The American Swedish Institute ably educates locals and visitors about the Twin Cities’ Swedish heritage. Housed in a mansion built in 1908 for publishing magnate Swan Turnblad, the museum showcases furnishings and other early 20th-century artifacts. While parents ogle glassware and embroidery, a wooden Dala horse and a nook for writing letters to the tomten (a type of elf) keep kids entertained. The real stunner, though, is the building, with its sweeping staircase, elaborate carvings, stained glass and kakelugnar (Swedish tiled stoves).
Opened in 2012, the Nelson Center is a modern breath of fresh air, clearly inspired by the Sweden that birthed Ikea and nurtured modern furniture designer Josef Frank. On the outside, the addition is all long, clean lines and rustic shingles—a stark contrast to the gray limestone of the Turnblad mansion; inside are white walls, light wood and natural light. The addition houses one small exhibit hall, an expansive entryway, and a gift shop and cafe that have caught the attention of local shopping mavens and foodies. The shop carries a nicely vetted inventory of Swedish and Nordic products, from lush shawls to iittala glassware. Cafe Fika, which means “coffee break” in Swedish, serves sweet and savory treats like cardamom buns and open-faced shrimp sandwiches.
The American Swedish Institute is closed Mondays. Adult admission is $7.