Uncover Sweden’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Sweden is recognised for many achievements. However, few people are aware that Sweden is in the top 20 list of countries with the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In total, there are 15 sprinkled all over the country.
UNESCO has identified 15 World Heritage Sites in Sweden considered having outstanding value to humanity. These sites are in good company on a list that includes the pyramids of Egypt, China’s Great Wall, the Acropolis in Greece and some of the great cathedrals of the world.
Here’s a brief look at the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Sweden – from south to north.
1. Naval Port of Karlskrona
The Naval Port of Karlskrona is one of several UNESCO World Heritage Sites located in the southern half of Sweden. This naval port, dating back to 1680, is an exceptionally well-preserved example of a European naval town. It contains one of the few dockyards in the world where it is still possible to see buildings and docks specifically designed for the construction of sailing warships. The site includes fortifications, the naval dockyard and harbour, the historic town itself and installations in the surrounding district.
There are plenty of places to stay in and around the city of Karlskrona and many accommodations come with a sea view in this naval town. There’s no shortage of restaurants, cafes and bars to choose from either. Treat yourself to a “fika” with home-baked treats at Systrarna Lindqvist Cafe & Surdegsbageri.
2. Agricultural Landscape of Southern Öland
Öland is a popular summer destination just off Sweden’s south east coast. During summer you might spot a member of the Swedish Royal family, who have their summer residence Solliden on the island. A vast limestone plateau dominates the southern part of Öland, where the climate is rather dry. Despite such physical constraints, people have been living here for 5,000 years, adapting their way of life to the island. This has resulted in a unique landscape and cultural tradition which still exists today. The island can be reached from Kalmar by a six-kilometre bridge. Another attraction on Öland is Borgholm Castle.
Öland is a popular summer destination and it’s good to book early. You can choose from hotels, hostels, camping, Bed & Breakfast and other accommodations. There’s also a boat harbour for those sailing in. For a taste of traditional Swedish food, such as “kroppkakor”, a type of dumpling, head over to Arontorps restaurant.
3. Hanseatic Town of Visby
Gotland, just north of Öland, and its main town of Visby is another popular summer island destination for Swedes. Dating back to the 12th century, Visby is a remarkably well-preserved Hanseatic town with a number of ruins and a medieval ring wall with original towers, which encircles the city centre. The World Heritage Site of Visby is truly a highlight for people looking for history, culture and scenery.
There are so many excellent restaurants and cafes in Visby that it’s hard to choose where to eat! Some, however, are only open during the high season. There are plenty of accommodations to choose from as well, but remember to book in advance especially if you plan to visit in July.
4. Grimeton Radio Station, Varberg
Perhaps one of the more unusual sites on the list, is the Grimeton Radio Station in Varberg, on the west coast of Sweden. It was built in the early 1920s and its buildings, transmitter system and original steel towers are so well preserved that Grimeton was put on the list as an outstanding example of the development of telecommunications. The radio station is also the only surviving example of a major transmitting station using pre-electronic technology. You don’t have to be a radio buff to find this technological time warp fascinating.
Varberg, just 9.5 kilometres from the Grimeton Radio Station, has a number of hotels. Try the stately Varbergs Stadshotell & Asia Spa with a pool. In addition to the hotel’s restaurant, there are several restaurants in the town of Varberg. The Grimeton Radio Station has its own café – so you won’t go hungry!
5. Rock Carvings in Tanum
The intriguing rock carvings in Tanum have landed on the World Heritage list as an outstanding example of Bronze Age art. There are an astonishing 1,500 known rock carving sites in western Sweden’s Bohuslän region, including the ones in Tanum, where inhabitants from the Bronze Age have carved images into the smooth rocks of the landscape. The Vitlycke carving, depicting a bridal couple, is among the most well-known of these carvings. Follow the well-marked six kilometre path for a fascinating exploration of many more rock carvings.
The town of Tanum offers accommodations such as the Hotel Tanums Gestgifveri, a cosy 17th-century manor house or Tanumstrand hotel, overlooking the harbour. Dine at the hotel restaurants or one of the nearby restaurants, such as Restaurang Källaren Kök & Catering, which offers a daily lunch special.
