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48km (30 miles) NW of Stockholm

Sigtuna is Sweden's oldest town and its first capital. This time-warped village -- founded in A.D. 980 -- lies on the shores of Lake Mälaren, northwest of Stockholm. You'll want to allot 2 or 3 hours of your time to soaking up the past here, namely the traces of Sigtuna's Viking and early Christian heritage that can be seen throughout town.

The prime attraction in town is Stora Gatan ★★, the main street since the Middle Ages. It's lined with pastel-painted wooden-framed buildings from the 1800s and shops and cafes likely to distract you from your stroll. This street is believed to be the oldest one in Sweden that still follows its original route.

In the Middle Ages, Sigtuna was a great place of worship and became known for its churches, which are mostly in ruins today. Along Prästgatan you can still see the ruins of St. Lars and St. Per. St. Per was actually Sweden's first cathedral. Nearby stands Mariakyrkan, the oldest brick-built building in Sigtuna; originally a Dominican friars' abbey, it was consecrated back in 1247. After Gustav Vasa demolished the monastery, Maria became a parish church in 1529. We like to come here to listen to the summer concerts, though the display of restored medieval paintings is also worth a look. It is open daily from 9am to 8pm in July and August (or 9am-4pm off-season).

If you have time, visit the Sigtuna Museum, Storgatan 55 (tel. 08/591-266-70; www.sigtunamuseum.se), an archaeological museum that features early medieval artifacts found in the surrounding area. You'll see gold rings, runic inscriptions, and coins, as well as exclusive objects from Russia and Byzantium. You can also skip this one with no harm done. Admission is 20SEK ($4/£2) for adults, 10SEK ($2/£1) for seniors and students, or free for those under 20. Hours are June to August daily noon to 4pm; September to May Tuesday to Sunday noon to 4pm.

One of the reasons for Sigtuna's resurgence is the Sigtuna Foundation , a Lutheran retreat and cultural center founded near the turn of the 20th century and often frequented by writers. It's open to the public daily from 1 to 3pm.

Daily buses and trains connect Stockholm to Sigtuna and Uppsala. From Stockholm, take a train to Märsta, then a bus for the 10-minute ride to Sigtuna.