Not many cities have as tranquil a setting as Jönköping in southern Sweden. This place is on the shore of three different lakes, one of which is Vättern, the second largest lake in Sweden and the sixth by area in Europe. With sheets of water, woodland and picturesque old towns, the landscape has a sprinkling of magic, and was captured by the artist John Bauer, known for his illustrations of trolls and forest fairies.
In the town you can call in on the Matchstick Museum, which has more to it than meets the eye. And on your travels you’ll come to an astounding cathedral made from wood and Visingsö, an enigmatic island in the lake and littered with ruins.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Jönköping:
1. Matchstick Museum
Did you know that the safety match was invented in Jönköping? Well you do now, and at this museum you can find out about the invention that turned the city into a match-producing capital from 1845 to 1970. The exhibitions recount the story of figures like the Lundström brothers who ran the factory that now houses this museum.
By 1858 it was churning out 12 million matchboxes a year.
Another personality who shows up is Ivar Kreuger.
He took the industry to a new level in the early 20th century, building an international match empire.
In the galleries are thousands of matchboxes and matchbooks, and all the equipment used in match production.
The whole history of Jönköping’s match business is also relayed by an entertaining film.
2. Habo Church
An astonishing sight, the Habo Church has the dimensions of a cathedral but is made completely from wood.
Located about 15 minutes north of the city, on the west shore of Vättern, it’s an image that is known all over Sweden and has graced postage stamps.
The church dates to 1680 and on the outside it has hardly been altered since 1723. From floor to ceiling the entire interior is covered with paintings composed in 1741-43 and illustrating Martin Luther’s Catechesis.
The altar is sandstone and goes back to the 1300s, while the baptismal font, also from sandstone dates to the century before.
3. Jönköping Stadspark
West of the city centre, the Stadpark is not your average city park; it’s more of a green city district with an array of facilities and attractions amid an arboretum planted in the year 1900. Jönköping’s open-air museum is here, and boasts ten historic buildings moved to the park to avoid demolition.
There’s a 17th-century bell tower and a Soldattorp, a soldier’s residence from the 19th century when there was a soft conscription known as the Allotment System.
Kids will be crazy about the mini-farm, which has lambs and baby goats, and there’s also a bird museum.
This is in a cute brick building from 1914 and is a vintage collection of 1450 birds from 330 species.
Thanks to its soaring spire, this 19th-century church is one of the city’s main landmarks and is held as a high point of Gothic Revival design.
Its architect was Gustaf Dahl who made a big impact on Stockholm’s cityscape at this time.
The exterior has a pretty interplay of red brick and whitewashed stone mouldings helping the rose window, portal and lancet windows stand out.
On the carved wooden altar is a crucifix by the artist Carl Johan Dyfverman, and there’s a beautiful Italian Baroque painting of Supper at Emmaus purchased in Rome in the 1600s.
5. Jönköpings Läns Museum
This small museum charts the culture of Jönköping County, and is mostly about art.
Anyone keen on John Bauer’s fantastical illustrations will be in luck, as the museum has the largest single collection of his sketches and drawings.
And they hang in a room designed to reproduce the atmosphere of his works, styled on a Småland Forest and with ambient woodland sounds.
Kids can also dress up like the characters in his paintings, wearing troll and fairy costumes.
The rest of the permanent exhibition is a kind of overview of Swedish art movements, through the Romantic era, Expressionism, Naivism and the Gothenburg Colourists in the early 20th century.
This museum maps more than a century of radio and communication technology.
Whether you’re an enthusiast or just passing through it’s an enthralling attraction in a beautiful industrial brick building near the station.
Among a large assortment of pieces is Edison’s phonograph and several accompanying wax rolls.
There are also military radios from all eras, gramophones and a chronology of mobile phones over the last 50 years.
The collection was started by a 20th-century radio enthusiast, Erik Karlson who assembled his first wireless in 1923.
7. Rosenlunds Rosarium
Near the lakeshore a few steps from the city’s beach (Vätterstrand) is a heavenly little garden with more than 500 varieties of roses.
As you’d imagine, it’s a must-do from May to July, even more so if you’re botanically minded.
The garden is on the grounds of a mansion from 1788 and together with its hundreds of rose bushes has a wealth of perennials and exotic trees like a hickory, a golden rain tree, a Caucasian wingnut and many more.
All of the roses are labelled and the garden is carefully tended to make sure that only roses that flourish in these conditions are kept.
Like many attractions in the city the garden is totally free and has a cafe in summer.
8. Kristine Kyrka
Another church that merits a look inside dates to the second half of the 17th century.
