Founded in the 13th century, Soderkoping by Gota Canal in south-eastern Sweden is a small city with about 7,000 inhabitants. Thanks to its small-town character with cobblestone streets, medieval sights, unique boutiques, outdoor restaurants and attractive surroundings, visitors come from Sweden as well as other parts of Europe (including Denmark, Norway, Holland and Germany).
During my stopover in July last year, I found three definite things to see and do for any visitor.
Life Along the Canal
As one the country’s most important harbor cities in the Middle Ages, Soderkoping was the place for important national meetings, political events and coronations.
Today, around 4,000 boats pass by the canal locks every year. Of Gota Canal’s 58 locks, 12 are located near Soderkoping. The canal harbor is lined with shops, restaurants, cafés and several ice cream parlors. In Smultronstället, Sweden’s largest ice cream parlor, you can choose between as many as 60 different ice cream combinations.
For crêpes, salads and locally produced courses, visit Bonden’s Crêperie further down the canal. Author nights and other culture are arranged throughout July and August.
Prefer a heartier meal? Head to Å-Caféet, between the river Storån and Göta Canal, a restaurant with both lunch and à la carte. Consider the vegetarian lasagne with spinach, sundried tomatoes and feta cheese, falafel spiced with garlic, mint and parsley served with couscous and tzatziki, or grilled halloumi cheese with duchesse potatoes on a plank with sauce béarnaise. (Plenty of non-veggie dishes are available as well.) If the weather cooperates, take a seat in the outdoor restaurant in Å-Caféet’s private garden.
The Medieval District
Much of Soderkoping’s appeal lies in its origin as a medieval city. The structure of the street system is principally the same as in 1250, and parts of the city have small-town architecture in wood.
Follow Ågatan east along the canal, turn left at Hospitalsgatan and continue to Braskensgränd with the Brask House of Bishop Hans Brask. Explore the neighborhood of intimate streets and alleys, where the houses were built in such a way it almost feels as if you walk right into people’s gardens. Pay particular attention to the alleyways Källaregränd, Kyrkogränd and Hospitalsgränd.
Nearby Drothem Church is one of Soderkoping’s two preserved medieval churches from the end of the 1300s. Named after the martyr St. Lars/Laurentius, S:t Laurentii Church on the other side of the canal was built in Brick Gothic and features a 50 meter high wooden bell tower with four tonnes of bells.
History also makes itself present along Storgatan in Soderkoping’s Bokhandel, the oldest book shop in Sweden, from 1815.
Follow Storgatan to Rådhustorget Square and its town hall Rådhuset, built around 1250. In 1567, the Danish burnt down the city and the town hall was rebuilt in a larger size ten years later. The present town hall was built in 1777. Since 2001, the building is housed by blandArt and studios, an arts and handicraft gallery with “take-away art” on two floors.
Artists include Björn Römert (sculpture and painting), Solveig Strid (painting, collage and mix techniques), Sigrid Ericson (painting, oil and aquarelle), Lars Malm (handicraft, sculpture and decorations in wood), Margareta Oldfelt (textile adornments), Kåge Olsson (ceramic), and Anna-Lena Rydberg (textile and sculpture installation).
Photos above courtesy of Monica Stangel Löfvall/Söderköping’s Tourist
Where to Stay
Even though both the town’s spa hotel with ancestries from the 1700s and small, family-run Hotel Laurenti sounded tempting (from what I could tell from their websites), I decided to look beyond hotels this trip and find something different.
Situated in a yellow house near the shopping street Skönbergagatan, Johannas GuestHouse offers a calm atmosphere thanks to its off-street location by a courtyard accessible through two blue gates opposite the art café lilla cafét. Established five years ago, the guesthouse has been completely renovated in an old and charming style.
Available rooms include double rooms with your own or shared bathroom/shower as well as a four-bed room for families or groups of friends, where I stayed. The room on the second floor had a large double bed, kitchenette, small table with two chairs, a cozy loft with two soft mattresses, and a view over the rooftops.
Johannas GuestHouse cooperates with Slussen Rum, a centrally located youth hostel housed in an old farm by the canal harbour. The Family Forsell has owned the property for about 28 years and founded Slussens Rum 23 years ago – initially on a small scale; over time the hostel went through a number of renovations. Outhouses were turned into cozy rooms and a barn into a breakfast room.
Throughout high season (June-August) a free breakfast buffet (sometimes including home-baked bread) is served at Slussen Rum for all guests. Guests also have access to Slussen Rum’s lovely garden and pool. While solo travelers are more than welcome, most guests are couples and families.
For a successful stay, keep in mind that Soderkoping in summer is all about tourism and the majority of visitors are families with small children. While I didn’t mind the least, consider a spring or autumn stopover in case you’re of another opinion.
For an overview of the city before any sightseeing, walk up the 278 steps to Ramundberget Hill. Apart from viewing spots, Ramundberget Nature Reserve has many footpaths that can give an appreciated change of scenery to the crowds below during any summer visit.