12 Best Things to Do in Uppsala, Sweden (+Photos)

Often called the ‘Cambridge of Sweden’, Uppsala is a vibrant university city with a huge history to delve into. A popular day trip destination from Stockholm, it has lots of great bars and cafes to check out alongside a centuries-old cathedral and castle.

Lying along the picturesque banks of the Fyris River, the city initially flourished as a political and religious center in Viking-era Sweden until the arrival of Christianity in the region. Since the founding of its university in 1477 – the first in Scandinavia – Uppsala’s cultural life has instead been shaped by its large student population.

Tons of fun festivals take place throughout the year with plenty of relaxing parks also found amidst its hallowed halls. It is Uppsala’s lively ambience yet small-town feel that makes it so rewarding to visit.

12. Helga Trefaldighets Kyrka

Helga Trefaldighets Kyrka

While it is even older than Uppsala Cathedral, the soaring twin spires of the Domkyrka right beside it somewhat overshadow the Helga Trefaldighets Kyrka. Much smaller and simpler, it is known for its amazing murals and the stirring concerts that sometimes take place here.

Established in 1302, the attractive yet understated Holy Trinity Church served local peasants with the nobility instead heading to the adjacent cathedral. Its sturdy stone walls and ruddy red brick tower do, however, hide away some remarkable artworks from the Middle Ages.

The most famous of these are its elaborate murals which were painted by Albertus Pictor. As well as their fading figures and colourful scenes, the church has pretty vaulted ceilings and stained-glass windows to admire. Candlelit concerts and choir performances here are memorable with the old architecture and artworks all around you.

11. Uppland Museum

Uppland Museum

If you want to learn all about life in the city and surrounding county over the centuries, then make sure to visit the Uppland Museum. Full of fascinating objects and artworks, its exhibits take you from prehistoric times right up to the present day.

Founded back in 1909, the museum is housed in a wonderful old water mill that itself dates to 1768. Its well-done displays cover everything from everyday life in the region across the ages to local folklore, Viking runes and the Swedish royal family. As most things are written in Swedish, don’t forget to pick up an English booklet at the entrance.

Alongside various old tools and toys, you can examine very detailed models and dioramas of the cathedral and city. After exploring all its exhibitions, it’s worth wandering along the Fyris River and the rapids right beside it.

10. Bror Hjorth’s House

Bror Hjorth's House

An absolute must for art lovers, Bror Hjorth’s House contains lots of colourful paintings and quirky sculptures from the renowned Swedish artist. Once his home and studio, its galleries and garden lie a fifteen-minute walk from the castle.

Opened in 1978, the villa’s cosy yet also spacious confines are jam-packed with his eclectic artworks. Known for his use of very bright colors and roughly cut wood, Hjorth’s distinctive designs and drawings pop out at you from almost every available space.

One of Sweden’s best-loved artists, he lived and worked here in Uppsala for 25 years. Other than perusing its collection and snapping photos of all his thought-provoking sculptures, you can see a fabulous fountain created by him outside of Uppsala Central Station.

9. Day trip to Sigtuna

Day trip to Sigtuna

A very charming place to visit, the small town of Sigtuna can be reached in just 45 minutes from Uppsala. Although it’s now hard to imagine, it once acted as Sweden’s capital from the 10 to the 13th centuries.

Very peaceful and picturesque, its old stone ruins, small medieval churches and quaint main street (the oldest in the country) lie along the shores of Lake Malaren. An important, early Christian center, it competed with the, then pagan, Uppsala for religious supremacy. It also replaced Birka as a trade hub and hosted the first royal mint.

Aside from seeing St. Olof’s crumbling church ruins and Viking Age graves and runestones, there are loads of lovely little art shops and cafes to stop by. You can also explore its small, local history museum or walk, cycle and fish by the lake in summer.

8. Biotopia

Back in Uppsala is the brilliant Biotopia; an interactive museum focusing on the animals and ecosystems found in the county. Located just a ten minute walk from the city center, its two floors have tons of incredibly-detailed dioramas and displays to check out.

Set in a small park, the museum’s grand, turn-of-the-century building first opened its doors to the public in 1910. Created by Gustav Golthoff, a well-known naturalist and taxidermist, its impressive displays feature all kinds of stuffed animals in their natural habitat.

Besides inspecting its bears, wolves, moose and birds, visitors can hear how Uppsala’s fauna and landscapes have changed across the millennia. Biotopia also organizes plenty of fun and educational activities for kids and has an on-site shop and cafe.

7. Carolina Rediviva University Library

Carolina Rediviva University Library

Just a couple of minutes from both Uppsala’s cathedral and castle is the enormous Carolina Rediviva University Library. Instantly recognizable from its pretty pale yellow facade, its old halls house more than 5 million volumes and an important collection of ancient manuscripts.

Both the oldest and largest university library building in Sweden, its elegant reading rooms and exhibition hall were completed in 1841. Very light and airy inside, all its soaring ceilings are propped up by exquisite columns with endless shelves of books lining its walls.

Other than admiring the architecture, you can see original prints of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species and Newton’s Principia in its small museum. The highlight, however, has to be its illuminated Codex Argenteus or ‘Silver Bible’ that dates to the sixth century. Afterwards, you can ‘fika’ in its cafe before continuing with your sightseeing.

6. Linnaeus Garden & Museum

Linnaeus Garden & Museum

On the opposite side of the river to the university area are the Linnaeus Garden & Museum. Named after the world-famous botanist who lived, worked and taught in Uppsala, its scenic site offers more of an insight into his personal and professional life.

