Gorgeous Glass Galore: Sweden’s Kingdom of Crystal

Blowing glass, Kingdom of Crystal. Photo copyright Annika S. Hipple / RealScandinavia.com

Sweden has a world-class reputation for fine crystal and decorative glass, and the place to go to explore this art is a region of Småland known as Glasriket, or the Kingdom of Crystal. The neighboring municipalities of Emmaboda, Lessebo, Nybro, and Uppvidinge are home to more than a dozen glassworks and glass studios where you can watch glass being blown, learn about the traditions of glassmaking, shop to your heart’s content, enjoy a drink in a bar made entirely of glass, and even enjoy hot shop herring (“hyttsill”), a festive herring dinner party right in the hot shop. The food is actually prepared in the same furnaces where the glass is left overnight to cool down.

Blowing glass has been a tradition in this part of Småland since 1742, when two men – former bodyguards of King Karl XII – were commissioned by King Fredrik I to start a glassworks. The enterprise, Kosta Glassworks, took its name from the names of the founders, Anders Koskull and Georg Bogislaus Stael von Holstein. A community gradually grew up around the glassworks and became known by the same name.

During its first 150 years of operations, Kosta Glassworks produced window glass, bottles, and tableware for the royal households, as well as chandeliers for churches and manor houses. With the growing industrialization of Sweden, the demand for glass grew, and numerous other glassworks were established in the area surrounding Kosta. Among these were the glassworks at Boda and Åfors, which have since 1964 operated in partnership with Kosta under the name Kosta Boda.

Shaping the glass. Photo copyright Annika S. Hipple / RealScandinavia.com

In 1989 Kosta Boda merged with Orrefors, another well-known glassworks with a long history. Founded in 1898, Orrefors pioneered a number of innovative techniques during the first half of the 20th century and earned an international reputation for quality crystal. The glassworks at Orrefors closed in 2013, and production of the brand’s designs now takes place at the Kosta Glassworks.

Visiting the Kosta Boda Glassworks

Kosta, in the heart of the Kingdom of Crystal, is a must-visit destination for glass lovers. Here you can watch master glassblowers at work in the glassblowing studio (guided tours are available). For those who want to try out glassblowing for themselves, the Kosta Glascenter offers a variety of experiences (pre-booking is advised outside the summer high season, when drop-ins are possible). Next door, the Kosta Boda Art Gallery has exhibits gorgeous art glass by top glass artists from Kosta and beyond. Of course, there are also opportunities for shopping: the Kosta complex includes outlet stores for both Orrefors and Kosta Boda, as well as an array of non-glass-related shopping outlets.

Stora vägen 75, Kosta
(0)761 400 866

Gorgeous glass at the Kosta Boda Art Gallery. Photo copyright Annika S. Hipple / RealScandinavia.com

Beyond Kosta

Glass art by Mats Jonasson, Målerås. Photo copyright Annika S. Hipple / RealScandinavia.com

Kosta Boda may be the oldest glassworks in the Kingdom of Crystal, but it’s by no means the only one worth visiting. If you plan your time well, you can easily visit several different glassworks in one day. Here are some others worth a stop:

Målerås: Known primarily for art glass and decorative pieces, Målerås specializes in cut, painted, and engraved glass, ranging from bowls and candleholders to animal reliefs and glass sculptures. The glasshouse is open daily, with free guiding several times a day in summer. For a charge, you can try blowing or painting glass under the guidance of an expert glass artist. The factory shop sells both first-quality and discounted second-quality (slightly imperfect) items and has an adjacent exhibition space with one-of-a-king art pieces on display.

Industrigatan 20, Målerås
(0)481 31400

Autumn designs at Målerås. Photo copyright Annika S. Hipple / RealScandinavia.com

Orrefors Park: The Orrefors glassworks may have closed down, but there are still glass-related attractions at its former location, now known as Orrefors Park. A new, young glassworks called Orranäs has moved onto the premises and created the Kingdom of Crystal’s first outdoor glassblowing studio, surrounded by greenery and flowers. There’s also a glass shop and a museum of Orrefors glass in a historical perspective.

Bruksområdet 1, Orrefors
(0)735 358 358

The Glass Factory: Located in the former Boda glassworks, the Glass Factory is a museum housing an extensive collection of historical glass from Kosta, Boda, and Åfors, as well as a hotshop where you can watch the production process. Residency programs bring visiting artists to the glassworks to experiment and immerse themselves in the creative process of glassmaking. In summer you can also try your hand at painting and engraving glass.

Storgatan 6, Boda
(0)471 249360
Admission fee applies

Skruf: Dating back to 1897, the Skruf (pronounced the same as the village where it is located, Skruv) started out making everyday glass for households and restaurants, but later switched to focusing more on decorative glass. Skruf is an official supplier to the Swedish Royal Court and also produces much of the glass used by the Swedish Parliament and embassies. The glassblowing studio is open weekdays from early morning to mid-afternoon.

Kajvägen 4, Skruv
(0)478 201 33

Classic designs on sale in the shop at Skruf. Photo copyright Annika S. Hipple / RealScandinavia.com

Nybro: The only glassworks in an urban setting, Nybro specializes in hand-painted glass, from bowl, plates, and drinking glasses to candleholders and other decorative items. Although there’s less opportunity to watch the production process, the factory store in Nybro sells a full line of products at discounted prices. There’s also a Nybro outlet at Kosta.

Herkulesgatan 2, Nybro
(0)481 428 80

Pukeberg: One of the oldest glassworks, Pukeberg has been around since 1871 and is located in well-preserved turn-of-the-20th century buildings a short distance from downtown Nybro. Pukeberg produces mostly art glass, much of it in bold, vibrant colors. There’s hyttsill in the hot shop several days a week during summer.

Pukebergarnasväg 24, Nybro
(0)481 169 00

The Kingdom of Crystal is also home to several other small glassworks producing a wide variety of beautiful glass products.

Where to Stay

There are numerous options for accommodations in the Kingdom of Crystal, from hostels to rental cottages to fine hotels, but if you really want to stick to the glass theme, book a room at the Kosta Boda Art Hotel adjacent to the Kosta glassworks complex. All the rooms are designed by Kosta Boda artists, and each one is unique. Glass art is found throughout the hotel – even at the bottom of the swimming pool!

The lobby of the Kosta Boda Art Hotel. Photo copyright Annika S. Hipple / RealScandinavia.com

If your budget doesn’t stretch to a stay here, make sure you at least stop by the hotel’s bar, made entirely of glass whose blue color may make you feel as though you’ve stepped into an unusual underwater world.

The Glass Bar at Kosta Boda Art Hotel. Photo copyright Annika S. Hipple / RealScandinavia.com

For more information, visit the Kingdom of Crystal website.

Published 23 January 2020

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