If you tried to invent the perfect destination for a day out from Stockholm, it would be hard to improve on Sigtuna. Situated not far from Arlanda airport, it is a picturesque, lakeside village full of history, old buildings, and enough cafes, restaurants and little shops to round out a visit nicely.
From the point of view of history, Sigtuna has a head start. It is Sweden’s oldest mediaeval town. Dating from 980 AD, its single main street still winds along the same narrow route as it did in the middle ages. Of course many of the old houses have disappeared and all but one of the churches, but those that remain are original, standing where they were built. Beckoning laneways- some of whose Swedish names translate evocatively into Crooked, Broad, Cross, Long and Noisy – lead down from the main street to the lake.
Sigtuna’s main street is lined with tiny shops. Its tiny ‘Main Square’ holds an even tinier town hall, the smallest in Sweden, maybe in Europe. Built in 1744, it contains royal portraits, baroque chairs and a crystal chandelier. It’s small but sophisticated, and the same can be said of Sigtuna. The shops may be picturesque old wooden buildings, but the merchandise is surprisingly stylish with cutting-edge clothing designs and expe nsive handicrafts, too. In addition to clothing shops, Sigtuna’s bookshops, antique shops, and toyshops can keep a browser entertained for hours. Take a break, though, in the ice cream shop or perhaps ‘Tant Brun’s, where homemade cakes are served with coffee from a copper pot. The café is in the oldest house in Sigtuna-late 17th century. Most visitors will have to bend sharply to enter through the low doorway.
Thanks to the curious custom of jettisoning rubbish into the street and then covering it over with planks as needs be, recent excavations have revealed the town’s domestic history. You can explore it for yourself in Sigtuna’s appealingly undemanding museum, housed in a red wooden house at the end of the main street.
Staying overnight in Sigtuna
This could become the highlight of a visit if you secure a booking at the 26-bedroom “1909 Sigtuna Stads Hotell” at the Western end of Sigtuna’s main street. Sweden’s ‘smallest five star hotel’ it is one of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World and routinely plays host to visiting dignitaries; US President Lyndon Johnson stayed here when attending the funeral of Dag Hammarskjöld’s funeral in Uppsala. It has all the facilities of a very modern hotel, but was meticulously restored in 2001 in pure 1909 style. Wooden paneling and carvings recreate the atmosphere that King Gustav V knew on his visits. The rooms and restaurant, which serves Swedish food with an international touch, are decorated in pared-down Scandinavian style. The hotel is a 15-minute journey from Arlanda airport. Details at www. sigtunastadshotell.se