When this city in Östergötland County was an industrial powerhouse in the 1900s, it was known as “Little Manchester”. You’ll understand why when you visit the Industrilandskapet, a whole quarter of preserved 19th and 20th-century textile factories and warehouses converted into homes, university buildings and visitor attractions.
Norrköping’s location on the Motala ström made it ripe for industry from the 17th century on. This fast-flowing river rushes from Glan lake out to Bråviken bay on the Baltic, and its banks are the scene of many of Norrköping’s big sights. There are parks, museums, the remains of ancient rock carvings and special trail that snakes through a valley of rhododendron bushes.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Norrköping:
1. Arbetets Museum (Museum of Work)
On the Laxholmen river island in the Motala ström is a museum all about working life in Sweden, both now and in the Industrial Age.
The venue is Strykjärnet, a striking former textile mill dating to 1917 and with an unusual outline to adapt to the limited space on the island.
The museum puts on exhibitions that run for several years, generally mapping out the history and future of industry, from social and environment perspectives.
The permanent exhibition is about the Strykjärnet and its role in the local textiles trade.
At its heart is a moving portrait of the working life of “Alva”, a woman employed at the Strykjärnet from 1927-1962.
Norrköping’s industrial heritage survives in this area on the Motala ström, more than 30 years after the last factories in the centre of the city shut down.
These giant memorials for a bygone age mostly date to between 1850 and 1920 and are now taken over by cultural venues, eateries, a campus for Linköping University, an art school, the tourist office and a science park.
It’s a dynamic and atmospheric place to investigate on foot, with footbridges over the water and a large weir that has become an ornamental waterfall.
In renovated industrial buildings across the water from the Arbetets Museum, the city museum recounts the progression of Norrköping from the 1600s to the present day.
Naturally industry plays a big role, but there are also galleries for the city’s rich shipping heritage.
You can see typical urban and rural scenes from past times, observing traditional trades and farming techniques (more than 50 are presented). A lot of attention is paid to the old textiles industry, and original textile machines have been restored to demonstrate weaving, spinning and carding step by step.
Attached to the museum is the Knäppingen cafe and restaurant where you can dine in cellar vaults from the 1600s.
On the Motala ström, west of the city centre, is an expansive green space.
This has an array of facilities open in summer, from camping grounds to a bathing area.
But what has fascinated people for more than 150 years is the set of prehistoric petroglyphs etched into large panels of stone in the park.
There are more than 1600 images depicting boats and hunting scenes, with detailed illustration of animals, humans and weapons.
These are from the transition between the Stone Age and Bronze Age, going back more than 3,500 years.
The site can be negotiated via wooden footbridges and there are information boards explaining the carvings.
The way to Himmelstalund from the centre of Norrköping is half the fun.
This walking route is known as the Åbackarna and has lots to enjoy as it traces the course of the Motala ström.
One attraction is the rhododendrondalen (Valley of Rhododendrons), which is exactly what it claims to be, a pathway through stunning rhododendron bushes, radiant when they’re in bloom in spring and summer.
This is underneath the affluent Kneippen neighbourhood, which is where bourgeois industrialists settled at the turn of the century and has many beautiful homes.
There’s also a herb garden, and you’ll come to Femöresbron, a river crossing dating to 1901 but being replaced at the time of writing.
6. Karl Johans Park
This park came about in 1887 when one of the city’s squares “Karl Johans Torg” was planted over.
In the centre is a statue of the namesake King Charles XIV John, which was cast in Munich and placed here in 1846, two years after he died.
Towards the end of that century Norrköping began using its greenhouse to cultivate cactuses and other succulent plants.
Every summer since 1920 these have brought out from their winter home and arranged in a highly intricate pattern at a specific space in Karl Johans Park.
The theme of the pattern changes by the year, normally to commemorate an anniversary of one of the city’s institutions, and will be made up of 5,000-6,000 individual cactuses.
7. Norrköpings Konstmuseum
The city’s art museum is a heavyweight cultural institution, with Swedish works spanning several centuries and movements.
If there’s one focus though it’s 20th-century Modernism represented by paintings, sculpture, photography and video art in one of the country’s premier collections for this movement.
The print collection is sensational and comprises 25,000 pieces going back to the 1400s.
Also take time to pore over the sculpture garden, which has 11 works by renowned Swedish modern sculptors like Bror Hjorth, Arne Jones and Carl Millies.
Expertly curated temporary exhibitions wither focus on individual artists or particular themes.
8. Louis De Geer Konsert & Kongress
One of the showpieces in the Industrilandskapet is the Holmens Bruk paper mill, which operated from 1609 to 1988. As soon as it closed down planning began for a concert hall in the cavernous interior.
This opened in 1994, and 20 years later is still a spectacular feat of architecture.
