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PRESENTED BY EAST SWEDEN

The seven wonders of Östergötland

From the natural to the man-made, the stunning, diverse region of Östergötland has many highlights. The Local uncovers some of them and ponders, is this the best place to live in Sweden?

The seven wonders of Östergötland
Cross-country skiers in Glottern Nature Reserve outside Norrköping. Photo: Fredrik Schlyter/imagebank.sweden.se

Östergötland, or East Sweden, is flanked by the Baltic Sea on one side, and impressive Lake Vättern on the other. It’s home to cities, including Linköping and Norrköping, and a number of vibrant towns. The region has a reputation for being a haven of innovation and industry and is well connected, with two airports and short connection time via train to Stockholm – just 1.5 hours from Norrköping and about two hours from Linköping. 

A population of 467,000 people already call this beautiful pocket of Sweden home, and more and more people are moving here. They are drawn to its work-life balance, study opportunities, exciting tech careers and affordable living, where nature and city life are both on the doorstep.

We spoke to two of Östergötland’s residents – Anna Österlund, a nature-lover who grew up in the region, and Colombian-born Hela Galvis who has lived and studied in Sweden for five years – and also got some help from East Sweden to round up seven wonders that make Östergötland so special.

Discover more about the inspiring region of Östergötland

1. Cool industrial landscapes

Östergötland has creativity and industrial innovation built into its DNA it seems. Nicknamed Sweden’s Manchester for its industrial heritage and vibe, Norrköping is a medium-sized city about 135 kilometres south of Stockholm. The city is home to former textile warehouses and paper mills from the Industrial Revolution era, which are well-preserved and located on the waterfront in the city centre.

The historic buildings and waterways, with their dams and waterfalls, are accessed via bridges and paths and make for a unique landscape. 

Both Hela and Anna highlight Industrilandskapet (The Industrial Landscape) of Norrköping and its evolution today. “Now these closed textile factories are pulsating restaurants, museums, homes, apartments, co-working office spaces, walking routes – the area’s really come to life … it’s absolutely one of the coolest things to see here,” says Anna. 

“There are beautiful canals to walk around in both Norrköping and Linköping,” says Hela.

Another transformation of a former industrial area is underway in Östergötland in the birthplace of the Göta Kanal, Motala. Known as the ‘cradle of industry in Sweden’, the area of the old Motala Verkstad is about to change, starting with the exciting, newly renovated Lokverkstan, an event area bringing unique life, action and concerts to this historic waterfront.

2. An impressive man-made feat: Göta Kanal

Speaking of Göta Kanal, this local wonder is an engineering marvel. Constructed in the early 19th century, the canal and its 58 locks runs for an incredible 190 kilometres and links to waterways that reach from Söderköping in Östergötland to Gothenburg on Sweden’s west coast. 

From ice skating in the winter to swimming in the summer, and from cycling beside it to boating along it, there are a number of ways and places to enjoy the canal

One of Anna’s weekend activities, after a fika with friends and her children, is a walk by the canal. “You can’t help but to be amazed by the engineering, and that’s from 200 years ago when they built it, and it’s still up and running,” she says.

Find out more about what life is like Östergötland – where you don’t have to choose between career and lifestyle

Anna Österlund enjoying Östergötland’s nature walks with her family; Hela Galvis making the most of the summer sun in Söderköping.

3. A growth region with career opportunities 

East Sweden can be described as a hub of ICT, tech and innovation with international cutting-edge expertise. Its strength in these fields comes from the mix of high-end research, industrial companies and exciting smaller start-ups. 

There are an impressive 45,000 businesses in the region including several big international companies that operate from here, like Toyota Material Handling, Siemens Energy, Ericsson, Saab and Väderstad. And there are more than 170,000 jobs in a range of different industries waiting to be snapped up. 

