Located on the northern east coast of Sweden, Umea is the most densely populated municipality in Norrland and one of the country’s largest university towns home to tens of thousands students every year. Getting to Umea (by car, bus, water, rail or air – Stockholm is only an hour away) is as easy as finding interesting things to do.
As the European Capital of Culture 2014, Umea has a vibrant culture life. There’s a well-visited City Library, Umea’s week-long international film festival, an annual Kulturnatta (Culture Night) with dance, theater and music on the streets, Umea International Literature Festival, Sweden’s most northerly center for performing arts Norrlands Operan and its yearly dramatic art festival MADE, as well as a variety of exhibitions and trade fairs throughout the year.
Known as a music town, Umea’s musical scenes cover everything from intimate jazz evenings and gigs by local bands to large concerts with international artists. The internationally recognized jazz festival takes place in October, Umea Open, which lasts several days in April, is Sweden’s largest indoor festival for pop, rock and club music, and the Umefolk folk music festival gathers another type of crowd, as does the House of Metal festival.
After 30 years at Gammlia, Bildmuseet closed their premises in November last year and re-launched in the new seventh-floor museum of the Umea Arts Campus on the shores of the river in May 2012. Enjoy international, contemporary art, design and architecture exhibitions.
Along the Ume Trail by the river 5 km outside town, award-winning Umedalen Sculpture Park features a permanent all-year round collection with 35 sculptures. Sweden’s largest gallery is also on the site.
Some favorite spots among locals include Scharinska, a heritage-listed building with live music at least twice a week, Droskan for rock and blues bands, Umea’s Folkets Hus for jazz, the Cover Club for rock, Rex Bar & Grill with three floors, dance on two, and three bars, Socialize for an intimate club scene, and Corona, the city’s largest nightclub.
With pedestrian Kungsgatan and several shopping malls with everything from specialist shops to large chain stores, as well as Umea Fashion Week, which takes place 15-21 October this year, Umea has its share for shoppers.
The food scene in Umea includes award-winning restaurants, bistros, bars, pubs, and cozy cafes which often feature regional delicacies such as berries, almond potatoes and mushrooms. For something exclusive, opt for Viktoria, French Bistro le Garage Angelini with Italian-American inspired food or Invito Italian, where Italy meet Norrland.
Schmäck is a 1950s inspired mix of café, gallery and fashion shop, Costas is the place to go for Greek food and real coffee, Allstar is a perfect example of a great sportsbar, Ängen is masters on gourmet pizza, Taj Mahal offers genuine Indian cuisine, and Tapas serves everything Spanish-influenced.
Where to Stay
Hotel Gamla Fängelset
A state prison between 1861 and 1981, the well-preserved building in central Umea now houses one-star hotel and youth hostel Hotel Gamla Fängelset. Managed by the National Property Board and thoroughly restored in recent years, the main building has two floors plus a basement and attic.
In the small prison museum, guests can learn more about the history of the building.
Among the two floors, there are 23 single rooms, one double room and two family rooms. Every floor has several toilets and separate showers for ladies and gentlemen.
My single room on the first floor had, like every other room, all amenities I would need for one night. Comfortable bed, small desk with chair and reading lamp, free Wi-Fi (although a bit slow) and towel.
All guests have access to a well-equipped kitchen on the second floor. There’s a TV in the conference room on the same floor, and one outside the prison cells on floor one. (But with so many fun things to do in Umea, in front of a TV isn’t exactly where you want to spend the evening.)
For those who don’t bring their own food, Café Göteborg in one of the connecting buildings serves breakfast (for an extra fee of SEK 50), and super tasty lunch, coffee and dinner.