Stortorget, or the main square of town, is one of the biggest and most beautiful in northern Europe. In the middle of it is a statue of Karl XI, who founded the town, and two baroque churches designed by Nicodemus Tessin the Younger dominate the square. Both of these escaped the great fire of 1790. The fire, started by a laundry maid, forced massive rebuilding -- which resulted in the town's baroque style giving way to a more neoclassical motif.
The first church in Stortorget, Fredrikskyrkan, is from 1744 and named after King Fredrik (1720-51). If something about it looks unfinished, it is -- Tessin actually planned for the church to have spires on its squat towers. A series of Ionic pilasters graces the interior, and the three dozen bells in the south tower are rung daily. Standing opposite the church is the neoclassical Rådhus, or town hall, from 1795.
The other church, Trefaldighetskyrka, is circular in shape and is referred to as "the German church," even though that community stopped worshiping here in 1846. The church was completed in 1750, and Tessin based his design on the Pantheon in Rome. The roof burned in the great fire, and the present wooden roof is painted with trompe l'oeil coffering. The oldest artifact in the church is a red Öland limestone font from 1685. The church shelters the tomb of one of Sweden's greatest naval heroes, Admiral Hans Wachmeister, who in July 1700 sailed from the harbor with 38 ships and 8 frigates. With his ship loaded with 1,000 men and 108 guns, he defeated the Danish fleet at Öresund.
Marinmuseum (Naval Museum), at Admiralitetsslatten (tel. 0455/35-93-02), dates from 1752 and is one of the oldest naval museums in Sweden. Lying on the island of Stumholmen, the museum traces the country's naval heritage through various exhibits, including a marvelous collection of figureheads and ship models from the 18th to the 19th century. Old maps, maritime charts, plans for ship designs, navigating equipment, artifacts pulled up from the sea (including parts of actual ships), weapons, uniforms, and shipyard handicrafts are on parade. You can also see a full-scale replica of the Hiorten, a post ship from 1692. The museum is located along a long pier. Moored along the quays are the minesweeper Bremon, the Spica torpedo boat, and a fully rigged training ship, Jarramas. It's open June to August daily 10am to 6pm, September to May Tuesday to Sunday 11am to 5pm. Admission is free.
The oldest wooden church in Sweden, the red-painted Admiraliteskyrkan (Admiralty Church; tel. 0455/103-56), lies on Bastiongatan on the naval island, a few minutes from Stortorget. Built in 1685, the church was supposed to be temporary, but its stone replacement was never built. Originally called Ulrica Pia, after Queen Ulrica Eleonora, wife of Karl XI, the church may have been designed by Erik Dahlberg, the original town planner. (Dahlberg gave Karlskrona its broad streets, monumental buildings, and large squares.) The church contains a number of treasures, including a pulpit hourglass from 1693 and an altarpiece that's a copy of Thrust of the Lance, by Rubens. Crowning the altar is a cross given to a Swedish sea captain by the Patriarch of Constantinople in 1744. The church is open from June to August daily from 9am to 5pm. In the off season, you have to make an appointment with the tourist office to see it. Admission is free.
In front of the Admiraliteskyrkan is Karlskrona's most beloved statue. It depicts ex-constable Matts Rosenbom, who froze to death on New Year's Eve in 1717. He was found in the morning with his hand outstretched, his hat pulled over his ears, and a beggar's bundle on his back. Since then, the wooden statue of Rosenbom has tipped its hat to all who give alms to the poor.
To reach the oldest part of Karlskrona, take Hantverkargaten to Björkholmen, a hilly island settled by shipbuilders, where many 18th-century houses still stand. The occupants of these little wooden houses with their small gardens lived in exceedingly cramped conditions. The streets in the area are named after types of boats and Swedish admirals.
After a visit, you can head back to the north quay and the Fisktorget, the site of an antique covered market. This spot, with its fishing boats tied up along the pier, is the landing stage for any boats touring the archipelago.
You can also visit the Blekinge Lans Museum here, at Fisktorget 2 (tel. 0455/30-49-60), which opened in 1899. The museum consists of a row of old houses, one of which holds the Blekinge County Museum, exhibiting artifacts from this small maritime province. The main building, Greevagården, dating from 1705, was the mansion of Admiral Hans Wachtmeister. Inside you'll find rooms filled with antiques and paintings, all evocative of the rich life enjoyed by some in the 18th century. The mansion adjoins a lovely garden. It is open mid-June to mid-August daily 10am to 6pm. During other months, hours are Tuesday to Sunday 11am to 5pm and Wednesday 11am to 7pm. Admission is 30SEK ($6/£3), free for ages under 18.
Museum Leonardo da Vinci Ideale, Drottninggatan 28 (tel. 0455/255-73; www.museumldv.com), is a museum created from the private collection of the Kulenovic family. Its chief treasure is The Youngest Madonna, by da Vinci himself. Although this is the painting that gets all the press, we have a lot of other favorites here, including A Stolen Kiss, by Jea Honoré Fragonard; Stilleben, or still life, by Georges Braque; another Stilleben by Henri Matisse; plus a startling Medical Care, by Peter Bruegel. Two paintings are by Vincent van Gogh: Portrait and Sheep. Other exhibits include a drawing by Da Vinci, rare porcelain from the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, a stunning gem-studded gold piece from South Asia (ca. 1900), and a cabinet by the French architect André Charles Boulle (1642-1732). The museum can be visited May to August Wednesday to Sunday 11am to 6pm. Admission is 20SEK ($4/£2).
Still partly a military base, Kungsholm Fort, on the island of Kungshomen (tel. 0455/30-34-90), can be visited in the summer. You must go with a guide, because some of the area is restricted. This impressive fortress was constructed in 1680 to protect Karlskrona from frequent Danish intrusions. But Denmark wasn't Karlskrona's only enemy: The port was also blockaded by the Russians in the 1780s and faced British attempts at domination in the 19th century. The fortress is an architectural curiosity, containing an artificial circular harbor constructed into the island itself, with only a narrow passage leading out into the Baltic. Excursions can be arranged through the tourist office from May to August at 10am and 3pm on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Tours cost 150SEK ($30/£15) for adults and 75SEK ($15/£7.50) for children ages 12 to 16 (free for children under 12).
In summer, you can also take boat tours of the archipelago, to see dozens of small islands -- really "islets" -- in the impressive harbor. Some boats visit the islands, and many visitors often take along a picnic lunch. Many of the islands also have small trails for hiking. Affårs Verken Bättrafik, at Fisktorget (tel. 0455/783-30), offers the best cruises, lasting half a day and costing 115SEK to 150SEK ($23-$30/£12-£15) for adults or 55SEK to 85SEK ($11-$17/£5.50-£8.50) for children 7 to 16. Departures are daily June through August at 8am and 11am, with a final tour at 3:45pm.
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.