on-line contest

What's New

Most Popular


Story and photos by

Skansen is the world's oldest open-air museum. Located on Djurgarden, (Deer Garden), an idyllic island just east of Stockholm Sweden's central harbour, it's easily accessible by bus, tram or ferry.

Seglora Church and whipping post
Seglora Church and whipping post
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Because parking is limited, avoid driving. The best way to get to Skansen is by walking along the waterfront from central Stockholm.

Swedish buildings

Skansen was founded in 1891 to preserve the Swedish buildings and customs that were vanishing with industrialism. As Stockholm expanded, it became a green oasis and a place of recreation for its inhabitants. About 150 buildings were moved here, from different areas of Sweden, representing urban and country life, different periods and social classes.

Guides recount the fascinating history of several buildings. The Seglora Church, for example, was built in the 18th century with heavy log walls and an oak shingle roof. Parishioners added the tower later, painting a clock on it because they were too poor to buy a real one.

The church sits on the north side of the churchyard, since people superstitiously believed that no good person should be buried in the shade. In those days, going to church was compulsory. People who didn't go were locked in stocks, so other parishioners could spit at them as they went to church.

Inside, there's a room where people left weapons before entering the main part of the church. Attendants used a long stick, now hung on the wall, to wake people during the long two-hour sermons.

Whetstone or sword-grinding stone from Gotland
Whetstone or sword-grinding stone from Gotland
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Men sat on one side, women on the other. Unwed mothers sat on chairs, by the altar, facing the congregation. The front pews have candle holders. People had to bring their own candles and only the rich, who sat in front, could afford them.

Sword-grinding whetstones

Along the pathways, there are curious whetstones, or "sword-grinding stones." Found throughout Götland, they date from the early Iron Age up to the Middle Ages.

Even more fascinating, are the stones from Uppland, with their cup-like depressions. People would put fat or small coins into the holes to keep elves and fairies happy, or to ensure recovery from illness.

Many buildings feature demonstrations of early crafts and businesses. In the courtyard of the 16th-century log cabin farmhouse from Mora, people weave baskets from pine roots.

Woman makes cheese in a Shieling or Buttermaid's Hut from Dalarna, Sweden.
Woman makes cheese in a Shieling or Buttermaid's Hut
from Dalarna, Sweden.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Handmade cheese and glass

An elderly woman makes cheese, the traditional way, in a mountain farmstead used by milkmaids during summer months. She boils milk over an open fire, strains out the curds with cheesecloth, and then presses them into a wooden mould. Visitors can try blowing a meter-long horn, which milkmaids used to call cows.

In the old town quarter, several craftsmen work in shops, furnished with 18th- and 19th-century furniture and equipment. A woman, in the old Sparbank, writes in a ledger with a feather pen. Glassblowers shape cups from orange blobs of molten glass. A printer shows visitors how to set type and use a hand press.

The grocery store contains candles, herbs, barrels of grain, jars of candy, coffee and everything else needed by 18th-century households. A pharmacy displays beautifully ornamented apothecary jars preserved from the 18th-century Royal Dispensary at Drottningholm Palace.

Swedish glass-blower shapes glass with a wooden paddle.
Swedish glass-blower shapes glass with a wooden paddle.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Shopping at Skansen

Visitors can buy pottery, glass and ironware at Skansen shops. The Bear Stall, next to the brown bears, sells toy and candy bears. Skansen Building Preservation Centre features old-fashioned fixtures and tools. The Seasons Store sells picnic supplies in summer.

On the first three Sundays in Advent, Market Street holds an annual Christmas market. Dating back to 1903, it's one of the biggest Christmas markets in Sweden. Visitors can enjoy glögg, the traditional Christmas drink, listen to music and watch dancing around the Christmas tree. Stora Gungan, the Big Swing Tavern built in 1801, is known for its Christmas dinners.

What and where to eat at Skansen

During the summer, don't miss two Swedish food specialties. Souvas, thinly-sliced smoked reindeer meat, fried and served with mashed potatoes, stewed chanterelles and rowanberries, is available at the Market Street Suovas Stand. It is Scandinavia's oldest known dish. Another must-try is pickled salt herring, served at Solliden, Skansen's main restaurant.

For light lunches, sandwiches, salads, desserts and coffee, try Café Gubbhyllan and Petissan, the Little Café. The bakery sells freshly baked buns and bread, made the old-fashioned way.

Scandinavian animals and domesticated birds

Also at Skansen, is a zoo of Scandinavian animals, including lynx, wild boar, reindeer, moose, wolves, otters and marten-like polecats (Mustela putorius). Visitors can watch zookeepers feed the animals, daily, beginning with the wolverines.

You'll also see rare breeds of Scandinavian domesticated animals, like Vane cows, hornless Swedish Mountain cattle and Swedish Red Polls. Native Jamt goats and Asen-sheep live at the Summer Pasture Farm. Rare breeds of poultry include Swedish Yellow ducks, Skane geese and Swedish Spotted hens, which gamekeepers used for hatching pheasant chicks.

For an additional admission fee, visitors can observe fish, crocodiles, naked mole-rats, golden lion tamarins and pygmy marmosets at the Skansen Aquarium/World of Monkeys and the Children's Rain Forest.

Swedish folkdancers and fiddler
Swedish folkdancers and fiddler
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Special events at Skansen

Skansen hosts festivals year-round. Sami National Day celebrates the traditions of the people of northern Sweden, Finland, Norway and Russia on February 6, with music, speeches and souvas. The Sami camp is in the north part of Skansen.

Walpurgis eve, on April 30, celebrates the arrival of spring with bonfires, speeches, choirs, music and dancing. On Maundy Thursday of Easter week, children make brooms and dress up as witches to deliver Easter letters and receive candy. Interpreters, in some of the houses, prepare Easter feasts and explain Easter traditions.

Processions, speeches, music and folk costumes herald Norwegian National Day on May 17 and Sweden's National Day on June 6.

Dancing around the maypole

Skansen Maypole
Skansen Maypole
© Barb & Ron Kroll

Midsummer celebrations last for three days at Skansen. Visitors make flower garlands and help the Skansen Folk Dance Team raise the maypole. Traditional fiddlers play for ring dances around the maypole.

Other summer events include evening dance programs, sing-alongs, jazz evenings, workshops and a Rose Festival. Skansen's rose garden has over 50 species, including bush roses, park roses, wild roses, climbing roses and remontant roses.

On the last weekend in September, Autumn Fair recreates 19th-century Swedish Michaelmas fairs. Visitors meet tavern waitresses, stable-lads and farmers bringing the harvest to market.

December 13 features a procession of Lucia and her attendants. Dressed in white, with a crown of candles in her hair, Lucia sings the Lucia song and serves coffee, buns and gingersnaps.

Thousands come to ring in the New Year at Skansen. Tennyson's Ring Out Wild Bells has been recited at Skansen every New Year's Eve since 1895.

You can see Skansen's regular attractions in two days, but to gain a complete picture of Sweden's culture and history you have to return for its many special events.


Skansen www.skansen.se