscape) of Norrköping and its evolution today. “Now these closed textile factories are pulsating restaurants, museums, homes, apartments, co-working office spaces, walking routes – the area’s really come to life … it’s absolutely one of the coolest things to see here,” says Anna. 

“There are beautiful canals to walk around in both Norrköping and Linköping,” says Hela.

Another transformation of a former industrial area is underway in Östergötland in the birthplace of the Göta Kanal, Motala. Known as the ‘cradle of industry in Sweden’, the area of the old Motala Verkstad is about to change, starting with the exciting, newly renovated Lokverkstan, an event area bringing unique life, action and concerts to this historic waterfront.

2. An impressive man-made feat: Göta Kanal

Speaking of Göta Kanal, this local wonder is an engineering marvel. Constructed in the early 19th century, the canal and its 58 locks runs for an incredible 190 kilometres and links to waterways that reach from Söderköping in Östergötland to Gothenburg on Sweden’s west coast. 

From ice skating in the winter to swimming in the summer, and from cycling beside it to boating along it, there are a number of ways and places to enjoy the canal

One of Anna’s weekend activities, after a fika with friends and her children, is a walk by the canal. “You can’t help but to be amazed by the engineering, and that’s from 200 years ago when they built it, and it’s still up and running,” she says.

Find out more about what life is like Östergötland – where you don’t have to choose between career and lifestyle

Anna Österlund enjoying Östergötland’s nature walks with her family; Hela Galvis making the most of the summer sun in Söderköping.

3. A growth region with career opportunities 

East Sweden can be described as a hub of ICT, tech and innovation with international cutting-edge expertise. Its strength in these fields comes from the mix of high-end research, industrial companies and exciting smaller start-ups. 

There are an impressive 45,000 businesses in the region including several big international companies that operate from here, like Toyota Material Handling, Siemens Energy, Ericsson, Saab and Väderstad. And there are more than 170,000 jobs in a range of different industries waiting to be snapped up. 

Logistics and transport is a major employer – the region has a strong infrastructure and a good logistical location. The forward-thinking nature of the region means there is an emphasis on the logistics of the future, centring on efficiency and sustainability. 

For students, Linköping University is one of the largest in Sweden, with more than 32,000 students and an array of course opportunities with its 120 degree programmes. 

And work opportunities don’t only centre around Östergötland’s main cities, Linköping and Norrköping. Other areas in the region are also home to companies and have a history of industry still thriving today, for example, steel in Boxhom, aluminium in Finspång, and in Mjölby, the headquarters of Toyota Material Handling. 

Learn about the exciting possibilities of a tech career in East Sweden

4. The great outdoors

We can’t talk about Östergötland without mentioning its natural attractions. The Östgötaskärgården, Archipelago of Östergötland, lies off the east coast in the Baltic Sea. Made up of St. Anna, Arkösund, and the Gryt and Tjust archipelagos, it features seaside villages, lighthouses, harbours, beaches, stunning rocky outcrops and pockets of green isles – perfect for weekend boating, fishing, camping and kayaking adventures. 

On the other side of Östergötland, is the beautiful – and huge – Lake Vättern, its eastern shores forming Östergötland’s border. On the waterfront here at medieval, cobblestoned Vadstena is where St Birgitta of Sweden established her convent and order.

St Birgitta’s Trail is a pilgrimage route that finishes in Vadstena and traverses breathtaking Östergötland scenery, winding through verdant meadows and mystical forest for 145 kilometres to Söderköping.

The equally fantastic Östgötaleden takes hikers on 1500 kilometres of trails through all 13 of the region’s municipalities. So no matter where you are in the region, you can easily access and walk a marked nature trail.  

It’s this closeness to nature that both Anna and Hela enjoy about living in the region. Marked, family-friendly walking trails, exploring lush countryside and visiting pretty lakeside spots for outdoor fika are some of the activities that fill their weekends.

“It’s a place for soft adventure,” says Anna. “There are accessible hiking trails throughout the region. It makes it really easy for us as a family, even with strollers, to get out into the woods. And even by the ocean we have really nice hiking.”

Kayaking the St. Anna archipelago. Photo: Visit Söderköping/Crelle Ekstrand

5. Cities worth talking about

Norrköping and Linköping are exciting cities with nightlife, charming shopping quarters like Knäppingsborg in Norrköping, and restaurants serving up incredible local produce (which can actually be found throughout the entire region!).

“In Norrköping there is this kind of small explosion of culture happening,” says Hela. “You can randomly run into a concert, or a new design store that has popped up.” 

There are also plenty of museums, like Linköping’s Friluftsmuseet, to entertain the kids for days, and Norrköping Art Museum for modernist lovers.

Norrköping hosts annual cultural events year-round, like the three-day Kulturnatten, the summer street party Augustifesten, and the light art festival from November to January, Norrköping Light Festival. 

“The cities in East Sweden are pretty much like any other capital city where things are available,” says Hela, adding that the difference is the less hectic pace of life. 

Anna agrees, “I may love the countryside, but I don’t think I’ll ever want to live far away from a city … I want to always have the possibility to go to a nice restaurant or a decent theatre show and I can get everything that I want from Östergötland.” 

