FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Mariefred and Gripsholm Castle

Posted in Stockholm, Sweden by folkestonejack on June 4, 2017

It may seem a little strange, but for our first full day in Stockholm we immediately made our way to the central station and headed out by train to the beautiful town of Mariefred on the shore of Lake Mälaren.

The town is charming in its own right, but the main attraction here is the distinctively red Gripsholm Castle which was built here in 1537 by King Gustav Vasa. If that wasn’t enough, a short walk from the entrance you can also find the Östra Södermanlands Järnväg, a 6.8 mile long narrow gauge railway.

Morning reflections

The exterior of the castle looked impressive from a distance, reflecting beautifully in the still waters of the lake, but I was still a little nervous going in. I’ve been to many a castle that looks wonderful on the outside but has little to offer inside and I had come across some mixed reviews on a certain well-used travel website. I should have known better – the interior was stunning and incredibly extensive with 65 rooms to view!

Before you step inside there is much to admire on a wander around the grounds, including two marvellous bronze cannons captured from the Russians in 1581 and 1621. These pieces have been a point of interest here since 1623 with delightful touches, such as the shot in the mouth of the wolf at one end (although they have apparently been known as ‘The Boar’ and ‘The Sow’ throughout their time in Swedish hands).

A captured bronze cannon from Russia

A tour of the interior immediately takes you into a sequence of richly decorated, wood panelled, sixteenth century-ish rooms that have a real wow factor. I was amused to learn later that this is largely a confection of the fairly liberal 1890s restoration of the palace, drawing on surviving material from across the country. In fact, nothing had survived here apart from the ceilings and fireplaces! I’m not sure it matters as it still looks stunning, but it is a helpful indication of the degree to which the castle has been altered (the guide book is invaluable in this respect).

The highlight of our visit was the unexpected discovery of a wonderfully intimate neo-classical theatre built into one of the towers dating to 1781. The use of space is quite ingenious – the semi-circular auditorium could hold an audience of sixty over three levels (comprised of raked stalls, a royal box/circle and an upper circle). It would probably feel quite claustrophobic were it not for the illusion of space created by mirrors around the auditorium.

It’s not hard to see why an earlier design (from 1772-73) built entirely within the footprint of the tower was unsuccessful. The auditorium we see today takes up most of the space bounded by the tower’s walls and the stage only overlaps slightly with the footprint of the tower, sitting mostly in the Queen’s wing. You can pass through the under-stage at the back to see the stage machinery. It’s well worth worth seeking out the model in the exhibition space next to the shop to get a better idea of the way this all fits together as its a little hard to visualise when you are standing inside.

Gripsholm Castle

We spent a couple of hours in the castle enjoying the incredibly variety of styles, decoration and artworks on display in the 65 rooms but you could easily spend much longer, absorbing the history and paying more attention to the royal portraits (including many paintings from beyond Swedish shores, such as Charles I, George III and even Cromwell).

There are some intriguing curiosities in the castle that it is worth looking out for, in particular ‘The chicken picture’ (1747), which shows Crown Princess Lovisa Ulrika’s ladies of court as hens, and the ‘Gripsholm lion‘, which must win the prize for the least threatening lion in history (apparently the taxidermist had never seen a live lion and had very little material to work with). I’m not the first blogger to have noticed these – the lion in particular is something of a celebrity these days!

If I took away nothing else it was instrumental in teaching me how pivotal 1809 was in Swedish history. It was really illuminating to read about the story of Gustav IV, a king who refused to bow to the inevitable and instead planned to wage an all-consuming war against the enemies surrounding Sweden on three fronts. Faced with the terrible consequences of such an insane decision the army staged a coup d’etat, imprisoned the king at Gripsholm and forced him to abdicate. In this moment, the nation we know today was forged.

Practicalities

We made our visit on a Sunday to take advantage of the combination of the castle and the railway (which only runs at weekends and on public holidays during June).

Our regional train back to Stockholm was topped and tailed by Rc6 electric locomotives 1356 and 1361

To get to Mariefred we took SJ Regional Train 919 at 8.51am which reaches Läggesta at 9.30am, connecting with bus 304 towards Mariefred at 9.37am. It’s an easy transfer to make with the bus stopping at the railway station and the display inside the buses helpfully shows the stops coming up. You can buy combined rail and bus tickets that save on hassle (we bought ours online ahead of the journey).

It takes under 10 minutes to reach Mariefred depending on which stop you get off at – the closest stop to the castle and railway is Gripsholms Slott but we missed this and got off at the next stop. Not really a problem though, as this just leaves you with a short and pleasant walk through the centre of the town.

If you time it right there is an alternative – you can take a pathway from one end of the platform at Läggesta which takes you down to the narrow gauge railway station at Läggesta nedre.

The castle opens from 10am until 4pm during the summer season and admission cost us 130 Swedish Krona each (plus another 30 Krona for a guidebook). I thought that was a very fair price given the incredible amount that there is to see inside – I’ve certainly paid far more to see far less in other places!

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