Travel Topic: Linköping and Kolmården

visitlinkoping_logoHere comes another non-technical post about travel destinations, and this time we visited Linköping in south-east Sweden. Linköping is not a big tourist destination, rather a typical real city. We also went to Kolmården, the biggest Zoo in Sweden, which is “close” to Linköping, only some 70 km away.

Linköping is one of the ten 100k-cities in Sweden (the ten cities with populations of 100000 to 200000, which kind of form a mid-size layer beneath the three major big cities of Malmö, Göteborg, and Stockholm). It is a fast-growing high-tech city with a big university. I think that along with Västerås, it might at some point surpass Uppsala as Sweden’s fourth-largest city. The overall impression is of an optimistic city with a good economy.

On the surface, there did not look like there was that much to do in Linköping, but after a closer look, there are a lot of museums and places that are really very good — especially for a family with small children. The tourist board has a good central information source at visitlinkoping.se, which does list  most interesting things.

Practial notes first. We took the car here (yes I know that driving 300 km is not as nice as taking the train, but considering our baggage load there was not much of an alternative), and noted that parking is very well organized in Linköping, and quite affordable. 24 hours in a parking garage costs only 75 SEK, which is cheap compared to Stockholm or Uppsala. You can also go in and out from the garage during that time, which is excellent!  Driving to Kolmården (which is located almost half-way to Stockholm from Linköping) took about an hour, mostly on the highway (E4). Beware of the traffic on the smaller road connecting the E4 to Kolmården, it can be a pretty long line of family cars in the morning…

What to Do in Linköping

Here are the things that we found, evaluated from the perspective of a family with a four-year old that needs to be entertained.

  • Gamla Linköping is an open-air museum area similar to Skansen in Stockholm. You have a lot of old buildings showing how the city looked around 1900. The buildings are inhabited, and most contain activities such as cafes and small museums. There are many small activities for children showing how people lived in past times, including baking in a wood-fired oven and doing the laundry pre-washing-machine.
  • Fenomenmagasinet is located at Gamla Linköping, and is a surprisingly large technology hands-on center. Actually, one of the best such I have seen! Particularly attractive was the cockpit section of a SAAB 2000 passenger liner they have, where children can play at being a pilot or passenger.
  • Next to Gamla Linköping there is Valla, which has a very large and imaginative playground, as well as some more museums. For a someone with an interest in the history of technology, there is small train museum (about narrow-gauge railroads) and a tractor museum that I found fascinating. Do take the silly little “train” between Gamla Linköping and Valla, our four-year old loved that part!
  • Busfabriken was another hit! It is a very large indoors playground that makes the stuff we have back home in Uppsala pale in comparison.
  • Unfortunately, the main reason that I wanted to go to Linköping turned out to be closed for renovation. The Swedish Airforce Museum is closed from early 2009, and won’t open until June of 2010. I guess I should have checked this before we went here… but it is not like this was the only time in history that I will come by Linköping. Better luck next year, I guess.
  • Shopping is decent in Linköping, since there is no other big city close by to “steal” the niche stores (like Stockholm does for Uppsala). In particular, I recommend going to Norins Ost for some good cheese.
  • We did not visit the facilities around the great Swedish canal works, Göta Kanal. Apparently, Bergs slussar is a good destination around a set of canal locks. You can take a boat trip along Kinda kanal as well, but we did not try that either.

Kolmården

Kolmården is the biggest zoo in Sweden, and of the top tourist destinations in Sweden overall. The overall environment is quite interesting: it is very hilly, so expect to push strollers up and down fairly steep inclines. It is also embedded in a large forest, and thus nice and shady even on the warmest sunny summer days.  Good shoes are recommended!

It is based on the display of interesting animals, split into sections with often English-language names like “Marine World” and “Tiger World”. There are elephants, tigers, snow leopards, dolphins, penguins, camels, gorillas, schimpanzees, etc. The dolphin show in the Marine World felt a bit cheeky at times (unnecessary pirate interlude, not to mention a video presentation with Markoolio), but the dolphins themselves were great! Do spend the extra 20 SEK/person to pre-book (over the Internet) seats for the show you want to see. It will save you literally hours standing in line for the show and guarantee very good seats.

In addition, there are three major play grounds for children: Bamses Värld, for those who love Bamse, Kulmården for small children, and Wild Park for children around eight-nine. Wild Park has some really cool things, like a super-high slide and a mine where you can crawl and walk through.

Overall, it feels like seven years or older is optimal for this destination, smaller children will not understand most of the attempts to inform about animals, their habitats, and preservation, nor will they be able to really enjoy the play grounds. There is an emphasis on teaching visitors about endangered animals and various preservations programs that Kolmården is part of running (and a discrete invitation to contribute money directly).

One recommendation is to start the day by taking out a day-pass for the cabin cars connecting the opposite corners of the park. It is quite a relaxing time to make a circuit around the park in a cabin car, and it offers the fastest way to get to the Marine World from the entrance.

Prices inside the park are decent as far as parks go, about 18 SEK for a coffee, 80-100 SEK for a real meal. 20-30 SEK for an icecream. The small rollercoaster is a total rip-off at 40 SEK/person including children.

There is also a “Safari Park” where you can drive your own car through a safari land with wild African animals. We did not try that.

Summary

Vacationing around Linköping is not a bad idea at all, and we did not have time to visit all the fun things there are to see.

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