More and more these days, one of the things I value most in travelling is the chance to unplug. This doesn’t mean I go into full nomad mode, forsake my smartphone, or anything of the kind. But with so much of day-to-day life now taking place through devices and screens, it’s nice to find a destination where you can simply explore and enjoy the real world.
One great place for just this kind of trip is Lidköping, Sweden — a town on the southern shores of Lake Vänern that is often overlooked among travellers in favour of Stockholm, Oslo, and Copenhagen. These are much bigger Scandinavian cities that attract a great number of tourists. But Lidköping (which is incidentally almost at the centre between the three larger cities) is a charming and more easygoing place for a relaxing getaway. And there’s still plenty to do.
The main attraction is Lake Vänern, which is not just the largest lake in Sweden, but among the largest in all of Europe.The city of Lidköping is situated right at the edge, which naturally makes the lake a main attraction and defining feature during all seasons.
In winter, when conditions allow, the lake is a prime spot for sport. Typically, when we talk about wintersport at European destinations it is with regard to skiing in France, or a snowboard trip to the Austrian Alps, or anything similar. Indeed, western and northern Europe are home to some of the most wonderful ski and snowboard destinations in the world.
But at Lake Vänern, locals and visitors have the chance to engage in some of the most spectacular ice skating on the planet. A Travel & Leisure list of “stunning natural ice skating rinks” in the world described it almost as something wild — “not a manicured skating experience” but rather the chance to explore a vast icy expanse with distant horizons and beautiful sunsets. This is arguably the best experience in town.
In the spring and summer, meanwhile, Lake Vänern turns into a destination for hikers, rafters, and kayakers. There are numerous places (including outside the city along the coast) to rent a kayak so that you can get out onto the vast body of water — and maybe even explore one of its 20,000-plus tiny islands.
If you really want to get a sense for the town itself, and not just the lake that is its main attraction, it’s essential to spend some time exploring the town square. Here, the main landmark is the beautiful and unique city hall, which according to Spotting History was originally built as a hunting lodge hundreds of years ago. It’s the sort of building you’re just happy to see in person, as there’s really nothing else like it in Europe (which makes for a great photo op as well).
Around the old wooden city hall is a simple yet beautiful town square, where you can enjoy pop-up garden shops, a look at some old local homes, and a few places to eat. You won’t find any major attractions, but it’s an undeniably pleasant place to spend some time.
If you’re looking for something to do — and specifically a nice wholesome activity that fits with a desire to “unplug” during your vacation — you might be interested to know that Lidköping also has a reputation for bingo, of all things. As is explained in a Foxy Bingo blog post about how this game has become popular around the world, people in and around this town specifically engage in drive-in bingo. In other words, there isn’t a bingo hall or casino venue in town so much as fields outside it.
On the right night, you can join locals by driving into one of these fields to enjoy public bingo games. It’s almost a vintage style of recreation, and one that’s surprisingly charming (right down to the beeping of car horns to announce bingo wins!).
Läckö Castle actually lies a short distance outside Lidköping. But if you’re able to rent a car or secure a ride during your visit, you should be able to get there in half an hour or less. Once you do — provided you go during the summer months — you’ll get the chance to explore one of the most impressive and interesting castles in Europe.
Like so many of Europe’s great castles, this one was built up in stages over time. But it was originally a 13th-century fortification before gradually being turned into more. One Count Magnus Gabriel De la Gardie is credited with more or less finalising the construction and design as we see it today, back in the mid-1600s.
The structure is now a beautifully preserved, all-white castle perched at the edge of the lake like something out of a fantasy novel. Visitors are welcome during the warmer months of the year, and there are even opera performances held in its courtyard in July.
Last but not least is fika, which is a sort of Swedish tradition that is more or less a better version of a coffee break. It’s hard to convey exactly what this tradition entails, though Whetstone Magazine does a nice job of getting to the core of it. Basically, fika is an actual break.
The magazine notes that specialty coffee shops around the world have essentially stolen the fika concept, in that they’ve started to use the word, pour artistic lattes, and serve decadent snacks — basically attempting to elevate the coffee experience. But what really makes fika special in Sweden is that it represents a true break, as opposed from just a rushed stop at the local coffee shop, or a pastry eaten at one’s desk at work. People in Lidköping and Sweden more broadly actually stop to sip coffee, enjoy a treat, and socialise. You have to love a country that puts such a premium on snack time!
Lidköping is a simple destination, all things considered, but a wonderful one. It’s one of the lovely towns in Europe where there’s plenty to enjoy whether you visit in the warmer or cooler months. And it’s a place where you can easily just unplug and take in your surroundings.
This is a contributed post by Ethan Fletcher written exclusively for yktoo.com.