Visit Uppsala University
The oldest university in Scandinavia, Uppsala University was established in 1477, and today is among the best in Northern Europe. Located in the Carolina Rediviva building, the library is gargantuan, home to more than 5 million volumes. Dating from the 1820s, it is the oldest and largest university library building in Sweden. With its stunning columns and high ceilings it is a must-visit. Among its extensive collection of important manuscripts is the Codex Argenteus, or Silver Book, from the 6th century CE, containing the four gospels translated from Greek to Gothic.
See Uppsala Cathedral
Uppsala Cathedral dominates the city’s skyline, strikingly red-toned and beautiful, pointing heavenwards in classic French-gothic style. It’s the largest church in the Scandinavian region, the seat of the Swedish Church and the burial place of many members of the royal family. Its construction can be dated back to around 1270, although elements were added in later centuries. You’ll get insights into its history in the church museum. Don’t miss the two large musical organs, Per Larsson Åkerman’s from 1871 in the west, and Fratelli Ruffatti’s from 2009 in the north.
Relax in one of many gardens and parks
Uppsala is immodestly bestowed with beautiful gardens and parks, which citizens take to for evening strolls and summer afternoons. Among the most famous are the Botaniska trädgården, home to a 200-year-old orangery, and the Linnaeus Garden, the oldest botanical garden in the country. Here you’ll see almost 9,000 plants and 1,300 species, including native trees and spectacular seasonal flower displays. It was all cultivated in the mid-18th century by celebrated botanist Carl Linnaeus, and arranged according to his classification system. While you’re here, take a wander in the Tropical Greenhouse, dense with plants from warmer climes such as deserts, rainforests, steppes and savannahs.
Named after Gustav II Adolf, the 17th-century monarch who took Sweden to superpower status, Gustavianum is a fascinating repository of coins and scientific instruments, art and archaeological remnants. Old and young fans of Egyptians and Vikings will be riveted by the permanent exhibitions, including a sarcophagus and swords. Linked to Uppsala University, the Gustavianum occupies the old main building, which is also the oldest preserved edifice of the university. At the top is the Anatomical Theatre, dating back to 1660, where public dissections were once conducted as a matter of routine.
It translates as Old Uppsala, and Gamla Uppsala, 5km (3mi) or so from the modern city, is one of the most important archaeological sites ever discovered in Sweden. Feel a frisson as you realise how the city looked in pre-Viking times. Walking around, you will encounter prehistoric burial mounds and the fairytale Gamla Uppsala kyrka (church), seat of the archbishopric until 1273. Inside the open-air museum Disagården, old domestic buildings further reveal how rural people lived in times gone by. The museum is open every day between April and September, and on Mondays, Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays for the rest of the year.
Shop along Svartbäcksgatan
Largely pedestrianised and traffic-free, Svartbäcksgatan is Uppsala’s main shopping street. It’s lined with modern stores but its route dates back centuries – to 1643, to be precise, when it was constructed to create a line of sight northwards towards Uppsala Cathedral. You’ll find all the major brands present and correct as you wander along it. It is also peppered with attractive foodie pit stops where you can enjoy fika – the Swedish tradition of meeting friends for coffee and a bite.
Explore the Uppsala Castle
Uppsala Castle (Uppsala Slott in Swedish) dominates its surroundings with its unmissable peach-coloured facade set against verdant gardens. It was built in the 16th century, during the Vasa dynastic era, and here, during the next century, was where Sweden resolved to join the Thirty Years’ War. After being destroyed by fire in 1702, the castle was thoroughly reconstructed. It is an atmospheric place to wander in summer, and regular guided tours are available between June and September.
Have fun at Fyrishov
The largest sporting arena in Uppsala (and the fourth-largest in Sweden) is Fyrishov, which also stages exhibitions and other events. Children love it for the generously sized indoor swimming pool and recreation area, as well as the large outdoor sports complex. If you’re here in summer, you can make the most of the aquatic adventure centre, with its outdoor swimming pools in lush surroundings. Some people spend their whole holiday here – Fyrishov is home to a campsite with chalets, and there’s also a holiday village in the grounds.
Bror Hjorth’s House
A visit to the former home and work studio of Swedish modernist painter and sculptor Bror Hjorth (1894–1968) is well worth a morning of your long weekend. It’s now a museum dedicated to the man – he spent the last 25 years of his life here – and constitutes the largest extant collection of his works. There are enough sculptures, paintings, drawings and sketches here to keep you entranced for hours. And if you’d like to appreciate his talents further, among his notable works is Näckens Polska, an imposing fountain next to Uppsala’s Travel Centre.
The Uppland Museum
The setting of the Uppland Museum alone is attractive enough to merit a visit: it’s set in a watermill on the Fyrisån river with origins going back to the 13th century, with an appeal that’s only been enhanced by the passing of the ages. The current structure, which dates back to the 18th century and was in use until World War II, was reworked as a museum and opened in 1959. It is the county museum for Uppsala, with all manner of permanent and interactive exhibitions detailing quotidian matters from ancient times to the present day.
Also known as the Biological Museum, this dynamic institution in Uppland, a county full of wild and exciting nature, uses interactive displays to immerse visitors of all ages in the local wildlife. As Uppsala is only 40 minutes by train from Stockholm, this makes an easy day trip out to the country from the capital. And, as with all really good museums, there’s a cafe with outdoor seating and a museum shop.
Museum of Medical History
If you’re fascinated by the history of medicine, you’ll feel a whole lot better after a visit to this intriguing establishment. It covers the subject as far back as Graeco-Roman times, and even if the going gets a bit icky at times, it’s all fascinating stuff. It’s set in a sprawling, castle-like former hospital, and exhibits include medical specimens that were once used for teaching, as well as an operating theatre.
Hågadalen-Nåsten Nature Reserve
Easily reached from Uppsala, on the city’s western outskirts, this verdant swathe of valley is a fine, lung-refreshing place to walk, run and bike – or even ski, in winter. Crossed by the Håga river, it’s a place where you can be fully immersed in nature, surrounded by lush woodlands, forests and farmland with a heavy dose of wildlife.
The Pumphuset, or pump house, was the first waterworks in Uppsala, in operation from 1875 until 1968. The honey-coloured, green-roofed building on the banks of the substantial river Fyris is still surprisingly grand, and makes for a great visit, housing an exhibition and educational displays for students. Interactive stations provide an insight into water supply and waste management using the well- preserved original equipment, including water turbines, electric pumps and pressure clocks.
Jo Fernandez-Corugedo contributed additional reporting to this article.
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