48 Hours In: Uppsala

This Swedish city offers a relaxing alternative to nearby Stockholm, with its countless museums and saunas for getting rid of Christmas layers, says Martin Thompson
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The Independent Travel

Why go now?

Why go now?

To shake off those post-Christmas blues with a seasonal Scandinavian city break. Uppsala is an atmospheric old university city with cobbled streets, a plethora of museums and a river running through it. If you want to see the Swedes at play, the annual Uppsala Winter Swing Jazz Festival takes place on Saturday 25 January from 1pm-1am at the Atrium, Folkets hus on Dragarbrunnsgatan; tickets cost SKr360 (£28). For more information contact the Swedish Travel and Tourism Council (00800 3080 3080; www.visit-sweden.com).

Beam down

The ideal airport for Uppsala is Stockholm Arlanda. From London Heathrow, you can fly in on SAS (0870 60 727 727; www.scandinavian.net) and British Airways (0845 77 333 77; www.ba.com), with fares starting at around £100 return. BA also flies from Birmingham, while Finnair (0870 241 44 11; www.finnair.com) flies from Manchester. From Arlanda airport, trains run about once an hour and take 20 minutes, while bus number 801 runs more frequently and takes 40 minutes. Cheaper flights may be available from Stansted on Ryanair (0871 246 0000, www.ryanair.com) to Vasteras airport, which is 90 minutes away from Uppsala by coach (SKr90/£6). Return air fares in January start at around £60 return.

Get your bearings

Buses and trains will drop you at the central station in the eastern part of the city, blandly redeveloped in the Sixties as the mainstream shopping and business area. Don't despair. Head for the Fyris river, which neatly divides the city into old and new. The western side is dominated by the redbrick Uppsala Cathedral, the largest church in Scandinavia. It presides over the historic quarter, housing Sweden's oldest university, with its twisting, cobbled streets, burnt orange façades, countless museums and calm green spaces dotted with ancient rune stones. Above, is the domed 16th century castle that guards the city's southern approaches.

Check in

The First Hotel Linne, Skolgatan 45 (00 46 18 10 20 00) has homely rooms overlooking the restored garden and former home of Carl Linnaeus – the great 18th-century botanist and father of the naming system for plants that is still used today. The garden is officially closed until 1 May but hotel guests can wander freely along its wintry paths. Weekend doubles cost SKr853 (£60). For a view of the river, try the unstuffy Grand Hotel Hornan, Bangardsgatan 1 (00 46 18 13 93 80; www.eklundshof.se) , with its elegant 1900s dining-room and large, well-furnished rooms. The price of a double at weekends is SKr1,100 (£78), including breakfast. For other ideas, contact the Uppsala tourist Office at Fyristorg 8 (00 46 18 27 48 00, www.uppsalatourism.se); 10am-6pm Mon-Fri. Saturday 10am-3pm.

Take a view

Head up to the castle for the best view of the cathedral, river and the city beyond. Stand by the Gunilla bell tower, where the cannons are aimed pointedly at the Swedish Archbishop's residence below – a reminder that temporal power rules the roost. Uppsala Castle was begun in the 16th century by King Gustav Vasa, founder of the modern Swedish kingdom. Nowadays, part of the castle is given over to an art museum housing what is believed to be the northernmost Brueghel in Europe (open Wed-Fri 12-4pm, Sat-Sun 11am-5pm, SKr30/£2).

Take a hike

Start east of the river. After a cinnamon bun at the Café Linne opposite the Linnaeus garden at the top end of Svartsbacksgatan, turn right down the Linnegatan towards the river. Across the footbridge, turn left along the Vastra Strandgatan. Cross the main road into St Eriks Torg (square), where St Erik lost his head to the Danes. Uppsala's very own Ingmar Bergman shot scenes for his movie Fanny and Alexander here. Cross the square heading north and follow the curving Akademigatan, skirting the cathedral. Continue south, on past the elegant Holy Trinity Church, through a small square known as Odinslund. Above you on the right is the splendid 19th-façade of the Carolina Rediviva, the university library. Climb the hill leading to Uppsala Castle then plunge westwards down the steps towards the Botanic Gardens and thaw out in the tropical hothouses.

Lunch on the run

Try the set lunch (Dagens ratt) at Pub Nutton, 19 Svarbacksgatan . For about £5 you have a choice of a simple meat or fish main course, plus coffee and salad. If you are serious about fresh fish – and Swedes certainly are – treat yourself to gravad lax, (salmon cured in dill), washed down with white wine at Hambergs Fisk, Fyristorg 8, next to the tourist office. The Saluhallen, the old covered market on the river by St Eriks Torg, which burned down last year, will reopen in summer 2003 with good, inexpensive places to eat.

