Located on the graceful southern shores of Lake Mälaren, MARIEFRED is a tiny, quintessentially Swedish village about an hour west of the city, whose peaceful attractions are bolstered by one of Sweden’s finest castles, Gripsholm, which you might recognize if you owned any ABBA albums back in the 1970s and 1980s, and just a short walk from the centre. A couple of minutes up from the quayside and you’re strolling through narrow streets where the well-kept wooden houses and little squares have scarcely changed in decades. Other than the castle, the only real sight is the railway museum, which offers a rare chance in Sweden to see working steam engines.

Railway Museum

Steam-train fans will love the Railway Museum at the railway station in Läggesta (alight here for Mariefred), an adjoining small village five minutes’ bus ride south of Mariefred – you’ll probably have noticed the narrow-gauge tracks running all the way to the quayside. There’s an exhibition of old rolling stock and workshops, given added interest by the fact that narrow-gauge steam trains still run between Mariefred and Läggesta, a twenty-minute ride away on the Östra Sörmlands Järnväg railway. From Läggesta, it’s possible to pick up the regular SJ train back to Stockholm; check for connections at the Mariefred tourist office. Of course, you could always come to Mariefred from Stockholm by this route too.

Gripsholms slott

Lovely though Mariefred is, it’s really only a preface to seeing Gripsholms slott, the imposing red-brick castle built on a round island just to the south (walk up the quayside, and you’ll see the path to the castle running across the grass by the water’s edge). In the late fourteenth century, Bo Johnsson Grip, the Swedish high chancellor, began to build a fortified castle at Mariefred, although the present building owes more to two Gustavs – Gustav Vasa, who started rebuilding in the sixteenth century, and Gustav III, who was responsible for major restructuring a couple of centuries later. Rather than the hybrid that might be expected, the result is rather pleasing – an engaging textbook castle with turrets, great halls, corridors and battlements. There are optional English-language guided tours, on which the key elements of the castle’s construction and history are pointed out: there’s a vast portrait collection that includes recently commissioned works depicting political and cultural figures as well as assorted royalty and nobility; some fine decorative and architectural work; and, as at Drottningholm, a private theatre, built for Gustav III. It’s too delicate to be used for performances these days, but in summer, plays and other events are staged out in the castle grounds; more information can be obtained from Mariefred’s tourist office. Even ABBA have put in an appearance here – in February 1974 Gripsholm was used as the cover shot for their Waterloo album.