- Royal Djurgården has been owned by the Swedish crown since the 15th century
- Once upon a time, it used to be a hunting park
- Today, it is a green oasis for amusement and recreation in the heart of Stockholm
- Some of Stockholm’s most renowned museums are located on Djurgården
Few places in Stockholm are so special and as characteristic of the city as the one we explore in this post. Stockholm’s unique geography is what sets it apart from most other cities in many aspects but one of its islands is particularly impressive. It is a royal place where even you and I can enjoy world-class museums, exquisite architecture and, most importantly, wonderful nature directly in the heart of the Swedish capital.
Royal Djurgården (Kungliga Djurgården), formerly known as Walmund’s Island (Walmunzö), was acquired by a reigning monarch as early as 1286. It was King Magnus Ladulås who purchased large parts of the island at the time. The former name of the island most likely referred to King Waldemar, the eldest son of the founder of Stockholm Birger Jarl, who reigned between 1250 and 1275.
Another king, Karl Knutsson, acquired the island in its entirety in the 15th century via an exchange of lands with the Klara Monastery which resided in the location of the modern-day Klara Church (Klara kyrka) in the Norrmalm district near Stockholm Central Station.
Djurgården has belonged to the Swedish crown ever since. In the early days, you would find little more than grazing lands there, though. This all changed with King Johan III who established a hunting park there after purchasing ten reindeer in 1581, which were later accompanied by a number of deer, too.
The popularity of the island among the royals was also shown by Queen Christina who is said to have enjoyed visiting Djurgården for ballet performances, as well as fireworks. The hunting era on Djurgården, for which the island is historically well-known, came to its end in the latter half of the 17th century with the reign of King Karl XI.
More and more places for amusement and recreation were popping up in the area in the following decades. This was especially visible during the era of Gustav III in the late 1700s. Up until then, the island was scarcely populated with most of the structures serving for entertainment.
A new life was brought to Djurgården at the beginning of the 19th century when the crown prince and the first representative of the current Swedish reigning dynasty, Karl Johan (born Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte), purchased a land on the northern side of the island in 1817.
The original residence where the prince used to spend his spare time has not been preserved as it burned to ashes a few years after the acquisition. Rosendal Palace (Rosendals slott), which we can admire in the location to this day, was completed in 1823, five years after Karl Johan assumed the Swedish throne under the name Karl XIV Johan (Charles XIV John).
Rosendal Palace was esteemed by its visitors from the early days and it remains to be one of the most admired residences from the era. Moreover, the palace has always been accompanied by the nearby Rosendals Garden (Rosendals trädgård) which has evolved from a royal garden through a public park and botanical garden to a modern biodynamic garden with a popular café and a number of boutiques.
After the royal residence at Rosendal, several splendid villas followed the suit and a number of distinguished individuals joined the king as permanent or occasional residents of Djurgården. Among the residences from the period, I can name Sirishov, Täcka Udden, or Villa Wicander (Wicanderska villan), also known as Villa Lusthusporten.
Some of the biggest modern attractions on Djurgården were built in the 19th century. These include the Circus (Cirkus), the elegant Hasselbacken restaurant, the amusement park Gröna Lund, the world’s oldest open-air museum Skansen, and the Nordic Museum (Nordiska Museet), among others.
Today, you have many ways of getting to the island, but things have not always looked this way. The first bridge in the location of the present-day Djurgårdsbron was built in the 1660s. However, just like many other bridges which followed, it was of a rather poor quality, which resulted in many different bridges having been built in the same place over the centuries.
The current one is from 1897 and it belongs to the prettiest in Stockholm. Trams that pass through the bridge in the present day have been around for even longer. The first horse-drawn tram arrived at Djurgården in 1877 in the direction from Slussen.
What I think is the most interesting about the trams to Djurgården today, is the possibility to ride a historical tram (Djurgårdslinjen) except in winter months. The eldest trains you can meet on the road are the ones that replaced the original horsecars in the 1910s.
However, the complete collection contains trams from the ‘20s, ‘30s, ’40s, ‘50s, as well as a unique café tram where you can grab a coffee, a sandwich, or some traditional pastry on your way. Just make sure to remember that you will need to purchase a special ticket onboard the café tram; standard fares apply onboard all the others.
More information about the trams and a schedule for 2018 can be found on the official website of Djurgårdslinjen.
The development of the island did not stop in the 20th century. In fact, some of the most renowned points of interest on Djurgården were built in the early 1900s. For instance, the Thiel Gallery (Thielska Galleriet) and Prince Eugen’s Waldemarsudde (Prins Eugens Waldemarsudde) which belong to Sweden’s most visited art museums.
Moreover, they both reside in splendid buildings designed by architect Ferdinand Boberg in the beautiful environment with park and sea views.
Waldemarsudde, completed in 1905, is surrounded by beautiful gardens with plentiful sculptures and also offers views of a unique mill which is one of the last few of its kind in the entire world. The adjacent gallery was built a few years later and today, it mostly displays paintings of local authors, just like the mansion itself.
Other popular attractions on Djurgården, including the Vasa Museum (Vasamuseet) and Aquaria, were opened in the latter half of the 20th century during which the island also became part of Sweden’s first National City Park. Since 1996, the city park encompassing Ulriksdal, Haga, Brunnsviken, and Djurgården has been protecting both the historical and the natural environment of these places.
Now you know a little about the history of Djurgården and hopefully, you understand that there are many historically and culturally valuable places to visit. That is not all you should know about this place, though. In fact, you do not even need to know what you want to see when going to the island. Just go and I am sure you will find something to your taste.
I, for instance, love to stroll around the coasts, sit on a bench near the splendid Täcka Udden and wonder what it is like inside, or sit down on the rocks near Waldemarsudde and watch the water flow. And you can never go wrong with grabbing a cup of coffee and some delicious waffles in the nearby café.
I almost forgot, enjoying a snack or perhaps a lunch on the lawns of the Lusthusportens park might be the best thing you will do on any given day.
I hope you will find these tips useful and the history interesting on your next visit to Djurgården. If you are looking for more, do not forget to sign up for our newsletter and perhaps, share this post with your friends to help them enjoy a nice trip to Djurgården as well.
History, The Royal Djurgården, 2018. [kungahuset.se].