On the hunt for runestones and church ruins.
Sigtuna is a small Swedish town, which was actually the first official town in Sweden. Located about an hour away from the Swedish capital, it can be easily reached by Stockholm’s public transport network, which makes it the perfect day trip destination from there.
The town was founded by king Eric the Victorious in 970 AD and was built before he proclaimed himself as the king of Sweden and set out to build a modern Nordic kingdom like the kingdoms in Europe at the time. He knew he’d have to cooperate with the powerful Christian church, so he wanted to create a strong, united kingdom under one king and one god, which was a rather foreign concept to the locals at first.
So, he built Sweden’s first town with a wide pedestrian main street called Stora gatan and donated the land around it to consolidate his power. Archaeological evidence shows that Sigtuna quickly became a multicultural hub with flourishing trade and about 1000 inhabitants. Today the town has 9000 residents, but remains largely the same in shape as it was back than, making it a rather unique historical town. Its main attractions are the Sigtuna museum and the city hall, as well as several church ruins and many runestones.
There are as many as 40 documented runestones and fragments around Sigtuna and over 150 in the whole municipality, so let’s talk about runic stones for a second. Runes are the oldest written form of Scandinavian languages and some runestones date as far back as the 4th century and the Viking Age. However, the majority of runic stones were in fact made by Christians, erected in memory of loved ones who had passed on and placed in prominent spots where people would meet regularly. Many churches were later built in the same significant spots, so contrary to what you may think, it’s very common to find runic stones next to churches.
That is also the case in Sigtuna, so when I was there in August 2019 for about half a day on a day trip from Stockholm, I decided to go on a hunt for runestones. You can get a map of the town with all the runic stones from the local tourist office or the Sigtuna museum, but the main runestones and all the church ruins are also marked on Google maps, so I decided to go in blind. I devised a circular route through town from Mariakyrkan, the impressive brick church that actually isn’t a ruin, to all the church ruins and the Sigtuna museum in the end and tried to find as many runic stones on the way as I could.
There are supposed to be about 20 in the city centre and I don’t remember exactly how many I found, but I definitely found all the main ones and there were a lot of them. Most of stones have a small plaque, which explains what the runes say, how old it is and who made it if that information is available. Many stones in Sigtuna were made by the same runemaster named Torbjörn, whose crafting style was apparently not the prettiest, but at least his spelling was solid (you can read more about the stones here).
Impressions of Sigtuna
One of the most easily found runic stones is located in the middle of a stone spiral in a park on the shore of lake Mälaren, which is another attraction of Sigtuna and used to be a bay of the Baltic sea before the water receded. Since I was there quite early in the morning on a gloomy, windy day, I was able to take my time and take some photos with my new mini tripod. The result was one of my favourite travel photos ever. 🙂 Besides the runic stones and churches, I also found a traditional wooden tower on top of a small hill and the cutest vintage book kiosk ever, which was actually a mini local library.
All in all, Sigtuna is absolutely worth a visit, particularly if you’re a history buff and want to go on a runestone hunt like I did (you can even get a runic key in the museum or the tourist office and try to decipher the stones for yourself). However, the town is rather small and sleepy, so don’t expect too much of anything else. The main street is a bit more lively, with quaint wooden houses and souvenir shops, but there’s really not much else to see or do in Sigtuna.
Know before you go: As far as I’m concerned, half a day is more than enough to see everything if you’re used to walking a lot like me, although I suppose I’m always a bit faster when I’m travelling solo than when I’m with friends or my boyfriend. The other benefit of visiting Sigtuna is that it’s almost a completely free activity. Besides the Sigtuna museum, which is free from October to April and costs about 10 € for anyone over 20 during the other months (prices correct as of November 2020, check here to make sure), you only need to pay for the public transport ticket from Stockholm and from then on all you need are your own two feet. Since I was staying in a hostel in Stockholm, I had even cooked and brought my lunch with me and ate it in Uppsala, the next town I visited after Sigtuna, so my visit to Sigtuna was extremely cheap.