The province of Dalarna, Sweden, is one of the most striking regions in this gorgeous country in Scandinavia. Meaning ‘the valleys,’ Dalarna is often referred to as ‘Sweden in miniature’ due to its topography of mountains in the north, deep forests and lakes throughout, and rolling farmland in the southern region.
Add on the iconic ‘Falu röd’ (Falum red) cottages around every winding road, and you’re looking at a microcosm of IKEA-land in real life. This is Peak Sweden.
From enjoying outdoor fika to playing 11th century Viking games, discovering lagom and lingonberries in mossy Swedish forests, and learning of festive Midsummer traditions, there’s no shortage of adventurous things to do in Dalarna, Sweden.
Things to do in Dalarna, Sweden
Embrace Lagom and Allemansrätt
My search for lagom, Swedish for ‘just the right amount’ hit the jackpot in Rättvik, a small town in Dalarna on the shore of Lake Siljan. I had no problem figuring out what to do in Dalarna. From wandering in emerald pine forests, discovering more varieties of mushrooms, lichens and red lingonberries then I thought existed, and spending nights suspended in a Supermoon, my time in Dalarna refreshed and rejuvenated my spirit.
The latter ideal refers to the right to wander freely through nature. Allemansrätt comes with responsibilities. To take care of the forest and natural places in the country. To pack out what you bring in, to replace the wood you used in your fire. To take time to enjoy the natural world, breathe the air, drink the clean water. In this time of climate crises and anxiety, these sustainable ways of life are something that we all need to embrace.
Stay in a Supermoon in the woods
Just north of Rättvik in the little hamlet of Furudal is one of the most unique accommodation options anywhere in the country.
Built among the tall pines at Näsets Marcusgård, the unique Supermåne (Supermoon) is a suspended sphere, attached to trees by way of strong aeronautical cabling. The Supermoon can accommodate up to three people but is ideal for singles or couples.
Guests climb up the steps to the little sphere in the sky, which doesn’t sway as much as you’d think. The clear round window above the bed showcases the night sky and stars, while the canvas walls of the moon are insulated which works quite well.
The most adorable little wood stove keeps the Supermoon warm and snug while guests gaze into the forest for moose, or into the heavens for the northern lights. This is an unforgettable night in the woods.
Enjoy fika in the forest
The tradition of fika– sitting down to enjoy something to eat and drink – is an important part of Swedish culture. It is so much more than downing a cup of coffee in a hasty rush. It’s about being present either alone or with friends and enjoying the moment.
You can enjoy fika anywhere, but it’s particularly fabulous outdoors on a Green Owl Travel tour at an open campfire in the forests of Dalarna. Many Ekoparks and forests in Sweden have fire pits that are stocked with wood, though many Swedes pack it in and leave extra behind for the next visitor to enjoy. Traditional fika foods include sweet treats like cinnamon rolls or my favorite, cardamom buns.
Dance around the Midsummer Pole
Being Sweden in miniature ensures that few take Midsummer quite as seriously as those living in Dalarna. Some of the liveliest and largest summer solstice celebrations can be found in Rättvik and throughout the countryside.
Midsummer celebrates the longest day of the year, the summer solstice in June. In Dalarna, the festivities of maypole dances, songs, and floral decorations go on for several days, and are genuinely magical.
Picking wild berries and mushrooms in the forest is an annual right of mid-summer and mid-fall in Dalarna and Sweden. When I lived in Sweden in the 1980s, going picking for wild berries was one of the first activities I did with my host family. The forest floor is covered in wild blueberries and tart red lingonberries, and everyone goes out to pick them for jams or to freeze over winter.
Locals use special prong-baskets or pickers to ‘comb’ the low bushes to collect as many berries as possible. A red or blue-stained hand is the sign of a very good day out in the forest.
Visit the Falun Mine Museum
The great Falun Mine is now a World Heritage site and museum that highlights the powerful industrial history of Dalarna. Once the biggest copper mine in Europe, mining in this region goes back 1,000 years.
70% of the worlds’ copper was once produced here. Guests can wander the depths of the mine by donning hard hats and going on an underground tour. Above ground, the Little Mine Train ferries guest round the Great Pit and to the Mine Museum, home to educational exhibitions.
Bring a Dala Horse home
The red-orange symbol of Dalarna is a traditional carved and painted wooden statue of a horse. It’s an important symbol of this province and makes the perfect trip souvenir.
The tradition began when men working in the forests carved little wooden horses for their children to play with. Each town in Dalarna has its own colour and version of the Dala Horse (Rättvik’s is grey), but the iconic decorated red-orange horse from the little village of Nusnas in Dalarna has become the authentic symbol of the Swedish dala horse.
Take a walk in the forest
In Dalarna, the deep green forests are biodiverse ecosystems of trees, lichen, moss and fungi. Walking through moss-covered erratic boulders and spongey forest floor of Ekopark Ejheden with local biologist Sebastian Kirppu is a revelation.
The air smells of pine and loamy earth, and there are mushrooms everywhere. The Swedish concept of allemansrätt ensures that everyone has the right to roam freely in the forest in search of mushrooms or lingonberries. But there is also a responsibility to respect the land and its creatures, which can include moose, elk, wolves and bears in this region.
Visit Ärteråsen summer farm
Dating back to the 15thcentury, Ärteråsen in Rättvik is one of the largest preserved summer grazing farms in Sweden. So, what’s a summer grazing farm?
Essentially, it’s a place in the countryside where farmers would take their animals to graze in open meadows and in the forest.
Ärteråsen was at its peak in the middle of the 19th century. At that time there were 22 cabins and 36 caretakers for the animals. Several families shared the cabins and hundreds of animals were to be found on the open meadows and in the forest. Today only 12 cabins remain and during the summer months cows still graze in the meadow.