6. Small town appeal 

It’s not only the bigger cities of Östergötland that are wonders of the region; its towns are lively hubs too. 

For example, culture lovers will enjoy Vadstena, a historical town with an interesting calendar that includes annual summer operas and Shakespearean dramas

While charming Söderköping is the launching point to exploring the St. Anna archipelago and has a postcard-worthy medieval town centre, ice cream shops dotted along the Göta Kanal and a host of family-friendly events and markets throughout the year. 

The Norrköping Light Festival illuminates the city’s industrial landscape. Image: Peter Holgersson AB

7. A place of innovation

The region breeds creativity, innovation and growth. It’s home to a broad array of innovation hotspots, including its two impressive science parks: Linköping Science Park and Norrköping Science Park. Here, research, education and entrepreneurship collide, giving birth to exciting collaborations and innovation. 

Advanced materials like solar cells on a roll, energy-storing paper and artificial skin are being developed in this high-tech region, where fascinating research and development is taking place and a business cluster for new materials is forming. 

It’s a place lauded for its innovative healthcare, too, thanks to the high-quality, advanced medical care throughout the region, and the open research climate of the nationally and internationally recognised University Hospital in Linköping.

As with much of Sweden, there is also a focus on the environment. The breadth of sectors in Östergötland – from companies to universities to public institutions – are working toward smart solutions, the circular economy and green resource efficiency. 

“Here people work in this high-tech environment where there is in-depth knowledge and thinking but it is also very calm and there is respect for nature and people really don’t want to rush,” says Hela, who praises the calmer and more respectful work-life balance she has felt since moving to Norrköping. “If you’re into that, this is your place to be!”

Dreaming of a change to the good life? Find out about life in East Sweden

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Living in Sweden has changed me in the strangest ways

On a recent trip back home I found myself rolling my eyes at my parents as they went around the house closing all the curtains the second it got dark. It was at that point I knew: Sweden has changed me.

Living in Sweden has changed me in the strangest ways

My attitude to light has changed

You may have noticed while walking around Swedish towns or cities that few Swedish properties have curtains. This can be quite a sharp contrast if you, like me, come from a culture where curtains are closed the second it gets dark outside, so that passers-by can’t see you through your windows.

During my first few months in Sweden – which also happened to coincide with the Coronavirus pandemic – I realised while I was mindlessly looking out of my window one dark evening at the block of flats across our courtyard that I appreciated being able to see the small squares of light in my neighbour’s windows.

Like twinkly fairy lights, they were reassuring, a small window into the daily lives of strangers which made me feel closer to other humans in a time where we were encouraged to be distant and socialise as little as possible.

I still think about that feeling when I look out of the window and see those yellow squares with tiny figures moving from room to room, even more so during winter, where they’re decorated with Advent candles and Christmas stars.

Becky Waterton spends much of the winter in Sweden under a blanket. Photo: Helena Landstedt/TT

I go into hibernation in winter

Another Swedish habit which I’ve adopted is going into hibernation in winter. Not literally, obviously, but more in a sense of taking part in fewer social activities and spending more time at home (usually under a blanket).

I’m not sure if this is due to arriving here just before the pandemic or the fact that I have a young child (so I don’t spend that many evenings outside of the house anyway!), but this hibernation period usually consists of eating comfort food, putting on warm and cosy clothing and spending a lot of time indoors looking out at the cold, grey skies that dominate Sweden for so much of the year.

There’s an old saying in Sweden, ingen dåligt väder, bara dåligt kläder (no bad weather, only bad clothes), but this doesn’t seem to apply in winter, where it appears perfectly acceptable to just stay indoors. 

On the other hand, as soon as the weather is nice (which usually happens some time around March), the pressure rises to go outside and make the most of the weather, even if you’d actually rather prefer to stay at home.

Becky Waterton now thinks nothing of eating a “macka” for breakfast. Photo: Claudio Bresciani / TT

Changing your eating habits

Obviously, there are some things you stop eating when you move to Sweden as you are no longer able to get hold of them. Pre-packed sandwiches for lunch, small bags of crisps and fish and chips on a Friday are a few examples of things I naturally stopped eating when I first moved abroad.

Other things grow on you slowly. Since moving to Sweden, I rarely eat a sandwich with two slices of bread, instead eating a macka, a slice of bread with topping. I would never before have eaten a sandwich for breakfast, but I regularly eat mackor, whereas previously I might have gone for porridge or just plain toast with butter.

There is one Swedish foodstuff I will never accept, though, and that’s bread made using sugar or syrup, such as the limpa bread which haunts supermarket aisles down here in Skåne. It may make me look a bit odd checking the ingredients of every loaf in the supermarket, but I will die on this hill, and I have accepted that fact.

You’re probably expecting me to say something about how Swedes only eat sweets on Saturdays, and that I have also adopted this habit.

Although lördagsgodis has also become part of my weekly schedule, I have quite cunningly combined this with my previous sweet-eating habits, meaning that I not only can eat sweets on whichever day of the week I want, I can also gorge on them when Saturday comes around. 

I have, however, entirely embraced the habit of fika. Any excuse to eat one of Sweden’s many excellent pastries with a cup of tea (yes, I’ve not gone full-Swede on the hot drink front, either) is welcome, in my book.