For a relatively small country, Sweden has a remarkable 15 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, ranging from ancient Viking sites to natural wonders that will take your breath away. If you really want to take a unique trip around Sweden, why not take a tour to discover all 15 of them?
If Vikings are your thing, head to Birka, on Björkö Island, located about an hour by ferry from Stockholm, in the middle of Lake Mälaren. Together with Hovgården on the neighbouring island of Adelsö, the two sites make up an archeological wonderland that gives true insight into Viking-Age Europe, as well as the Vikings’ influence on Scandinavia.
Gammelstad (Old Town) in the northern Swedish city of Luleå is said to be the home of the best-preserved church town, a unique type of village that was once found throughout northern Scandinavia. The wooden houses housed worshippers who came from far away and often faced difficult travel conditions, and were used only on Sundays and during religious festivals. In Luleå, there are 424 wooden houses still standing, gathered around the 15th-century church.
Encompassing several national parks, the Laponian Area is found above the Arctic Circle in northern Sweden and is the home of the indigenous Sami, or Lapp, people. It is the largest and one of the last areas in the world where an ancestral way of life based on the seasonal movement of livestock (reindeer in this case) is still practised. While somewhat under threat from modern conveniences such as motor vehicles, much remains as it always was.
Just seven houses are included in this site, and they gained UNESCO recognition in 2012 due to their being excellent examples of the timber-building tradition practised in the region since the Middle Ages. The homes are elaborately decorated (for Sweden, where elaborate is all relative) with folk art from both known and unknown artists.
In 2000, the southern part of the Baltic Sea island of Öland was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its unique landscape, which is dominated by a vast limestone plateau; there has been continuous human settlement here from prehistoric times to the present day, around 5,000 years. While visitors to Öland are expected to respect the ancient lands, they are also free to roam and discover this important part of history.
Built between 1922 and 1924, the well-preserved Varberg Radio Station at Grimeton is the only surviving example of a major transmitting station based on pre-electronic technology. Although no longer in use, the site still includes the original Alexanderson transmitter, as well as the six 127-metre (417-foot) steel towers that make up the aerial system. The site is considered an excellent example of the development of telecommunications.
The Struve Arc is a chain of survey triangulations that stretch through 10 countries over nearly 3,000 kilometres (1,864 miles). They are the points of survey that was carried out by astronomer Friedrich Goerg Wilhelm Struve between 1816 and 1855, which was the first time there was an accurate measuring of a long segment of a meridian. While originally the arc included 258 main triangles and 265 main station points, just 34 of the original points are included on the listed site.
Sweden’s High Coast, situated on the Gulf of Bothnia, shares UNESCO recognition with Finland’s Kvarken Archipelago, for its unique and ‘rapid glacial-isostatic uplift’; the land was previously weighed down by a glacier but lifted at rates that were among the highest in the world. The last ice retreated from the High Coast nearly 10,000 years ago, leaving behind a unique landscape that is as fascinating as it is breathtaking.
More than 400 unique rock carvings of exceptional quality that date back to the Bronze Age are found at Tanum, and are considered a unique artistic achievement for both their varied depictions of people, animals, weapons, boats and other subjects, and for their cultural and chronological unity. The carvings give a unique insight in the life and beliefs of people of the Bronze Age and are wonderfully preserved.
The palace that stands on the island in Lake Mälaren (known as the Royal Domain of Drottningholm) is considered the finest example of an 18th-century northern European royal residence inspired by the Palace of Versailles. In addition to the palace, there are beautiful garden, a Chinese pavilion and a perfectly preserved theatre that dates back to the late 1700s. Additionally, this is where Sweden’s king and queen reside much of the time, and it’s where Queen Sylvia says she has encountered ‘friendly ghosts‘.
Designed by two young architects between 1917 and 1920, Skogskyrkogården blends vegetation and architectural elements while taking advantage of the uneven landscape, the result of the cemetery being built on former gravel pits. For death metal fans, the giant metal cross found here is a bit of a holy grail, as it graced the cover of Entombed’s legendary debut album, Left Hand Path, in 1990.
Karlskrona is a planned naval town, and today it has the unusual distinction of being Sweden’s only remaining naval base, as well as the headquarters of the Swedish coast guard. It is considered an outstanding example of a 17th-century planned naval city, and many of the original buildings remain fully intact today.
You know those ubiquitous red houses you see everywhere in Sweden? The paint that is used to keep them pristine comes from Falun, where you’ll also find the Great Copper Mountain, or the Great Pit, which is the result of the copper production in the region that began in the 13th century and continued into the 20th. The planned town, which was once once of the most important copper-producing towns in Europe and indeed in the world, was developed in the 17th century, and today there remain many well-preserved historic buildings, including original miners’ cottages.
The medieval town of Visby, the seat of the island of Gotland, was the main centre of the Hanseatic League in the Baltic region from the 12th to the 14th century. The 3.4-kilometre (2.1-mile) old city wall still stands today, as well as more than 200 dwellings and warehouses, which are beautifully preserved. There are also beautiful old church ruins that you can explore.
In an effort to supplement farming activities, local inhabitants in the central Swedish Norberg region began mining ore and smelting in the 12th century, eventually producing superior grades of iron, which made Sweden an economic leader for two centuries. The Engelsberg ironworks is nearly perfectly preserved and gives wonderful insight into Sweden’s early industrial past.
Use this handy map to discover Sweden’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites.