It struck me one day, that despite being in Sweden for more than a year, I have not yet had an experience of standard Sweden. Stockholm is beautiful and full of activities but it is the capital and hence isn’t a reflection of Sweden as the country is; Uppsala is a university town and is hence more lively than a typical town would be; Sigtuna is a historical town with a idyllic backdrop; Trosa is more a summer home than an actual town. So I decided to make a day trip to a standard Swedish town.
Then I came across this article on The Local Sweden that mentioned Västerås as an underrated gem in Sweden.
The article quoted a travel writer who described the city like this, ” Västerås carries the obvious tourist attractions, like lovely pedestrian squares, ancient cathedrals, even more ancient Norse ruins, proximity to natural wonders, and an understated arts culture. It also shows the diversity of Swedish society, the social emphasis on creating a strong family life, the economic interplay of Swedish industrial economy, and links geographically to the rest of the country via train, plane and automobile.”
Which probably suggests that it looks like a developed suburb in Stockholm.
Which was unsurprisingly what it looked like.
There was the ever popular kebab store, filled with locals and families wanting a cheap, budget friendly meal (if not necessarily healthy meal).
As a more developed suburb, the city centre is also dotted with beautiful art works and designs.
Västerås is well known to travellers to Stockholm because of the municipal airport located a short drive away from the town, just over an hours drive away from central Stockholm but perhaps precisely because of its reputation as an airport, its value as a showcase of Sweden has been vastly underplayed. It’s reputation though it that of a mostly industrial city, with factories and industrial buildings visible from its small beach front facing the Lake Malaren (not unlike Singapore where I come from, and East Coast Park in particular).
But there’s a lot more to this city than its present reputation. It may be a traditional Swedish city now, but it has a much more interesting history than that. Västerås is celebrating its 700th anniversary as a city this year although the region has been inhabited since the 11th century.
There was a time when Västerås was the second largest city in the whole of Sweden (it is today ranked fifth with a population of around 150,000 people) and was where Gustav Vasa assembled his forces during the Swedish War of Liberation to chase out Christian II after the Stockholm Bloodbath. Where Erik the Victorious made Sweden Christian in the 9th century in Sigtuna, Gustav Vasa lurched modern Sweden to Protestantism in this very city in the 13th century.
The city’s more recent history is also something to be proud of. Västerås was where the major Nordic supermarket chain ICA was first founded in 1917 (as Hakonbolaget by Hakon Swenson). The global clothing brand H&M (the full name Hennes and Mauritz AB) was started in Västerås. Also present are companies such as ABB, a Swedish-Swiss multinational corporation working in the robotics, power, heavy electrical equipment, and automation technology sectors. ABB has its Swedish subsidiary headquarters located in here rather than in Stockholm.
What more was there to this city? I had a few hours on a weekend in Västerås, join me over these few days as I find out more about what makes this standard Swedish city unique.