WHAT TO DO
Stockholm is one of the world's most beautiful cities and I always enjoy visiting this great town. It is the capital of Sweden and the most populous urban area in the Nordic countries. The city stretches across fourteen islands of an archipelago where Lake Malaren flows into the Baltic Sea. The area has been settled since the Stone Age and was founded as a city in 1252 by Swedish statesman Birger Magnusson. Stockholm is easy in all the right ways - despite being spread over several islands, it's a relatively compact town and walking is often the best way to get around. Bridges connect most of the islands, while ferries and the efficient metro (t-bana) link the rest. With cultural riches, impeccable style, wonderful food and striking beauty, Stockholm is a traveler's dream.
Start your adventure in the historic heart of Stockholm - Gamla Stan (Old Town). It is the city's oldest district, and looks and feels like something out of a fairy tale. Complete with prerequisite royal palace, gabled buildings and narrow cobblestone streets, it's hands down one of Europe’s most enchanting, perfectly preserved historic centers. Wander its small lanes as you twist past Renaissance churches and romantic squares. Vasterlanggatan is the Old Town's nerve center, a bustling thoroughfare lined with galleries, candlelit cafes and souvenir shops. Step off the main drag, however, and Gamla Stan reveals a quieter, more intimate side of its nature. In the middle of Gamla Stan is Stortorget, the oldest public square in Stockholm. The Nobel Museum (Nobelmuseet) is housed in the Borsen building - the old Stock Exchange - which forms the north side of Stortorget. It presents the history of the Nobel Prizes and their recipients, with a focus on the intellectual and cultural aspects of invention. It's a polished, contemporary space with fascinating displays, including short films on the theme of creativity and interviews with laureates like Ernest Hemingway and Martin Luther King Jr. Gamla Stan is home to several magnificent churches. The one time venue for royal weddings and coronations - Storkyrkan, officially named Sankt Nikolai Kyrka (Church of Saint Nicholas), is both Stockholm’s oldest building (consecrated in 1306) and its cathedral. Behind a baroque facade, the Gothic interior includes extravagant royal box pews designed by Nicodemus Tessin the Younger, as well as Bernt Notke’s dramatic wooden statue, Saint George and the Dragon, commissioned by Sten Sture the Elder to commemorate his victory over the Danes in 1471. The strikingly beautiful Riddarholmskyrkan (Riddarholm Church), on the equally pretty and under visited islet of Riddarholmen, was built by Franciscan monks in the late 13th century. It has been the royal necropolis since the burial of Magnus Ladulas in 1290, and is home to the armorial glory of the Seraphim knightly order. Wall plates display the coats of arms of the knights. Look for the marble sarcophagus of Gustav II Adolf, Sweden’s mightiest monarch, who died in 1632. Note: there is a guided tour in English at 12p - included with admission. Founded by a guild of German merchants in the 15th century, Tyska Kyrkan (The German Church) hints at Stockholm's multicultural past and present. The building's iconic spire is visible from all key vantage points across the water and within the Old Town itself. Don't miss the ornate gate carved in gold, adjacent to the church’s garden. Before visiting Gamla Stan's most famous landmark, the Royal Palace, take a quick detour to Marten Trotzigs Grand. This tiny alley is the city's narrowest street and a popular spot for a photo op.
Kungliga Slottet (Royal Palace) was built on the ruins of Tre Kronor castle, which burned down in 1697. The north wing survived and was incorporated into the new building. Designed by court architect Nicodemus Tessin the Younger, it took 57 years to complete. Highlights include the decadent Karl XI Gallery, inspired by Versailles’ Hall of Mirrors, and Queen Kristina’s silver throne in the Hall of State. With 608 rooms, this is the world’s largest royal palace still used for its original purpose. The first royal family moved here in 1754. The palace is not a museum but rather a working government building; though it contains fine examples of baroque and rococo furnishings and interiors, each room also bears the fingerprints of the many generations who have lived here. Engaging 45 minute guided tours are offered two to three times daily - admission to the palace also includes the Museum Tre Kronor, devoted to Stockholm's original castle; the Royal Treasury; and Gustav III's Antikmuseum (the museum of antiquities). In the basement of the Museum Tre Kronor, you can see the foundations of 13th century defensive walls and items rescued from the medieval castle during the 1697 fire. The Royal Treasury contains ceremonial crowns, scepters and other regalia of the Swedish monarchy, including a 16th century sword that belonged to Gustav Vasa. Gustav III’s Antikmuseum displays Italian sculptures collected by King Gustav III in the 1780s. Note: it's worth timing your visit to see the Changing of the Guard, which takes place in the outer courtyard at 1215p Monday to Saturday and 115p Sunday and public holidays from late April to August, and 1215p Wednesday and Saturday and 115p Sunday and public holidays from September to late April.