Logistics and transport is a major employer – the region has a strong infrastructure and a good logistical location. The forward-thinking nature of the region means there is an emphasis on the logistics of the future, centring on efficiency and sustainability. 

For students, Linköping University is one of the largest in Sweden, with more than 32,000 students and an array of course opportunities with its 120 degree programmes. 

And work opportunities don’t only centre around Östergötland’s main cities, Linköping and Norrköping. Other areas in the region are also home to companies and have a history of industry still thriving today, for example, steel in Boxhom, aluminium in Finspång, and in Mjölby, the headquarters of Toyota Material Handling. 

Learn about the exciting possibilities of a tech career in East Sweden

4. The great outdoors

We can’t talk about Östergötland without mentioning its natural attractions. The Östgötaskärgården, Archipelago of Östergötland, lies off the east coast in the Baltic Sea. Made up of St. Anna, Arkösund, and the Gryt and Tjust archipelagos, it features seaside villages, lighthouses, harbours, beaches, stunning rocky outcrops and pockets of green isles – perfect for weekend boating, fishing, camping and kayaking adventures. 

On the other side of Östergötland, is the beautiful – and huge – Lake Vättern, its eastern shores forming Östergötland’s border. On the waterfront here at medieval, cobblestoned Vadstena is where St Birgitta of Sweden established her convent and order.

St Birgitta’s Trail is a pilgrimage route that finishes in Vadstena and traverses breathtaking Östergötland scenery, winding through verdant meadows and mystical forest for 145 kilometres to Söderköping.

The equally fantastic Östgötaleden takes hikers on 1500 kilometres of trails through all 13 of the region’s municipalities. So no matter where you are in the region, you can easily access and walk a marked nature trail.  

It’s this closeness to nature that both Anna and Hela enjoy about living in the region. Marked, family-friendly walking trails, exploring lush countryside and visiting pretty lakeside spots for outdoor fika are some of the activities that fill their weekends.

“It’s a place for soft adventure,” says Anna. “There are accessible hiking trails throughout the region. It makes it really easy for us as a family, even with strollers, to get out into the woods. And even by the ocean we have really nice hiking.”

Kayaking the St. Anna archipelago. Photo: Visit Söderköping/Crelle Ekstrand

5. Cities worth talking about

Norrköping and Linköping are exciting cities with nightlife, charming shopping quarters like Knäppingsborg in Norrköping, and restaurants serving up incredible local produce (which can actually be found throughout the entire region!).

“In Norrköping there is this kind of small explosion of culture happening,” says Hela. “You can randomly run into a concert, or a new design store that has popped up.” 

There are also plenty of museums, like Linköping’s Friluftsmuseet, to entertain the kids for days, and Norrköping Art Museum for modernist lovers.

Norrköping hosts annual cultural events year-round, like the three-day Kulturnatten, the summer street party Augustifesten, and the light art festival from November to January, Norrköping Light Festival. 

“The cities in East Sweden are pretty much like any other capital city where things are available,” says Hela, adding that the difference is the less hectic pace of life. 

Anna agrees, “I may love the countryside, but I don’t think I’ll ever want to live far away from a city … I want to always have the possibility to go to a nice restaurant or a decent theatre show and I can get everything that I want from Östergötland.” 

6. Small town appeal 

It’s not only the bigger cities of Östergötland that are wonders of the region; its towns are lively hubs too. 

For example, culture lovers will enjoy Vadstena, a historical town with an interesting calendar that includes annual summer operas and Shakespearean dramas

While charming Söderköping is the launching point to exploring the St. Anna archipelago and has a postcard-worthy medieval town centre, ice cream shops dotted along the Göta Kanal and a host of family-friendly events and markets throughout the year. 

The Norrköping Light Festival illuminates the city’s industrial landscape. Image: Peter Holgersson AB

7. A place of innovation

The region breeds creativity, innovation and growth. It’s home to a broad array of innovation hotspots, including its two impressive science parks: Linköping Science Park and Norrköping Science Park. Here, research, education and entrepreneurship collide, giving birth to exciting collaborations and innovation. 

