Uppsala City is the capital of Uppsala Iän. It is located 64 km (40 miles) north-northwest of Stockholm City. This city is perhaps the most important city to Swedish history right after Stockholm, such was its role in the birth of the Swedish nation as an independent and industrial powerhouse!
Today, Uppsala is the 4th biggest city in Sweden, with approx. 180 000 inhabitants. It still preserves much of the historical roots of the country – from the Vikings to the Cathedral to the scientific contributions of Carl Linnaeus and Anders Celsius – this town is definitely worth a visit if you want to make a quick day trip outside Stockholm during your time here!
Originally called Östra Aros, Uppsala was founded as a trading place on the Fyris River, a few kilometres from Gamla (Old) Uppsala, where the political and religious centre of the ancient kingdom of Svea layed.
The Vikings settled in Uppland during the Viking Age – 750/850 CE to 1050/1100 CE. They left behind many runic inscriptions on runestones, as a burial ritual to remember the dead. There are 632 known runic inscriptions in Uppland county. They are on loose stones, boulders, and on rock surfaces. Most were found in the 17th century laying around and since then have been extensively documented. However, many runestones cannot be found in open air because they have been bricked inside the walls of churches or other buildings. Sometimes, they are rediscovered during a road construction or excavation project.
During the Viking Age, the ancient runestones were painted using charcoal, iron, lead, mercury, chalk, and ochre, which gave the stones their strong colours of black, red, yellow, and white.
The Viking Age society was hierarchical with large social differences between people. Most inhabitants lived off the land, the forest and fishing, and never sailed long distances unlike a few of the most infamous Vikings, who were off pillaging or ravaging through villages. Some powerful families owned large estates. The lowest ranking citizens were usually the slaves.
Women could have influence in household and farming affairs but had no legal rights. Only as a widow could a woman reach the position a free man had. Land would normally not be bought or sold but instead was offered to relatives. Runic inscriptions often tell of family relationships in order to strengthen a person’s right to ownership via inheritance.
The early Viking settlements of Birka and Sigtuna had specific city laws. Their inhabitants were more mobile than those in the countryside, they were accustomed to traveling between trading centres and towns where they were guaranteed protection and could do business in.
In the 8th century, Christianity (along with other Roman influences) reached the Nordic countries. The monk Ansgar, the Apostle of the North, was sent to the city of Birka during the 830’s CE. The spread of Christian beliefs continued with King Erik, who founded the city of Sigtuna, which is famous for its many churches. Then, around the year 1000 CE, Erik’s son, King Olof, minted coins with Latin inscriptions and Christian crosses imitating English coins.
However, it took a while for the pagan people of Uppsala to transition into Christianity. Even up until the mid of the 11th century, human sacrificial ceremonies were still a common practice. The governing assemblies were still bound by Old Norse paganism, with men in the lead, women in the background.
Gustav Vasa – first king of modern-day Sweden
By the 13th century, the new Uppsala had become a royal residence and an important commercial centre. Uppsala has remained a religious centre throughout the centuries as the seat of the archbishop of Sweden.
The Gothic cathedral, the largest religious structure in Sweden, dominates the city. The cathedral’s construction began in the late 13th century but progressed slowly, so only in 1435 was the church consecrated. The cathedral was ravaged by fire several times but was finally restored in the late 19th century.
Opposite the cathedral is the Gustavianum, which traces back to a medieval archbishop’s residence. Parts of the original structures were incorporated into a building for Uppsala University in the 1620s, and it is now a museum of archaeology and cultural history.
With its many schools, Uppsala is also an important site of Swedish learning and culture. The prestigious Uppsala University is the oldest university in Scandinavia, built in 1477. The university’s library, the Carolina Rediviva (1841), is one of the largest in Sweden. Other notable places in the city include a large castle that was begun by Gustav I Vasa in the mid-16th century and partly rebuilt in the 18th century. In 1654, it was the scene of Queen Kristina’s forced abdication; today, it is the Uppsala governor’s residence.
Additional points of interest in the city include the botanic garden and house of the botanist and scientist Carl Linnaeus, as well as the Victoria Museum, containing Egyptian antiquities.
In the 1860s, Uppsala developed rapidly from a university town and agrarian-trade centre to an industrial city thanks to the construction of the railway that connected it to neighbouring cities and other crucial commercial centres in Sweden. During the Industrial Revolution, Uppsala’s industries included printing and publishing, food processing, and the manufacture of pharmaceuticals and machinery. The city is an important rail hub and also functions as a military centre.
Nowadays, Uppsala is a quieter version of the busy Stockholm capital. It hosts approximately 22000 companies (13000 are self-employed business owners) and also is very much known for its student culture, since over 40 000 of its inhabitants are students at Uppsala University. Uppsala is also home to well-known Swedish sports clubs, including Storvreta IBK, Sirius Fotboll, Almtuna Hockey, Dalkurd.
Famous people who are from or once lived in Uppsala
- Anders Celsius, scientist and astronomer, who created the Celsius temperature scale.
- Carl von Linné, botanist and scientist, who established the taxonomy or name classification system for plants
- Carl Michael Bellman, poet, Sweden’s own “Shakespeare”
- Hans Rosling, doctor and professor, one of the world’s first “Youtubers” and also a statistics expert on world-wide metrics of happiness and health
- Håkan Nesser, author, a Swedish neo-noir crime genre writer, often read as “Swedish literature” in Swedish classes for beginners
- Ingmar Bergman, film and theater director, screenwriter, theater manager and playwright and author, known for portraying Ilsa Lund in Casablanca
- Magdalena Andersson, Ex-prime-minister of Sweden (2021-2022)
Other fun facts
Sweden has a human-scale model of the solar system, where the Sun, Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars are all located in Stockholm. Jupiter is at Arlanda Airport, which you may have noticed when you arrived there if entering Sweden by plane. Uppsala has Saturn in its perimeter, which you can visit besides Celsius’ house.
To find the other planets in Sweden’s solar system, make sure to visit all points of interest at the different cities throughout Sweden.
Want to visit?
For a place with so much history, Uppsala is definitely on our recommendations list for any of you history buffs out there. Interested in visiting? Check out our blogpost about how to make the most of your day trip to Uppsala. Enjoy!!