The post is presented in paid collaboration with Destination Kalmar, but all thoughts, tips and opinions are, as usual, my own.
One of Sweden's oldest cities with one of Sweden's most beautiful castles. Kalmar is situated as a splendid historical oasis on the shores of the Baltic Sea, filled with attractions for the whole family. Here on the worn cobblestone streets, people have lived and worked since the 13th century and the city has faced many powerful kings and wars over the years. Today, Kalmar is a lively and popular summer town, but even though Kalmar is wonderful in the summer, there are plenty of sights and things to see and do all year round. We visited Kalmar during the first weekend of Advent and not only had time to discover many of Kalmar's sights, but also experienced Kalmar's fantastic Christmas fair.
1. Kalmar Castle (with the Christmas fair)
It is not possible to write about Kalmar without starting to write about the magnificent, powerful and magnificent Kalmar castle. During the 12th century, pirates ravaged the area and a defense tower was built to protect Kalmar. The tower was expanded during the 13th century and became a mighty castle and fortress.
After many troubled years when the Kalmar Union was both created and dissolved, the castle began to take on its current appearance in the 16th century under Gustav Vasa, Erik XIV and Johan III. The castle was modernized and decorated by Europe's hottest artists and the result was a truly impressive Renaissance castle. The castle you encounter today.
Kalmar Castle has lots of exhibitions and guided tours all year round, except during the first weekend in December when the Christmas fair takes place. The Christmas fair is a Christmas market with over a hundred artisans, where the vast majority come from the area. It sells everything from woolen gnomes to candle lanterns and home-baked crackers. The market takes place inside the beautiful halls, at the set table in the gray hall and under the well-decorated ceiling in the golden hall. Choirs sing Christmas carols, the children sit in a circle and listen to stories from the past, and employees in period clothing demonstrate what the chores might have looked like here at the castle in the past. Even if you don't really feel like shopping, it's easy to buy into the Christmas feeling that the event gives. Quite simply a really good Christmas fair. In my eyes, the Kalmar Christmas fair is one of the absolute best Christmas markets in Sweden!
For those who would rather experience the castle without the Christmas market and with a little less people, I would probably recommend visiting Kalmar Castle every other weekend except during the Christmas fair. The only way not to miss anything is to visit the castle twice – once during the Christmas fair and once during the rest of the year.
Read more about Kalmar Castle and plan your visit Kalmarslott.se.
2. Kvarnholmen – The new town
During the 17th century, many wars raged around Kalmar and the city was besieged by Denmark for long periods. The city needed to be protected better than the place it was located next to the castle. A plan to move the city to Kvarnholmen took shape and behind ramparts and bastions the new Kalmar was built up on Kvarnholmen for a few decades. It became a (for its time) modern district, built with straight streets and beautiful houses.
Kvarnholmen is the district in Sweden that has the most protected historical buildings and it is an interesting stroll to walk up and down the street and read the plaques on the houses that tell details about the history of the houses and the area. On the southern part of Kvarnholmen the richer people lived and here you will find, among other things, the beautiful houses Castenska gården, Kullzénska huset, Old Riksbank and Dahmska huset. In the northern part you will find smaller houses where people with simpler professions lived, for example Rackargården and Tripp Trapp Trull.
By the way, do you know what a Rackare worked with? Rackare were at the bottom of the social ladder, with less pleasant duties that included being the executioner's assistant, emptying latrines and handling garbage.
Read more about the different houses in the self-guided walk from Kalmar.se - Historic buildings.
Kalmar Stads Hembygdsförening has produced a brochure House with history which shows which houses have information plaques.
3. The city wall
In the 17th century, the whole of Kvarnholmen was surrounded by a substantial city wall, just like Visby. Today only parts of the wall remain, but there are places where you can still walk through historic gates – Västerport and The cavalier. The most famous part of the city wall is the current one Västerport, which was once the main route into Kalmar. When we visited Kalmar (November 2022), however, it was under renovation.
In its heyday, the wall was over 2 meters thick and excavations show that it was probably 6 meters high.
4. The red clapboard house
The red clapboard house on stilts was built at the beginning of the 20th century and was a meeting place for the town's women to do laundry. Here inside the house, the women were protected from the weather and strong wind and they could wash even when it was raw and cold outside. The house got its name after the laundry was rinsed and patted in a basin in the middle of the house. Clapboard houses were common once upon a time, but most of the houses have today been demolished. The clapboard house in Kalmar is probably the last remaining clapboard house in Scandinavia.
Curious: In Perth, Australia, there is a blue boathouse that has become an Instagram success (#blueboathouse). People make pilgrimages to the boathouse to take a picture of themselves on the jetty that leads up to the house. Although Klapphuset is neither blue nor a boathouse, it is at least as beautiful. Well worth a selfie, right?
Some of the most popular big cities in the world have one thing in common. There is a beach in the center of the city where you can swim. In Kalmar, the beach is called Kattrumpan and is located in the easternmost part of Kvarnholmen - in the charming wooden house quarter Kattrumpan. Bathing tourists were conspicuous by their absence during our November visit, but I can imagine that it is much more crowded during the summer. However, it is nice here by the sea regardless of the season.
6. Old town
Oh charming Old Town! In the Old Town of Kalmar, it is far from Kvarnholmen's straight streets and right angles. Among crooked cobbled streets, white wooden fences and gnarled old apple trees, the low wooden houses are close together. Most of the houses are very small. So small that it is hard to imagine how cramped it must have been for a large family here during the 18th century.
Before the city center was moved to Kvarnholmen, this was in Gamla Stan, but not many of the remaining houses are from that time. Mainly it is because Kalmar was hit by a devastating fire in 1647, where most of the really old houses were destroyed. The houses that meet you today are mainly from the 18th and 19th centuries.
One of the clearest reminders of the past is the old cemetery located in the middle of the district. Most of the tombstones have so many years on the neck that the text has worn away, but we found some stones with dates from the 17th century.
The cutest streets you shouldn't miss are Old Kungsgatan and Västerlånggatan, although it is worth allowing yourself to stroll around in nearby streets as well. Stroll around and get lost in history and childhood memories. Here, among pink roses and tiled roofs, it's easy to think Astrid Lindgren idyll, juice parties and bare-legged summer legs.
7. The city park
The city park is directly adjacent to the castle and is a beautiful little park with many unusual trees and plants. For example, have you heard of a katsura or a gingko tree before? The park was inaugurated in 1880, a time when many families moved into the city to leave country life and instead work in factories. People lived in cramped quarters and lacked access to green areas, which made the park an important recreational spot.
Already when the park was built in the 1870s, there were five walnut trees in the park area that were already 100 years old. During a storm in the 1930s, four of the walnut trees were snapped, but one of them is still standing. From the end of the 18th century. Imagine if trees could tell stories.
In the middle of the castle park, the Kalmar art museum is like a black cube with panoramic windows facing the water. There is also an outdoor seating area with a holiday feel, which I can really see coming to life in front of me during a warm summer evening.
We followed the self-guided tour The park walk which tells the story of the city park, but also of adjacent quarters in Old Town.
8. Stortorget and the cathedral
The architect Tessin the Elder knew how to create impressive Baroque buildings. Not only has he drawn Drottningholm Castle, but also the golden yellow cathedral in Kalmar.
Kalmar Cathedral was consecrated in 1682, during the same time that the city was moved to Kvarnholmen. After 43 years of construction and three kings later, the Italian-inspired church of great power was ready. The old church in Gamla stan by the cemetery was demolished and the new church became a really grand feature on Kvarnholmen's largest square - Stortorget.
Around Stortorget are houses that were built in all centuries - from the 17th century to the 20th century. Stortorget was for many years the city's center for market trade and commerce, but today we are instead greeted by a large Christmas tree with sparkling gold balls and an ice rink with artificial ice for pleasure skating.
Read more about the cathedral at Kalmar Cathedral Congregation.
9. The crown
The royal ship Vasa was not the only royal ship that Sweden built in the 17th century. Sweden also had the impressive regal ship Kronan. When the Kronan was built, the regal ship Vasa had already capsized and sunk, which gave the shipbuilders a little more knowledge about how a ship should not be dimensioned. When the royal ship Kronan was launched, she was the world's largest warship and a tenth of Sweden's flotillas were required to get her sailing and firing cannons.
The Kronan sailed for eight years without problems, but during a stormy battle off Öland against the Danish-Dutch fleet in 1676, the Kronan also capsized, exploded and sank. More than 800 people died and one of Sweden's biggest ship disasters of all time was a fact.
Unlike the regal ship Vasa, the Kronan exploded before she sank. When the ship was found in the 1980s, there was therefore no whole ship to salvage, but only wreck finds. But it turned out that there were many finds. At the Kalmar county museum, you can today learn everything about Kronan's history and also see a few thousand of the over 30.000 marine archaeological finds that have been made in the last 40 years. An exhibition not to be missed if you visit Kalmar!
Read more Kalmar county museum.
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By the way, did you know that Kalmar is CNN's favorite city in Sweden? :)
Have you been here? What did you think of the destination?
Travel blogger, gastronaut, photographer and family adventurer with over 55 countries in his luggage. Eva loves trips that include beautiful nature, hiking boots and well-cooked food. On the travel blog Rucksack she takes you to all corners of the world with the help of her inspiring pictures and texts.