Advanced materials like solar cells on a roll, energy-storing paper and artificial skin are being developed in this high-tech region, where fascinating research and development is taking place and a business cluster for new materials is forming. 

It’s a place lauded for its innovative healthcare, too, thanks to the high-quality, advanced medical care throughout the region, and the open research climate of the nationally and internationally recognised University Hospital in Linköping.

As with much of Sweden, there is also a focus on the environment. The breadth of sectors in Östergötland – from companies to universities to public institutions – are working toward smart solutions, the circular economy and green resource efficiency. 

“Here people work in this high-tech environment where there is in-depth knowledge and thinking but it is also very calm and there is respect for nature and people really don’t want to rush,” says Hela, who praises the calmer and more respectful work-life balance she has felt since moving to Norrköping. “If you’re into that, this is your place to be!”

Dreaming of a change to the good life? Find out about life in East Sweden

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READER INSIGHTS

‘Don’t ignore our presence’: How Sweden could be more inclusive for foreigners

There are plenty of things Sweden could do to help foreigners integrate, said The Local's readers when we asked for their suggestions as to how the country could become more inclusive.

'Don't ignore our presence': How Sweden could be more inclusive for foreigners

In a recent survey, we asked our readers one question: “What can Sweden do to make the country more inclusive?”

Answers were varied, with some focusing on the social aspect of inclusion, such as making more of an effort to include immigrants in conversations or social gatherings, while others discussed bureaucracy, politics or issues finding work.

Others covered issues like xenophobia and racism, and ways in which Sweden could become better at tackling and acknowledging these issues on a structural level.

‘Don’t just ignore our presence’

Inclusion can be as simple as switching to English when a non-Swedish speaker is around, one respondent said.

“Accommodate to English if a non-Swedish speaking person joins your Swedish-speaking group at work or at social gatherings,” a reader originally from India, who now has Swedish citizenship, wrote. “Just don’t ignore our presence, please.”

Of course, that doesn’t mean that Swedes should switch to English all the time, said PhD student Vinicius.

“Regular Swedes should feel more responsible for inclusion too. Perhaps they could be more helpful to Swedish learners who try to practise the language with them instead of switching to English all the time,” he said, encouraging Swedes to extend invitations outside their social bubble.

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“I’ve seen proof that I’m being accepted because I blend in and because my semi-American lifestyle and business made it easy to make contacts,” a Dutch respondent said. “People coming from other cultures find it harder to ‘feel Swedish’ in part because Sweden’s individualist culture makes it easy to not invite someone.”

“This is usually innocent, but it makes it very easy for xenophobic and racist people to normalise exclusion on the wrong grounds. In my opinion this is where typical Swedish silence should be broken. One way to improve things would be to more actively invite non-EU immigrants to national and traditional celebrations.”

‘The language requirement has been one of my biggest barriers’

The issue of language barriers in the workplace can also be an issue when applying for jobs.

“I can understand for certain technical roles that you need to be able to read/speak Swedish for safety reasons, but the majority of Swedes speak great English and that shouldn’t keep them from excluding a highly sought after workforce that just happens to still be learning the language,” a reader from Puerto Rico based in Malmö said. 

“I was, until recently, working in the video games industry. I was affected by layoffs and am struggling to find work quickly enough to keep myself in the country after 5.5 years of living in Sweden. The language requirement has been one of my biggest barriers.”

a person in front of a computer

Several readers described language as a big barrier, despite working in international industries like tech. Photo: Melker Dahlstrand/imagebank.sweden.se

‘My international experience has been ignored’

Another reader, named Sarah, argued that while language programmes like Swedish for Immigrants (SFI) classes are good, they are not inclusive – she found it difficult as a full-time working parent to attend them, for example.