From Gamla Stan, head to Sodermalm - Stockholm's hip southern island. Known locally as Soder, this is the city's creative engine room, with no shortage of indie fashion boutiques, vintage stores, art galleries, bars, espresso labs and music venues. The island is also home to a handful of engaging museums, not to mention smashing views of Gamla Stan and the city center from its northern edge. My favorite stop in Soder is the very cool Fotografiska, located at Stadsgardshamnen 22. A stylish photography museum, it is a must for shutterbugs. Its constantly changing exhibitions are huge, interestingly chosen and well presented; examples have included a Robert Mapplethorpe retrospective, portraits by indie filmmaker Gus Van Sant and an enormous collection of black and white photos by Brazilian social documentary photographer Sebastiao Salgado. The attached cafe and bar draws a crowd on summer evenings with DJs, good cocktails and outdoor seating. Note: follow signs from the Slussen t-bana stop to reach the museum. Next, make your way to the eastern tip of Kungsholmen island and Stadshuset (City Hall). The mighty Stadshuset dominates Stockholm’s architecture. Topping off its square tower is a golden spire and the symbol of Swedish power - the three royal crowns. Punctured by two courtyards, the building’s interior includes the glittering, mosaic lined Gyllene salen (Golden Hall), Prins Eugen’s own fresco recreation of the lake view from the gallery and the very hall used for the annual Nobel Prize banquet. Note: part of the tour involves walking down the same stairs you’d use if you’d won the big prize. Entry is by guided tour only; tours in English take place every 30 minutes from 9a until 4p in summer, and less frequently the rest of the year. The tower is open for visits every 40 minutes from 9a to 5p from May to September - it offers commanding views of Gamla Stan and the surrounding city.
From there, visit the cultural heavyweight Nationalmuseum in Norrmalm. Sweden’s largest art museum is home to the nation’s collection of painting, sculpture, drawings, decorative arts and graphics from the Middle Ages to the present. The recently renovated building, which stands on the waterfront overlooking the Royal Palace, was built 150 years ago in classic neo Renaissance style. Highlights include works by Rembrandt, Renoir and Monet. Note: the museum is open from 11a-5p and is closed on Monday. Additional must see museums are a short stroll away. Take the nearby footbridge to the islands of Skeppsholmen and Djurgarden, the latter a former royal hunting ground. Skeppsholmen is home to the Moderna Museet, one of Scandinavia's most important museums of modern art. Its permanent collection ranges from paintings and sculptures to photography, video art and installations. Highlights include works by Picasso, Dali and Warhol, plus several key figures in the Scandinavian and Russian art worlds. The museum also stages well conceived temporary exhibits and career retrospectives. Don't overlook the small viewing rooms in various corners and downstairs, usually dedicated to video installations. Note: there's a fabulous and very popular restaurant with a great view over the water, an espresso bar in the foyer and the small, casual Cafe Blom found in a secluded courtyard. The museum is open from 10a-6p and is closed on Monday. Djurgarden houses the Nordiska Museet, Vasamuseet and Skansen. The epic Nordiska Museet (Nordic Museum) is Sweden’s largest cultural history museum and one of its largest indoor spaces. The building itself is an eclectic, Renaissance style castle designed by Isak Gustav Clason in 1907. Inside is a sprawling collection of all things Swedish, from sacred Sami (the Lapps of northern Scandinavia) objects to clothing and table settings. The museum boasts the world’s largest collection of paintings by August Strindberg (Swedish playwright, poet and painter), as well as a number of his personal possessions. In all, there are over 1.5 million items in the museum's collection, dating from 1520 to the present day. Note: the museum is open every day from 10a-5p. The awesome Vasa Museum is the custom built home of the massive warship Vasa - it was the pride of the Swedish crown when it set off on its maiden voyage on August 10, 1628. Within minutes, the top heavy vessel tipped and sank to the bottom of Saltsjon (Stockholm Bay), along with many of the people on board. Tour guides explain the extraordinary and controversial 300 year story of its death and resurrection, which saw the ship painstakingly raised in 1961 and reassembled like a giant jigsaw puzzle - almost all of what you see today is original. On the entrance level is a model of the ship at scale 1:10 and a theater screening a 17 minute film which sheds light on the salvage operation and the vessel's conservation. There are four other levels of exhibits covering artifacts salvaged from the Vasa, life on board, naval warfare, and 17th century sailing and navigation. The bottom floor exhibition is particularly fascinating, using modern forensic science to recreate the faces and life stories of several of the ill fated passengers. Note: the museum is open every day from 10a-5p and guided tours are in English every 30 minutes. The world’s first open air museum, Skansen was founded in 1891 by Artur Hazelius to provide an insight into how Swedes once lived. Around 150 traditional houses and other exhibits dot the hilltop - it’s meant to be ‘Sweden in miniature’, complete with villages, nature, commerce, industry and a zoo. Note: the museum is massive, you could easily spend a day here and not see it all.