6. Skogskyrkogården in Stockholm
Skogskyrkogården (the Woodland Cemetery) is located just south of the Stockholm city centre and surprised many people when it was selected for the UNESCO list in 1994. The UNESCO World Heritage committee chose the cemetery for its uniqueness and its early 20th century architecture and landscape design. At Skogskyrkogården, architects Gunnar Asplund and Sigurd Lewerentz established a new form of cemetery that has since influenced burial sites around the world.
The cemetery is located just south of central Stockholm, within walking distance of the Skogskyrkogården green line metro station. There’s a shop and café in the Visitors Centre, located in a Gunnar Asplund-designed building from 1923.
7. Royal Domain of Drottningholm
The Swedish Royal family residence of Drottningholm was the first site in Sweden to be listed by UNESCO, back in 1991. Drottningholm and its vast domain is a popular attraction, located only 10 kilometres west of Stockholm. In addition to the Royal Palace, Drottningholm contains well-preserved gardens from different periods, as well as a Chinese Pavilion and Palace Theatre. The theatre is the only surviving 18th century theatre in the world with the original machinery and sets preserved, and it’s still used to this day. Drottningholm was selected for the UNESCO list as being representative of European architecture of that period.
For those who don’t have a picnic lunch to eat on the grounds of Drottningholm, there is Karamellan Restaurant and Cafe, situated near the castle entrance and the summer café by the Chinese Pavilion. If you want to stay in a castle overnight, the Åkeshofs Slott (Castle) is just 4.5 kilometres away.
8. Birka and Hovgården
For anyone familiar with Birka, located about 30 kilometres west of Stockholm on the small island of Björkö in Lake Mälaren, it comes as no surprise that the archaeological site landed on the World Heritage List. The Birka and related Hovgården complex was chosen as an exceptionally well-preserved testimony to the trade network established by the Vikings and is one of the most complete examples of a Viking trading settlement of the 8th-10th centuries. Birka is easily accessible by boat from Stockholm. Hovgården is situated on the neighbouring island of Adelsö and was once home to the royal residence that governed Birka.
Birka has a restaurant as well as a café. There are no tourist accommodations in Birka, but there is a guest harbour for visitors travelling with their own boat. There are plenty of hotels and other tourist accommodations in Stockholm, Mariefred, Strängnäs and other ferry-to-Birka departure points.
9. Engelsberg Ironworks
Heading north of Stockholm you’ll come to the Engelsberg Ironworks (Engelsbergs bruk) in Ängelsberg. It was selected by UNESCO as an outstanding example of an influential European industrial complex of the 17th –19th centuries with important technological remains and buildings still intact. The site includes a blacksmith’s forge, a smelting house, lush gardens and a manor house built in 1746. There’s a crafts shop and a café that are open during the summer, making for an ideal day trip.
In addition to the café at Engelsberg Ironworks, there’s the Nya Serveringen restaurant in Ängelsberg for a home-cooked lunch and waterside view. You can stay a short distance from the ironworks at the Engelsbergs Pensionat, Värdshuset Engelbrekt or the Tallbacka hostel.
10. Mining Area of the Great Copper Mountain in Falun
Copper mining and production began in the Falun area in central Sweden as early as the 9th century and came to an end 11 centuries later (1992). The mining area had a profound influence on mining technology all over the world. Its authentic buildings, structures and associated equipment are on the World Heritage List as a well-preserved example of mining traditions and construction. Visitors can enter the Giant Pit mine, 67 metres underground, which dates back to the 1600s. There’s also a mining museum with an interactive journey and film covering the area’s mining history.
Right on the premises is a Bed & Breakfast in a building from the 1700s, with half of the rooms overlooking the Great Pit, a giant open pit. There are several cafes and restaurants housed in historical buildings on the mining site.
11. Decorated Farmhouses of Hälsingland
Seven decorated farmhouses in Hälsingland, in northeast Sweden, are situated within 100 kilometres of each other. These richly decorated wooden farmhouses date back to the 1800s. They were put on the list due to their folk-art traditions and the way they reflect the wealth and social status of the ordinary farmers who built them. The interiors of the highly decorated houses include so-called Dalecarlian paintings, folk art that was made by artists from the neighbouring province of Dalarna. Most of the farmhouses are privately owned, but guided tours are available through the visitors’ centre.
