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Umeå river
Sunset over the Umeå river and the city.
Photo credit: Fredrik Larsson / Visit Umeå Content Bank

Umeå – a cultural hotspot immersed in nature

With world-class museums and universities, Umeå is the cultural capital of northern Sweden - and a European Capital of Culture as well – with magnificent wilderness on its doorstep.

Located near the northeast coast of Sweden, Umeå was founded in 1622 by Swedish King Gustav II Adolf. Today, Umeå is often referred to as the “capital of northern Sweden”, since it’s the largest urban community in the region. It’s one of Sweden’s, and Europe’s, fastest growing cities – well on its way to passing the 200,000 population mark by 2050 (today the number stands at around 127,000). 

Umeå is also known as the City of Birches (Björkarnas Stad). Wandering around the city centre, you’ll see why – some 2,300 birches line the avenues. In 1888, parts of Umeå burnt down, leaving thousands of people homeless. When it was rebuilt, birches – whose hard-wood consists of 50 percent water – were planted as a natural fire barricade. 

The city has a decidedly intellectual air. It’s home to Umeå University and its sister establishment Umeå Institute of Design, which celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2019 and attracts top talent from Sweden and abroad. It’s been ranked the world’s number one school for product design several times. There are some 32,000 students in Umeå, and this community gives the city a young, vibrant feel.  

With easy access to the coast – Umeå is located a mere 15 km from the sea – and with mountains and deep forest on its doorstep, this northern city is also a nature lover’s dream destination. The climate is subarctic, defined by four distinctive seasons, with proper winters and fairly short but pleasant summers – complete with midnight sun. Due to the influence of the Gulf Stream, winters are mild considering the latitude. The average temperature in January is -8°C and 16°C in July.

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Skeppsbron, Umeå

Audience at an event at Skeppsbron.

Photo: Umeå kommun

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Skeppsbron, Umeå

Photo: Umeå kommun

Umeå river

Photo: Philip Avesand / Visit Umeå Content Bank

Summer in Umeå

Photo: Calle Bredberg

Umeå Institute of Design

Photo: Jonatan Stålhös/imagebank.sweden.se

A city of culture and design   

Umeå was named the European Capital of Culture 2014, and for good reason. The city has an entrepreneurial, innovative spirit and a number of highly regarded museums. Väven, which first swung open its doors in 2014, is Umeå’s buzzing cultural centre. This architectural landmark – with its abstract, birch-inspired aesthetic – houses museums, an eminent library, a cinema and several restaurants and cafés. It also hosts events and activities year-round, from concerts to vintage fashion markets. Upstairs, you’ll find the hip hotel U&Me, whose bar and restaurant are popular with the locals.  

Elsewhere in the city, contemporary art and design museum Bildmuseet is another cultural highlight. Located within the so-called “arts campus” near the river, it’s actually part of Umeå University. Housed in a standalone building, spectacularly clad in wood panels, Bildmuseet puts on world-class exhibitions across design, architecture and photography. It was awarded European Museum of the Year in 2014. 

Due to open in 2020 and also part of the university, Curiosum will serve as Umeå's new science centre, inviting kids and grown-ups to explore science and technology, hands-on, via a range of experimental workshops. 

Västerbottens Museum is another notable, interactive museum featuring exhibitions and participatory experiences on cultural history, art, photography and textiles. A good family option, it regularly offers arts and crafts workshops. Don’t leave without taking a look at the world’s oldest skis, dating back to 3400 BC.

The Women’s History Museum (Kvinnohistoriskt Museum) is one of a kind. Housed within Väven cultural centre, it inspires action and debate via exhibitions on different themes across “gender and power, identity and history”. 

Sami Week – or Ubmejen Biejvieh as it’s known in the Sami tongue – is a celebration of Sweden’s indigenous population. Held once a year in March, this vibrant festival plays host to the Sami summit as well as a range of activities centring on art, music, culture and language.

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Cultural centre Umeå

Väven ("weave" or "loom" in Swedish) is a cultural centre in Umeå, located next to the Ume River. Väven opened in 2014, the same year as Umeå was the European Capital of Culture.

Photo: Sara Ingman/imagebank.sweden.se

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Cultural centre Umeå

Photo: Sara Ingman/imagebank.sweden.se

Image museum in Umeå

Photo: Guillaume de Basly/imagebank.sweden.se

Sami culture

Photo: Anna Öhlund/imagebank.sweden.se

A city embedded in nature

Surrounded by mountains, forest and endless coastline – Umeå is a draw for outdoor enthusiasts, and there are numerous natural adventures to embark on. Tavelsjöleden hiking trail starts at Väven and will have you trekking over mountains and lakes, discovering caves and other natural highlights along the way – perhaps even the mythical Tavelsjö lake monster. The trail is about 42 km long, linking up with Vindelälvsleden and Vännforsleden. 

There are several nature reserves to explore in and around Umeå. Grössjön Nature Reserve is located near the city and offers plenty of variation. The idyllic walking trail circling the lake is about 4.5 km long, and there’s an observation tower for bird watching. Also take the opportunity to explore the beautiful forest and cloudberry-yielding marshland. These nutritious amber-hued berries ripen at the end of summer, and you’re free to pick them as part of Sweden’s right of public access

Known as Umeå's Central Park, the area around Lake Nydala is located 6 km from the city centre. You’ll find a 12 km hiking trail as well as mini golf, a boules court and an animal farm – providing perfect family entertainment. There is also a camping site and cabins to hire.

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Biking on Isälvsleden

Biking on the beautiful trail Isälvleden in Västerbotten.

Photo: Petter Lämås/Visit Umeå Content Bank

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Biking on Isälvsleden

Photo: Petter Lämås/Visit Umeå Content Bank

Cloudberries

Photo: Jørgen Håland

Umeå’s culinary identity  

Umeå, like much of Sweden, takes pride in locally sourced ingredients. In Umeå’s case, that translates to reindeer and elk meat, char, whitefish, lingonberry and arctic raspberries. Traditional food products of the region include Västerbottensost – a delicious sharp cheese. Västerbottenpaj – a quiche made with Västerbottensost - is a popular dish, while ’Brännland Cider’ is a locally made drink enjoyed around the world from the USA to Hong Kong. 

DUÅ, run by twin brothers Per and Lars Åkerlund and located in Väven cultural centre, is a deli serving up carefully sourced charcuterie products and cheeses as well as a well-curated selection of kitchen accessories. 

Hunger och Törst bases its recipes on seasonal, organic local produce. In this atmospheric high-end restaurant, you’ll get to choose between menus of three, five or seven courses. 

The unique restaurant Gotthards Krog – housed within the historic landmark hotel Stora Hotellet – is another must-visit restaurant. In this elegant and warm environment, you’ll be able to sit down for breakfast, lunch, dinner and Sunday afternoon tea. There’s a cocktail bar, too. 

Umeå has many strings to its bow. It respects and celebrates its surrounding nature and local culture – including its culinary heritage – while looking to the future and pushing innovation via its thriving educational institutions and entrepreneurial spirit.

Practical information before your trip to Umeå