Umeå – where the hell is it? And what’s so special about it? No doubt you’ve already heard about Stockholm. Umeå on the other hand, you’re probably still having trouble pronouncing. Well, it’s ‘u-may-o’.
Umeå is actually situated along the coast of the Baltic Sea, one of the last cities before the polar circle. Oh, and to answer your (unbidden) question – yes it’s a real city. With normal people, 118,000 of them in fact.
What’s worth seeing in terms of culture?
Culture isn’t just galleries and museums; in Sweden, music’s pretty high on the list. Umeå is no exception. To combat the blues induced by the long winters this far north, Umeå holds a Jazz Festival every October. It’s been running since 1968, making it Europe’s oldest, and it is still among Scandinavia’s largest jazz festivals.
Despite the reputation for ABBA-love, northern Swedes like to go to the opera. Created in 1978, Norrlands Operan is the city’s opera house and one of the strongest drivers of culture in the region with both modern and classic performances showing all year round.
Still, they do know how to rock. As well as having lots of local bands, there’s now a dedicated space for the icon of rock: the guitar. The newly-opened Guitars – The Museum is one of the world’s largest privately-owned vintage guitar collections, with 500 electric and bass guitars, and amps. There are enough instruments here to start a very large electric orchestra.
If music isn’t your thing, the local art museum Bildmuseet (the Museum of the Image) situated along the riverbank, is a center for contemporary art and visual culture as well as a place for experience, reflection and discussion. Designed by Henning Larsen Architects in collaboration with White, the building is definitely one of the most striking in the city. It was nominated for the European Mies van der Rohe Award 2013 – so the architecture buffs can geek out too.
Photography fans should visit the Sune Jonsson Centre for Documentary Photography at the Västerbottens Museum, which has an exhibition by famous local photographer Sune Jonsson’s depicting regional life in Västerbotten from the 1940s up until the 1960s. The center also holds workshops, seminars and a photo archive, so you can get a sense of just how much Umeå has changed.
Anything I can skip?
Umea’s pretty small, so you’re unlikely to need to skip things but if you’re short of time, don’t miss the Bildmuseet.
I’ve had my fill of culture – what else can I do?
Umeå is the gateway to Sweden’s epic natural landscape – meeting an elk here is like meeting a sheep in Wales… sort of. If you want to get up close and personal with the ’king of the forest’, take a day trip to Älgens Hus, an elk farm around 80km (50 miles) outside Umeå, where visitors can pet these beautiful animals.
Let there be no soubt about it: Umeaa is a Swedish music loving city!