Between the two lakes, Hjälmaren and Mälaren, Eskilstuna is a charming former industrial town. The city’s metalworking trade took root in the 1600s by appointment to King Gustav X. Later, one arm of the international manufacturer Volvo was born here in the 19th century. You can track the history of Munktell, this agricultural machinery company at a museum in the old industrial zone. After, go inside a 17th-century forge and the see the immense steam engines at the city museum.
Eskilstuna is on a short river that flows from Hjälmaren and empties in Mälaren: If you follow its course to the north you’ll happen upon a Viking stone inscribed with the legend of Sigurd the dragon slayer.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Eskilstuna:
Heavy machinery is the subject at this museum in Munktellstaden, Eskilstuna’s industrial quarter.
The setting is a preserved factory, owned by Volvo and where manufacturing took place from the 19th century until the 1970s.
A lot of the museum’s machines were produced by Munktells Mekaniska Verkstad, a company that after various mergers would eventually become part of Volvo.
The museum is loaded with machine tools, steam engines, combustion engines and tractors.
Some special exhibits are Sweden’s first tractor, from 1913, a steam-powered truck from 1884 and the Förstlingen, the country’s first steam locomotive, unveiled in 1853. Almost everything is kept in tiptop shape at the museum’s workshop.
2. Parken Zoo
On the edge of town, Parken Zoo mixes animal attractions with an amusement park.
The zoo’s inhabitants are organised according to continents, and there’s also a Little Zoo (Lilla Zoo). This bit is for youngsters, and has creatures like rabbits, miniature horses, and harmless reptiles that kids can touch and interact with.
Elsewhere there are Sumatran tigers, gila monsters, lemurs, jaguars, and species that can’t be found in other Swedish zoos like giant otters, fossas and clouded leopards.
In the amusement park the rides are aimed at kids up to the age of eight or so, while the park also has a stage for live music by Swedish pop acts.
Eskiltuna’s forging industry was born in this district in the 17th century.
The man who kick-started it was one Reinhold Rademacher, a Dutch industrialist from Riga in modern Latvia.
Today 15 of the forges that he founded to produce locks, hinges, knifes, scissors, nails and tools for King Gustav X are still intact in Eskilstuna.
They are the core of an outdoor museum.
Some of these quaint wooden buildings have exhibitions and re-enactors in 17th-century clothing.
Others are still functioning forges and you can go in to watch a blacksmith at work and buy a handmade souvenir.
4. Gamla Staden
The romantic Köpmangatan is the oldest street in Eskilstuna.
It threads through the old town on the east bank of the river and is hemmed by painted wooden houses, and has cramped little alleys to beckoning you to the sides.
This cobblestone lane is made for walking and pottering around little art galleries, vintage shops and cafes.
One street across is the riverside where there’s a string of restaurants on the water.
Something else to see is the Gamla Teatern, Sweden’s oldest provincial theatre still staging productions, and dating to the 1830s.
Set a course for the idyllic shore of Lake Mälaren ten kilometres outside Eskilstuna where you’ll come to an incredible Viking inscription evoking the Sigurd saga.
This isn’t strictly a runestone as the pattern has been etched into a slab of flat rock on the ground.
Dating to the 1000s the image is very complex and Norse scholars are able to decipher an entire story about Sigurd the dragon slayer from it.
To the untrained eye there’s a crowd of figures surrounded by the elongated bodies of dragons.
Fortunately there are signs explaining the imagery and symbolism, which will make sense of each carving and flesh out the story.
6. Eskilstuna Stadsmuseum
At the city museum on the river you can into more depth about Eskiltuna’s industrial heritage.
The old mechanical workshop is a cave of wonders for engineers, heaving with metalworking machinery, while there’s also a hall for steam engines collected from factories around the city.
In 2017 there’s also a special show for the city’s weapons manufacturers, with a spectacular display of swords and knifes forged in Eskiltuna from the 18th century to 1940. And little ones can tackle hands-on science experiments in the “Factorum” and a “Little Museum” (Lilla Museet), explaining Eskiltuna’s past in a kid-friendly way.
Impossible to miss beside the Eskilstunaån river, Klosterskyrka is the largest church in the city and has an almost overwhelming scale for a city of Eskiltuna’s size.
This brick edifice is also more recent than it might look, having only been completed in 1929. Above the main portal is an image of St Eskil, an 11th-century English missionary in the old village of Tuna.
He met with a bloody end after interrupting a Norse pagan ritual.
In the cavernous interior, see the altarpiece first of all: This has a wonderful painting by the 17th-century Flemish artist Maerten de Vos evoking the Adoration of the Shepherds.
The church’s stained glass windows merit a glance and have 14 panels telling the story of St Eskil.
8. Eskilstuna Konstmuseum
Eskilstuna’s art museum has been around since 1937, and in 2006 moved to the old Bollinder-Munktell gear works.
This is a dynamic and well-respected art institution, staging high-profile temporary shows.
In the permanent collection are works dating from the 17th century onwards, with a focus on Swedish art movements in the 1900s like Expressionism and Modernism.
Some of the famous names exhibited are Albin Amelin, Vera Nilsson, Sigrid Hjertén and Isaac Grünewald.
There are five rooms at the museum for temporary shows, paying closer attention to the oeuvres of individual artists, movements or themes.
At the time of making this list in 2017 there’s an exhibition for the acclaimed ceramic sculptor Eva Hild.
9. Fors Kyrka
The city’s oldest church dates back to the 11th century when it was a wooden Romanesque building.
There are small traces of that original edifice in the north and west walls.
The vaults in the nave are gothic, from the 1300s, while the church got its present Baroque facade in the 17th century.
A lot of the church’s art is medieval, so you should go in and for a few minutes and see what you can find.
The oldest piece is a wooden statue of a seated bishop, dated to the 1100s.
The 17th-century pulpit is marvellous, and was crafted in the 17th century, with carvings of the four evangelists.
And the altarpiece is also worth a look, composed by the French baroque painter Eustache Le Sueur around the same time.
For some exercise in a pristine environment there’s a nature reserve in 400 hectares next to the Eskilstunaån.
On the river you’ll have one of the city’s main bathing areas, and this is complemented by indoor and outdoor sports facilities, big swathes of mature mixed woodland, barbecue facilities, a sauna, playgrounds and a campsite.
The tallest hill in the reserve is Vilstabacken, climbing to 50 metres and a jumping off point for ski trips in winter.
There’s a downhill slope for alpine skiing and a whole system of cross country trails to navigate, some of which are illuminated.
11. Sundbyholm Friluftsområde
The landscape around the Viking Sigurdsristningen is a natural reserve, so you could go off on a wander next to Lake Mälaren.
This is more than 700 hectares of woodland that in Viking times hosted farms and grazing land.
Now the trees have been allowed to take over and you can hike in the fresh greenery of one of Sweden’s northernmost beech forests.
Sundbyholm Castle is also in the park, and was commissioned in the 17th century by Duke Karl, son of King Karl XI. After a fire in the 18th century the building was remodelled, and is now a venue for functions and conferences.
And what’s more, the Sundbyholm also has Lake Mälaren’s longest sandy beach, as well as a high-end racetrack, campsites and a marina.
The city’s oldest park, Rothoffsparken was landscaped in the 18th century.
At this time it was attached to a private residence belonging to the industrialist Fredrik Rothoff.
In the flowing English style, the park is much the same as when Rothoff was alive, and has a carp pond, herb garden and arboretum made up of every tree native to Sweden.
If you’re wondering about the park’s many tree species you can download a pdf map from the city’s website, which has pinpointed all 71 of them.
Barely ten minutes outside of Eskilstuna you’ll come to the adorable riverside town of Torshälla.
This is most famous for being the place where the artist Allan Ebeling settled in the 20th century.
His unmistakeable sculptures adorn the streets and there’s a museum with a trove of his work.
With cosy wooden houses on winding lanes, Torshälla is the kind of town where you’ll want to see every nook and cranny.
Every square and roundabout is decorated with flowers in summer, and the town’s park, Holmberget, is a hill with charming vistas of the old town and the river.
For attractions, the town church has medieval statues and frescoes in lime and there’s an open-air museum at the 17th-century Bergströmska.
14. Arsenalen – Swedish Tank Museum
A brief drive east and you’ll be at a museum with one of the largest fleets of military vehicles in Europe.
There are 75 on site, and almost 400 in reserve.
Most were in the service of the Swedish army and give you a perfect chronology of technological development over the last century.
You can also peruse a lot of German and Russian hardware leftover from the Russo-Finnish war, while there are also models of decisive battles in history.
Kids can mess around with communications equipment and play online games against each other.
See if you can time your trip for an activity day when you can even ride in one of the APCs for a small fee.
15. Strömsholm Palace
A quick journey across the westernmost arm of Lake Mälaren will get you to one of Sweden’s finest palaces.
This yellow-toned treasure is built on a 16th-century fortress that was ordered by Gustav Vasa himself.
Strömsholm Palace was a royal property in the 18th century when it got a makeover in the Gustavian style.
This project was initiated by Queen Hedvid Eleonora, and from then on, many Swedish monarchs would spend a night here on their way to south of the country.
To savour the 18th-century finery the palace is open for tours in summer.
The furniture in the apartments is exactly as it was in the 250 years ago, while the wallpaper has been reproduced from a roll that was discovered in the attic in the 1990s.