In may of 2018, I found an opportunity for a 3-month house-sitting gig in Kalmar, Sweden. In my ignorance, I did not even know this city existed. But after a short research, it seemed like a good place to spend my summer abroad. So I took the plunge and confirmed the deal. This article represents my impression of the city during my 3-month visit.
Kalmar is an unassuming Swedish city on the Baltic Sea coast. Although quite small (with a population of around 35k, the 30th city in Sweden in size) it gets pretty lively during the summer months, as it’s one of the most popular holiday destinations in the country.
Actually, it has been voted twice as the best summer destination in Sweden in polls created by Reseguiden.se, a leading tourism site. Is this a big deal? I don’t really know, but the people of Kalmar seem to take great pride in this.
Another reason for which Kalmar attracts tourists is that it is the entry-gate to the island of Oland, a very popular summer vacation spot for Swedes. Many campervans and caravans that head over to Oland via the 6 km-long bridge that links it to the mainland, also stop by in Kalmar.
A nature-friendly city
For me, one of the most impressive aspects of Kalmar is that it’s a very nature-friendly city. Being built on a natural moat for defensive reasons, there are a lot of canals and lakes all around. These are perfect breeding ground for all sorts of wild birds which give you the impression that you’re living in some sort of bird sanctuary.
It’s not at all uncommon to see Canada geese grazing next to your picnic spot for example. Or swans and with their newly hatched chicks calmly swimming a few meters away from the shore.
But besides birds, the city is also teeming with rabbits! It was a total surprise for me when I noticed one them for the first time, as I’m definitely not used to see rabbits hopping around between apartment buildings. They usually go foraging on the grass patches and can sometimes be spotted alongside oystercatchers.
South of the city, you can find the Stenso peninsula. It’s a few km long and it’s actually a nature reserve. The picturesque forest roads are perfect for bike rides or hikes. Swimming places also abound along the coastline.
North of the city there’s the Horso natural reserve. It’s quite similar to the Stenso peninsula in terms of the biotope, being basically a large oak tree forest with a lot of different wildlife. You can also a few swimming spots here, including a nudist beach.
Another park is the Svino nature reserve, that’s located at the beginning of the Kalmar bridge. Unfortunately, I did not get to visit this one during my stay, although I had it on my list.
Numerous swimming spots
Maybe the best feature of all is the multitude of beaches and swimming spots around the city. All of them feature piers or similar constructions that are great for diving into the water of the Baltic Sea. And Kalmar people seem to love their swimming.
A local tradition that I found funny is going for short morning swims, dressed in bathrobes. So it’s not at all uncommon to see people walking the streets of the city in their bathrobes at 8 am in the morning. I actually enjoyed going for morning swims for a few days, even though I did not own a bathrobe.
All-in-all I believe Kalamar is a great example of a nature-friendly city. I’ve had a similar feeling only maybe in Singapore, where they went to great lengths to integrate trees and other plants in urban areas.
The Klamar Castle
Featured on the majority of postcards, the castle is the most important city landmark. It was built starting with the 12 century onwards and served as a defensive position against invading attacks. Unlike many castles of it’s time that did not see any action, the Kalmar castle was actually attacked from the sea and pounded by cannonballs. As many of the rounds missed the castle, they managed to destroy parts of the city and the old cathedral which were nearby. So the decision was taken to move them all in the moat, where the current city resides today.
The castle is open almost daily and guided tours are available. More information on the official site.
The old city center
Kalmar has a very cozy old city center. Situated relatively close to the castle, it features some colorful Swedish architecture. A few of the houses are hundreds of years old. Walking around on the cobbled streets, you can find inviting traces…but don’t expect cheap prices on food and drinks. Maybe a $10 beer is cheaper here than in Norway, but it’s still well above what you can expect to pay in most European countries.
In one of the squares within the old city, there’s even a stage where different types of shows take place, especially during the weekends. So if you pass by you might just see a music concert, a standup comedy show or some other type of event, with a crowd of people watching from the benches or nearby terraces.
If you’re the museum type of person, you can find some interesting venues in Kalmar. For example the cities art museum, the dinosaur exhibition or the county museum which features parts of the Kronan battleship. I actually planned to visit the county museum and see the Kronan salvaged remains, but I always put it off for some other thing I wanted to do at the time. So yeah…I’m not a museum type of guy.
There are a bunch of other attractions and city landmarks that you can visit while in Kalmar. I won’t go into details about each of them, but here’s a list of the top of my mind:
- the old water tower that’s been repurposed as an apartment building
- the evangelist cathedral in the old city center
- the new and city center with its modern architecture style
- the graveyard next to the castle
- the prison next to the train station
Important summer events
I’ve only visited Kalmar during the summer, but it’s safe to assume that this is the most active season of the year, with plenty of things to do and see. Here are some of the most popular attractions and events:
If you’re ever in Sweden during the month of June, don’t miss the midsummer day celebrations! This event has its roots deep into pre-Christian traditions and it used to take place exactly the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. Nowadays, it’s celebrated on the Friday closest to the summer solstice.
Although this event is actually celebrated almost everywhere in Europe, each country has its own customs. In Sweden, people start gathering in the morning and they decorate a wooden pole with green leaves. The pole is then erected and then everybody dances and spins around it. They say that they do this so that they will have good fortune..but I think it’s just an excuse to have fun doing some really silly dances 🙂
Sand sculpture contest
Each summer, on the beach next to the castle, an international sand sculpture contest takes place. Artists from all around the world come to Kalmar and create temporary works of art from sand. Although it sounds like a really cool event I actually was a bit disappointed. Maybe I had too many expectations, but I thought that the number of sculptures was quite small and that their execution was not really what I expected from an “international” contest. Not that I would have been able to do even the simplest of them, but anyhow…I felt the contest did not rise up to the hype.
Kalmar city days
In the second part of August, Kalmar celebrates the city days. During this event, the old center turns into a large street market with all kinds of stands selling anything from street food to souvenirs. A classic fun-fare is also installed next to the old center with various rides for kids and adults as well. As concerts and other events take place, crowds of people fill up the cobblestone streets and give the city a festival vibe. I personally am not really a fan of fares and street food (as I seldom find something I can eat), but I do like the energy of these type of events.
Another important yearly event is the Ironman triathlon race that takes place each August. It’s actually one of the largest Ironman races in Europe and hundreds of contestants from all over the world come to Kalmar for this competition. With about two-three days before the start, the city sees an influx of people that come for the race. Either to actually compete, as part of support teams or just to watch and cheer from the side.
On the race day, the start is given early in the morning, shortly before 7 am. The swimming stage is first. Scores of yellow and orange swimming caps make their way from the city harbor alongside the coast for the 3.8 km swim. After that, the contestants switch equipment and start the 180km bike ride, that takes them all the way to Oland and back. Finally, they start the 42km marathon race. The triathlon lasts the whole day as the cutoff time is somewhere after 11 pm.
I really enjoyed watching this event and got inspired by the people that took part in it. It takes a lot of courage and dedication to prepare for such a race and endure hours of constant effort. Maybe one day, if I learn how to swim properly and if I train enough, I’ll also be able to complete an Ironman.
Overall, I enjoyed my stay in Kalmar. I believe it’s a perfect summer holiday destination and I really do hope I’ll visit again in the future. Ideally, I’d get a campervan and drive around to explore more of the area, especially Oland, which I did not visit as much as I’d wished.
But as good as it is for a summer holiday spot, Kalmar is not a recommended destination for digital nomads. And it does not look like it will become one in the future as well. With no coworking spaces that I know of and high living costs, remote workers such as myself will most likely choose other alternatives.