Tell any Swede you’re going to Karlstad and they’ll likely smile dreamily and say something along the lines of, “Ah, Karlstad! Where the sun always shines!” Of course, that’s not entirely true. This small, picturesque town on the bank of the Klarälven River in Värmland does have downcast days – but it carries them elegantly. For that reason, and several others we’ll touch upon shortly, Karlstad deserves to be on your must-visit list.
Karlstad is very conveniently located exactly between Stockholm and Oslo – so it’s equally accessible (and equally cheap to visit) from both Sweden and Norway. In less than three hours, the train from Oslo or Stockholm will have you in Karlstad, with ample time to explore the area before heading back home for the night. Oh and the way there, both from Norway and Sweden, is just beautiful – crossing endless forests and lakes.
Karlstad has been a place of counsel since the Viking Age – so it’s only fitting an agreement that would change the shape of Scandinavia as we know it would be signed here. On August 31, 1905, Norwegian and Swedish delegates met in Karlstad to negotiate terms of the dissolution of the union between the two countries (which, until then, kept Norway under Sweden’s power). The negotiations lasted 23 whole days, and Sigurd Ibsen (son of famed playwright Henrik Ibsen) is thought to have played an important part in closing the deal that made Norway an independent country. To commemorate all of this, a peace monument has been erected on the Karlstad city square.
There’s a somewhat Parisian vibe to Karlstad – people love sitting outside, enjoying their coffee. But because this is still Sweden, the coffee is usually accompanied by something sweet. There are many places to go for “fika”, and one of the most intriguing ones is Artisan Bread, where you can have your coffee with a side of freshly made, gorgeously looking and smelling pastries and baguettes. Don’t leave without trying their cardamom buns. In fact, buy a couple for the road as well.
Did you know that the works of one of Scandinavia’s leading artists in watercolor technique are waiting for you in Karlstad? There’s probably nobody who has managed to capture the beauty of Scandi landscapes better than Värmland-born Lars Lerin (if you ask him, it’s Norway’s Lofoten Islands that made him discover the sea and the horizon). Lars is also a celebrated author and, along with his husband, Mozambique-born photographer Manoel Marques Lerin, starred in the award-winning documentary “För dig naken”. Oh, the things Karlstad will teach you!
Having made the disclaimer that it’s not always sunny, we also have to say that Karlstad is, actually, one of the sunniest towns in Sweden (and has a smiling sun for its symbol). Take advantage of that with a picnic by the Klarälven. There are many wooden decks across its bank, some of them even featuring seating arrangements, where you can have a romantic picnic or share a beer with friends. Our advice? Get a nice, crispy pizza from Färjestads Krog & Pizzeria and munch on it with a view that definitely beats Netflix and chill.
The good people of Scandinavia are very active, and they would like to help you get active as well. So, they’ve turned one of Karlstad’s islets, Gubbholmen, into a communal outdoor gym. You will be using tree barks as weights and as stretching and pull-up aids, and you will be having 10 times more fun than your friends at the (conventional, indoor) gym.
The Värmland county is not short on treasures of all kinds, and Värmlands Museum is the place to start exploring them. The building itself is part of the area’s history, as it has been here since 1929! Venture inside, and you’ll be greeted with art installations, archaeological findings, and cultural history gems.
Sure, you could buy a fridge magnet. But why do that, when you can get a bag of premium quality, locally roasted coffee to bring home with you? Karlstad has been roasting its own coffee since 1906. Lōfbergs brings its beans from Colombia and produces brews that would make even the poshest coffee aficionado sip appreciatively. Next to the factory, there is a roastery/cafe-bar where you can have your coffee to buy for home or drink it there as well. Talk about Karlstad leaving a great taste in your mouth.