“When I first moved here I had a small baby and then had a second child. The whole time I had a small child I could not attend SFI and then I entered full-time work. None of my employers have discussed with me my language needs or goals,” she said.

“I work in English – there is an absolute need for it given Sweden’s export and trade focus, but I’ve not been given any support at all to help with language development and this has fundamentally limited my career prospects.”

Sarah also added that her international experience has essentially been ignored when applying for jobs.

“I’ve never been asked about the roles I’ve had or the companies I’ve worked for outside of Sweden. I basically had to start from the beginning. I’ve worked for some well known companies, so it should count, but this has pretty much been void.”

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Another respondent, a tech worker in his 30s from Bosnia and Herzegovina, said that while he felt included, his wife did not.

“I feel included, by being the breadwinner and working in the software business from day one. On the other hand, my wife, with a master’s degree in architecture, failed to get invited to a single interview for a job. The most common response she would get: ‘you need to be fluent in Swedish’.”

“If only companies would support people, especially highly educated, to demonstrate their job skills, while learning the language on the way,” he added. “It is very discouraging to have to be unemployed or work lower skilled jobs for several years, while trying to get to the fluency that might be required.”

He’s also unsure whether the language barrier is the real issue, or whether it’s a sign of a wider issue of discrimination.

“Is it just the easiest excuse companies can think of to reject people of non-Swedish origin?”

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a person and a dog in the archipelago

Some readers said they felt very included by their Swedish friends, whereas others asked Swedes to open up their social circles a bit more. Photo: Isak Stockås/imagebank.sweden.se

‘Discrimination is the elephant in the room’

There were a number of respondents who had lived in multicultural countries like the US, UK and Canada, who said they saw a stark difference in how immigrants are treated in Sweden compared to elsewhere.

One reader from Australia, who has a Turkish name, was “shocked” by the widespread discrimination in Sweden.

“It’s the elephant in the room,” he said. “I’m self-employed as an e-commerce consultant as I have no alternative here. I’ve had one request for an interview with over 100 job applications.”

“I find it super strange that it’s widely accepted that if you have a foreign name that you will be discriminated against. I’ve never experienced that before.”

SURVEY:

LTH graduate Spilios from Athens, now based in Malmö, said that issues like ethnic discrimination need to be raised more often in public dialogue.

“Without this, inclusion can not be achieved,” he said. 

“Dialogue needs to be initiated not only by those who suffer the trauma of discrimination but also by people like white native Swedes who also share the belief that this is a huge societal problem. If there is no public dialogue over the issue of ethnic discrimination as a major factor for exclusion then it is likely that in an era of further rise of the far right and securitisation, the phenomenon will become more and more widespread.”

‘Hiring foreigners is a major step out of their comfort zone’

Eva, a Spanish reader in Stockholm, argued that companies should be made to collect and publish data on employee ethnicity, citizenship and other significant diversity points, and that it should be made mandatory for companies to include this in their sustainability goals.

“As someone who has worked in management in Swedish companies: It is not a surprise that Swedish HR and hiring managers consciously or subconsciously avoid hiring foreigners, even more in management and leadership positions, as that would be a major step out of their comfort zone,” she added. 

“Foreigners bring other work models and communication styles, defying the notion that the Swedish way of business (which has many positives) is the optimal and only acceptable model for every scenario.”

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Heidi Carmen Howard from Québec spent almost ten years working in Swedish universities and had a number of ideas on how Sweden could make job searches more inclusive.

“Make sure foreigners who have the same expertise or experience as Swedes get the same salary. Make evaluation criteria for job hiring and promotion transparent, in writing, in different languages and easily accessible. Have international experts weigh in on evaluating CVs, remove names from CVs and write job descriptions with different genders and backgrounds in mind,” she said.

