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Öland is Sweden’s second-largest island, and while it’s quite rural and bit sleepy, there are plenty of top things to see and do on a visit. History buffs in particular will take great delight in exploring the island, but there is plenty for everyone to do.
First built in the 13th century to protect trade along the southeast coast, Borgholm Castle went through a number of rebuilds over the centuries before a fire ravaged it in 1806. Today, the remarkably well-preserved ruins are one of the biggest attractions on Öland, and visitors are allowed access to nearly every section. The views from the towers are incredible and you get a real sense of the scale of how rulers lived way back when.
Whether you’re a dedicated birder or have only a passing interest in birds, Ottenby Bird Station will leave your jaw on the floor. It is considered one of the best places in Sweden for birdwatching. Founded in 1946, the observatory is dedicated to bird research and staff are happy to welcome visitors who are keen to enjoy the incredible variety of bird life that is found here.
Just south of Resmo you’ll find Mysinge Hög, a grave field from the early Bronze Age that was discovered on an old farm. The mound is three metres (10 feet) high and about 42 metres (138 feet) in diameter; from the top you can get some pretty amazing views of the World Heritage Site.
Another ancient burial field, Gettlinge is a bit more obvious than Mysinge, with burial mounds and an amazing Viking stone ship burial ground. The graves date from the Stone Age to the late Iron Age, and the huge site is fascinating to explore.
This Italianate renaissance-style palace, just a stone’s throw from Borgholm Castle, was built by Sweden’s Queen Victoria between 1903 and 1906, and is still the official summer residence of the Swedish royal family. The gorgeous gardens are open to the public and there is an excellent café where you can take a fika (coffee break). While you are not allowed inside the palace, many a tourist has spotted one or more members of the royal family during their visit to the gorgeous Solliden Palace.
This vast ruin, which was most likely used between around 300 and 500 AD, is Öland’s oldest ring fort. You can see the remains of nearly 100 houses inside a limestone wall that is about 300 metres (984 feet) long, and which also has nine gates that continue to confound historians. Ismantorp Fortress is located deep in the woods and you can reach it by foot, bike or car. There is a 17-kilometre (11-mile) hiking trail that leads from Gråberg to Ismantorp, which could make this the perfect day trip (although be sure to bring supplies – there is no tourist shop or café anywhere close by). Like other unattended archeological gems in Sweden, it’s expected that you’ll respect the site, so do take care as you explore.
If you’re a foodie you might want to book a table at the restaurant at Hotell Borgholm, which not only holds a Michelin Star but has also been named one of the world’s best 50 restaurants. The food here is inventive without being fussy and chef Karin Fransson takes advantage of Öland’s strong farming communities as well as the sea that surrounds the island to source the finest of local ingredients.
Eketorp Fortress is an Iron Age fort that went through a massive reconstruction and enlargement during the Middle Ages. While it has gone through various uses throughout the centuries, today it’s one of Ölands top attractions, with a fully excavated ancient fort, reconstructed walls and homes, and plenty of medieval battle reenactments. There are plenty more activities for people of all ages, as well as guided tours.
One of Sweden’s largest privately held museums, Vida Art Museum & Gallery focuses on works from the 1960s on, featuring glass, ceramics, sculpture and painting. There is also a fantastic museum shop where there is a wide selection of art, glass and design items that are sold exclusively at the museum. One of the best exhibitions here is the annual silversmith exhibition, which sees 21 of Sweden’s leading silversmiths showcase their work, each year having a unique theme. There’s also a café, as well as an enormous number of concerts, screenings, seminars and other events held regularly.
If there’s one thing you should absolutely do while on Öland, it’s rent a bike (or bring your own) and explore the winding roads and forest paths of the island. The roads are relatively flat, which means you can bike for ages without exhausting yourself. You’ll ride past windswept farms, through small villages and along the ocean, and it really is the best way to get a real sense of this unique, charming island.
If you love antiques or poking around markets, Öland is crawling with what Swedes call loppis, which literally translates to ‘fleas’ but actually refers to flea markets. The best way to find the many, many loppis around the island is to get on that bike and start peddling. You’ll see small handwritten signs on the sides of the roads pointing you to various sized loppis, and once you do find one you’ll discover everything from old books and magazines to cameras, crockery, clothing and much, much more. Some are pretty remote, so if you’re not into biking, hop in the car and keep a sharp eye out for those small signs stuck along the side of the road.