If you are looking for a beautiful non-touristy experience to add to your Stockholm itinerary, consider a visit to Skogskyrkogården. Also known as the Woodland Cemetery, Skogskyrkogården is one of Stockholm’s three UNESCO World Heritage sites. Read on to discover what to see and do at Skogskyrkogården!
But first, a little bit of history about Skogskyrkogården. In 1915, the city of Stockholm held a worldwide competition to identify the architect that would build a new cemetery for the city. The competition was won by two young Swedish architects, Gunnar Asplund and Sigurd Lewerentz.
Asplund and Lewerentz started the project in 1917. Although the site, and the first chapel, the Woodland Chapel, were consecrated and opened in 1920, the two architects continued to expand on their vision, adding more structures to the site and refining the landscape, all the way until 1940.
Most of the buildings at Skogskyrkogården were designed by Asplund. Lewerentz designed the Resurrection Chapel, but mainly focused on the landscape. Together, they brought to fruition a visionary design that would be emulated by cemeteries across the world.
Things to Do at Skogskyrkogården
A seamless blend of man-made architecture and nature, Skogskyrkogården is located in Enskededalen, south of the city center. Easily accessed via Stockholm’s subway, the cemetery offers the opportunity for a couple of hours (or more!) of tranquility to break up your busy Stockholm itinerary.
#1 Admire the beautiful landscape
As you enter the Woodland Cemetery, the first thing that strikes you is the serene beauty of the landscape. Everywhere around you, the natural elements of the site have been quietly orchestrated to create a harmonious beautiful whole that instantly makes you want to take a deep breath and relax.
The gorgeous water feature at the entrance, the stone perimeter wall, the mature groves of trees, and the gently rolling hills all command your attention. Stone and gravel pathways invite you to explore further.
When we visited in the summer, everything was green, with wildflowers providing discreet touches of color here and there. The landscape looked lovely.
But I can see how it would look equally beautiful in other seasons as well: in the fall, when leaves change color, in the winter, when snow blankets the ground and snow crystals hang from tree branches, and in the spring, when tender leaf buds sprout on bare branches.
#2 Take a quiet break in the meditation grove
One of my favorite spots in the complex is the meditation grove, set on top of a hill. Here you can sit for a while and begin the process of healing if you are grieving the loss of a loved one, or just spend some time in quiet reflection if you are a visitor.
Called Almhöjden, the meditation grove features a clump of mature trees that you can see as soon as you enter the complex. In fact, it was a photo of Almhöjden that first kindled my interest in the Woodland Cemetery. The trees make a striking statement against the sky, especially on a beautiful summer day.
A wide set of steps leads up to the grove at the top. I learned that the steps get shallower as you progress up the hill. They were apparently designed in this manner deliberately, so you don’t get tired from the climb, but instead arrive at the top relatively calm and ready to settle down to meditate. Now isn’t that amazing design?
#3 Walk the Seven Springs Way to Resurrection Chapel
When you head down the hill from the meditation grove on the opposite side, you come to Seven Springs Way, a pathway that seems to stretch forever. It is a little over 0.5 mile long and lined with trees on both sides.
The pathway makes for a lovely stroll. If you are silent, you can hear the gravel crunch beneath your feet and birds chirping in the trees. The trees start out light and airy, but get tall and dense and deep green as you approach the chapel at the end of the path.
The chapel you see at the very end of the pathway is the Resurrection Chapel, built by Lewerentz. It features a classical portico with twelve white columns. A lovely structure!
#4 Take a guided tour of chapel interiors
There are five chapels at Skogskyrkogården. The Woodland Chapel, the first and smallest chapel, was completed in 1920. It was followed by the Resurrection Chapel, in 1925. The last three chapels, Faith, Hope, and Holy Cross, are part of the Woodland Crematorium, completed in 1940.
Since Skogskyrkogården is a functioning cemetery, with ceremonies scheduled almost every day of the year, chapel interiors can only be seen as part of a guided tour. A public guided tour is offered each Sunday morning in the summer. You can also book a private tour all through the year on any day of the week.
We visited on a weekday at short notice, so I did not get to see any of the chapels from the inside. A guided tour is definitely on my list for the next time we visit Stockholm, because the chapel interiors look gorgeous.
The chapels at Skogskyrkogården have been designed firmly keeping their purpose in mind, just like the rest of the complex, but each one looks beautiful as well, for the perfect blend of form and function.
#5 Admire the Woodland Crematorium
The Woodland Crematorium, designed by Asplund, was completed in 1940. It was built to accommodate the expanding practice of cremation in the Sweden of the 1930s.
The beautiful building features three chapels: Faith, Hope, and Holy Cross, and looks out onto the rolling hills. Right in front is a stunning water feature, with lily pads floating on the surface.
The three chapels feature works of art by different artists. The only one we saw on the outside is the magnificent Resurrection sculpture by John Lundqvist, outside the Holy Cross Chapel.
Asplund died in 1940, and his urn is buried in a columbarium near the Chapel of Faith.
#6 Admire the giant granite cross
One of the most striking features of the landscape at Skogskyrkogården is the huge stone cross.
Designed by Asplund, the gigantic cross is made of granite and stands on the lawn near the Woodland Crematorium, next to a beautiful pathway. It is supposed to have been inspired by a painting called Cross on the Baltic Sea by Caspar David Friedrich.
The cross is probably the only feature of the landscape that overtly makes you feel that you are in a cemetery, because the rest of the complex looks and feels more like a wooded park. The graves are mostly laid out among the trees, not visible unless you look for them.
#7 Learn more at the Visitor Center
The Visitor Center is located in the interior of the complex, away from the entrance near the subway station we used, so we didn’t come across it until we were almost done. But it’s worthwhile walking here first, since the staff is very helpful and will provide lots of information, plus a map.
The Visitor Center is housed in an office building built by Asplund in the early 1920s. There is an exhibition you can view, and a book shop and cafe. It is not open all through the year, so check for current hours of operation before you visit.
Getting to Skogskyrkogården
You can of course drive to Skogskyrkogården, but it’s also easy to get here using Stockholm’s subway, the T-bana. From T-Centralen, the central hub of the system, take the Green Line towards Farsta Strand. Alight at the Skogskyrkogården station.
After you exit the station turn right and walk a short distance through a lovely tree tunnel to arrive at the entrance to the complex. From T-Centralen, the train ride to Skogskyrkogården station is about 15 minutes.
Skogskyrkogården is beautiful and I hope I have inspired you to add it to your itinerary for your next visit to Stockholm. Visiting this UNESCO World Heritage site was a wonderful experience, one that will stay with me for a long time.
For another amazing activity in the Swedish capital, consider a tour of the spectacular Stockholm subway art! I also have a detailed list of the 25 best things you can do in Stockholm, if you plan to spend a few days in the Swedish capital. And if you are visiting for just one day, I have an exciting but doable one day Stockholm itinerary you’ll love.
If you are looking for a great place to stay during your visit to Stockholm, check out the Radisson Blu Waterfront Hotel. It’s located right in the midst of the action, and many of the super comfy rooms come with fabulous city views. Check prices and availability!
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Photo License Holy Cross Chapel Interior: CC-BY-2.5