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A mini vacation in Helsingborg, Sweden.

We recently squeezed in a few extra days while in Göteborg to visit Helsingborg located down the west coast in the province of Skåne. Reachable in just a two and a half hour train ride from Göteborg, it is a charming city and as Sweden's closest proximity to Denmark, it was the perfect spot to explore - two countries in one destination.

Situated along the shores at the narrowest point of the Öresund Strait - one of the busiest sea lanes in the world - Helsingborg directly faces Helsingør in Denmark. As Sweden's eighth largest city, it boldly mixes an enriched history with an awarded recognition as one of Europe's most innovative places. Academia, businesses and associations have partnered on projects with residents to develop smart, sustainable solutions targeting issues such as food waste, integration, equality and eco-transport - evident in the electric, zero-emission ferries endlessly transferring passengers and vehicles between Helsingborg and Helsingør.

There are plenty of wonderful sites to experience in Helsingborg that do not feel overwhelming to cover over the course of a long weekend. From historical venues to boutiques and lush gardens, there is a multitude of options for discovery.

Kärnan Tower

Established as a Danish town in 1085 with strong military and political importance with Helsingborg Castle as its central fortress during the Middle Ages, Helsingborg ceded to Sweden in 1658. Kärnan Tower - built in 1310 after Danish King Erik Menved ordered the original round tower from the 1100s demolished - is the only part of the fortification that remains today.

Without a capital city in Denmark during that period, royal leaders were resolved to meeting in different fortresses around the country, therefore Kärnan Tower performed not only as an impressive strategically placed watch tower with thick, solid brick walls and an elevated entrance nearly impossible to invade, it also served as living quarters for the ruling regent. After various renovations and additions, the city of Helsingborg took ownership of it in 1741 and it served primarily as a navigational marker slowly falling into ruin for nearly two hundred years. By the end of the 1800s, the tower was restored to what is considered its original condition.

On the way up the 146 spiral steps to the terrace, you can pause to duck into cavernous chambers with fireplaces and beams carved out for working, living and baking quarters. Initially constructed with seven floors, renovations trimmed it down to five floors and a cellar. The third and fourth floors were joined together in the 1300s to create a taller space with a stunning redesigned gothic rib vault ceiling and altar. Prior to the changes, the third floor acted as a royal reception room where key decisions were made and the fourth floor presumably housed a bedroom.

The terrace at the top of the tower marked the defense space with crenulations in the stone façade and with expansive views over Helsingborg, the Öresund Strait and the Danish coastline visible in the distance, it is clear that Kärnan Tower provided a tremendous vantage point.

Sofiero Palace

Sofiero Palace - the royal summer residence - is slightly north of Helsingborg and accessible on foot, by bicycle, car or bus. We made the hour long walk on the paved path that skirts along the Öresund and passes by lovely homes and water views. Currently, only the park is available to view as the palace is undergoing a round of renovations and scheduled to reopen in the Spring of 2024, but it is a treat to just tour the massive gardens and forest.

Built in 1864 for Prince Oscar and his wife Sofia, the palace underwent extensive changes ten years later when Oscar was crowned King to resemble the appearance it has today. In 1905, Oscar and Sophia gifted Sofiero to their grandson Gustaf Adolf when he married Margareta from England. The newlyweds, with keen interests in gardening, began planning the flower beds and pathways and in less than fifteen years, they designed magnificent gardens that earned the vote of Europe's most beautiful park.

Margareta died unexpectedly in 1920 and in 1923, Gustaf Adolf remarried Lady Louise Mountbatten from England. In 1950, Gustaf Adolf became King of Sweden and continued to spend summers at Sofiero planting more than 5,000 rhododendron seedlings until his death in 1973 at which time he donated the palace to Helsingborg. Today, tens of thousands of visitors pass through the gate each year to view the explosive color of the rhododendrons in the ravines in the spring and the flower quarters in bloom throughout the summer that skilled gardeners and designers work on to preserve Margareta and Gustaf Adolf's legacy.

