Despite its name, Nyköping (which translates to “new market”) was founded in 1187, making it one of Sweden’s oldest towns. It’s a great stop for tourists, as the town has a charming center with a good mix of historic architecture, dining, shopping, art, paths for strolling, and a lively harbor.
Around Market Square
Nyköping’s Market Square has always been a hub of activity as the heart of the old town. Today it makes a great spot to begin a tour of the city, as the area surrounding the square is filled with historic buildings, many dating back to the town’s reconstruction after being burned to the ground by the Russians in 1719.
One of those historic buildings is Saint Nicolai Church. While the structure dates back to the 13th century, it was mostly destroyed in the 1719 fire. However, it is a lovely place to visit, with a simple white interior and richly painted altar, pulpit, and organ façade that date back to the years immediately following the fire.
Across the river, an old brewery and other historic buildings house what looks to be an enticing mix of art galleries and studios.
Along the Nyköping River to the sea
The Nyköping River twists through the city on its way to the harbor. Along the way it passes historic buildings, landscaped walking paths, and pedestrian bridges.
Just before its confluence with the Baltic Sea, it passes a cheerful shopping area in what was once a row of historic cottages.
Of course, the most prominent feature along the river is Nyköpingshus Castle.
The castle dates back at least to the 13th century, but it didn’t become notorious until December of 1317, when King Birger Magnusson held a Christmas dinner to reconcile with his estranged brothers (the three of them had battled for control of Sweden before dividing the country between themselves years earlier). Following dinner the King had his brothers locked in the castle’s dungeon. To ensure that no one interfered with his intent to keep them there until they died, it’s said that he tossed the dungeon key into the river . . . which explains why a key is a symbol of the city and may (or may not) explain the source of a medieval key found in the river in the nineteenth century.
(King Birger was overthrown shortly after that ill-fated banquet and succeeded by the son of one of the murdered brothers. All-in-all, the Christmas-dinner-as-prelude-to-murder idea seems to have been a pretty bad one.)Despite its unsavory history, the castle was later rebuilt into a grand Renaissance palace by Duke Karl. (Of course, Karl wasn’t a particularly nice guy either, so perhaps the castle’s history didn’t really bother him.) The palace he created is said to have been among the most impressive in all of Europe and he continued to use it during his own brief reign as king.
Sadly, Karl’s magnificent palace existed for less than 100 years before being destroyed by fire in 1665. It was never rebuilt.
Today a tower and a few walls are all that remain of the palace, with the restored tower used as a museum. (Another museum is housed in the adjoining 18th century governor’s house.) The castle ramparts are a popular gathering place, and concerts, reenactments of the 14th century Christmas treachery (really), and other special events are held there. While it is certainly possible to feel the weight of the past here, the castle may be at its best on a lovely summer day – when those cruel ghosts seem very, very far from this pleasant city.
Nyköping is located an hour’s drive south of Stockholm and a few minutes from the Stockholm Skavsta Airport, making it an easy side trip from Stockholm. With its location along the coast, Nyköping is also a good base for exploring the coastal islands or touring other nearby castles and the area’s many manor houses.
The Nyköping Guiden (The Nyköping Guide) has a lot of good information on the city and surrounding area. The website is in Swedish, but seems to auto translate through Google, so can be used by none-Swedish speaking visitors.
I toured Nyköping as a guest of VisitSweden and VisitSörmland, so didn’t have the time or flexibility to explore the city as fully as I would have liked. However, I highly recommend visiting Nyköping and hope to return someday.