The hall can hold 1,380 spectators and is the home of the highly-regarded Norrköping Symphony Orchestra.
The venue is named for Louis de Geer, a Dutch industrialist who built the first blast furnaces here in the 17th century, turning Norrköping into Sweden’s second largest city.
9. Hedvigs Kyrka
The city’s prettiest church is on Tyska Torget, which is to the east around the river bend from the Industrilandskapet.
The church is named for Hedwig Eleonora of Holstein-Gottorp who was on the throne at the time of construction in the last decades of the 17th century.
The building was incinerated, along with a lot of Norrköping’s cityscape, during the Russian attack in 1719. Although the church’s facade is discreet, the interior is rich, decorated in the Rococo style and with a lot of interesting and historic ornaments.
The pulpit was crafted in Germany and brought here in the 1720s, the baptismal font dates to 1608 and was in the church at Stegeborg Castle.
There are also beautiful windows by the 20th-century glass painter Jan Brazda in the porch.
10. Tyska Torget
Hedvigs Kyrka shares a square with three of the city’s most imposing buildings: The City Hall, the former Private Bank and the Grand Hotel.
All with variations on the National Romantic style, these were built within a few years of each other at the turn of the 20th century and loom high over the square.
Take a few minutes to inspect the facade of the City Hall, which is built with bricks baked in Helsingborg, and at the very tip of its tower has a 4.5-metre golden statue of its patron saint St Olaf sitting on a throne.
There was a popular saying at the start of the 20th century that the square had four temples: One to the Lord (the church) one to Lady Justice (City Hall), one to Mammon (the bank) and one to Bacchus (the hotel).
11. Lövstad Castle
A few minutes southwest is a splendid property from the 17th century.
It was built by Axel Lillie, a commander who led troops at the Battle of Breitenfeld in the Thirty Years’ War.
Then from the 18th century it was in the hands of the Piper family, all the way to 1926 when its last private owner Emilie Piper passed away.
Since then it has been a museum, with interior furnishings preserved as they were in 1926, and visitable in summer.
On the tour you’ll encounter art, furniture, ceramics, glassware, clothing and tapestries going back 300 years.
The blacksmith forge has a restaurant, which remains open all year round.
The palace is also in beautiful parkland, with a small Baroque garden between the palace and its left wing, and a sweeping English garden also open all year.
12. Johannisborg Castle Ruins
In the 17th century Norrköping’s main defence on the Baltic side of the city was a daunting fortress completed in 1639. It was in the shape of a five-pointed star and at the centre of its system of ravelins and bastions was a residence intended for Duke Johan of Östergötland, son of King Johan III and nephew of Karl IX. In 1719 the whole fortress was raised to the ground by Russian troops, leaving only the gate-tower, which was restored in 1930s.
The ruins lie in open space often used for grazing, and you can easily make out the remains of the earthworks around the remaining tower.
13. Kolmården Wildlife Park
Scandinavia’s biggest zoo is just 30 minutes from Norrköping and has more than 600 animals from 85 species.
In many ways it’s a cross between a traditional zoo and a theme park, and in 2016 it opened a wooden rollercoaster, Wildfire, which has three inversions.
In 2011 the park also unveiled a new way of seeing animals with its Safari Gondola.
This ride takes you over five different enclosures, offering a clear birds-eye view of lions, Scandinavian forest species like deer and bison, savannah grazers like giraffes, Eurasian brown bears and also llamas and ibex.
The park is also famed for its dolphinarium, which puts on cleverly lit and choreographed shows throughout the day.
14. Göta Canal
One of Sweden’s largest ever construction projects linked Gothenburg on the country’s west coast with the town of Söderköping on the Baltic Sea.
It was dug across Southern Sweden between 1810 and 1832, and pleasure cruises have long since taken over from cargo boats.
Around two million people navigate the canal in summer, but you don’t have to go to the trouble of hiring a boat to savour the scenery.
About 15 minutes from Norrköping is the Brådtom Sluss, one of many locks along the route.
There’s a cafe and picnic tables here as you watch the boats float by and negotiate the lock, which lifts or lowers vessels 2.3 metres to continue on their way.
The eastern terminus of the Göta Canal is even closer and has an endearing historic centre.
The townscape is mostly from the 18th and 19th centuries, but there are monuments going back to medieval times.
St Lawrence’s Church and Drothem Church date to the 12th and 13th centuries respectively.
Both are must-sees, but St Lawrence’s, reworked in the 15th century following a fire is flush with wooden art from the 1400s.
Ramundeberget is a mountain on the north side of the town, with stiff slopes that you can scale to reach an observation platform, as well as the best climbing walls in the area.
And lastly there’s Mems Sluss, the final lock separating the Göta Canal from the Baltic.