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Maximum "Swedishness" in Sweden

At the moment, I'm planning a trip with a friend of mine set to take place in January. Last January, we took a very spontaneous Krakow-Budapest-Munich-Prague trip and had an exceptional time, so much so that we decided we like traveling that time of the year. This year, my friend is determined to go to Sweden. I was not fully aware of this until recently, but my friend, from South Dakota, has 100% Swedish ancestry and grew up practicing many Swedish cultural traditions (albeit she never had a chance to learn the language). As such, she'd very much like any trip to Sweden to maximize the cultural element of things. With that in mind, what destinations in Sweden would be best at offering that experience, especially at that time of the year? As a bonus, she'd also very much appreciate a chance to take in Scandinavian nature at that time of year.

Posted by
6665 posts

What traditions have your friend grown up with and what part of Sweden are her ancestors from?

January will be snowy in large parts of the country, but in general Dalarna can be a good place to visit.

Posted by
3262 posts

First, she should try to figure out where in Sweden her ancestors came from, if she doesn't know. If they came from Northern Sweden, she might like to experience the darkness of the area in winter (I want to go back and experience that). If she's from elsewhere she might come across an historical organization in the relative area that traces the area and where people lived. For example, when I was going to the area, I stayed in Eksjö and went to the tourist office to check bus schedules because I had located a town I wanted to visit. During the course of the discussion, she wanted to know why I wanted to go to such an area. I explained I wanted to see the church as some of my grandmother's people were baptized there. She asked me to come back in the morning. I did and she walked me over to this office in town. They asked me who my relative was and I gave them what I had. They said to come back in 2 hours. I did. They had researched my people further. They contacted a lovely woman who drove me all over the area and showed me various places where they had lived and likely worked. She also made me a dinner of reindeer meat, those Swedish mushrooms...begin with C...the name escapes me, which she picked, and potatoes. She had gone to college in the north so she said she'd make me a northern meal in honor of the other relatives. She was in her 70s at the time...where I am now. LOL

I had a somewhat similar experience in Umeå. I had had to bargain with a taxi company to bring me to a location nearby and stay while I explored (the hotel receptionist translated the negotiations for me). It seemed they begrudgingly agreed and one of the female drivers volunteered. I had no info other than where the logging yard was, which was a lovely walk, which she did with me. Back in the cab and pretty soon everyone at the taxi company is researching where she should take me next, ie, the church, a village area, etc. We had a lovely time. Sweden loves their 'lost cousins'. So I suggest your friend go armed with all the information she has about her family tree and locations. And, when she goes somewhere to ask about them, you step back aways so they feel like they are dealing with one person. I traveled solo...that might have made the difference.

On that trip I also previously made contact with a woman via the internet, just on a Swedish ancestry page. She drove me around and brought me to her house for the first strawberries of the season. Anyway, since then she has started a small business (not her main job) and she will find where ancestors lived, bring them there, and connect them with living cousins if possible. If your friend is interested in that, I can DM you her contact information. She's in the Jönköping area. I have no idea how much it costs. So I suggest you speak with your friend to see if she has any idea in what part of Sweden her family is from and visit those areas. That being said, Gotenburg allegedly has a good emigration museum. Stockholm is lovely so I wouldn't miss Stockholm. I loved Skansen there, but it is doubtful it would be open in January...but maybe, seems they do have some celebrations outside there in winter...or that might be the one in Umeå.

So if you can come back with more specific locations...even north or south, east or west, would be helpful. Sweden is a wonderfully friendly country. Anywhere I was, even shops, if they found out I was descended from an emigrant, I would hear "Welcome home!"

Also, has she seen "The Great American Adventure"? Allt for Sverige is the Swedish name. Maybe she will want to apply to be on that show. If they interview her, she should be willing to say she'll cry...a most unSwedish thing to do and I gave the wrong answer, but it lead to my own wonderful trip.

Posted by
2744 posts

Have you factored in the short daylight hours in Sweden in January? In Stockholm, the sun rises around 9:00 and sets around 3:00. The further north you go, the less daylight you have. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go, but you should be prepared, especially if you are looking to enjoy nature and scenery.

I’ve only been to Stockholm (in July and October), and I loved it. It’s a beautiful city with lots to do.

Posted by
7569 posts

I can't imagine visiting Sweden in the dead of winter without multiple days in Stockholm. You surely know that Swedes don't live in hand-built rural cabins, butchering their own reindeer! They put their bikes in covered bike racks at the station and train to the city, where they join in the financial domination of Europe.

Posted by
6665 posts

She also made me a dinner of reindeer meat, those Swedish
mushrooms...begin with C...the name escapes me, which she picked, and
potatoes.

Chanterelles? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cantharellus_cibarius

I loved Skansen there, but it is doubtful it would be open in
January...

Skansen is open 365 days per year (or 366 on leap years).

Posted by
27426 posts

The House of Emigrants is an emigration museum in the town of Vaxjo. It is co-located with a glass museum. I enjoyed both, though I am not of Swedish background.

Posted by
2017 posts

Just keep in mind that Sweden has changed since the early 1900s and some of the traditions that her family have, could have been changed or modified when they moved to the US.

I would just find out where in Sweden her ancestors came from and perhaps base yourself from there. It could be fun to see her ancestral home or hometown or even the church where her ancestors were baptized.

Posted by
795 posts

What lovely stories about finding Swedish origins, loved it! In addition to doing all the research she can ahead of time, I took photos of my grandparents' homestead in Fargo, North Dakota which were a big hit. It was also fun to show the second cousins living in the home where my grandmother was born above the arctic circle, pictures of her home taken a hundred years ago. (The story of how I found them is a saga, think old letters, followed up by random phone calls to Minnesota & an intro to a second cousin on LinkedIn, who was quite suspicious until I could name all of my grandmother's siblings, same as his grandmother's.)

If you're looking for "Swedishness", do carve out some time for Skansen in Stockholm, we've been there at Christmas time and there were a lot of festivities, though will be quieter but no less fun in January. I was amazed at the flat bread bakery, just like my grandmother use to make, and the woman in traditional garb looked JUST like my aunt.... It is open all year, perched high on a hill on Djurgården island, it was quite chilly but hey she's from South Dakota so should be fine. https://skansen.se/en/plan-your-visit/opening-hours-and-prices/.

You sound like quite intrepid travelers, I'm sure you will have a great trip! (PS, Should have added a link to our recent 2-day TR to Stockholm, some of this won't work in January, but would absolutely add a visit to the Swedish History museum! https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/trip-reports/2-day-stockholm-trip)