Now home to 1,300 species of plants, flowers, trees and shrubs, Sweden’s oldest botanical garden was first established in 1655. A century later, Carl Linnaeus took over with its layout, orangerie and ingenious classification system still looking largely as he left it today. A treat to amble around, its lush grounds also contain some stunning statues and a pond.

Alongside the garden he so carefully cultivated, is the large house where he lived from 1743 to 1778. Full of original objects and furniture, the museum presents both his family life and scientific achievements. While it is open all year, the garden can only be visited by the public between May and September.

5. Museum Gustavianum

Museum Gustavianum

Another great museum to explore is the Gustavianum right in front of the city’s iconic Gothic cathedral. A firm favorite with families, it covers not just the history of Uppsala University but has amazing Egyptian antiquities and Viking Age artefacts for you to see too.

Built back in 1625 to house lectures and students, it later served as the main building of the university before being turned into a museum in 1997. Next to old scientific instruments and medical tools, you’ll find interesting exhibits on the most influential scholars to have studied at the institute.

Its standout sights though are its seventeenth-century anatomical theater and the Augsburg Art Cabinet from around the same time. While the former is where public dissections were once demonstrated, the latter displays over a thousand unique and unusual curiosities.

4. Uppsala University Main Building

Uppsala University Main Building

Just across a little leafy park from the cathedral and museum is the Uppsala University Main Building. Used for lectures, conferences and graduation ceremonies, it boasts an incredible entrance hall and an equally impressive auditorium.

Very eye-catching, the attractive yet imposing Beaux-Arts building was inaugurated in 1887 to replace the Gustavianum. Although it may not contain its fascinating collections, it has a superb sculpture gallery to stroll past and a small section explaining the university’s history. Its architecture is the main reason though that most people visit.

Delightfully decorated, its vast foyer is flanked by grand, marble staircases with magnificent cupolas arching overhead. Aside from ogling at everything, try and attend a conference or concert in its cavernous auditorium if you can as it looks so special inside.

3. Uppsala Castle

Uppsala Castle

One of the city’s main sites, the colossal Uppsala Castle can be found right by the university campus. Still the official residence of the county’s governor, it has a couple of museums and lovely sprawling grounds for you to wander around.

Perched atop a large hill overlooking Uppsala, the peach-colored castle was constructed in the sixteenth century, at the start of the Vasa Dynasty. Remodeled and expanded countless times over the years, its old apartments and halls have hosted some of the most important moments in Sweden’s history.

After enjoying the striking views and hearing about shocking abdications and executions on tours, you can explore its gorgeous grounds. Its art museum is also well worth a visit for its fine collection of modern and contemporary artworks.

2. Gamla Uppsala

Gamla Uppsala

If you want to delve even deeper into the city’s past, then make sure to head to the Gamla Uppsala archaeological site on the northern side of town. In addition to all its ancient burial mounds, there is a captivating museum and centuries-old church to stop by.

Once one of the most important economic, religious and political centers in all of Scandinavia, it was here that many Viking kings and queens were buried. Although no ruins sadly remain from the settlement, there are hundreds of distinctive burial mounds to amble around.

Afterwards, you can learn all about the big barrows and see Viking-era artifacts uncovered at the site in its museum. Not to be missed too is Gamla Uppsala’s beautiful church which is thought to have been built in the eleventh century atop a pagan temple.

1. Uppsala Cathedral

Uppsala Cathedral

Dominating the center of the city and its skyline are the towering twin spires of the Uppsala Cathedral. Known as the Domkyrka in Swedish, it is the largest and tallest church in all the Nordic countries. Used for countless royal coronations and burials, it is the highlight of most people’s time in town.

While its first stone was set around 1270, the cathedral was only consecrated decades later in 1435. In total, its immense towers and elegant spires stretch 118 meters in height with its French High Gothic-style facade making for some fabulous photos. From the top of them, you can bask in unrivaled views over Uppsala and the rest of the county.

Inside is just as impressive as fantastic frescoes and glimmering stained-glass windows line its ginormous nave. There is also a brilliant Baroque pulpit and gold and silver articles to see in its Treasury Museum. Choir performances and organ recitals sometimes take place here, creating a magical ambience in the old cathedral.

Where to Stay in Uppsala

Grand Hotell

As most of Uppsala’s main attractions lie right in the city center, this is by far the best area to base yourself. You can easily walk from one to the other, or even to the train station, if you want to take trips to other cities.

An excellent option for a convenient and comfortable stay is the four-star, family-run Grand Hotell Hörnan. Overlooking the Fyris River, the historic hotel has a very charming feel with a classy bar area found downstairs. Many of its tastefully-furnished rooms also boast views of the cathedral and castle. There is also an extensive breakfast buffet for guests to enjoy.

Just a short walk from the station is the Clarion Collection Hotel. A great alternative, it has clean and comfortable rooms to stay in featuring a sleek, modern Swedish decor. As well as a lovely bar and outside area, it has a sauna and fitness rooms for visitors to make use of. What’s more, both a breakfast and dinner buffet are included in the price with afternoon tea or ‘fika’ also part of the deal.

How to get there

Uppsala Central Station

Conveniently located, Uppsala lies a 40-minute train ride to the northwest of the capital or just 20 minutes from its international Stockholm Arlanda Airport. Trains depart every half an hour between the two cities.

By car, the journey is roughly an hour from Stockholm with buses instead taking around 80 minutes. While cheaper, its coach services run much less frequently.

Once you arrive, most of its main sights are within easy walking distance of the center. You will have to drive or take the bus to Gamla Uppsala on its northern outskirts.

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