Helsingborg Center

Beyond the historical monuments, we strolled the many quaint streets - Kullagatan is Sweden's oldest pedestrian street - browsed through specialty shops and tried out different restaurants and sidewalk cafés soaking up the culture and architecture.

Our favorites for dinner reservations included Olsons Skafferi for Italian on the picturesque Maria Torget opposite the Sankta Maria church and Fria Bad och Bar for seafood on the beach. We loved the French café/bistro Étoile for lunch with its tiered outdoor seating and fresh sandwiches, Backhaus and Fahlmans Konditori for mid-afternoon coffee/tea and Espresso House is our standard quick morning stop when we are in Sweden.

While in Helsingborg one afternoon, we popped in to Butik Linnea. It could not have been a more enchanting shop with beautiful wares elegantly displayed in a structure filled with character from stone walls to brick floors. The courtyard featured piles of clay pots and inside a selection of candles, linens, baskets and dishes were stocked in the various rooms - all arranged by color. The attic held the sweetest array of baby clothes and blankets in soft, muted tones.

There are several lovely hotels to choose from within the city center each with their own amenities. We stayed at the Scandic Oceanhamnen on the waterfront with views from the rooftop overlooking the harbor, the lighthouse, the city and Denmark. We could watch the ferries quietly float to and from the dock right past our guest room window. Comfortable accommodations all around with an extensive daily breakfast buffet, friendly staff, impeccable facilities and Helsingborg at our doorstep.

Fredriksdal Museum and Gardens

Helsingborg is home to the Fredriksdal open air museum and botanical gardens - quite literally a countryside dropped in the heart of the city. Donated by Gisela Trapp in 1918, an artist who shared an avid curiosity for cultural history with her husband Oskar, the estate seamlessly blends an English park, crops and a farm with animals within a landscape reminiscent of the 1840s. The buildings, gardens and park are to exist in its unaltered state according to her instructions to provide for an educational learning environment of living a sustainable life within a natural setting - an aspect increasingly important in our modern society.

The gardens nurture and foster the flora and plants of the Skåne region now endangered due to agricultural practices and rare fragrant heritage roses - 170 of them with 200 varieties - tucked in with perennials organized by color neatly line the pebbled trails. Twenty-four species of dragonflies flourish along the streams and ponds and forest birds thrive in the meadows. The layers of raw materials in the "bug hotel" were a highlight for children carefully examining the nooks and crannies for glimpses of insects and a little café nestled in a separate garden is a cozy backdrop indoors or out for a light pastry from the bakery with tea or coffee served in dainty china cups.

Another section of the estate contains a series of antique buildings that were relocated from Helsingborg's old town center in the 1960s during the city's expansion to accommodate an increase in car traffic and the development of department stores and banks. These buildings - set along a cobblestoned street with weathered signs out front - still carry the same goods and services including old-fashioned candy from Hedströms, a popular Helsingborg shop for more than a hundred years. We stepped back in time into the traditional interiors of the glove maker, dentist, hairdresser and pharmacy. The largest printing museum in the Nordic region can be found on the corner. Run by a group of graphic artists, there are two floors highlighting the history of early print production. Additionally, Flora Linnea - a greenery nursery on site - overflowed with plants and flowers spilling and dripping from wood boxes and galvanized tubs.

Using Helsingborg as a base, it is possible to easily combine travel to other Scandinavian locales. The twenty minute ferry to Helsingør is well worth the trip, Malmö and Copenhagen are a short train ride away and the 242 mile Kattegattleden seaside cycle route - from Helsingborg to Göteborg - winds through fishing villages with sandy beaches, lighthouses, cliffs and islands as scenery.

An incredible opportunity to spend a mini vacation deeply rooted in European history and culture.

1 Comment

Aug 04, 2023

Gorgeous photos!

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