Most people that go to Sweden for their first time head to Stockholm, a beautiful city that is well worth a visit. But just outside of Stockholm you will find another Scandinavian gem: Uppsala. It’s a university town, and founded in 1477, the university is the oldest in Scandinavia. The fourth largest city in Sweden, Uppsala has managed to keep its quaint feel, the center a mixture of cobblestone streets, old architecture, and local residents on bicycles.
For me, Uppsala is a combination of cozy cafes and brightly colored houses. Although it is big in population, the city center feels small and welcoming, and because it’s a university town there’s plenty to do.
You could spend several days in Uppsala, but if you have the time for a day trip or two from Stockholm, here are a few things that I never miss when I am there. And although traveling to Sweden isn’t necessarily “budget travel” (you can blame that on the exchange rate) these things are all reasonably priced and/or free.
What to see
Domkyrkan – Uppsala Cathedral
You can’t go to Uppsala without visiting the cathedral. It dates back to the 13th century, and in the middle of town, its spires stand high above the rooftops – it’s no surprise that it’s the tallest church building in Scandinavia. It is an active cathedral, with not only the traditional mass, but also presentations and concerts. Every Saturday there is a free concert offered in the afternoon – well worth a visit. Domkyrkoplan, www.uppsaladomkyrka.se
Botaniskaträdgården – Botanical Gardens
The oldest botanical garden in Sweden, Botaniska Trädgården was founded in 1655 and was originally used for teaching students about botany and pharmacy. Today the gardens extend over 34 acres with some 11,000 species from all over the world. The original garden is today called Linneträdgården, Linnaeus’ Garden. Here you will find a museum and a cafe. Entrance to the Botanical Gardens is free (except for the tropical greenhouse which is 40 SEK) and entrance to Linnaeus’ Garden is 60 SEK. www.botan.uu.se
Gamla Uppsala – Old Uppsala
Take a bus out to Gamla Uppsala (Old Uppsala) for a feel of ancient Viking times. Just outside of central Uppsala, Gamla Uppsala is a historical site that has. During the Iron Age, this site was home to an established society as well as a place with religious importance. Gamla Uppsala’s main draw are its great Royal Mounds, three large mounds that stick out of the ground and are covered in grass. There was much speculation as to their significance, but in 1846 an archeological dig showed that it was in fact a burial ground. The identities of the people buried inside are unknown, but they were certainly people of importance. At the local Gamla Uppsala Museum you can learn more about the history of the area and the Royal Mounds (entry fee is 60 SEK). The site is perfect if you want an outdoor getaway; there is a nice selection of trails making for a good walk or run, perfectly free of charge. After a walk, grab lunch or coffee at Cafe Odinsborg.
In between the train station and the concert hall, Godsmagasinet is a design and craft gallery, featuring local artists. There are textiles, ceramics, jewelry and clothing, and if you are interested in Swedish design, this should be the first stop on your list. Explore the gallery and then grab a cup of coffee and an open faced sandwich in the cafe that’s located in the building. Rosalgsgatan 1, www.godsmagasinet.nu
Just outside of Gamla Uppsala you will find Ulva Kvarn, Kvarn means “mill” in English, and sitting right on the Fyris River, Ulva Kvarn was in use as a watermill from the early 1300s all the way until 1960. Today you can visit the old mill house, built in 1759, but there is also an entire collection of local artisan studios on site, making and selling traditional Swedish goods from blacksmiths to jewelry makers. There is also a good cafe on site, so it makes for a perfect day trip from Uppsala to go and explore the countryside. Ulva Kvarn, www.ulvakvarn.com
Where to eat
There is nothing more Swedish than coffee and a baked good. Here are some of my favorite cozy cafes around the city.
Located inside Uppsala’s library, Kardemumma is a quiet cafe in the middle of town. It has a quaint outdoor courtyard that’s very enjoyable in the summertime. They bake their own bread, and source much of their ingredients for sandwiches and salads locally. Try one of their chokladbollar. Svartbäcksgatan 17.
Cafe Linne Hörnan
An old fashioned styled cafe, Cafe Linne Hörnan is like stepping into a Swedish cafes from several decades ago. They serve breakfast, lunch and the traditional Swedish coffee break, fika, which means you can choose from a wide array of baked goods and classic Swedish cakes. Svartbäcksgatan 22, www.cafelinne.com
My mother ate here when she was a student at Uppsala University, and the decor and menu have barely changed. This bakery and cafe is an iconic Uppsala destination – it has been there since the late 1800s – and if you want a taste of traditional Swedish cakes, this is the place to go. Sysslomansgatan 5, www.ofvandahls.se
Getting to Uppsala from Stockholm takes 55 minutes on the train, just enough time to enjoy the scenery and drink a cup of coffee. Because it’s a common commuter line, there are frequent departures and tickets can be purchased at the Stockholm central station. A one-way ticket costs between 80-100 SEK (about $12-15).
[Photo Credit: Anna Brones]