Picnic At The Cemetery

Let’s have a picnic at Skogskyrkogården. Ok, but… wait a minute… you want to have lunch at the cemetery?

Stockholm Woodland Cemetery
Stockholm Woodland Cemetery

Skogskyrkogården, or Woodland Cemetery in English, is not just an ordinary burial ground. It is a Stockholm’s extraordinary landmark and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of a few that date only to the early 20th century.

Stockholm Woodland Cemetery
A World Heritage Site is a site of such cultural or natural value as to be irreplaceable to mankind. It is a unique testimony to the history of the earth and man.

First, it caught my attention while I was casually browsing a Swedish capital map.

A green blob on a map looked unusually sizable for a conventional cemetery. Strictly speaking, Woodland Cemetery is not a city secret. At the same time, it’s not on top of most tourists’ to-do lists, and even some Swedes haven’t ever been there. Situated slightly off a proverbial beaten path, it is one of those understated treasures hidden in a plain sight.

Entering the cemetery
Entering the cemetery

Does your trip itinerary include visiting a cemetery? For some, this suggestion may sound ridiculous or disturbing. Most westerners view cemeteries as emotional and solemn places meant for mourning. However, cemeteries are also part of cultural heritage, traditions, and history. They provide unique examples of architecture, sculpture, landscaping and even literature.

Great Garbo grave
Perhaps, the most famous resident: Greta Garbo is buried there.

Show me the manner in which a nation or a community cares for its dead. I will measure exactly the sympathies of its people, their respect for the laws of the land, and their loyalty to high ideals.” – William Ewart Gladstone. Subscribing to this idea, we try to visit local cemeteries whenever travels take us. One of my all-time favorites was the Central Cemetery of Montevideo in Uruguay. At the other end of the spectrum, the Central Sofia Cemetery in Bulgaria left me in discontent and unease.

I was intrigued by UNESCO World Heritage Site mention. What should be so special about this place to achieve such honor? I had high expectations, and Skogskyrkogården passed the test with flying colors.

The Woodland Crematorium and 3 chapels
During the 20th century, the pagan practice of cremation started to gain greater acceptance. The Woodland Crematorium and the three chapels, Tron (faith), Hoppet (hope) and Heliga Korset (the holy cross) were completed in 1940

First, let’s get boring statistics out of the way. Presently, Woodland Cemetery contains over 100,000 graves. More than 2,000 funerals are held in five chapels yearly basis.

The limestone wall
The wall around Skogskyrkogården is 3.6 km long. It was built by “emergency relief workers” (i.e. unemployed people from Stockholm). The stone was mainly quarried within the bounds of the cemetery itself.

Skogskyrkogården was designed in the early 20th century by Erik Gunnar Asplund and Sigurd Lewerentz. The architects managed to reach an enormous achievement. They established a new form of a cemetery that has exerted a profound influence on cemetery design throughout the world. Their creation is an outstanding example of the integration of architecture and landscape. It blends landform and natural vegetation with architectural components to create an entity that is ideally suited to its purpose as a cemetery.

From the pine-covered boulder ridge, the two architects created a spiritual landscape with several chapels blended seamlessly into the natural surroundings.

Sunny summer afternoon was so serene and quiet. Long shadows, a refreshing swoosh of wind, emerald green birches and dark Nordic pines seamlessly merged with striking modernist structures. Souls, nature and human beings peacefully shared the same space. The sheer beauty of the place is astonishing.

Meditation Grove on a hill
Almhöjden is a meditation grove. Visitors reach the top of the hill via a long flight of steps. The higher you get, the lower each step becomes. This is so that visitors are not tired out by the climb, but feel calm when they reach this place of meditation.

For history buffs

The official Skogskyrkogården website has an entire section in English devoted to the history of the project.

Woodland Cemetery graves

Useful tips

  • If you can, visit Skogskyrkogården on All Saints’ Day (Alla helgons dag) when thousands of candles and lanterns are lit and placed all over the cemetery, lining graves and the bases of trees, often in beautiful patterns. To experience what it feels like to be at Skogskyrkogården on All Saints’ Day, watch this video
  • Before your visit, download map and guide. Printed maps maybe also available onsite.
  • You can find all necessary information (hours of operation, info about visitors center, how to get there, etc…) on Skogskyrkogården official website.

It’s easy to lose track of time wandering through Skogskyrkogården, so put on your most comfortable shoes, pick a day with good weather and enjoy!

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Stockholm Woodland Cemetery
Stockholm Woodland Cemetery, Skogskyrkogården in Swedish, is a UNESCO World Heritage site and an understated treasure hidden in a plain sight.

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15 thoughts on “Picnic At The Cemetery”

  1. First time I have read an article on cemetery and I must the Stockholm cemetery is a must time. The architecture and landscapes look great and the green foliage around has made this place beautiful. Completely loved it.

  2. I don’t usually visit cemetery when I travel. But Skogskyrkogården does look like a unique place with its beautiful integration of architecture and nature. Visiting it on All Saints’ Day would be a unique experience.

  3. Wow, this is such an interesting story. I have never heard about this place. Thanks for your article. I like browsing others blogs cause I can always learn something new 🙂


  4. I actually love cemeteries! I think that they’re really gorgeous and peaceful places, and this one looks lovely. That being said, I don’t fear ghosts or dead people or anything like that, so that may have something to do with it.

  5. Maybe as crazy as this sounds what a beautiful cemetery. I mean the design and architecture of the buildings are fantastic! I love how good it looks with all the foliage around the buildings as well!

    • Thank you, Rhiannon. Happy that you liked it 🙂 In a way, Skogskyrkogården feels more like a park than traditional cemetery.

  6. I love that you have turned what is a sad place into such a joyful experience 🙂 Stockholm looks fantastic and i will have a sandwich in the cemetery for you when i visit 🙂

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