If time is limited, head first for the Gamla Stan (Old Town), where you can walk medieval streets and see some of the old buildings. The best of these lies along Kyrkogatan. At Kyrkogatan 21 is the first general hospital in Mariestad, built in 1760, the third such hospital in Sweden. At Kyrkogatan 31, you'll see a timbered cottage called Aron's House, a burgher's house from the 17th century that survived the fire of 1693.
The town's most impressive monument is the cathedral Mariestad Domkyrka, Kyrkogatan (no phone), open daily from June 15 to August from 7am to 9pm. The rest of the year, it is open daily 7am to 4pm. Built between 1593 and 1625, it was a source of religious controversy between Duke Karl and his brother, King Johan III: In 1580 Värmland and the northern part of Västergötland were detached from the diocese of Skara and given a superintendent of their own, residing at Mariestad. The duke had the new cathedral built according to plans made by Dutchman Willelm Boy for the church of Santa Clara in Stockholm, thereby freely copying his brother's most important building in the Swedish capital. The nave gives a remarkable impression of unbroken unity, as its vaults span a considerable width without supporting pillars, a tradition of the late Middle Ages. The present-day appearance of the cathedral was brought about by a restoration beginning in 1903 by the architect Folke Zetterval, who gave the spire its present height.
Other than the cathedral, the major attraction here is the cruise up to Lake Vänern to the start of the Göta Canal's main stretch at Sjotorp, 19km (12 miles) from Mariestad. Between Karlsborg and Sjotorp, boats pass through 21 locks. The most scenic section stretches up to Lyrestad, lying east of Sjotorp and 19km (12 miles) north of Mariestad on the motorway, E20. For information on lake and canal cruises for day trips, contact the tourist bureau. Cruises cost 150SEK to 375SEK ($30-$75/£15-£38), last 5 to 6 hours, and are conducted between June and early September only. Most of them begin at Sjotorp. For more information, call tel. 0141/20-20-50 or go to www.gotakanal.se.
Other attractions in and around the town include the Vadsbo Museum, Marieholm (tel. 0501/75-58-31), located in the wings of the county governor's residence in the town center. The building served as the governor's house in the 18th century. You can skip this one unless you've got an hour or so to spare. Exhibits include artifacts from the city history, a carriage collection, and temporary thematic and art exhibitions. In 1998, a small industry museum opened on the site as well. Admission to Vadsbo, including the industry museum subsidiary, is 20SEK ($4/£2) for adults, or free for children. It is open June to August Tuesday and Thursday to Sunday 1 to 4pm, and Wednesday 1 to 6pm. Off-season hours are only Saturday and Sunday 1 to 3pm.
The Canal Museum (Kanalmuseet) at Sjotorp, 19km (12 miles) from Mariestad, lies along the harbor at Hamn (tel. 0501/514-34), and houses exhibitions showing the building of the Göta Canal and the operations of the Sjotorp shipyard. Because you've been touring the canal, you are likely to find this stopover more intriguing than the Vadsbo Museum. Other displays include a large collection of engine history, and a ship and shipwreck exhibition, as well as various thematic shows. It is open daily June to August 10am to 6pm, and charges 30SEK ($6/£3) for adults, 10SEK ($2/£1) for children. To reach Sjotorp, head north of Mariestad along Route 64. It's closed in the off season.
Lugnås Rocks, on Lungnåsberget Hill, south of Mariestad (take E3 going south from Mariestad and look for signs at the hamlet of Lugnås), once was the site of a major milestone-manufacturing industry begun way back in the 12th century. One of the old caves is open for guided tours daily 11am to 5pm mid-June to August. The rest of the year, tours are conducted Monday to Friday noon to 5pm, Saturday and Sunday 11am to 5pm. Admission is 40SEK ($8/£4). For information about this attraction, inquire at the Mariestad tourist bureau (tel. 0501/75-58-50).
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.