If you’re looking for a taste of provincial Sweden before pushing on further south or, alternatively, to Stockholm Skavsta airport, historic NYKÖPING, 100km southwest of Stockholm, is perfect. Indeed, since Ryanair established a base in 2003 at Skavsta (7km northwest of the town), the airport has effectively become Nyköping’s lifeblood, supplying a steady flow of arriving and departing Ryanair passengers, despite the fact that flight operations have been scaled back somewhat in recent years. Capital of the surrounding pastoral province of Södermanland, Nyköping’s underrated charms include an excellent museum in and around the ruins of its thirteenth-century castle, and a thriving harbour – a regular target for the Stockholm yachting set – that bustles with life in summer.

St Nicolai kyrka

On the main square, Storatorget, opposite the tourist office, stands the vast St Nicolai kyrka with its white, vaulted ceiling. The building dates from around 1260, although most of what you see is the result of sixteenth-century refurbishment. The pillars here are adorned with dozens of beautiful, heavily moulded silver candle sconces. It’s the Baroque pulpit, though, that’s the highlight; crafted in Norrköping in 1748, it was modelled on the one in the Storkyrkan in Stockholm. Outside, standing proudly on a nearby rocky outcrop, is the red 1692 bell tower, the only wooden building not destroyed in 1719 when the town was attacked from the sea by invading Russian troops who burnt virtually the entire place to the ground.

Nyköpingshus

From Storatorget, it’s just a couple of minutes’ wander south, down Slottsgatan with the river to your left, to Kungsgatan. Here you’ll see the King’s Tower, the main part of Nyköpingshus castle. A late twelfth-century defensive tower, built to protect the trading port at the estuary of the Nyköping river, it was subsequently converted into a fortress by King Magnus Ladulås.

In the sixteenth century, Gustav Vasa fortified the castle with gun towers; his son Karl, who became duke of Södermanland, converted the place into one of Sweden’s grandest Renaissance palaces. Devastating fires here in 1665 and 1719 reduced all lesser buildings to ash and gutted the castle. With no money forthcoming from the national coffers, it was never rebuilt; only the King’s Tower was saved from demolition and became used as a granary. Today, the riverside tower and the adjoining early eighteenth-century house built for the county governor form a museum complex. Wandering through the original gatehouse (porthuset) beneath Karl’s heraldic shield, you reach the extensively restored King’s Tower. On the first floor, a stylish job has been done of rebuilding the graceful archways that lead into the Guard Room. The rest of the museum is fairly uninspiring, the best exhibition being a display of medieval shoes and boots.

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