248km (154 miles) NE of Gothenburg, 300km (186 miles) W of Stockholm

At the mouth of the Klarälven River, the port city of Karlstad, capital of Värmland, is sleepy and provincial. There's nothing too exciting here, but the atmosphere is enlivened somewhat by a large student population, which keeps the bars busy at night. The town lies more or less at the halfway mark between Stockholm and Oslo, convenient for those making this scenic drive between the two Scandinavian capitals.

Karlstad has a few attractions of its own, but mainly it's a base for touring the great outdoors of Värmland. It's an old town, founded back in 1584 by Duke Charles (later Sweden's King Charles IX). But a fire, starting in a barley barn, leveled it in 1865, which left only a dozen original buildings standing. The wide streets and open squares you see today are a direct result of city planners who wanted to prevent another tragic fire.

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