When visiting Stockholm, a must-see stop is the historical district known as Skansen. A trip to Skansen is like stepping into a time machine and being transported to a Sweden of centuries past.
The world’s first open-air museum, Skansen was founded in 1891 out of a concern that traditional ways, customs and structures were endangered at the onset of the Industrial Age. It has since become a model for open-air museums throughout Europe and attracts over a million visitors a year. Sometimes known as “Old Sweden in a Nutshell,” Skansen is Sweden’s version of Williamsburg, Virginia, and is designed to give locals and visitors an authentic taste of pre- Industrial Age Sweden.
Take a ferry by the waterfront alongside downtown Stockholm to get to Skansen. The ferries leave frequently, so a visit can be worked into a tight schedule. Once embarking on the ferry, you’ll be transported across the scenic harbor to the island of Djurgarden (Deer Garden) and back in time to a less-complicated era.
When Skansen opened in 1891, the first building was the Mora Farm Cottage. There are now over 150 dwellings at Skansen scattered across 75 acres. These were collected and reconstructed from throughout rural Sweden and include houses, schools, mills, farm buildings, churches, log homes, pubs and windmills from medieval times. The staff dress in traditional period costumes, and buildings are consistent with their respective time periods. One can experience how landowners and peasants lived in earlier centuries.
Many of the dwellings at Skansen capture the imagination through their ingenuity, inventiveness and uniqueness. One of these includes a log cabin on stilts that appear to be the legs of a heron. There’s also a structure that looks similar to a Native American wigwam from the Sami, indigenous people from northern Sweden. Another log cabin has a courtyard where visitors can watch the art of basket weaving. Craftsmen, including glass blowers and printers, display a variety of handicrafts in assorted period buildings. Traditional festivals are held here, and folk dancing and music are also often provided until the evening hours.
There is a zoo at Skansen that specializes in animals native to Sweden. I was delighted to see a herd of reindeer saunter past. There are also moose, wolves, brown bear, lynx, elk and more.
One caveat to keep in mind if you’re pressed for time: lines for refreshments tend to be long, and there’s no urgency to move them along at a brisk pace (perhaps also harking back to an earlier era). Food is expensive, so it’s best to bring your own eats and have a picnic overlooking the harbor and the Stockholm skyline. Although I did not sample it myself, I was told that the bakery is particularly good – so it might be worth checking out if the line isn’t too long.
Skansen is equally delightful for children and adults. It provides a taste of rural and historic Sweden for those unable to travel throughout the country. If you buy the Stockholm City Pass, Skansen is included free of charge, but there is no discount for the SL Tourist Card.
Also, the ferry ride back provides a beautiful view of the Stockholm skyline. I was lucky enough to catch a magnificent sunset as I approached Stockholm harbor.