A guide leads some intrepid tourists across the roof of Stockholm's Old Parliament Building. Takvandring Sverige AB

A Swedish tour company offers a thrilling reason to scale urban buildings.

There are no bars to hold onto on the roof of the Old Parliament House, rising 140 feet above the streets of Stockholm. But that doesn’t deter people from climbing up a ladder through a law office and out onto the sky-facing surface.

To some, traipsing along Stockhom’s skyline sounds terrifying, or illegal. The former may be true, but the latter is not: Takvandring, a Swedish company, leads up to 15,000 people each year onto the roof for a guided tour of the city from a very different perspective.

An up-close look at the Riddarholmen Church tower. (Takvandring Sverige AB)

But it is safe—intrepid tourists, ten at a time, are strapped into full-body harnesses and led around by experienced guides, who quell persisting fears while dispensing facts about the city. The youngest participants are around 10 years old (there’s a height requirement of five feet); the oldest has been 92.

The tours have longevity on their side, says Anna Broman, the CEO of Takvandring: they launched in Sundsvall, around 230 miles north of Stockholm, in 2003, in an effort to ramp up the action in the center of the town. Stockholm tours launched in 2007. In both cities, they operate year-round—except, of course, when there’s thunder and lightning. Snow and cold, however, are not deterrents. “You know what they say: it’s not about the weather—it’s all about the clothing,” Broman says.

Being on the roof, one Trip Advisor reviewer writes, pulls you firmly out of your comfort zone and into the realm of sweaty palms and feelings of “am I really doing this?” generally associated with adventure travel such as whitewater rafting, spelunking, or scaling mountains. City tours, in contrast, often peddle quirk over the extreme; whatever form they take—be it foot, bus, or amphibious vehicle—urban tours usually stay close to ground level.

Sweden, though, represents a changing tide toward a more heart-rate-raising experience of the city. A group of architects in Stockholm, for example, recently proposed a plan to link the city’s roofs by a series of open-air “sky walks.” Unlike Takvandring’s tours, these paths would work to expand the city’s municipal routes; they’re intended functionally, not as spectacle. In tandem, though, the two operations suggest a need to reconsider how people move through and appreciate urban space.

One might think this photo of men in lederhosen is staged, Broman says. But it’s not. “It was our luck that one of the guides brought the camera the day these Austrian guys came for their tour,” she says. (Takvandring Sverige AB)

As urban real estate grows ever more condensed and vertical, soon, plans like Stockholm’s “sky walks” might render birds-eye city views more mundane. But for now, Takvandring is capitalizing on their appeal. Couples flock to the roofs to stage marriage proposals—a clever bundling of two potentially nerve-wracking experiences. And, as the writer Nick Boulos notes in The Independent, the tours bring to sightseeing a chance to face your fears, overcome them, and just revel in the glorious weirdness of clambering around an ancient roof. He writes:

I reached the end of the walkway without even realising it and had, unknowingly, started to relax and enjoy the sensation of being up high with all of Stockholm's varied beauty laid out before me. Best of all, though, it ignited an interest in corners of the city I had barely known existed: islands and neighbourhoods that I set off to explore, once safely back down at ground level.

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