Our travel diary expands! Today, we take you to a very nice Swedish region called Östergötland. Little known and little visited, Östergötland is somewhere between Göteborg and Stockholm (if these are the only places you know in Sweden). It is very flat, very agricultural and as everywhere in Sweden, very green. On the western side of the region we have Lake Vättern, the second largest lake in the country, and on the left, the Baltic Sea. Östergötland brings together Big towns, small villages, high technology (Saab and Volvo have their factories) and cultivated landscapes.
I have known Östergötland since I was 10 years old. When I was still at school, I would go there almost every year during the summer holidays to see part of my family living in Linköping, the capital of the region. This time it had been 7-8 years since I was there and I was looking forward to rediscover my favorite places in the city and especially, to prepare this article, and to make you want to go there too.
Linköping is the fifth city of Sweden with an important university. It is therefore a rather dynamic and young city, thanks to the numerous students there. Although, Swedish cities are not generally very lively and when I say young and dynamic it is by comparison to other cities of the same size in the country. Because truth be told, in winter after 6 pm Linköping city center is deserted. But, Sweden is rarely a destination that one chooses for urban activities. What inspires the most in Sweden is the magnificent nature, and the cozy lifestyle that its people advocate.
What to do in Linköping ? A stroll in the city center
Linköping is large enough to have everything and small enough to have everything nearby. You can browse the entire city center in one day. To begin this tour the Domkyrkoparken at the west side of the city seems to me a good starting point.
Linköping’s cityscape is dominated by the Dom Kyrka Cathedral, a powerful and massive Gothic-style stone church with a 107-meter high tower. I’m not gonna say it reaches the beauty of our Strasbourg Cathedral, but it is pretty impressive and the interior deserves a visit of at least 15 minutes.
A few hundred meters further on is the Stora Torget square with the statue of Folke Filbyter (a descendant of the Bjelbo clan, an important family during the Middle Ages in Sweden). It is one of the biggest squares in the city, where there are also markets a few days a week, but also many cafés and restaurants with large terraces.
If it’s summer and you’re in Filbyter Square, the best thing to do is go get an ice cream at Bosses galassbar, the best ice cream vendor in Linköping. The place is not visually glamorous and hype, but the ice creams are, I assure you.
Swedish ice cream is quite different from the ones we have in France. They are much more creamy. This is probably more suited to the climate. As taste choices go, I recommend the Blåbär (blueberry), and for something more typical, the Lakrits (licorice).
What to do in Linköping ? A trip back in time at Gamla Linköping
Gamla Linköping was created to protect the original and old buildings of Linköping against the modernization of a city that is constantly growing. Gamla Linköping preserves not only the architecture, but also crafts and craftsmanship of the past. Amongst the typical red houses we’ll find: old-fashioned candy manufacturers, carpenters, soap manufacturers or even saboters. You can also visit a wide variety of mini museums: museum of carriages, trains, bank, etc.
At the entrance of Gamla Linköping is the Cloetta shop, a local brand of sweets and chocolates. Here you’ll fid large quantities of strange looking candies in strange looking packagings (some had visual defects and that could not be sold in other shops). It is the ideal place to discover new flavors of sweets and of course a lot of licorice candies.
What to do in Linköping ? A Fika
If you have already traveled to Sweden, you have probably heard about the fika, a Swedish art of living that is not limited to Linköping or the Östergötland region.
To explain briefly, the fika is a break for coffee and sweets. But not only in the afternoon. This can happen at any time of the day and it is very important to do your fika with friends, colleagues or family, otherwise it’s just a coffee break. Nothing very revolutionary, you might tell me! Yes, indeed, taking a gourmet coffee with friends is something that everyone appreciates. But I think a concept, as soon as it has a name, it takes on extra value. That’s why this special coffee break is more common and better done by our Swedish friends. To understand the extent of this pika thing, know that the swedish even invented a word for “taking a second coffee”: påtår.
Cinnamon rolls, pastries, biscuits, even savoury sandwiches (with salmon for example) are acceptable for a fika.
The best thing to eat in Sweden is probably the world famous cinnamon roll. In Linköping as in other Swedish cities, you can not miss it. You smell them in every street corner. These rolls, called Kanelbullar, are prepared with a brioche dough and covered with a cinnamon syrup, vanilla and sometimes cardamom. These spices, by the way, are found in the majority of Swedish dishes. It is said here that the Vikings brought them back to Sweden after their first trips to Istanbul!
Best places to fika in Linköping :
Tropikhuset : as the name suggests, is a cafe / restaurant in a greenhouse (with lots of plants therefore) in one of the largest parks in town.
Simons Rosteri Bageri : they have a lot of Swedish pastries and brioches like the Kanelbulle, but also delights from elsewhere such as Pastel de nata or raw brownies. Everything is homemade.
Doing a fika is nice, but you can not feed yourself with cakes and pastries all the time. For some real food, I can also give you a few addresses. Some, I have tested them, others are advised by my Linköping-ese cousin.
