Things to do
Sweden has history museums about almost everything
Sweden offers museums with various historical orientations. All over the country, museums bring history to life – not only from Sweden but from around the world.
There is a large variety of historical museums of all categories and sizes in Sweden. Visitors will find museums about everything from natural history to architecture and design. Some museums focus on royal or military history while others highlight the historical and cultural heritage of nations around the world.
There are four National Museums of World Culture in Sweden, which share the international history of mankind from an ethnographic and anthropological perspective.
- Museum of World Culture (Världskulturmuseet) in Gothenburg
- Museum of Ethnography (Etnografiska museet) in Stockholm
- Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities (Östasiatiska museet) in Stockholm
- Museum of Mediterranean and Near Eastern Antiquities (Medelhavsmuseet) in Stockholm
Through their collections of native artefacts and rare antiquities from all five continents visitors gain a unique view on world cultures.
Castles, royal art collections and architecture
Across the countryside, many castles and palaces of the royal families and mansions of the nobility are open to the public. They offer a unique glance into everyday life as well as the many dramatic shifts in Sweden’s long history.
Here are three royal sites worth a visit:
- The Royal Armoury. Located in the cellar vaults below the Royal Palace in Stockholm, this is Sweden’s oldest museum, dating back to 1628, when King Gustav II Adolf decided that certain royal items were to be preserved for history. The museum showcases clothing, weapons, coaches and carriages that have belonged to the kings and queens of Sweden since the 1600s.
- Kalmar Castle. Located in the city of Kalmar on the southeast coast, this medieval castle has been the centre of historical events for 800 years. It has housed royal families and served both as a border fortress and a prison.
- Gripsholm Castle. Located in Mariefred in Södermanland, south of Stockholm, it was built in 1537 and features an impressive portrait collection of kings and famous Swedes.
For centuries, Swedish royalty have collected art and historical artefacts. When Nationalmuseum in Stockholm opened in 1866, parts of the royal collections were moved here from the Royal Palace across the water. Lately, the museum has undergone a complete renovation. Art and design objects are now displayed in a chronological timeline that spans six centuries from the 1500s.
Within walking distance from Nationalmuseum, on the island of Skeppsholmen, you can marvel at contemporary art and inspiring modern architecture at Moderna Museet and ArkDes, The Swedish Centre for Architecture and Design.
Meet the Vikings and the Sami people of the north
Sweden’s history dates to 8,000 B.C. and some ancient historical sites are open to visit anytime. At Kåseberga in the Skåne region, Ales Stenar is an oval shaped ship made up of 59 large stones. This megalithic monument was created 1,400 years ago and may have functioned as an astronomic calendar for the winter and summer solstices.
The Vikings never cease to fascinate. At the Historiska Museet in Stockholm one of the largest collections of Viking gold objects in Europe is on display in the “Gold Room”. In 2020 a multimedia interactive exhibition – We call them Vikings – will become a new permanent part of the museum.
The Sami are the indigenous people of Sápmi, an area that stretches across parts of northern Sweden, Norway, Finland and Murmansk in Russia. Sami history is told at the Ájtte Museum in Jokkmokk in the Norrbotten region.
About 20,000 Sami live in Sweden – with their own cultural heritage, language, flag and parliament. Eco-tourism is a relatively new way for Sweden’s native population to make a living. Guided tours of northern lights and rides in reindeer sleds are examples of popular activities provided by Nutti Sámi Siida, which is one of the tourism companies in Swedish Lapland. Photo: Anna Öhlund/imagebank.sweden.se
Peaceful botanic gardens
Scandinavia’s oldest university was founded in 1477 in the city of Uppsala, north of Stockholm. Swedish zoologist and botanist Carl Linneaus studied here and formalized the system of naming animals and plants in his book Systema Naturae, published in 1735. Linneaus’ botanic garden is the oldest in Sweden and can be visited in the summer.
Besides its vast biology, geology and zoology collection, the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm shows IMAX® format films in its theatre dome, Cosmonova. A few minutes’ walk away is Bergius Botanic Garden with a beautiful 1800s conservatory, housing a pond for the magnificent giant water lilies.
From floating museums to top-secret bunkers
Once a maritime empire of the Baltic Sea in the 1600’s, Sweden has now enjoyed peace for over 200 years. But, if you are interested in military history, you are in luck!
The Swedish Military Heritage consists of 27 selected museums that reflect the defence of Sweden for 500 years. They make up an array of castles, once top-secret fortresses and bunkers, defence bases, ships of all sizes, and military airfields.
- In Gothenburg’s harbour is Maritiman, a floating museum with the world’s largest collection of ships, boats and barges.
- On the southeast coast on the other side of the country, more ships can be boarded at the Naval Museum. Karlskrona became the main naval base in 1680 and today it is Sweden’s only remaining baroque city.
- The Swedish Air Force Museum showcases military aviation from the first half of the 1900s and visitors can also try flight simulators in the Flight Lab. The museum is in Linköping in the Östergötland region in the south of Sweden.
- Farther north, the Boden Fortress tells the story about Swedish defence of the Norrland region. This once top-secret artillery fort has served the Swedish armed forces during WWI, WWII and the Cold War.
For anyone interested in history, museums in Sweden have a lot to offer.