As you'll soon learn from visiting its museums and galleries, or even looking at its architecture, the golden age of Karlshamn was the 19th century.
The chief attraction in town is the Karlshamns Kulturkvarter, at the corner of Vinkelgatan and Drottninggatan. Here one finds the town's most historic buildings, some of which have been turned into small galleries and museums.
The Karlshamns Museum (Vinkelgatan; tel. 454/148-68) is the center point of Kulturkvarter. This is a treasure trove of relics from the "attic" of the little province of Blekinge. There's a little bit of everything, ranging from intriguing folk art and costumes, to remnants of the tobacco industry, to nautical and maritime trinkets, to the lost Swedish art of painted ceilings. One room even commemorates Alice Tegnér (1864-1943), a name still known to all Swedish schoolchildren because of the songs she wrote for them.
After visiting the Karlshamns Museum, head into the courtyard to some of the other galleries of the Kulturkvarter, including the Stenhuset, with its exhibitions of elaborate wrought-iron work, 18th- and 19th-century wall decorations, and antique organ fronts. The quaint Holländarhuset, the seat of Dutch merchants who once had a lucrative trade with Karlshamn, has been converted into a workshop, which you can visit. One gallery, Tobaksladen, is now a tobacco museum, with artifacts from the days when processing tobacco and snuff was the major industry in Karlshamn, in the 17th and 18th centuries.
On the far side of the Vinkelgatan, you can drop in to visit an art gallery, Konsthall, installed in an old tobacco warehouse. The museum features displays of modern Swedish art and has some beautiful samples of Swedish mural paintings and painted ceilings, which were originally in the old town hall.
The last attraction in the museum compound is the Punschmuseet. This museum relives the grand heyday when "Karlshamns Flagg" was the punch of choice in many a home in western Europe. Flavored with arrack, this was a sweet, spirits-based drink; one type was distilled from the juice of the coconut palm, the other from molasses and rice. You can still see some of the equipment used in the original 19th-century distillery. The punch was launched by J. N. von Bergen, who became celebrated in Sweden as a great entrepreneur in the 19th century. He was also the largest producer of playing cards in Sweden, but was mainly known for his "Punsch" liqueur, and aquavit. The factory showcases authentic equipment, machinery, bottles, wooden barrels, and other relics.
The admission fee for the Kulturkvarter's main core is 25SEK ($5/£2.50) for adults, free for children under 17. Between mid-June and mid-August, the museum's "satellites" (Holländarhuset, Tobaksladen, the art gallery, and the Punschmuseet) are included in the fare; they're all open Tuesday to Sunday noon to 5pm. The rest of the year (mid-Aug to mid-June), only the museum's main core is open, Monday to Friday 1 to 4pm. Admission is the same, regardless of the time of year you visit.
Thanks to the town's prosperity and industries, many wealthy merchants built lavish homes here. Several are gone today, but some still stand. We think that the best of these is Skottsbergska Gården, at Vinkelsgata 6 (tel. 454/148-68), near the Karlshamns Museum. This is an impressive example of an 18th-century merchant town house, and it's still filled with valuable antiques and wall paintings specially commissioned by local artists. It's open only between mid-June and mid-August every Tuesday to Sunday noon to 5pm. Admission for adults, children, and students costs 20SEK ($4/£2).
At the harbor and Hamnparken (Harbor Park), you can see one of the most famous statues in Sweden, erected here in 1959. Axel Olsson created this much-reproduced monument to honor the Swedes who emigrated to America from southern Sweden. The characters represented, Kristina and Karl-Oskar, are those depicted in Vilhelm Moberg's monumental work The Emigrants, which was made into a film starring Liv Ullman and Max von Sydow. The book detailed the hardships that drove Swedes to leave their homeland for America. The farmer looks out to the sea, whereas his wife turns her head back to the land she is leaving. An exact duplicate of this statue graces the center of Lindstrom, Minnesota. The relief in Olsson's work is of the emigrant ship, Charlotta.
In a beautiful little rose garden to the west stands another statue, that of a barefooted girl named Maja, a character created by Alice Tegnér, the famous writer of children's songs.
In summer, boats leave from the quay, taking you over to the Kastellet (castle), the old fortress built on the island of Frisholmen to protect Karlshamn from the Danes and Baltic invaders. In 1676, the Danes overpowered the fortifications here, but the Swedish forces retook the castle the following year. The Danes returned victoriously in 1710 and took the fortress once more. But after the Swedes paid a huge ransom, the Danes sailed back to Copenhagen within the year. But that wasn't the end of Karlshamn's troubles: About half the members of the garrison, as well as half the inhabitants of Karlshamn, were afflicted with the plague in 1711. The fortifications date from 1675, and at its peak the garrison had a force of 400 soldiers. However, all of them pulled out at the end of 1864, and Kastellet is no longer used for military purposes. Once on the island, you can visit the fortifications, including the wall and gun emplacements, each well preserved. You're also allowed to visit the dungeon and look at a "poisoned well."
Today Kastellet is merely a ruin, without barriers, and open to view by anyone who wants to wander among the battlements. The ferryboat ride takes 10 minutes each way, departs every hour between early June and late August, and costs 40SEK ($8/£4) per person round-trip. (There are no discounts for children, but children under 5 ride free if they're with guardians.) For more information, contact the Hauglund Shipping Company, Gästhamn (the harbor front), Karlshamn (tel. 414/149-58).
Some visitors carry a picnic from the mainland. Others visit the Kastellet Cafeteria (tel. 454/125-27), which is positioned at the point where the ferryboats land. Congenial owner Rolf Bildström serves pastries, coffee, and sandwiches, and displays the works of local artists for sale. The cafe maintains completely erratic summer-only hours, opening only during the operation of the ferryboat that connects this island to the Swedish mainland.
Motorists can also drive 10km (6 1/4 miles) along E22 to reach Eriksberg Nattureservat, a beautiful park and nature reserve where some 800 animals roam freely. The collection of animals is particularly rich in red and fallow deer, along with European bison. The drive involves a trip through deciduous woodland, leading to a little lake that is known as a setting for the increasingly rare red waterlily, best seen in late spring and early summer. On-site are a children's zoo and a cafeteria.
From E22, take exit Åryd east of Karlshamn and follow the signposts. Eriksbergs Nature Park (tel. 454/600-58) is open only as follows: June and August daily noon to 8pm, July daily noon to 9pm. Once inside, you'll drive your car in a 14km (8 2/3-mile) circle, getting out only at clearly designated "safety points" en route. (The danger from wild animals is a cause for concern.) Admission costs 110SEK ($22/£11) per adult, 60SEK ($12/£6) for children 8 to 15, free for children 7 and under; a family ticket costs 250SEK ($50/£25).
Sailing the Turbulent Baltic -- One midsummer diversion you should try in Karlshamn is an ocean cruise, operated by Hauglund Shipping Company, on the harborfront, Gästhaum (tel. 414/149-58). Boats depart twice a day between mid-June and mid-August. It costs 180SEK ($36/£18) per person, lasts for 2 1/2 hours, and sails through the scenic harborfront and along the jagged coastline.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.