Umeå, Sweden


You just wanted to see the Swedish countryside. After hanging out in the Old Town, the parks, and the islands in Stockholm, you wanted to see more of this beautiful Scandinavian country. So you drove north along the eastern coast. In Norrland, you passed small villages, untouched forests, and endless green pastures. Eventually, you reached Umeå and received quite a surprise.

Norrland’s largest city sits at the mouth of Ume River on the Gulf of Bothnia. It’s an old seafaring town nicknamed the “City of Birches” for the silver birch trees that line the wide avenues. Students, musicians, and artists now flock here. It’s even been named a 2014 European Capital of Culture.

You stumbled upon the city at just the right time. It’s summer, with long days and temperatures in the 60s. Everyone wants to be outside. New, modern buildings are popping up all over town. And the ferries have just started making trips to the offshore islands for the season.

Photo: Stora Hotellet Umeå
Photo: Stora Hotellet Umeå

Start at the Västerbottens Museum on the outskirts of the city. The open-air museum has a ski exhibition, fishing artifacts, and a working farmhouse to show you what life was like in rural Sweden. Go from the historical at Västerbottens to the modern at Bildmuseet. The Picture Museum, which overlooks the river, features contemporary Swedish artwork in a striking new building. Then check the schedule at the NorrlandsOperan to try to get last-minute tickets to an opera or a concert.

As the day warms up, you want to join everyone outside. Walk around the Umedalen Skulpturpark to see bronze, wooden, and concrete sculptures. Ride the ferry to Holmön, which may be the sunniest place in Sweden. It has a boat museum, a wildlife sanctuary, and windswept beaches. Or visit Älgens Hus, an elk farm, to see the large animals and taste their rare cheese. Back in the city, you’ll be ready for coffee and chocolate at Schmäck or oysters, asparagus, and a cold beer at Rex Bar.

It’s late when you eventually decide to call it a night. Stora Hotellet is right near City Hall Square along the river. It was built in 1895 as a seaman’s mission, but it recently reopened after extensive renovations. The room categories have names like adventure, yearning, and passion. Dark wood, leather, and soft fabrics in cozy nooks make this an easy place to relax. At least for the evening. Who knows what else you’ll find in northern Sweden tomorrow.

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