Explore The History Of Ikea With A Visit To This Small European Town

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to spend the night in an Ikea? Depending on one's view of the global furniture chain, that could be a dream scenario or a nightmare descent into the ninth circle of consumerist hell. Whatever the case, it's the kind of image that arises unbidden in the shopper's mind while wandering past bedroom models in a seemingly endless Ikea showroom.

Five of the world's six biggest Ikea stores are in Asia. They're scattered across the Philippines, South Korea, China, and Thailand. As any meatball lover knows, however, Ikea's roots are in Sweden. Just outside the capital, Stockholm, you'll find the third-biggest Ikea in Kungens Kurva. Two hours by train from the neighboring capital of Copenhagen, Denmark, you'll find the site of the original Ikea in the town of Älmhult, Sweden.

The store, which opened in 1958, operated for over 50 years before it finally closed in 2012. Since then, the building has been converted into the Ikea Museum. On a trip to Scandinavia, you might as well loop in some Ikea history. But follow Rick Steves' advice and avoid this European destination outside of a brief window. Yet another claim to fame for Älmhult is that it's the location of the world's only Ikea hotel, where you can stay overnight any time of year. Think of it as a fully furnished, brand-name version of the Museum of Natural History in the movie "Night at the Museum." Yes, meatballs are on the breakfast menu.

Rooming in the Ikea Hotell

Älmhult's Ikea Hotell originally opened as a 25-room motel in 1964. It was designed to give shoppers a place to dine and rest after they visited the first Ikea store. Many were out-of-towners who had been lured to this outpost by the novel prospect of seeing mail-order furniture exhibited in person. From the very beginning, travel was a crucial component of the business. When you've spent hours walking around a vast Ikea — only to end in a self-service warehouse — it's easy to understand the appeal of a warm bed in a furniture store with its own hotel.

Appropriately, all the hotel's furniture and decorations come from Ikea. It's a very on-brand kind of place. They even poke fun at how the company farms out furniture assembly to the DIY customer or makes you pay extra to have it assembled. The hotel website promises, "Don't worry — our 250 rooms come fully assembled," so you can climb right into bed without worrying about how the pieces of the frame fit together.

The rooms range from 43-square-foot cabins, fit for just one person, to 194-square-foot family rooms with bunk beds. The breakfast buffet is free for guests, as are amenities like the gym, laundry, WiFi, parking, and charging your electric car. They'll even loan you a bike at no cost so you can ride around Älmhult and see the world outside Ikea. It's all part of the hotel's aesthetic as a community where guests can "feel at home."

Sweden, by way of the Ikea Museum

At the Ikea Museum in Älmhult, you can view old catalogs, learn more about successful products and failed designs, and see furnished interiors modeling "life at home" in every decade from the 1950s to the 2010s. You'll even get some background on the company's peculiar naming process. The name Ikea, for instance, wasn't just chosen to make it sound like a lightbulb going off over someone's head before a shopping spree. It may come as a surprise to those accustomed to the American pronunciation, but Ikea is pronounced "ee-kay-uh," not "eye-kee-uh." The name was formed from the initials of company founder Ingvar Kamprad and two places from his childhood: the farm of Elmtaryd and the village of Agunnaryd.

If you can't impress your friends with this knowledge and tales of Älmhult, maybe there's no hope of assembling a bigger tour group for a true, Ikea-style "Night at the Museum." 50 people or more can rent the museum out for a private soiree, complete with a meatball buffet. Granted, some travelers might regard the premises of the first Ikea as a tourist trap, like the "original Starbucks" that Seattle coffee lovers need to avoid. However, your trip doesn't have to begin or end there. Sweden in general is considered one of the most family-friendly countries in Europe. If you're taking the train in from Denmark, the Ikea Hotell and Museum could just be your family's hello — or Swedish-friendly "Hej!" — to the country at large.