Window shopping

This thriving city's streets are uncrowded by British standards. The pedestrianised shopping area centred on Svartbacksgatan leading into Kunsansgatan, is lined with the equivalent of our high street stores, including the homegrown H&M for good value fashion. If the cold gets to you, duck into the indoor shopping malls such as Svava and Forum, leading into one another off Kunsansgtan. For more individual shops, walk north up Svartsbackgatan where you will find Oster Om An, excellent for Swedish crafts, with bric-a-brac and antique shops beyond. For further offbeat browsing, cross the river to the restored narrow street off St Eriks Torg known as St Eriksgrand. St Eriks Valv sells replica historic glassware while NY butik specialises in replica period costumes. At weekends, nearby Fyristorg is the setting for an outdoor farmers' market selling local produce.

An aperitif

The Swedes know how to banish the winter blues with glogg (like mulled wine), to which you add raisins for more taste – available from most bars. It may be alcohol-free but a popular hang-out for eternal students is Ofvandahls, Uppsala's oldest café, at Sysslomsgatan 5 . The décor is Viennese coffee-house in style.

Dinner with the locals

For excellent food in convivial surroundings, take a short taxi ride or walk just north of the centre to Stiernhielms Krog, Stjernhjelmsgatan 7 (00 46 18 25 95 00). The cooking at this popular private house-cum-restaurant is described by Lisa Dahlgren, the patronne, as Italian-inspired. For traditional Swedish cooking in an historic setting, go for Domtrappkalleren at St Eriksgrand 15 (00 46 18 13 09 55). Sit in one of the vaulted cellars of this former prison and try the arctic char fish or the poached fillet of reindeer. After dinner, move over to the wrong side of the tracks to sip beer with the locals at Katalin and all that Jazz in the former railway goods shed at Ostra Station (00 46 18 14 06 80), to listen to live jazz or blues.

Sunday morning: go to church

Uppsala is the seat of Sweden's archbishop and the centre of the nation's religious life. Work on the twin-spired cathedral began in the 13th century and was finally completed in 1435. The church opens 8am-6pm daily, and there is a free tour at 12.30pm on Sundays.Explore the side chapels where the Swedish kings and their consorts are buried, and the bones of Saint Erik are kept in a silver casket. Scientists Carl Linnaeus and Emmanuel Svedenborg are also entombed here. There is a museum of treasures in the north tower.

Out to brunch

If a heaving family-style smorgasbord buffet is a must, then take a 6km trip out of town (buses 2, 20, 24, 54) to Odinsborg restaurant (00 46 18 32 35 25) at Gamla Uppsala. As a change from the over-priced beer, try the local mead in the adjoining café. Shrug off the excess calories by wandering round the three mysterious pre-Viking burial mounds and the 12th-century church built on the site of a pagan temple. The nearby historical museum is open on Sundays, 12-3pm.

A walk in the park

Uppsala's Botanical Garden is open daily, year round. Wander through its maze of pyramid-shaped hedges to the Orangery, where a laurel tree planted in the 18th century by botanist Carl Linnaeus still flourishes (open Monday-Thursday 9am-3.30pm, Fri 9am-2:30pm). Alternatively, take a stroll by the Fyris river in the City Park, where Swedish kings once grew their hops.

Cultural afternoon

Uppsala is the perfect place for a winter weekend as you can dive into the city's many museums. The Gustavianum at Akademigatan 3 (00 46 18 471 57 060; open Tuesday-Sunday 11am-4pm, 40Skr/£3) contains the University Museum. A high spot is the ornate Augsburg cabinet of curiosities – a museum in miniature dating from 1631 – housing 1,000 objects, including a mummified crocodile. Climb to the building's cupola to view the perfectly-preserved 17th-century anatomy theatre with its steeply-banked galleries to give students an uninterrupted view of the public dissection of executed criminals. Among the collection of treasures on display at the Carolina Rediviva (University Library), Dag Hammarskjoldsvag 1 (open Monday-Friday 9am-8pm, Saturday 10am-5pm, free) is the 6th-century Codex Argenteus, the Silver Bible, penned in silver ink.

Write a postcard

Find a perch in the imposing lobby of the late Victorian Universitets-huset (University Hall), modelled on the baths of Caracalla in Rome. If you are lucky, you might catch the sounds of the university choir rehearsing Bach in the grand aula (hall) beyond. As you emerge, you may, as I did, encounter a group of students in archaic costumes, bowing low and spouting secret incantations. The ancient University of Uppsala still takes its rituals seriously.

The icing on the cake

Take to the ice. One of the most magical winter pastimes is outdoor ice-skating. In January, you can skate on the lake at the Fjallnora outdoor recreation area 20km east of Uppsala (open until 4pm). Skates can be hired on the spot and afterwards you can thaw out in the sauna. Taxis from town cost around SKr335 (£25), or take bus 809 for less.