Day Trip to Sigtuna - Sweden's Oldest Town
by Clare McLeod
Tuesday, February 12, 2019
Considered the “capital of Scandinavia,” Stockholm teems with local cafes, museums, tours, and countless other activities. But for travelers whose stay lasts longer than a few weeks or for anyone who just wants to get out of the city for a day, Sigtuna is a great getaway. Sigtuna is one of the oldest towns in Sweden. Though the town was first built in 970 under the reign of King Erik, the quaint village definitely has its modern amenities:
- A Systembolaget: the Swedish government’s monopolized liquor store
- An ICA: a common grocery store chain throughout Sweden
- A SATS: the gym chain that calls to those looking to work out and warm up on cold winter days
Yet all those amenities can be found in Stockholm itself and throughout Sweden. Instead, visit Sigtuna for its historical importance, friendly locals, and walkable main street.
Getting to Sigtuna from Stockholm
Sigtuna is north of Stockholm and south of Uppsala. By car, it will take about 45 minutes to get there from Stockholm. On the public transit system, Sigtuna is about 1.5 hours away. Yet the Swedish countryside, seamless train schedules, and comfortable seats make the trip fly by. Follow these steps to get from Stockholm to Sigtuna:
- Make your way to the Stockholm City transit station. There, board the commuter rail – or the Pendaltag – towards Marsta station. The train will take a little more than half an hour.
- From Marsta station, take the 570E bus towards Sigtuna Hällsboskolan. Ride the bus for 20 minutes and get off at Sigtuna Bus station.
- You made it! Walk down the main street towards the building with a big “i” on the side. This is the information center, where you can pick up a map, speak to some locals for great recommendations, buy souvenirs, or relax in the back room to plan your day.
Food in Sigtuna
Fancier fare – AB 1909 Sigtuna Stads Hotell
For those who want to experience all Sigtuna has to offer and with more spending money, dine at the AB 1909 Sigtuna Stads Hotell. The white linen tablecloths, expansive view of the water, and trim table settings will keep you occupied until the bread arrives. A sampling of warm wheat rolls with hard cracker-thin wafers accompany an herbed butter spread.
Menu offerings include traditional Swedish foods – including everything from soups, salads, and meatballs as starters to entrees featuring chicken, beef, and vegetarian mains. They also change on a weekly basis. The higher-priced items max out around 180 SEK (or about $20 USD), but the dishes – if not the largest servings – do not disappoint. If you arrive after lunch, the hotel also offers a “fika” (Swedes’ version of a long coffee break, made complete by a warm cinnamon bun or other pastry) for 155 SEK (about $17 per person) every weekday from 2 to 4 pm.
Affordable fare – many cafes dot the main street
For those with a rumbling tummy but less money to spare, visit any of the cafes off the main street. The locals at the information center can offer their recommendations, but many of the cafes and restaurants lining the main street offer fresh foods, just-baked goods, and steaming hot coffee for a reasonable price. You can easily satisfy your hunger for well under 80 or 90 kronor (about $10 USD).
Sights in Sigtuna
The city’s mainstay museum is a must-see. It’s only open 12-4 pm Tuesday through Sunday, so be sure to visit during those windows if you’d like to stop in. If you visit in the off-season, September to April, you can take advantage of the free admission. If you visit during the warmer months, you’ll pay 100 SEK (about $11 USD) to get in. Anyone under 20 will still be free. At the museum, you can learn more about the history of Sigtuna, see old furniture items, art pieces, and more. It is rather small and can be seen in an hour, but is well worth a visit.
There are three main ruins in Sigtuna. All are along an easy 20-minute loop from the main street, but if you choose to stay a little longer at each ruin for pictures or exploration – plan to spend an hour on the self-guided walking tour. Most of the old ruins were churches back when the town was first built but are now more like half-standing stone towers. Along the way, you can also stop to check out ruin stones marked by information panels.
St. Mary’s Church
Adjacent to the cemetery, an herb garden, and the St. Olof church ruins, St. Mary’s church is the most prominent in Sigtuna. Built in the 1230s by the Dominican order and renovated in the early 1900s and the 1960s, the church maintains its historical beauty while accommodating the local congregation. Now a Lutheran church owned by the Archdiocese of Uppsala, the church holds services and is open to the public during off-hours for silent prayer and meditation.
There are numerous castles in the area surrounding Sigtuna, but if you’re visiting for just the day – plan on visiting just one or two, especially if you also plan on seeing the town, ruins, church, and museum. Venngarn Castle is a great option. The castle, unlike some of the other castles and palaces in the area, is open year round with free admission. To get there from Sigtuna, journey back to the Sigtuna Bus station and board bus 183 towards Knivsta Kyrka. Stay on for three stops and get off at Venngarnsvägen. You’ll then walk 15 minutes up the road to the castle estate. First, you’ll see a large white building. It used to be a hospital for recovering addicts but has since been turned into a hotel. Many think this is the castle as it’s slightly larger and perhaps more grandeur than the actual castle itself. While the hotel is also worth stopping in, turn left and make your way to the yellow mansion, or the actual castle. Inside, you can visit the many rooms of the castle, explore the art, the chapel, and the basement floors, which are said to be haunted. If you get there in the afternoon, the cafe on the main floor can be a great place to relax for a “fika” break. Ask the friendly woman at the counter for her pastry recommendations! If the weather’s nice, you can also explore the gardens behind the castle itself.
The evening hours
If you have time to spare in the evening, revisit the main street for a quick bite, drink, or larger meal. The hotel also serves dinner for a ritzier option. Though not at all mandatory if you’re fulfilled by the day’s activity, it can be nice to explore Sigtuna in a different light – even one that’s entirely man-made.