The Erik-Anders farmhouse in Asta has five rooms with showers for those who want to stay in a UNESCO World Heritage farmhouse. There’s also a café with both indoor and outdoor seating. The Ystegårn Café & Bistro has Bed & Breakfast accommodations. Dating back to the 1700s, it is another great place to soak up Hälsingland culture and history.
12. The High Coast/Kvarken Archipelago
Sweden has many beautiful natural sites, but the High Coast is the only one on the Swedish list designated as a Natural World Heritage Site. The High Coast is situated on one side of the Gulf of Bothnia in the northern part of the Baltic Sea, while the Finnish Kvarken Archipelago is on the opposite side. The landscape is mainly the result of the last Ice Age, which created the world’s highest coastline, as well as thousands of low-lying islands, shallow bays and fields of boulders. It was chosen for the list due to its exceptional geological value and with its open sea, mountains and forests, it offers visitors plenty to explore.
The High Coast has everything from luxury hotels to hostels and self-catering cabins so it’s just a matter of choosing what suits your budget and taste. You won’t go hungry or thirsty either. There are many pubs, restaurants, cafes and speciality food stores if you want to put together a picnic and enjoy the scenery.
13. Church Town of Gammelstad, Luleå
The town of Luleå in northern Sweden began as a small church and trading place before growing into a city, which was moved in the 17th century. However, the old church town of Gammelstad remained intact and today it is the country’s largest and best-preserved church town, with more than 400 cottages, a medieval church and other historically valuable buildings. The typical red cottages were used by farmers from the surrounding areas as overnight accommodations when they attended church, parish meetings, markets and other activities. Take a guided tour or rent an audio guide to truly immerse yourself in 17th century Swedish life.
The city of Luleå (about 10 kilometres away) has plenty of restaurants and accommodations to choose from. If you prefer to be in a country setting, there’s Sunderby Hotell & Konferens, just 6 kilometres from the Gammelstad Church Town.
14. Laponian Area/Swedish Lapland
Laponia, in the Swedish Lapland, has been recognised as a World Heritage Site for both its culture and its nature. It is located in the Arctic Circle region of northern Sweden and is home to the Sami people, who herd their reindeer towards the mountains every summer. Laponia is the largest area of the world with an ancestral way of life based on the seasonal movement of livestock. It is also one of the last places in the world where such an ancestral way of life continues.
Stora Sjöfallet national park, with a hotel, apartments, camping and restaurant, is the only commercial accommodation in the UNESCO World Heritage site, so be prepared to camp or stay in a basic cabin and bring your own food. There are many more living and dining options in the Laponian towns of Jokkmokk, Gällivare and Jukkasjärvi.
15. Struve Geodetic Arc
The Struve Geodetic Arc in the north of Sweden is actually a chain of survey points that stretches from Hammerfest in Norway to the Black Sea, through 10 countries. The survey points were carried out between 1816 and 1855 under the direction of German astronomer Wilhelm von Struve to help determine the size and shape of the planet. Seven of the 265 measured landmarks or stations are located in Sweden and four of these (Kiruna, Pajala, Övertorneå and Haparanda) are part of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
You’ll find accommodations and restaurants in Kiruna, Pajala, Övertorneå and Haparanda, where the Struve Geodetic Arc stations are located. Kiruna, the northernmost municipality in Sweden, is the largest centre of the four places.
The complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Sweden
- Agricultural Landscape of Southern Öland (2000)
- Birka and Hovgården (1993)
- Church Town of Gammelstad, Luleå (1996)
- Decorated Farmhouses of Hälsingland (2012)
- Engelsberg Ironworks (1993)
- Grimeton Radio Station, Varberg (2004)
- Hanseatic Town of Visby (1995)
- Mining Area of the Great Copper Mountain in Falun (2001)
- Naval Port of Karlskrona (1998)
- Rock Carvings in Tanum (1994)
- Royal Domain of Drottningholm (1991)
- Skogskyrkogården (1994)
- Struve Geodetic Arc (2005)
- High Coast / Kvarken Archipelago (2000,2006)
- Laponian Area (1996)