This sandstone church is named “Kristine” for Christina, Queen of Sweden who was on the throne at the time.
It’s a solemn sandstone edifice in a pared-down Baroque style.
On the north wall of the nave you can find an oil painting of the crucifixion by the 18th-century artist Edvard Orm, while the altar was painted around the same time by Frenchman PC Cazes.
The church’s organ was assembled in 1912 by the Swedish company Åkerman & Lund and is one of Sweden’s best preserved organs from the National Romantic period at the start of the 20th century.
This idyllic little town is on the east coast of Vättern and is the place to catch the ferry across to the island of Visingsö.
Gränna is on the lower slopes of a steep mountain, Grännaberget, and has tight twisting lanes and lots of cute old wooden buildings.
The town is loved for its polkagris, a peppermint rock candy, which you watch being made by confectioners.
It became popular in the 19th century, when a humble baker Amalia Eriksson devised a special recipe, which she kept secret until she passed away.
Her statue now stands at the foot of the mountain.
This peak also has a small open-air museum made up of a soldier’s village, and is the trailhead for the John Bauerleden, winding though a landscape associated with the beloved illustrator.
Vättern’s largest island is an achingly pretty rural environment with real historic significance.
In the 1100s and 1200s Näs Castle was a base of regional power and its ruins are waiting to be discovered on the south coast.
From this time on it was declared that only the crown had access to the island’s profuse oak timber.
For hundreds of years these trees were cultivated to build ships for the Swedish navy.
Also exciting are the ruins Visingsborg Castle, which greets you as you make the crossing from Gränna.
What’s left after a devastating fire in the 18th century is the picturesque shell of a sizeable Renaissance palace.
This was used as a prison during the Great Northern War at the start of the 1700s, when it held 2,000 Russian soldiers.
11. Husqvarna Industrial Museum
The manufacturing giant Husqvarna has had its fingers in many pies down over the last 400 years.
What began as a weapons manufacturer branched out into sewing machines, bicycles, motorcycles and is probably now best known for its power tools.
In its former weapons workshop ten minutes outside Jönköping you can get a summary of the brand’s complicated history.
Each phase is represented so you can view some awesome vintage motorbikes, sewing machines, retro kitchenware, antique ovens, 17th-century muskets, modern revolvers, forge equipment, chainsaws and lawnmowers.
12. Österängens Konsthall
For a blast of culture on a rainy day you could stop at the city’s new contemporary art centre.
This attraction is part of a movement in Sweden to make art more accessible for people of all ages and from all backgrounds.
In summer it comes into its own, hosting a ton of children’s activities all July for ages 6-16. The rest of the year there’s workshop on Sundays led by qualified art teachers and encouraging kids to create and use their imaginations.
The gallery stages around nine exhibitions a year for local and international art.
When you’re confronted by the vastness of Lake Vättern you could be forgiven for thinking you’re at the shore of a sea.
And the long sandy beach on Jönköping’s waterfront won’t dispel that feeling.
On clear summer days this is a godsend, and it’s just a brief jaunt from the centre of the city.
The view back across Jönköping is a joy, and the beach is accompanied by lush lawns, a playground and a volleyball court.
There are a couple of cafes and restaurants by the beach, but you’re also close to all the shops and amenities if you need anything.
The topography around the city is quite flat, except for this sudden hill to the south of Jönköping.
Taberg has long fascinated geologists as it’s really just one big blob of iron ore that cooled 1.2 billion years ago.
The world-changing 18th-century botanist Carl Linnaeus was taken with this mountain, and described it as “Småland’s Miracle”, as more than 400 species of ferns and flowering grows on its slopes.
Taberg is a destination for walks in summer and cross-country skiing in winter.
But the big draw is the former iron mine which is open to tours for insight about 500 years of ore extraction, and the bats that have taken over since the mine closed down.
15. Outdoor recreation
With three lakes, low peaks and acres of oak and coniferous woodland on the city’s doorstep there’s no limit to the possibilities for outdoor fun in Jönköping.
There are dozens of hiking trails, you can hire canoes or sailboats, take a guided kayak tour or test you fitness by “wild swimming”. You might prefer to let a motor take the strain and you can hire the environmentally friendly four-stroke boat known as Lill-Nanna to see more of Vättern or Lake Munksjön.
For ramblers a great thing about Sweden’s countryside is that you have access rights to almost everywhere except private homes and gardens.
You just have to respect the environment and make sure you know where you’re going.
The same freedom applies to cyclists and there are also five MTB courses within minutes of the city.