When you think of a castle, does it have crenellated walls, towers and turrets, a drawbridge, a moat and a beautiful captive princess (or perhaps a prince?) that must be rescued?
Sweden has some really romantic castles to offer, like Gripsholm, situated on a small island in lake Mälaren in the town of Mariefred, about 70 km from Stockholm. It is one of the Royal Castles of Sweden, and was the favorite place of several kings. The theatre built by Sweden’s cultured enlightenment king, Gustavus III, can be visited, and The National Portrait Gallery is kept there, too. Gustavus Vasa started the castle you see today from scratch in 1537, and for a time, his unhappy and slightly mad son Erik XIV was kept prisoner there together with the farmer’s daughter he had made his queen. You are too late to save the man, though – he was eventually served poisoned pea soup and died…
Near Uppsala you’ll find the castle of Skokloster, with the added attraction of arriving by boat from Uppsala on the Fyris river. It is the largest private castle ever built in Sweden, and the eight-faceted towers are a unique feature drawn by famous architect Nicodemus Tessin. The castle was the home of the Wrangel family in the 16th and 17th centuries. They were collectors of books and art, and you can see paintings that date back to medieval times. A large collection of rifles and guns in three separate armouries may tempt the military minded. A museum of veteran cars is nearby, in case the ghosts of the executed Erik Brahe and his wife (they were part of a conspiracy to reinstall absolute monarchy) drive you away.
As romantic castles go, another turreted fancy, the castle Ekenäs on a cliff by lake Teden near Linköping is a prime example. It is from the 17th century and is said to be among the finest renaissance castles of Europe – it is a museum today and some of the original décor is still to be seen. Be careful, as there is a ghost here too! A poor kitchen boy got locked up in the cellars and starved to death, and is said to roam the place ever since.
If romance is not your thing, but the royal family is, then of course you must go to the Royal Castle in Stockholm. It may look like a large, square house from two hundred years ago, and sorry, that is essentially what it is – but yes, the king and the queen actually live there. You can visit the state apartments and the historically interesting parts, the treasury and the museum of antiques collected by Gustavus III on his travels in Greece and Italy. If the Swedish flag is fluttering in the wind, the king is at home.
If there is no flag up in Stockholm you might try Solliden castle on Öland, the royal summer residence. To get to Öland, a long and narrow island in the Baltic, you travel over Europe’s longest bridge (6.072 m), which is a special experience in itself! Solliden is a relatively new castle, finished in 1906, and looks more like a magnificent Mediterranean villa.
You can visit some parts of the castle, and if you arrive during the time of the Öland harvest festival you might get a glimpse of the royal family, and certainly a very nice lunch in the café. The park is rightly famous, too.
Kalmar Castle, with some romance, but no king and a stern exterior, provides a striking contrast to Solliden. The town of Kalmar is the departure point for the island of Öland, and on the mainland side of the bridge you have this solid structure with imposing red walls, guarding the passage and harbour. There has been a defense fort here since ancient times, and the castle has been changed and parts of it rebuilt over the ages. There are some magnificient renaissance halls and a castle church from the same epoch, and it is hard to believe that the castle was left to ruin some two hundred years ago. It survived being in turn a liquor factory and a horrible prison with malnourished inmates, and was carefully restored from 1850 and onwards.
If you look for the really odd castle, then perhaps Tjolöholm near Gothenburg, with its architecture and furnishings inspired by the Arts and Crafts Movement in England will appeal to you? Or would you rather go to Gunnebo castle from the 18th century, built of wood for a rich but not noble family, with a lovely park open to the public and occasional guided tours? Here, you can enjoy a large yearly festival of 18th century life, so be sure to bring your wig and a silk dress!
These are just a few examples – small private castles often see a new life today as luxurious hotels and spa resorts, and others are local sights open to the public and not overrun by tourists. Check with the local Tourist Information and go for romance, ruins and culture!