Sightseeing in sub-zero: a tourist’s guide to winter in Uppsala

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Considering that I’m on exchange in Sweden for a full 10 months, you’d have maybe thought that friends and family would confine their visits to see me to the spring and summer months. Whilst summer temperatures in Sweden are never going to set any records, my hazy recollections of the first weeks here in August are marked by long warm days, where having fika outdoors, wandering through parks in the sun and even taking off the occasional layer *gasps*, was a tauntingly brief reality. Unfortunately for those who booked to visit me, however, the perks of being a summer tourist were a very distant memory when they came in November, January and February respectively.

 

Uppsala’s a wonderful place to be a student throughout the seasons, but when you’ve only a few days to experience what it has to offer, and those days happen to be consistently below zero and filled with intermittent bursts of snowfall, sleet or icy rain, the pressure to get creative with your tour-guiding is on. To save future Uppsala-students this panic, I’ve compiled this handy list of sightseeing musts, for when the elements are very much not on your side.

  • Escape the cold by ducking into Uppsala Domkyrka. The tallest cathedral in Scandinavia, this masterpiece boasts some truly beautiful wall paintings, King Gustav Vasa’s tomb and the relics of Sweden’s patron saint – St. Erik. It’s also free to enter, open until 6pm and, as a bonus, has an amazingly effective central heating system…

 

  • Use your student ID (guest cards from the uni also work) to get free entry to Museum Gustavianum. Learn about the university’s history, wander around one of the world’s oldest anatomical theatres and marvel at the Augsburg Art Cabinet, a 17th-century cabinet of curiosities which is, quite simply, mad.

 

  • Botaniska trädgården is maybe more attractive in the warmer months, but is still worth a visit for the tropical house (also free entry for Uppsala students) as an escape from the cold.

 

  • Bror Hjorths Hus is one of my favourite spots in Uppsala. A little out of the way, it’s well worth the walk for a look at the quirky art of local favourite Bror Hjorth, displayed in his own home. (Also free!)

 

  • Uppsala konstmuseum is another great place to seek refuge from the cold whilst getting to feel lovely and cultural. Set within the castle, the museum has a decent collection of artwork, regularly changing – so perfect for multiple visits with friends! (Need I say, this one’s also free…and open late on Thursdays, if you need somewhere warm to wait before getting dinner)

 

  • If you’re blessed with a sunny day, it’s worth embracing the cold and walking/biking to Gamla Uppsala. This site, inhabited since the 3rd Century AD, was an important economic, political and religious centre before activities were shifted to present-day Uppsala. There’s a museum (not free, sorry), a 12th Century church which still holds services, and most impressively of all, monumental burial mounds which offer an amazing view across to the cathedral.

 

  • If you want to pretend to be a true Swede for the day, a trip to Fjällnora Recreation Centre is a must. Serving as a haven for swimmers, hikers and canoeists in the summer, this massive lake entirely freezes over in winter, and swarms with skaters and cross-country skiers. It’s accessible by bus from Uppsala centre, and equipment is available for hire at a reasonable price. I went skiing with friends a few weeks ago, and can honestly say that despite it being the coldest day of the winter so far (lows of a very chilly -13°), it was absolutely worth it for the scenery and the fun of trying a new, and very Swedish, sport.

 

  • Bandy is a sport I hadn’t encountered before moving to Sweden, but for those also not in the know, it can be summarised as a slightly less exciting version of ice hockey. It’s immensely popular in Sweden, and Uppsala has its own team – IK Sirius – which plays regularly throughout the winter in a stadium not far from the centre. It’s possible to watch for free as a student, and though I’ve only been a spectator, I’ve heard it’s also possible to play.

 

  • If outdoor activities aren’t really your thing, however, or the cold is simply just getting to you, it’s always good to know that cafés and Nations are only ever around the corner. Both are an integral part of student life here, so you can easily justify spending a significant part of your tourism-time indulging in fika or enjoying drinks.

 

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