Skansen Open Air Museum

IMG_1651Stockholm tour books highly recommend Skansen. So I went.

Actually, I went twice, but I didn’t go in the first time. There were line-ups at the ticket booths and the crowd was composed of mostly children.

Don’t get me wrong. I like children. I think they are fun and adorable creatures. And, if you are particularly fortunate, the same child can be both fun and adorable; sometimes even fun and adorable simultaneously. That is to say, they are fun and adorable in small numbers and when they are smiling, happy and not too loud, but not when they are in large, boisterous crowds. There were large, boisterous crowds of children at Skansen’s gates, and presumably more inside., so I left without going in.

Windmill missing a wingI took the tram to Skansen, but the Stockholm Card that I bought included free rides on the Stockholm transit system (in addition to free admission into Skansen), so I figured there was no harm, no foul if I left.

Later, being a neurotic of epic proportions, I worried painfully that: One, I was missing something great that I should go to because I didn’t know when or even if I might get back to Stockholm. And, two, when I got back home people might say, “You went all the way to Stockholm and didn’t go to Skansen? Are you a complete idiot?” (Yes, I really do think like that. What can I say? It’s not easy being me.)

My neuroses got the better of me. I returned another day and went inside. (The fact that the entrance was significantly less crowded that day made it a much easier decision to make.)

Now that I’ve prattled on for a few paragraphs spewing, you might be wondering what Skansen is if you don’t already know. That is to say, you might be wondering that if you haven’t already abandoned reading this because of my mindless prattling. Then again, if you had abandoned it, you wouldn’t be reading the words in this sentence, so I guess I better forge ahead before you do abandon me.

IMG_1642Skansen bills itself as an “open air museum.” That roughly sums it up, but it’s not what you likely think of when you hear the word “museum.” The difference is mostly the “open air” part, which tends to make it much less stuffy and also a lot more interactive than what you likely do think of when you hear the word “museum.”

A taste of Scandinavia

The objective of Skansen was to provide a taste of traditional life in Scandinavia in the recent past. (When I say “recent” I mean recent relative to the evolution of the species, not recent as in post-Britney Spears.) I can’t tell you if they achieved that objective because this trip to Copenhagen and Stockholm was my first time being anywhere in Scandinavia, so I have no insight into traditional Scandinavian life. What’s more, the site contained buildings dating from various periods spanning the eighteenth century to the 1930s. People who know me, or at least have seen me, might be surprised to learn this, but I hadn’t yet been born then. Thus, my first-hand experience of Scandinavian life in those days would have been be doubly nonexistent if it were remotely possible to be doubly nonexistent. Thus, I can’t tell you how accurate a representation of traditional Scandinavian life Skansen presented.

IMG_1654The buildings at Skansen included, among others, a glassworks, a furniture factory and an engineering works, all with people in period costumes working away at their crafts producing real stuff. That was a stupid thing to say, wasn’t it? What would fake stuff be? I mean, stuff is stuff. It can’t be fake. It’s all stuff.

But you probably knew what I meant. I was about to say, “But you knew what I meant,” leaving out the “probably,” but I have no idea what goes on inside your head and whether it comes close to matching the nonsense that goes on in my befuddled mind. Maybe you haven’t the foggiest of clues as to what I meant. If not, I’m sorry to have confused you. Please try muddling through the rest of this post anyway. I’ll attempt to keep it brief.

IMG_1643In addition to places for making stuff, there were also offices and retail outlets (or, rather, primarily representative retail outlets because most didn’t offer things for sale; the buildings being mostly for show). These buildings included a spice store, a hardware store and a pharmacy, among others.

Some of the structures at Skansen were built there, back in the days. Others were built elsewhere back in the days, but then moved to Skansen to serve as museum pieces. To the best of my knowledge, none were replicas. However, I didn’t do any research, so don’t quote me on that.

IMG_1646When you visit Skansen, you’re encouraged to ask the costumed staff questions. I presume they meant questions regarding the period that the staff represented, the buildings they were in or the crafts they were performing. I thought about asking them for answers to some of my more troubling personal problems, but that probably wasn’t part of their job, so I didn’t. Besides, they likely work only eight-or-so-hour shifts, so there wouldn’t have been nearly enough time to delve into even the slightest of my personal problems.