Just up the hill from the farm is a fire observation tower which is about 400 m above sea level. The views from the top offer a panorama of the beautiful Dalarna countryside.
Visit an evil waterfall
Styggforsen (which means evil water), is in a unique nature reserve where the special environment has given rise to some imaginative legends, a 36-metre waterfall and unique geology.
Some 400 million years ago, a meteorite struck this region and created a massive crater that raised the hills, pushed up the limestone to the point where it could be mined, and raised the former prehistoric sea floor to a nearly vertical position of 90%.
Its geological significance promoted an industrial history of iron and copper mining, including at Falun, home to one of the largest copper mines in the world. The waterfall and river were also used for grinding wheat and power generation in the past 200 years, but now the region makes for a lovely half day hike in nature.
Walk the shore of Lake Siljan
Lake Siljan is the sixth largest lake in Sweden. Though a walk around the lake would take more than a day, there’s an easy 7 km hike along its shore from Rättvik to Vikarbyn village that’s worth a half-day trip.
The lakeside hike goes by several several historic sites and buildings, including several beautiful stugas (cottages) and bathhouses with lake views and nothing but forest surrounding them.
Bike the Countryside
Pedal down country roads and discover the beauty and geological history of Dalarna by bicycle. The 26 km route passes through forested countryside, into old limestone quarries and stops at ceramic factories.
Rättvik is home to Dalhalla, an open-air amphitheater and music arena located in an old limestone quarry. The acoustics are out of this world, making this outdoor venue a popular summer concert hall for popular bands and operas.
Ride on a steamboat tour on Ljugaren
Piloted by captain Gösta Carlberg and his first mate Cliff the border collie, the Agnes is a functioning steamship built in 1899 that still plies the waters of Ljugaren. It’s one of 200 steamships in Sweden. This beautiful wooden boat is powered by a wood burning boiler and can go up to max speed of 6.5 knots. It’s a perfect pace for passing idyllic red cottages on tiny islands in the lake.
The boat tour brings visitors to the rocky island in the middle of the lake where Gustav Vasa hid while fleeing the Danes in the 1500s. The lake’s shores are dotted with cottages and also a summer grazing area for animals.
Play Viking at Stornäset
The legendary ancestors of the Swedes may have been feared by many, but their way of life and work remains fascinating even today.
Guests can immerse themselves in a Viking lifestyle, if only for a few hours, at Stornäset, or Viking House. Local Rättvik couple Sune and Ingrid Bergman built an authentic Viking longhouse over a span of four years to host fun and educational celebrations of Viking culture for guests.
I was transformed into a Viking Shield Maiden of Rättvik. While holding a heavy wooden shield and finely wrought metal sword was a struggle, my archery skills were on point. We earned our firelight dinner of beef stew with black currants and mead, surrounded by animal pelts covering the hand-hewn log walls of the longhouse. This immersive experience gives guests a taste for how Vikings lived, survived and thrived a thousand years ago.
Dalarna is filled with scenic lakes stocked with perch, arctic char, trout and pike. There are many outfitters who take guests out for angle, fly, and spin fishing. Licenses are required, but if you go with a local outfit like GuideFathers, everything, including tackle and bait, is taken care of for you.
Visit the Church of Rättvik
The Church of Rättvik has been located on the Lake of Siljan since the 13th century. The original wooden church was replaced by limestone church after a catastrophic fire. There’s a large stone monument here to Gustav Vasa, first king of Sweden, who turned to the people of Dalarna (who have a reputation for stubbornness) for help when being chased by the Danes.
Intriguingly, the church is surrounded by 90 wooden church stables, some dating back to the 15thcentury. The stables were owned by individual families of the parish and used to house their horses during Sunday services to keep them warm. Many parishioners would also arrive via church boat, a long wooden craft built similar to Viking ships that villagers coming in would use to row to Church.
Ski the Vasaloppet
In winter, Dalarna is transformed into a winter wonderland of snow sports like snow shoeing, ice skating and cross-country skiing. Its marquee event is the world’s most famous cross-country ski race, the Vasaloppet.
Named after King Gustav Vasa and his successful ski escape (with only one ski pole) from pursuing Danes, this race is 90 km and draws more than 12,000 skiers between Salen and Mora. Note that there are shorter races during the event, for those not inclined to tackle the full length of the major race. In summer, the same route is tackled by mountain bikes in the CykelVasan event
Where to Stay in Rättvik
Nasets Marcusgård. Owners Marielle and Willem have set up a unique variety of accommodations in the little hamlet of Furudal, north of Rättvik.
In addition to a beautiful farmhouse divided into apartments and large shared spaces, they’ve constructed two very unique cabin structures on the property – the Supermåne and Oddis Öga, a four-person cabin.
Surrounded by forest, the Supermoon is suspended using aeronautical cabling attached to pine trees. It’s ideal for singles or couples, offering a memorable night out in the Swedish forest.
The Oddis Öga (Oddity’s Eye) cabin sits upon a hill with wonderful forest views through its large round windows. The cabin can accommodate a family of four in cosy comfort with a superb tiny wood stove for warmth.
Lustigsgården. This lovely family-owned Bed and Breakfast is just 15 minutes from the center of Rättvik. Fourteen Scandi-chic rooms are located in two buildings on a property that’s been a hotel since the 1700s. Most of the rooms have beautiful views of Lake Siljan and the town.
Owners Ulrica and Niclas prepare a buffet breakfast every morning that includes hard-boiled eggs, variety of meats and cheeses, as well as local bread, yoghurt, jams and honey.
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Photo credit: C Laroye; Shutterstock
Disclosure: The writer thanks Green Owl Travel for hosting her time in Dalarna. As always, her opinions and love of fika, dala horses and walks in mossy forests are honest and her own.