Good restaurants in Linköping:
Stångs Magasin : Swedish food – gastronomic
Kniv å Gaffel : Mediterranean food
Kanal Krogen : Swedish food
Café Tannefors slussar : Swedish food – nice terrace
Let’s leave the city for a bit now! When visiting Östergötland, a getaway along the Göta Canal is a must. And the beginning is only 15 minutes by car from Linköping, at Berg’s locks. These locks are a remarkable engineering work. Apparently, Berg was named “one of the greatest wonders of Sweden”.
You can also get there without a car. Just take the bus from Linköping city center to Bergs Slussar. Visiting Berg is best in the summer. You can take an ice cream, lay on a bench and watch the boats from different corners of the country and even europe go up and down the locks. This system allows small vessels to cover 190 km of the long waterway in Sweden and the canal connects several rivers and lakes to form an easy route from west to east of Sweden.
At the bottom of the lock stairway is Lake Roxen, where you can even swim during the very short Swedish summer.
The Göta Canal that we saw in Berg continues its way up to Borensberg, a city half an hour drive away from Linköping. And it was this city that I visited one day during my stay in Östergötland. Just like Berg this small picturesque town is known for its locks, built around 1820. There is also the Motala River running through Borensberg, making this city an important transitional place for boats. There are even sailboats for rent for those who want to go for a ride to the town of Motala and its lake. Motala is a half-hour drive from Borensberg.
If you make the journey between Linköping and Borensberg (or Motala), you should not miss the opportunity to take a break at Boställets vedugnsbageri, a cafe and bakery in a converted barn in the middle of a field. Everything is homemade: bread, kanelbullar and other small cakes. You can also eat fairly simple dishes and sandwiches with good local products: Hejtorp gårdsmejeri cheese a farm north of Linköping, Löt or Brostorp dairy products, vegetables from different farmers : Rökinge, Stallsbergs or Hermelins . Boställets vedugnsbageri is good place to try the products of Östergötland.
If you want to leave with some local delicacies as a souvenir, I highly recommend the chocolate sauce (kolasås) from Börslycke Gård. it’s deadly! And as everywhere in Sweden, there are different licorice-based products, such as licorice caramel sticks and even licorice salt!
Vadstena is located just beside Lake Vättern, more specifically on the east coast of the lake. Vättern is the second largest lake in Sweden, both the surface and the volume, and is also the sixth largest lake in Europe. Vadstena is a picturesque and charming little town. The center of the city is mainly composed of ancient buildings from 1700-1800, but the city is mainly famous for its royal castle.
What to do in Vadstena ? Visit the royal castle
Vadstena Castle was built as a defense facility by Gustav Vasa between 1545-1555 to protect the country from possible attacks comping from Denmark and Småland (south of Östergötland). Today it has become a museum, event hall and also part of the archives of the country.
According to its website it is better to take a guided tour of the castle of Vadstena, something I did not do. The guides dress in period clothes and give visitors a fascinating insight into the world of the Swedish monarchy; stories of siege or the way the queen dressed.
What to do in Vadstena ? Swimming, fishing and boating
Lake Vattern attracts a lot of tourists from the country. The Swedes come here to swim, fish and to attend the many summer festivals or cultural events that take place on the beach. The lake holds many bays with perfect sandy beaches and an archipelago at the northern end that delights any canoe or kayak enthusiast.
Vadstena is also known for its many antique shops and markets. Even without wanting to buy something, it’s nice to take a walk in these stores. I discovered, for example, the store of a very old lady who had a passion for old dolls and who reworked them by drawing on their faces or changing their arms and legs (yes it is just as creepy as it sounds) . There is also the Wadstena Spetsar, the oldest shop in Vadstena, selling exquisite embroideries dating from the 18th century.
What to eat in Östergötland
Let’s be honest, Scandinavian gastronomy does not have a great reputation. Even worse, many tend to take the Ikea grocery store as a reference for Swedish cuisine. Is that fair? I say no!
Sure, the lack of sun (and therefore) vegetation during half of the year, does not help in developing a rich gastronomy. But with creative cooks, you can go far, even with potatoes and berries.
Raggmunk is the official dish of the region of Östergötland, and it even has a society dedicated to it, “The Friends of Raggmunk”. On their website, they review and evaluate restaurant that serve this dish. The potato is indeed a great star of Östergötland cuisine.
That being said, this region is not limited to potatoes. Even if the regional dishes are not numerous, there are agricultural products, dairy products and, above all, high-quality fish, and there are many places to taste typical dishes of the country: crayfish, Skagen, etc.
The region also has a variety of food products with berries. The lingonberry jam, for example, which is a basic element in the Scandinavian cuisine. Many people also eat it with meatballs. Blueberries, raspberries and strawberries are also commonly grown in Östergötland.
Östergötland is the perfect destination for those looking to travel in a quiet corner of Scandinavia at a not too high cost. Getting around is very easy and quick. Transportation networks are extremely practical and understandable for a tourist. Almost everyone speaks English, and the locals are generally very welcoming. It is very beautiful region. There are lakes, there are canals, a sea at the east, and forests. The only thing missing perhaps would be some hills and mountains.
I hope this article will help you if you ever go there. Do not hesitate to ask me questions in the comments or to contradict me if you find false information.