Take a Swedish Heritage Tour of Minnesota

By Explore Minnesota

Midsommar celebration at the Gammelgarden Museum
Midsommar celebration at the Gammelgarden Museum in Scandia

Minnesota has a rich Swedish history going back hundreds of years. Follow this three-day itinerary to make your visit a smorgasbord of Swedish and other Scandinavian culture, food, historic sites and shopping.

DAY 1: Find Swedish Heritage in Minneapolis

Turnblad Mansion at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis
The American Swedish Institute is partially housed in the historic Turnblad Mansion / Paul Crosby

There's no better place to start your Swedish heritage tour of Minnesota than the American Swedish Institute (ASI), located just south of downtown Minneapolis. Half heritage museum and half cultural meeting place, ASI highlights Swedish, Swedish-American and Nordic cultures both past and present. The ASI's historic Turnblad Mansion features sculpted ceilings, intricately carved wood, beautiful rugs of Swedish wool and exquisite porcelain kakelugnar.

Adjacent to the opulent mansion, the Nelson Cultural Center's white walls, clean lines and high ceilings bring modern Scandinavian architecture to the ASI campus. After a few hours spent exploring, head to the on-site FIKA cafe for a traditional Nordic meal. A destination unto itself, FIKA serves traditional and contemporary Nordic fare like potato dumplings, meatballs and gravlax.

Continue your tour just a few blocks south at Ingebretsen’s, a south Minneapolis market featuring fine Scandinavian gifts, food, needlework and clothing. For anyone seeking hard-to-find Swedish foods or gifts, there's no beating Ingebretsen's. The store has been open continuously since 1921, and stepping inside feels like walking into a time capsule. In addition, you can also register for classes in traditional Scandinavian needlework and knitting, how to make lefse, kransekake (a spectacular cake) or troll masks.

Other Scandinavian heritage must-visits in the Twin Cities include:

DAY 2: "America's Little Sweden" and Other Small Town Swedish Settlements

The Swedish coffee pot water tower in Lindstrom
The water tower in Lindström resembles a Swedish coffee pot

Now that you know what big city life was like for Scandinavians in Minnesota, head north to explore a few of the state's Swedish-settled small towns.

In Scandia, about an hour northeast of the Twin Cities, you'll find plenty of attractions that celebrate the history of Swedish settlement in Minnesota. The Hay Lake Monument honors the first three Swedish men who settled here in the early 1850s. Nearby, the Hay Lake School and the Johannes Erickson Log House Museum illuminate the lives of 19th-century Scandinavian immigrants. Tour the 11-acre Gammelgården Museum, a site with historic buildings built by Swedish immigrants in the 1850s. See Minnesota's oldest Lutheran church, a log home, barn, parsonage and cottage.

From there, it's just another 15 minutes north to Lindström, or "America's Little Sweden." Swedish heritage abounds in this town, from the water tower in the shape of a Swedish coffee pot, to the Glader Cemetery (the oldest Swedish burial ground in Minnesota), the stately Gustaf Anderson House and the Moody Round Barn built by Swedish farmers. You may already know Lindström as the fictional home of Karl Oscar and Kristina, characters in Vilhelm Moberg's popular emigrant novels. Tour the Karl Oskar House, a home that inspired Moberg's writing, and find statues in the town of Karl Oskar and Kristina. Go to nearby Chisago City to visit the Vilhelm Moberg statue.

Ready for some food? Stop into Gustaf's on Main Eatery, Lindström Bakery or The Swedish Inn for a traditional Swedish meal in a setting where you might hear the old Småland dialect still spoken here today.

Minnesota's oldest Lutheran Church at the Gammelgarden Museum in Scandia
Visit Minnesota's oldest Lutheran church at the Gammelgarden Museum in Scandia

Travel north through Isanti County, sometimes called the Dalarna of America (although technically its first Swedish settlers were from the province of Hälsingland). Stop in Cambridge and visit the archives room and pioneer cemetery at Cambridge Lutheran Church where you can learn more about the families who came here in the late 1800s. Several other sites in Cambridge and Stanchfield house memorabilia and genealogical records of Swedish immigrants.

Continue to Mora, home of the world's largest (25 feet high) dala horse, the Mora klocka (a Swedish bell tower), and monuments in the city parks honoring the town's heritage. Mora is also the home of the annual Vasaloppet ski race. Stop at Vasaloppet headquarters in the center of Mora to learn more about sites and the town's sister city, Mora, Sweden.

DAY 3: Take A Little Swedish Heritage Home

To wrap up your Swedish Heritage tour of Minnesota, be sure to visit IKEA, the world's largest retailer of ready-to-assemble furniture and home products. The first IKEA began in the 1940s in a small Swedish village, and today IKEA stores are in more than 40 countries. The Minnesota store is located south of the Twin Cities in Bloomington, next to Mall of America (another exceptional shopping destination).

Plan to have a meal in the IKEA restaurant, which features Swedish meatballs, lingonberry beverages and a whole range of other foods, including a breakfast plate (with scrambled eggs, bacon and potatoes). Bring more edible treats home from the Swedish Food Market.