One of the most popular Swedish destinations outside of Stockholm is Uppsala, home to several outstanding architectural landmarks dating back to the city’s 15th-century genesis. A bustling coastal city a 40-minute train ride north of Stockholm, it’s one of the most common day-excursions for visitors to the more famous capital – and it’s easy to see why.
A major university, the Uppsala castle and Sweden’s largest Cathedral and are among the most visited tourist attractions here, but if you fancy getting off the beaten track and exploring the city’s lesser-known side, there’s no shortage of quirky sites and places of interest. To help inspire you, we’ve picked out 12 of the most unique things to see and do in Uppsala.
Marvel at the mysterious Royal Mounds
At face value you wouldn’t expect these three large mounds, located 2.5 miles north of Uppsala, to be steeped in Scandinavian folklore – but indeed they are. Dating back to the 5th and 6th centuries, the Royal Mounds of Gamla Uppsala have been shrouded in mystery for generations, and were once believed to be gods Thor, Odin. Over the past couple of hundreds of years, however, a series of excavations seemed to confirm that they were in fact a burial site, and very likely the resting place of Swedish royalty of yore. A few years ago the mounds were fenced off to stave off tourists, although it’s still possible to walk around them today.
Explore a centuries-old anatomical theater
Built in the 1660s, and housed within the University of Uppsala’s Gustavianum Museum, this is the second oldest Anatomical Theatre in the world. And if you’d been a fly on the wall during that time, you’d have some pretty gruesome tales to tell, as it was the scene of regular executions of criminals and other ne’er-do-wells down the ages. Somewhat creepily, the octagonal tiers on the top floor of the building were designed to give mawkish spectators a good view of the macabre proceedings below. After a turn in the 19th century as a zoological museum, the theatre was restored to its original (retired) state in the 1950s and can today be visited as part of a wider tour of the museum and university.
LOCATION Akademigatan 3 HOURS Tues-Sun 11am-4pm Closed Mon
Visit an artist’s museum
With his public art dotted around the city, visitors to Uppsala only need to walk the streets to enjoy the work of Bror Hjorth, one of Sweden’s best-loved artists and sculptors of the 20th century. But for a more immersive and intimate look at the man, his work and his life, you can also visit his former home and studio, which was turned into a museum in 1978, ten years after his death. Scattered around the building are paintings, sculptures, reliefs, drawings and preliminary sketches, along with more personal items such as furniture and a comprehensive library.
LOCATION Norbyvägen 26 HOURS Thurs-Sun 12pm-4pm Closed Mon-Weds
Attend a beer & whisky festival
Each year Uppsala plays host to its own Beer & Whisky Festival, a hugely popular event featuring a vast number of beer and whisky makers and suppliers hailing from the local area and across Sweden. Visitors get the chance to meet and engage with exhibitors, as well as sample some of the mouth-watering produce on display, both in liquid and solid form, with several acclaimed food trucks on hand serving up ethnic cuisine including Greek, American, Mexican, Indian, and more. The event is open to visitors aged 20 and over.
LOCATION Fyrishov arena, Idrottsgatan 2 DATES February each year
Sink a few pints in Uppsala’s first brewery pub
At the vanguard of Uppsala’s small but vibrant craft beer brewing scene is Bryggeriet Ångkvarn, the city’ first brewpub. The venue actually has a history dating back to Uppsala’s industrialisation, but today leads the charge of artisanal craft brewers in the area. With the brewery visible directly behind the bar, visitors can come and enjoy a swift half while watching the brewmaster work their magic. There are also beer tasting tours for larger groups, and a gastropub next door serving dishes that can be paired with beers brewed on-site.
LOCATION Östra Ågatan 59 HOURS Mon-Tues 4pm-10pm Weds-Thurs 4pm-12pm Fri-Sat 3pm-12pm Closed Sun
Browse the hallowed confines of Scandinavia’s oldest university
Dating all the way back to the early 17th century, Uppsala University remains a distinguished seat of learning, attracting students from across Sweden. As well as honing the talents of Sweden’s youth, the university is also a veritable museum in its own right, housing a remarkable array of exhibits, including the Augsburg Art Cabinet, an 18th-century cabinet of curiosities with more than 1,000 objects. It also has some truly stunning interiors that are a delight to wander around.
LOCATION 752 36 Uppsala
Listen out for the Flogsta Scream
One of the most unusual activities in Uppsala takes place in the city’s Flogsta neighbourhood each night – at 10pm, to be precise. This is when the tradition of The Flogsta Scream occurs like clockwork, a tradition dating back more than 40 years that involves university students stopping in their tracks and emitting a collective scream. The precise reason for the tradition taking hold remains open for debate, but should you find yourself in Flogsta at 10pm of an evening, don’t be alarmed – and you could even join in.
Peer at a folkloric chunk of runestone
At first sight the panel of runestone embedded in a wall at Gamla Uppsala Church appears unremarkable – but it is, in fact, anything but. Over 900 years old, the engraved slab lays claim to having a close connection with King Erik IX of Sweden, aka “Erik the Saint”, a Swedish king who was beheaded in the 12th century, resulting in him being bestowed with sainthood. A shrine was later erected in the church in his honour, and the cross depicted on the runestone has since become a symbol of a cult that spread throughout Sweden.
LOCATION Gamla Uppsala Church, Gamla Uppsala Church
Stand on the spot of a medieval royal murder
Another of Uppsala’s important historic landmarks can be found in the Rosénparken, across the street from Uppsala Cathedral, where the prosaic presence of a water pump conceals a notorious event that took place here hundreds of years ago. While making his way to mass at the nearby church, the aforementioned King Erik IX of Sweden met his gruesome end at the hands of assassins. Legend has it that his decapitated head rolled down the church stairs and onto the street, and when it came to a standstill a spring erupted underneath it. In honour of this fable, a pump was built above it, where it still gives out water to this day.
LOCATION 1 S:t Eriks Gränd
Cross a road inspired by a much-loved tail-less cat
Look closely at the road signs in front of Uppsala’s Carolina Rediviva Library and you may well notice am unusual addition. Inspired by a popular character from a children’s book series, placed underneath the traditional silhouette of a man walking across the street is another sign featuring three cats crossing the street, including one leading the way with no tail. The series’ author lived in Uppsala for many years and this road sign is one of numerous quirky tributes you might spot around the city designed to honour his work.
Embark on a European gastronomic odyssey
Fans of Old World European brasseries can immerse themselves in the elegance and glamour of the era at the impressive Stationen restaurant, where each area is themed around a different nation. Perhaps the most surprising thing about the venue is its location at the Old Central Station – hence the name – not typically where you find a city’s best places to eat. Nonetheless, step inside and you’ll feel a world away from the high speed trains hurtling along nearby, and there’s also a pretty outdoor area for al fresco dining and drinks. As well as classic western European fare, the restaurant also serves up authentic Swedish dishes.
LOCATION Olof Palmes plats 6 HOURS 10am-1am Weds-Thurs Fri-Sat 10am-2am Sun-Mon 10am-11pm Tues 10am-12am
Check out a legendary well steeped in Norse mythology
Nordic mythology isn’t short of tall tales, and among them is a story that centres on a tall tree. Named Yggdrasi, the tree is said to have once held the entire world in its branches. Its three roots stretched into three different wells, one of which is known as Urdar’s Well, and can be found right next to the second burial mound of Gamla Uppsala. While the site today offers no reminders of its fabled heritage, it still attracts a small stream of curious visitors each year.
LOCATION Gamla Uppsala