I’ve just spent the weekend in a town called Falun up in the north of Sweden, and I’ve returned to Göteborg with the realisation that nearly all Swedish towns are the same. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not making this conclusion based on Falun alone but from my experiences in a number of towns and small cities. Obviously the bigger cities like Stockholm and Göteborg stand out, and of course there are some regional differences. For one towns in Skåne definitely have a distinct Danish influence in some of their older buildings. And there are certainly cultural variations, with each region having their own distinct dialect. But in terms of how places look, how street are laid out and how they are named, there is remarkable uniformity.
Every town will typically centre around a large public square and 99% of the time that square will be called Stor Torget (The Big Square). I can confidently say there is not a town or village in all of Sweden that doesn’t have a Stor Torget, even if it isn’t the main square.
On the main square there will be a Rådhus (Town Hall) and in close proximity there will be a church, often called Domkyrkan. Streets will be arranged in a grid like fashion. There will always be a street called Storgatan (Big Street), Kungsgatan (King’s Street), Drottinggatan (Queen Street), Nygatan (New Street) and Vasagatan. There will almost always be a Lilla Torget (Little Street), Järntorget (The Iron Square) and Linnegatan, There will be a district called Gamla Stan or Gamla Stad (both mean Old Town). The street by the train station will be Järnvägsgatan.
There will be a few well-preserved 18th and 19th century buildings in the city centre, especially around Stor Torget. But most buildings will be brick and cement constructions from the 1970s and 80s. Inner city apartments will be in drab four story blocks painted in uniform colours. The wealthier suburbs will be compact wooden houses in bright reds, yellows and blues. The outer suburbs will consist of the monotonous grey towers of the Million Programme era. On the very edge of town, just out of range of public transport, there will often be a massive shopping complex surrounded by an endless car park.
The main commercial district in town will house all same chain shops: Åhlens, H&M, KappAhl, Dressman, Stadium, Intersport, Hemköp, ICA, a Systembolaget, Apoteket, etc. They have the same pubs: there will be Harry’s, or an O’Leary’s, probably a Bishops Arms, and a couple of smaller places frequented by the local alcoholics once the Systembolaget closes. There will be plenty of kebab/pizza take-aways and Gatuköks (street kitchens). There will be a Pressbyrån at the main bus stop.
There is a 95% percent chance the name of the town will end in either “köping”, “berg”, “borg”, “stad”, “stan”, “hamn” or “holm”.
In a way Swedish towns are like little Legoland towns. Buildings and streets are symmetrical, monotonous and clearly defined by bright colours. They’re both surgically clean and neat, but with nothing particularly stimulating or interesting