Borås is in West Sweden, 45 minutes inland from Gothenburg. In the 19th and 20th centuries Borås was the country’s big textiles manufacturer and that legacy is maintained at the Textilmuseet, where industrial spinning and weaving machines are still in perfect order.
One thing that will hit you right away about Borås is its street art: On the sides of apartment blocks and municipal buildigns are fantastic murals tens of metres high, commissioned by the city in a week-long event every September. Three years into this initiative the murals have started to take over, and Borås looks unlike any city in Sweden. For grownups there are heavyweight cultural destinations like the Abecita modern art museum. But Borås also has lots for kids to get up to, at one of the country’s top zoos, the action-packed city park or an ingenious science centre.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Borås:
1. Borås Djurpark
The city’s top attraction is an ethical, thoughtfully designed zoo on the northern outskirts.
There are more than 600 animals at the park, from 65 species, counting Sweden’s only African elephants.
Where the zoo excels is in the design of its enclosures.
Savannah species like elephants, giraffes and zebras are allowed roam in a spacious field ringed by stone walls and observation points for visitors.
As well as being one of the view zoos where cheetahs have bred successfully, the park also has Nordic species like grey wolves, moose, Finnish forest reindeer and grey seals.
And kids go face-to-face with farm animals like goats, sheep, cows and horses.
In Sweden Borås has been given the nickname Textilstaden, referring to an industry that burgeoned in the 20th century.
The Textile Museum is in the city’s former industrial area and documents this trade, mapping out the development in technology from the middle of the 1800s and showing how the working lives of the industry’s employees changed over time.
The museum has one of Europe’s largest collections of functioning textile machines, giving you an insight into the crafts of spinning and yarn manufacturing, weaving and knitting.
The textiles archive is also comprehensive, and the museum stages fashion-themed exhibitions showing off this wealth of fabrics and clothing.
3. No Limit Street Art Borås
Graffiti and urban art are a controversial topic in Sweden, but Borås has gone against the grain to embrace them in a controlled way.
The city’s blank apartment blocks have become works of art, up to seven storeys high.
Until recently Borås also had a zero tolerance policy to street art, but that all changed in 2014 when the city staged its first “No Limit” event.
Back then artists from seven different nations were invited to bring some magic to the cityscape over the course of a week in September.
It has now become an annual ritual, and each event brings more colour, style and wonder to the city.
One of the cool things about it is that nobody is allowed to see the preliminary sketches, so the creations are always a surprise.
4. Navet Science Center
Just the place for inquisitive young minds, the Navet Science Center is somewhere kids can tackle concepts in technology, mathematics and science in fun, hands-on ways.
The centre’s staff are on hand to help children aged around 5-11 solve problems in the “Palace of Math”, build their own machines or conduct experiments in the “Water Zone”. Kids are encouraged to get involved as much as possible, and let their creativity run wild as they learn about the birth of the universe, light, the human body and other big subjects.
5. Abecita Museum of Modern Art
In 2006 the Abecita textile brand opened an art museum at its factory.
From the 1960s the owners, Berit and Bengt Swegmark amassed a collection of mostly Pop Art and photography.
Over time this grew to more than 500 works by artists like Roy Lichtenstein, David Hockney, Andy Warhol, Kiki Smith and Ellsworth Kelly.
This is all presented over three floors, in a space once devoted to making corsets and lingerie before production was moved overseas.
On the fourth floor is a small brassiere museum, while near the entrance is a cafe where coffee is served free of charge for museum visitors.
6. Borås Museum
Fifteen historic buildings from the Sjuhäradsbygden region have been moved to this outdoor museum founded in 1914. One is the Nymanska Gården, a rare example of a Borås-style farmhouse from the 17th century.
The oldest structure is the stunning Ramnakyrkan, a church built from wood and dating to the 1500s.
Even today the church is used for christenings, weddings and everyday worship.
All of these buildings are open and allow a glimpse at daily routines in old times, while the workplaces show off the traditional crafts people once relied on.
At midsummer you can come to see traditional Swedish folk dance, and ancient rituals like the ring around the maypole.
Borås’ main park sits in 33 hectares on a meander in the Viskan just to the south of the centre.
It was founded in the 1890s, when the park’s mature trees were planted.
Whatever the season there’s always something to do here: In winter the park has an ice rink, and you can hire skates from the old orangery.
In summer the flowerbeds and enchanting rose garden are in bloom and you can bring little ones for a round at the adventure golf course.
The children’s playground was updated in 2013 and a lot of care has gone into its layout and obstacles.
8. Borås Konstmuseum
The city’s art museum was established in 1934 and since 1976 has been in the Kulturhuset along with the City Theatre and Library.
The museum is divided into several departments and galleries over three levels.
The permanent collection offers an insight into the art scene in western Sweden during the 20th century, viewing works by artists like Roland Kempe and Sixten Lundbohm.
There’s an entire room set aside for the Swedish-French painter Peter Adolf Hall, born in Borås in 1739. Not only does this have 20 of Hall’s works, Hall’s piano is also on show.
In fact, the room has the atmosphere of a Parisian Rococo salon with its chandelier, sculpture of the artist, candlesticks and book cabinet.
9. Mölarps Kvarn
For a rural afternoon out you could make for the north shore of Öresjö lake.
There has been a mill at this spot by the Viskan since the 1500s, as the water flows quickly down to the lake.
The present mill dates to the 19th century and was still making flour as recently as 1968. On the property you can see the miller’s lodgings, while the mill and its restored water wheel are in full working order.
If you come, allow some time to walk around the local countryside, which is a nature reserve.
There are some wildflowers in these fields that don’t normally grow in this region, like pasqueflowers that bloom purple in spring, and the silver thistle, which produces white blossoms in August.
10. Borås International Sculpture Biennale
Since 2008 the city has put on a summer-long sculpture exhibition.
As the name tells you, this happens every other year, on even numbers.
The biennale takes all around Borås, and is usually centred on Stora Torget, the city’s main square.
At the 2016 edition there were 15 works by artists from the Sweden, USA, Lebanon, Finland, Denmark and the UK. The biennale leaves a lasting impression on the city, and the inaugural edition furnished Borås with a nine-metre bronze statue of Pinocchio by the American artist Jim Dine.
This is titled “Walking to Borås” and is on the southern edge of the city beside Annelundsparken.
It’s an homage to the Swedish Disney illustrator Gustaf Tenggren, born not far away in Alingsås in 1896.
11. Rya Åsar
Anybody yearning for the great outdoors needs look no further than this vast, 550 hectare nature reserve north of the city.
Rya Åsar spreads across a sequence of ridges, crossed by more than 20 kilometres of walking trails leading you to interesting sights like traces of ancient settlements, glacial rocks, old paved roads and stone walls.
One of the main prominences is Ryssby Klint, with a panoramic view of Borås from its hilltop.
The meadows are a tapestry of wildflowers in spring, and there’s lots of lush oak, linden and pine forest to ramble in.
12. Torpa Stenhus
To the east, on the shore of Åsunden lake is a medieval castle in a rare state of preservation.
Torpa Stenhus was raised as a defence against the Danes in the 1400s and then remodelled in the Renaissance style in the 16th century.
Not much has changed since then, and the fireplaces and haunting grisaille paintings from that time are still here.
The building owes its great condition to being owned by the same family since it was constructed, and being kept as a granary for much of its past instead of being torn down.
You can book a tour around the wood-clad interiors from May to August and learn the story of King Gustav Vasa’s wife Katarina, who grew up in the castle in the 16th century.
13. Hedared Stave Church
Another excursion you can’t turn down is this astonishing monument 15 minutes northwest of Borås.
Hedared Stave Church is the only stave church in Sweden to survive since medieval times, and one of only two outside Norway.
It was originally thought to go back to the 1300s, but analysis of the timbers has dated the building to the beginning of the 1500s.
A lot of the fittings and ornaments inside appear to come from an older church: The images of Mary and Francis of Assisi are from the 13th or 14th century, there’s a chalice from around that time and a French-made crucifix dated to the 1100s.
The interior walls are completely covered with figurative paintings from the 16th century.
14. Upzone Adventureforest
In the woodland just next to the zoo there’s a family attraction of a more active kind, open from March ’til November.
Kids as young as six can take on climbing nets, high wires, rope bridges, tunnels, zip lines and other obstacles, all while wearing a helmet and harness.
There’s a choice of courses, monitored by trained instructors and rising to 18 metres above the forest floor.
Bigger kids and energetic adults can test their skills at the ultra-demanding Riskzone.
15. Lyckans Äpple
For something off the beaten track you could pay a visit to this farm a few minutes into the countryside north of the city.
Lyckans Äpple hasn’t been here long; its apple trees were only planted in 2005, and the adjoining shop opened in 2008. But Western Sweden has a climate that just right for growing certain fruits as the cool summers allow them to mature slowly.
At the farm there’s a shop selling fresh apples in autumn, as well as cider, chutneys, jam and mustard.
On summer weekends the farm’s cafe is a bucolic scene for a cup of coffee and slice of cake.