She also recommended providing more written information in multiple languages about crucial aspects of the Swedish labour market like salary setting, promotions and conflict resolution, as well as paid time during the work week for international workers to learn Swedish.

a woman talking in sign language in front of a laptop on the train

Several readers argued foreigners should be given more information on how the Swedish job market works, including job interviews and CV writing. Photo: Scandinav/imageban.sweden.se

‘Perhaps the ideals don’t match the realities us immigrants experience’

“I live in Malmö and love it here,” wrote Michael, a 56-year-old African-American who has been in Sweden for almost a decade.

“That is despite the various challenges there are for immigrants and people of colour,” he added. “The values and ideals that Sweden strives for are great. But I would say that perhaps the ideals don’t match the realities that us immigrants experience. This is exponentially observed if you’re a person of colour.”

Software developer Jeremiah, also from the US, said that Swedes need to “embrace multiculturalism”.

“Sweden lags behind in its understanding of diversity, equity, and inclusion. The goal is not for everyone to be the same. The goal is for no one to be oppressed. The goal is not everyone having the same starting point. The goal is equal access to opportunity. The goal is not to be colour blind. The goal is to actively identify and oppose racism, xenophobia, and other forms of discrimination.”

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‘Diversity needs to go both ways’

A French reader from Blekinge said that there need to be higher expectations placed on immigrants to be more inclusive, such as respecting Swedish culture and trying to get to know Swedes.

“My parents are French and American (US), and my Swedish wife’s parents are Danish and Polish, so we are very familiar with the immigration question. In our view, greater emphasis should be put towards integration and assimilation than simply avoiding it by claiming it’s good for ‘diversity’,” he said.

“We need to build more bridges than ghettos, but it will only work if there is an expectation that diversity needs to work both ways, with Swedish culture, history and values also being taught, celebrated and respected as well.”

‘Excessive bureaucracy’

A number of respondents said that they had found Swedes themselves very inclusive, but that the real barriers to inclusion were due to bureaucracy, such as the long wait for things like personal numbers, bank accounts or ID cards.

Pedro from Italy said that this had almost made his family reconsider moving to Sweden in the first place.

”Even if I am an EU citizen, the process of right of residence was excessively bureaucratic when compared to other countries. My difficulties in integrating today are in big part due to the long four-month wait for daycare which made finishing university a very difficult task, which reflects directly in my job-seeking capabilities now as I am still unable to finish my studies.”

Tamim, a 40-year-old Syrian student who moved to Sweden from Saudi Arabia, said that he “finds it hard to find something Sweden could do to be more inclusive”, as he and his wife were quickly able to study for free and his son was given a school place after just two weeks in Sweden.

“The only thing that might be a potential area for improvement (at least in my experience) is opening a bank account with a BankID. This took some time but was easy when I got my part time job. Another thing that is difficult is managing my finances since I am coming from Saudi Arabia and my savings were there. Swedish banks don’t accept transfers from there.”

‘Immigration law changes make me feel like I’m not welcomed here’

On a political level, many respondents felt that recent laws made Sweden feel less inclusive.

“The immigration law changes make me feel like I am not actually welcomed here,” a 34-year-old software developer in Umeå said. “I have to contribute to the society ten times more than an average Swede to be included.”

“As much as we’re trying to see and depict Sweden as open to immigrants, I think the bitter truth is that it is not, and with the growing power of the Sweden Democrats this is more than clear,” said the tech worker from Bosnia and Herzegovina quoted previously.

The Dutch respondent, who moved to Sweden from the Netherlands over a decade ago, said that the same things that caused him to leave the Netherlands are now happening in Sweden.

“Decent traditional political parties should have maintained their Cordon Sanitaire against xenophobic and racist politicians,” he said. “The infiltration and normalisation of far-right ideas are destroying the very thing that made Sweden a global human rights leader.”

More than 80 people responded to The Local’s survey about how Sweden could become more inclusive. We weren’t able to include every single comment, but we did our best to select a representative sample. We’d love to hear your thoughts too – please join the conversation in the comments below.

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