Sweden's tale of two cities

As Sweden marks 500 years as a nation, find new temptations in the capital, Stockholm, while second city Gothenburg celebrates turning 400


This year marks a series of anniversaries in Sweden, including the country’s 500th birthday, so there’s never been a better time to plan a visit. And the capital Stockholm combines the best of Scandinavia all rolled into one delightful city — not to mention the fact it’s been named European Capital of Gastronomy for 2023.

With forests for hiking, lakes for swimming or kayaking, and picturesque islands to escape to during summer months, you’re never far from nature. But Stockholm has its share of Scandi cool, thanks to a string of hip neighbourhoods peppered with independent coffee shops and boutiques.

Summer brings long days and some of the best weather, but winter is when Stockholm is at its most magical; the cobblestone streets of the old town, Gamla Stan, are particularly atmospheric under layers of snow, and the kanelbulle — cinnamon rolls for which Sweden is so famous — seem to taste that much better when it’s cold outside.

And if the weather really doesn’t play ball, then you can always escape underground; the Stockholm metro system is said to be the world’s longest art exhibit. Since 1957 artists have been painting the subway stations and today over 90 metro stops feature incredible artwork.

But at any time of year, Stockholm promises a smorgasbord of activities, including several dozen museums, galleries, castles and palaces. Many are centred on Gamla Stan and the most famous of the 14 islands on which Stockholm sits.

Among the medieval townhouses painted in sage greens, russet reds and mustard yellows is the Kungliga Slottet, or Royal Palace, the official residence of His Majesty the King of Sweden. You can tour the courtyards for free but there’s an admission fee to visit the state rooms.

Nearby is the Storkyrkan, the 13th-century “Great Church” known as the cathedral of Stockholm and the Nobel Prize Museum; a short walk away sits the Jewish Museum, housed in Stockholm’s oldest extant synagogue, which over its lifetime has housed the rabbi and cantor as well as a Jewish school, a kosher butcher and bakery.

There are guided tours to learn more about Jewish-Swedish history, including how the actions of the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg saved the lives of tens of thousands of Jews in Budapest in the second half of 1944. A memorial, the Raoul Wallenbergs torg, stands in Nybroplan next to the Berzelii Park.

The Swedish Holocaust Museum is also set to open its first physical exhibition in June at its temporary home on Torsgatan, above the Bonniers Konsthall (Bonniers Art Gallery) in the Vasastan neighbourhood. A permanent site is still being found, so it’s likely to remain here for the next five years.

For more of Stockholm’s most famous museums, head to Djurgården, an island where large portions of the forested land are still under the custody of the crown. The official name for the island is Kungliga Djurgården, which translates roughly to the Royal game park, and you’ll find the Skansen open-air museum, Nordiska Museet and Liljevalchs art gallery here.

But if you see nothing else, don’t miss the Vasa Museum, which houses and tells the story of the Vasa ship. Built between 1626 and 1628, the ship was the pride of the Swedish navy until she sank on her maiden voyage, after sailing only 1,300m from shore. The ship was raised from the sea bed in 1961 and painstakingly restored.

Also on Djurgården is the Abba museum, a riotous celebration of the Swedish 1970s supergroup that guarantees you the time of your life, and which is marking its own tenth anniversary this year.

Along with special events throughout the year for the Capital of Gastronomy celebrations, don’t miss a visit to Stockholm’s fantastic Östermalm food hall. It’s home to 18 traders selling the best Swedish produce and cuisine, including family-run restaurant Lisa Elmqvist, which has been serving fresh fish for more than 90 years.

Visiting Sweden on a city break doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy some scenery too. Around 70 per cent of the country’s land is covered in forest, including the Tyresta National Park, approximately 12 miles from the city. And this year, a walk in the woods comes with a new immersive adventure.

The newly written short audio story, Kiln, is only available to listen to if you’re in the Swedish forest, taking you on a journey alongside creatures from traditional folklore. Alongside trolls and giants, you’ll meet a string of mythological beings until you’re finally enchanted by a huldra, a seductive forest nymph.

With so much to tempt you to Stockholm this year, who could fail to be spellbound?

Getting There

Flights to Stockholm cost from £35, with direct routes from London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and Edinburgh.

For more information, go to or find the audio story at

Discover Gothenburg

While Stockholm often steals the spotlight, Sweden’s second city Gothenburg is enjoying its rightful share of attention in 2023 as it celebrates its 400th birthday on June 4.

The city’s official anniversary was actually back in 2021, but was postponed for two years thanks to the pandemic — not its first experience of delayed celebrations, after Gothenburg’s 300th birthday was also put off for two years thanks to the Spanish flu pandemic and the aftermath of the First World War.

But the city will be making up for lost time with a festival running from June 2 to 5, including concerts, special activities, art and food events, followed by more celebrations through the summer until this year’s Gothenburg Culture Festival in early September.

Here are our pick of the city’s other attractions.

Find Wisdome

The spherical Wisdome building, built on the roof of Sweden’s national science centre Universeum, has already become a Gothenburg landmark. And when it opens in spring, the attraction will use the latest visualisation technology to showcase everything from space travel to the smallest building blocks of the human body on its 360-degree screen.

Visitors can also discover the large indoor rainforest, aquariums and experiment rooms elsewhere in Universeum at the same time.

Embrace your inner child

Liseberg, the largest amusement park in the Nordic region, celebrates its own 100th birthday in 2023, with a new hotel opening its doors in April to mark the occasion.

The Liseberg Grand Curiosa is aiming to be Sweden’s most imaginative family hotel with a slide from the second floor to the lobby, a vintage 1920s pony carousel in the restaurant and the amusement park itself on the doorstep.

All the 457 rooms sleep at least five, with larger rooms for big families in the star-shaped hotel, plus a cocktail bar for grown-ups.

Dive in

There’s a new free public swimming area opening in June within the Jubileumsparken park, made up of three pools in Sweden’s largest river, Göta Älv.

Featuring a round diving pool, a lane pool and another with a slide, the water is purified to allow visitors to swim in fresh or saltwater year-round.

The public sauna is also being renovated as part of the project, while a new playground has also opened on the site.

Take a walk with a difference

There are two new ways to explore Gothenburg on foot, whether you prefer to meander your way around the city or head out to the countryside.

The Göta Älv Pilgrim’s Trail between Gothenburg and Vänersborg is divided into ten sections, including an urban walk to discover the city’s history, along with a nature trail and a hike leading to lakes, forest and Sweden’s wilder scenery.

Or follow an app to visit five to six selected stops on a city tasting experience, including some of Gothenburg’s most exciting new places to eat, alongside classic restaurants. The Anytime Göteborg food walks from Moveat include vegan alternatives, and run four days per week, priced at around £36.

Getting There

Flights to Gothenburg cost from around £40 with airlines including Ryanair flying from Stansted, Manchester and Edinburgh, as well as British Airways from Heathrow.

For more information, visit

Like this? Sign up for more with our JC Life newsletter here.

From fabulous recipes to parenting tips, travel and West End entertainment; insightful interviews and much more: there’s more to the JC than news!

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive