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Ideas of holiday destinations and things to do in Mälardalen

Want to discover Mälardalen this summer? We get that. Whether you're enjoying a quick staycation or coming here for a long-awaited holiday, the offer is large and the distances short between beautiful nature reserves, hiking trails, historic towns, castles, zoos and Mälaren's many bathing spots. You can easily fill your whole holiday with experiences with no danger of getting bored.

Diving into a Swedish lake in summer time

Mälardalen lacks clear boundaries, but the cities most often included in the region include Västerås, Södertälje, Uppsala, Stockholm, Örebro, Eskilstuna and Enköping. In other words, there's a lot to see and do. Here are our best tips for a holiday week or two in Mälardalen this summer!

Hiking trails and nature reserves

Long for nature at its most beautiful? Lace up your hiking boots and fill up your water bottle - here are two beautiful hiking trails in the Mälaren Valley!

Sörmlandsleden - popular for a reason

In Mälardalen, you'll find one of Sweden's most popular hiking trails, Sörmlandsleden, which is also the country's first lowland trail. It's also one of the longest, with its 1000 km, 62 stages, 36 extra loops and many connecting trails. In other words, you can adapt your hike completely to your unique level of experience, from a simple Sunday walk to a real adventure!

Hiking in nature. Photo: Jake Melara, UnsplashGetting close to nature brings peace of mind. Luckily, there are so many hiking trails to choose from across the entire Mälardalen area. Photo: Jake Melara, Unsplash

For those of you who want to go all in and spend the night, there are plenty of shelters at locations along the trail. The nature is varied and offers open landscapes, patches of wilderness, sparkling lakes and beautiful stretches of coastline. There are also some historical monuments along the trail. The Sörmlandsleden passes Stockholm, Södertälje, Katrineholm and Nyköping.

Fogdön pilgrim trail, Strängnäs

Fogdön is a peninsula located west of Strängnäs in Mälaren. People began building on Fogdön early and the peninsula has a rich history, with remains from ancient castles, burial grounds and rune stones having been found there, for example. The three parishes of Fogdö, Vansö and Helgarö and their churches were established here as early as the 12th century. The Fogdön pilgrim trail stretches from Saint Eskil's source to Björsund and is about 80 km long, but you can of course divide the route into shorter stages.

Also, along the trail, there are three different swimming spots where you can take a dip and rest your feet. These spots are called Husbybadet, Helgarö Kläpp and Kungsberg, at Vårfruberga monastery.

Diving in a Swedish summer lakeTake a break from hiking and rest your legs with a dip in the waters of Mälaren. Photo: Jana Sabeth, Unsplash

Experience Sweden's historical heritage - Birka, Sigtuna and Old Uppsala

The Viking city of Birka, Björkö

Visit the Vikings' most important trading centre in Sweden - The Viking city of Birka. On the island of Björkö in Mälaren is this historic treasure that's even on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Explore the large area of ancient monuments, stroll around the Viking Quarter and try shooting a bow and arrow.

Bow and arrow at Birka Viking village. Photo: Claes Helander, Strömma TurismPhoto: Claes Helander, Strömma Turism

Curious about grinding flour and baking bread as our white-haired ancestors once did? A visit to the museum is an absolute must. Take a closer look at all the archaeological finds that tell of a Sweden long lost to time. Finish with a visit to the museum shop and something good to eat and drink at the Särimner restaurant.

Särimner restaurant at Birka Viking village, Strömma TurismHere you can take a well-deserved break from the day's adventures in a rustic Viking-inspired environment. Photo: Strömma Turism

Boy looking at viking ship at Birka. Photo: Claes Helander, Strömma TurismPeople young and old enjoy following in the footsteps of the Vikings for a day. Photo: Claes Helander, Strömma Turism

The best way to experience Birka is to organise a day trip with Strömma, and go from Stockholm to Björkö with a boat through Mälaren. The boats leave from several plates in and around Stockholm. Here you can see timetables and prices and book your next day trip.

Sweden's first city: Sigtuna

The city was built as early as the 10th century, and boasts being Sweden's oldest city and having Sweden's first pedestrian street and mint! Sigtuna was a very important city for both trade and religion. Today, Sigtuna is a small and walkable idyll with beautiful wooden buildings on the shores of Mälaren, but of course there are plenty of relics from the past for you to discover. Walk along Sweden's first pedestrian street and visit church ruins, castles, croft villages and the country's smallest surviving town hall. It takes less than an hour to get there from Stockholm.

Uppsala - religious history from the Iron Age onwards

Experience one of Sweden's most important religious centres for both pagans and Christians! Here, the ancient gods of Asatru were worshiped during the Iron Age, but when Christianity came into vogue, they chose to consolidate the new religion in the same place. In the 11th century, the first Christian church was built, and Sweden's first archbishop's church was built at the royal court in 1164. Uppsala is a really exciting place for history buffs. Do not miss Uppsala mounds, Old Uppsala Church and Old Uppsala Museum!

Uppsala CathedralUppsala is a mecca for general and religious history from the Iron Age to the present day. The picture shows Uppsala Cathedral, Sweden's national shrine, which began to be built in the 1270s.

Gamle Uppsala viking graveCurious about the Viking Age? Old Uppsala mounds aren't just any old hills: rather, they're Viking graves. They're located in the Old Uppsala archaeological area.

Castles, moats and the lives of royals

Mälardalen is full of exciting castles, each with its own story about its time and the people who lived there. Here we recommend six castles, each one a valuable piece of Swedish history. Which will be your favourite?

1. Skokloster Castle, Skokloster

Visit Count and Field Marshal Carl Gustaf Wrangel's majestic baroque castle, the largest private palace ever built in Sweden. That is to say that Count Wrangel was a very successful man who made his career in the days of the Swedish Empire. In addition to the beautiful architecture, you can see art, textiles, books and ceramics from 1550-1850. Don't miss a visit to the Banquet Hall, which was meant to be one of Europe's largest. Unfortunately, it was never finished. When the count died unexpectedly, the Banquet Hall was left as the construction site it was - complete with the tools and scaffolding that can still be seen on the site today. A real-life time capsule!

Skokloster CastleSkokloster Castle was built when Sweden was a world power, and now attracts tourists from near and far in the summer months.

2. Gripsholm Castle, Mariefred

Gripsholm has everything you could want from a castle, and it's hard not to be impressed. A moat, pinnacles and towers, dungeons, cannons, rust chambers and the stuffed lion, Leo, whose peculiar appearance has made him an internet celebrity.

Gripsholm castle, Kungl Hovstaterna. Photo: Raphael StecksenBeautiful Gripsholm Castle is one of many historic castles you can admire up close and personal in the Mälardalen area. Photo: Raphael Stecksen, www.kungligaslotten.se

Gripsholm was built under the auspices of Gustav Vasa, and has been inhabited by many royals over the years, such as the theatre king King Gustav III and Queens Maria Eleonora and Hedvig Eleonora. One of Gripsholm's most famous sights is Duke Karl's chamber. The room was decorated in the 1570s as a bedroom and has been preserved in near untouched condition. It's also hard to miss the castle's internationally renowned portrait collection, with paintings from a range of historical periods, from Gustav Vasa's time to the present day. Combine your trip with a visit to Mariefred, or perhaps a picnic in Gripsholm's deer park nature reserve!

The theatre at Gripsholm castle. Kungl Hovstaterna. Photo: Alexis DaflosOf course, there's also a theatre at the castle that belonged to the "theatre king," King Gustav III. Photo: Alexis Daflos, www.kungligaslotten.se

3. Stora Sundby Castle, Eskilstuna

In Stora Sundby, you have a castle that offers exciting architectural history! Stora Sundby was rebuilt and expanded many times between the 16th and 19th centuries, which means that today's building bears traces from several different eras and of several different styles. During the rebuilding in the 19th century, for example, the knight's castle we see today was created. The four large towers symbolise the four seasons, the twelve small towers represent the twelve months of the year, the fifty-two rooms the weeks, and the three hundred and sixty-five windows the days. Want to see the castle's magnificent rooms in Rococo Revival style, the Red Salon and the Knights' Hall? Then it's best to book a guided tour in advance, as the castle is privately owned and inhabited, but is shown to pre-booked groups during the summer months.

4 and 5. Drottningholm Palace and The Chinese Pavilion, Stockholm

On Lovön just outside Stockholm, you'll find two real gems. Drottningholm Palace is very much the castle of queens. Hedvig Eleonora and Lovisa Ulrika left their mark on the architecture, the interior design and the cultural life that unfolded there. Drottningholm Palace is Sweden's best-preserved 17th century royal castle, and is included on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Here you'll find attractions such as the Castle Theatre, the Castle Church and the Baroque Garden.

The Baroque garden at Drottningholm castle. Kungl Hovstaterna, Photo: Raphael StecksenA walk in the Baroque Garden is enough for you to be whisked away to 17th century castle life. Royals have been strolling around this garden for centuries. Photo: Raphael Stecksen, www.kungligaslotten.se

Drottningholm castle. Photo: Kwan Fung, UnsplashDrottningholm Palace, from the 17th century and on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Doesn't the castle look splendid on the edge of Mälaren? Photo: Kwan Fung, Unsplash

In the far part of Drottningholm Palace park, you'll find the Chinese Pavilion, a gazebo that was built when all things Chinese were the height of fashion. Even today, you can see precious objects imported by the Swedish East India Company, such as porcelain, silk wallpaper and paper, lacquer screens and stained glass.

Kina castle at Drottningholm, Kungl Hovstaterna. Photo: Alexis DaflosLike a jewel, the Chinese Pavilion is hidden away at the far end of the Drottningholm Palace grounds. Photo: Alexis Daflos, www.kungligaslotten.se

6. Örebro Castle, Örebro

From a simple fortress and prison to a royal castle... Yes, Örebro Castle offers a lot of contrasts! Here, you can see both dark dungeons that held prisoners of war, thieves and witches, and magnificent halls where royals such as Charles IX and Charles XIV Johan lived opulent lives. Örebro Castle has something for the whole family, with everything from interesting exhibitions and guided tours to the castle café and the shop. For children, it's pure paradise, with ghost walks, the children's castle tower, Little Ghost Laban and the opportunity to have a kids' party!

Örebro castle. Photo: Philip Myrtorp, UnsplashCan this strong and sturdy building really have been a palace? Yes, it was a palace, but it was the first stone building to serve as one.

Visit a zoo with the family this summer

Travelling with kids? Break up your ice cream breaks and sand castle building with a day trip to a zoo! Mälardalen has plenty of zoos to choose from, so just take a look at the map and see which one works best for you.

Skansen and Fjärilshuset/Haga Ocean, Stockholm

If it's the capital you're headed to, there are two really famous animal experiences you should really see - Skansen, on the historic Djurgården, and the gorgeous Fjärilshuset in Haga. At Skansen, you can discover other worlds. See examples of how we lived in Sweden in three different centuries, see old crafts performed, celebrate holidays and seasonal changes, visit markets and shops - and see all the animals!

Peacock at Skansen zoo. Photo: Younseok Song, UnsplashPeacocks are just one of lots of species of birds that roam freely at Skansen. Photo: Younseok Song, Unsplash

Old house at Skansen in StockholmAt Skansen, as well as all conceivable Nordic animals, you'll see what Sweden's looked like through the ages.

At Fjärilshuset and Haga Ocean, you can experience the animal kingdom's full diversity! First hike in a tropical rainforest amongst beautiful butterflies, then continue to the Aquarium for a closer encounter with reef sharks and other fish!

Parken Zoo, Eskilstuna

Are you more interested in hippos and white-cheeked gibbons, while the little ones only want to pet rabbits and miniature pigs? Parken Zoo boasts as one of Sweden's first "folkparks", and today offers lots of attractions and activities for the whole family. See artists and performances, visit the zoo and Little Zoo, let the young ones enjoy the park's rides, or go for a round of adventure golf.

Gårdsjö Moose Park, just outside Västerås

Towards the north of the region, you can go on a guided moose safari at Gårdsjö Moose Park. Here, you can get up close and personal with these beautiful, majestic animals. After the tour, you can sit down in the café and munch on buns and waffles.

Elk in the forest. Photo: Danika Perkinson, UnsplashThe king of beasts, the moose, is a magnificent creature. If you haven't done so yet, take the opportunity to see it up close. Photo: Danika Perkinson, Unsplash

Torekällberget Open-Air Museum, Södertälje

Get closer to the 19th century and the history of Sörmländ at Torekällberget, in the middle of Södertälje. See the historic buildings and visit farm animals such as Mellerudskanin, Gutefår and Jämtget. Of course, there are also seasonal markets, stalls and cafés to take a seat and recharge!

Maid and cow at Torekällberget in Södertälje. Photo: Kristina SvidénIf you're lucky, you can try out some everyday chores from the 19th century. Photo: Kristina Svidén, Torekällberget

From mid-June to mid-August, the museum's open every day, with daily activities and adventures for kids of all ages. Magicians, puppet theatre directors and jugglers meet animal keepers and entertainers - all dressed in period costumes.

Playing on spoons at Torekällberget in Södertälje. Photo: Kristina SvidénMaybe you can learn how to play the spoons? Photo: Kristina Svidén, Torekällberget

Kolmården Zoo, just outside Norrköping

You can't go wrong with a visit to Kolmården Zoo - the largest zoo in the Nordic countries! And the offer of things to do is huge. See all the animals in the enormous zoo, ride the cable car, visit Bamse's World, see the fascinating dolphin show, and much, much more. There are also rides for visitors big and small. Dare to ride Wildfire, named Europe's best roller coaster?

Kolmården. Photo: Rana Mostaghel, UnsplashThe Cable Car Safari is a unique experience. Between 2.5 and 20 metres above the ground, float through the forest and see African as well as Asian and Nordic animals. Photo: Rana Mostaghel, Unsplash

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Diving into a Swedish lake in summer time

Quick facts: Mälardalen

  • There's no clear geographical demarcation of the Mälaren Valley. People often use the term to refer to the area around the Mälaren lake.
  • Mälardalen stretches across the provinces of Uppland, Västmanland and Södermanland. Sometimes even the Örebro area in Närke is included.
  • In ancient times, Mälardalen made up Svea's kingdom.
  • Many of the most important places in Swedish history are found in Mälardalen: The Viking City of Birka, the royal capital Stockholm, Sigtuna and the Köping-Arboga-Kungsör area are just a few examples.
  • The name Mälaren can be traced back to the 14th century, and is believed to originate from the Old Norse "maelir", meaning "gravel lake".
  • Mälaren is Sweden's third largest lake. Once, it was part of the Baltic Sea, but as the land rose in the 12th century, the body of water was isolated and eventually became a lake.

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