Industrilandskapet of Norrköping: the Manchester of Sweden

Norrköping is a medium-sized city of approximately 135,000 people located about 135 kilometers southwest of Stockholm, Sweden. It is not well known outside of Scandinavia but earned its nickname within the region as the “Manchester of Sweden” in its heyday during the Industrial Revolution. While the textile and paper mills have long since closed, the area has remained extremely well-preserved and makes a great destination for anyone interested in exploring industrial heritage. 

The former mills are clustered around the Motala River in the center of town, which is only a five- minute walk directly south from the train station, and comprise an area known locally as Industrilandskapet (The Industrial Landscape). Accessible to the public, the entire area is integrated into the urban fabric of the city and features a number of bridges and pathways that offer spectacular views of the river and its dams and waterfalls.

Pedestrian pathways criss-cross the Motala River and are extensive throughout Industrilandskapet in general.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Rowdy Geirsson

The first substantial former mill complex one encounters when entering Industrilandskapet is situated on the isle of Holmen, the original home to Holmen Aktiebolag, one of the largest paper manufacturers in the world today (the company built a modern production facility on the edge of the city in the 1980s when it closed the original location in Industrilandskapet). Located here now is the Louis de Geer Concert and Congress Hall, a state-of-the-art music performance venue named after the Dutchman who was responsible for the initial introduction of large-scale manufacturing to Norrköping in the 17th century.

The Louis De Geer Concert and Congress now occupies part of the former Holmen mill complex.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Rowdy Geirsson

Past the Holmen complex lies a cluster of brick mill buildings, all well-preserved and now occupied by professional offices, the educational facilities of Linköping University’s Norrköping Campus, several restaurants, and a handful of museums, including Arbetets Museum (Museum of Work), Stadsmuseum (The City Museum), and Holmens Museum (about Holmen Aktiebolag), as well as the facility known as Värmekyrkan, which hosts temporary travelling exhibits, generally of a pop culture variety, such as the past exhibits dedicated to the Titanic and Harry Potter.

Arbetets Museum is located in the building known as Strykjärnet, which was once described as the most beautiful industrial building in the entire country by Carl Milles, one of Sweden’s most prominent artists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Originally a textile mill, it is now dedicated to the documentation of people’s stories and memories associated with work and labor in a general sense; it is not focused on the history of the local area itself but rather all of Sweden. The museum is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 9 am to 4 pm and is free of charge.

For a museum dedicated more specifically to the history of Norrköping itself, one needs only cross the river and enter Stadsmuseum, which lies directly opposite from Arbetets Museum. Stadsmuseum paints a lively picture of Norrköping’s former days as the most significant mill city in Sweden. Many of the weaving machines from the city’s former mills have been preserved and are on display here, and the museum provides an informative overview of the city’s industrial rise and fall. It also includes other exhibits pertaining to the city’s history from prehistoric times to its role during WW2. Stadsmuseum is generally open every day of the week, though opening and closing times vary from day to day, and is free of charge.

Stadsmuseum provides an excellent overview of the city’s industrial history.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Rowdy Geirsson

Holmens Museum is just as its name implies—a museum dedicated specifically to the history of Holmen Aktiebolag and its workers. It is a tiny museum, only open on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, and is located in a corner of the building known as Strykbrädan, a sort of sister mill to Strykjärnet.

This area of Industrilandskapet is also home to an old metal tube, once used for conveying water and then storing oil, that now functions as a unique pedestrian pathway that offers spectacular views of the city’s most impressive man-made waterfall. The dramatic view has become a perennial favorite among the Swedish royal family for photo-taking opportunities on the occasions when they visit Norrköping.

An old oil pipe has been modified to create one of the most unique visual experiences of any industrial heritage area.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Rowdy Geirsson

Beyond this cluster of mills lies Kungsgatan (King’s Street) and the bridge that carries it across the river. Past it, the well-preserved mills resume, most of which are now dedicated to functions associated with the Norrköping Campus of Linköping University, though other uses exist as well, such as a cinema and a hostel. A network of pedestrian pathways runs alongside and cross- crosses the river here, and eventually lead to Åpromenadan, a scenic wooded area with nature trails just beyond Industrilandskapet.

Overall, Industrilandskapet is a wonderfully well-preserved milieu of a bygone era, with some modern flourishes thrown into the mix (the pedestrian bridges, some structural additions to the mills, a new modernist housing building on a formerly vacant lot). It is easy to explore on one’s own, but the city also offers a number of guided walking tours in the area as well. These include a tour specifically devoted to Industrilandskapet’s history, as well as a variety of themed tours, such as a ghost tour, a tour based on the work and life of Moa Martinson (a significant local writer from the city’s industrial era), and a tour based on the recent best-selling crime novels of Emilie Schepp, which take place in Norrköping.

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Rowdy Geirsson

Rowdy Geirsson attempts to promote Leif Eriksson awareness but generally fails, and barely maintains Scandinavian Aggression, a mediocre blog about Vikings past and present. He is the editor of Norse Mythology for Bostonians, a humorous retelling of the trials and tribulations of Odin, Thor, and the other Norse gods as conveyed in the charmingly quaint dialect of a foul-mouthed Bostonian, and is a regular contributor of humor articles to McSweeney’s, Metal Sucks, Points in Case, and Slackjaw. He lived in Norrköping as a guest researcher of the local university in 2015. Follow him on Twitter @RGeirsson, or don’t.