Steepleless Belfry

The weirdest sight at Skansen—weirder, by far, than the windmill that was missing one of its wings—was a belfry. That’s not to say that there is anything wrong or weird about belfries. Plenty of old churches have them. What was weird about this one was that there was no building beneath it. It sat on stilts, out of context from just about everything else. Really. Weird.

Steepleless BelfryA tower is prominent in Skansen. The lovely little red brick Bredablick Tower is about 30 meters (almost 100 feet) tall. It was built on the site between 1874 and 1876 by a doctor who wanted to run a spa there. The tower was closed for renovations when I visited, so I can’t tell you about the interior or the view from the top, the latter of which is supposed to be impressive.

IMG_1655Speaking of the view, even without scrambling up a tower, there were a few points at the top of the tall hill at Skansen where I got some nice views of Stockholm and the surrounding area. I found the view of Nordiska Museet particularly attractive.

The viewYou may be wondering if it’s really worth it to climb a steep hill just for the view of the greater Stockholm area. Don’t worry. It’s not just the view. You have to get to the top of the hill to see most of the exhibits at Skansen. There’s not much at the base other than the entrance and the aquarium (see below). But still don’t worry. There’s an escalator that will take you to the top if you ask it nicely. It will also take you there if you don’t say anything to it, but eccentricities can be so charming, can’t they?

Non-Human Animals

In addition to the period-costumed people employed there, Skansen also houses a couple of zoos, a farmstead and an aquarium that employ a variety of non-human animals. I suspect the animals aren’t paid as well as the people, but the animals probably get meals thrown in for free and they don’t have to dress up in period costumes every day, so they likely have the better deal.

IMG_1649Chickens and roosters wandered around the yard in front of the old farmstead buildings.

The regular zoo was advertised as having “Scandinavian animals.” How could they be sure? Did they check passports? Many of the species there are also found outside of Scandinavian countries. Maybe some snuck across the border from Russia and were in Sweden illegally. Damned aliens.

Speaking of the species in the zoo (he said employing an awkward, clichéd segue), they included brown bears, European bison, elk, seals, foxes, lynxes, and more.

Skansen also houses a children’s zoo. I didn’t go in. Displaying children in cages seemed far too cruel and barbaric to me. But maybe I misinterpreted what they meant by “children’s zoo.” There were probably play areas, animal-petting areas and the like, but I couldn’t be certain so I didn’t want to risk being seen to be condoning displays of caged children.

(Post continues below animal picture slide show.)

IMG_1675The aquarium at Skansen has a separate entrance and a separate entrance fee, but the fee is included on the Stockholm Card. (I highly recommend that you buy one if you’re going to be visiting Stockholm as even just a moderately active tourist.)

The aquarium was not what I expected. I thought I’d see a bunch of large tanks containing fish. That is to say, I expected to see large tanks containing fish and water. Tanks with fish but no water would not be as animated or interesting. And, to be honest, it would be more than a little on the sick side. So I, at first, assumed I could take the water part as a given. Then I thought about it and realized that I don’t know anything about my reader(s). Maybe they are not just slightly on the sick side, but horribly on the sick side (no offense intended), so I decided I better mention the water for clarity’s sake.

IMG_1653All that having been said, there were a few fish (in tanks with water) toward the back of the aquarium, but the place was mostly filled with land animals from around the world, such as lemurs that you can walk among and poisonous snakes that you definitely are not allowed to walk among (they were behind glass). How is that an aquarium? Is “aquarium” Swedish for, “another zoo, but this one has a few fish too?”

Verdict: If you’re visiting Stockholm for a few days, Skansen is a pleasant way to spend the better part of a day. It would be an even more pleasant way to spend the worse part of a day because it might brighten it up, but Skansen is not open around the clock, so going during the worse part of a day is not always an option. Besides, if by “worse” you mean “monstrous weather,” you might want to save your visit for another day because, did I mention, it’s an open air museum.

Been there? Done that? Do tell.