Lastly, there's the Historiska Museet (History Museum), located at Narvavagen 13 in Ostermalm. From Iron Age skates and a Viking boat to medieval textiles and Renaissance triptychs, Sweden's national historical collection spans over 10000 years of Swedish culture and history. The exhibition about the Battle of Gotland (1361) is an undisputed highlight, as is the subterranean Gold Room, the latter gleaming with Viking plunder and other precious treasures. Look out for the jewel encrusted Reliquary of Saint Elizabeth (who died at 24 and was canonized in 1235), as well as the 5th century seven ringed gold collar. Weighing almost two pounds and decorated with 458 symbolic figures, the collar was discovered in Vastergotland in the 19th century. The museum's loot also includes exquisite altarpieces from the Middle Ages and the world's oldest organ. Note: the museum is open from 11a-5p and is closed on Monday. After you've had your fill of museums, take a break in Kungstradgarden (King's Garden). Informally known as Kungsan, this park in central Stockholm is one of the most popular hangouts and meeting places in the city. It has outdoor cafes and art galleries, and hosts open air concerts and events in summer, while offering an ice rink during winters. Not far away is Sergels Torg - the most central public square in Stockholm, named after 18th century sculptor Johan Tobias Sergel, whose workshop was once located on the square. Sergels Torg includes a sunken pedestrian plaza furnished with a triangular colored floor pattern and a wide flight of stairs leading up to the pedestrian street Drottninggatan. Take this lively thoroughfare, lined with stores and places to eat, back towards the Old Town. From Gamla Stan, take ferry 82 out to Grona Lund. Opened in 1883, this famous amusement park is on the seaward side of Djurgarden Island. It features roller coasters, a funhouse and a tunnel of love. Grona Lund is also known for its summer concerts - notable performers have included Jimi Hendrix in 1967, ABBA (from Stockholm) in 1973 and Bob Marley in 1980. Conclude your exploration of Stockholm with a highly recommended boat ride. The Royal Canal Tour offers a sightseeing cruise through the idyllic Stockholm archipelago. Boats depart every hour from Stromkajen, in the city center, and cruises last either 50 or 90 minutes - depending on the route. Note: audio commentary is available in English.
WHERE TO EAT
Stockholm has plenty of great places to eat and enjoy a drink. Start your day at Drop Coffee, located near the Mariatorget metro stop at Wollmar Yxkullsgatan 10. This bohemian cafe features sustainably grown and traded coffee roasted at a proprietary roastery the same week as the shipment arrives. It's a cool place to chill and has the best coffee in town. For a delightful breakfast, try Wiener Cafeet at Biblioteksgatan 6 in Norrmalm. Step into the lavish art deco interior here and you are transported to the grand cafes of Vienna and Paris. The pastries and cakes are heaven sent, making this spot the perfect place for Fika or 'a coffee and cake break' (an important part of Swedish culture). Nearby at Riddargatan 4 is Sturekatten. This genteel cafe in an 18th century house is a charming blend of antique chairs, oil paintings and servers in black and white attire. Slip into a salon chair, pour some tea and nibble on a piece of apple pie or a kanelbulle (cinnamon bun). Also in Norrmalm, found at Kungsgatan 55 is Vetekatten. A cardamom scented labyrinth of cozy nooks, antique furnishings and oil paintings, this place is not so much a cafe as an institution. Enjoy a traditional Swedish sweet roll with a cup of tea in one of the back rooms. From there, make your way to Gamla Stan and Cafe Sten Sture, located at Trangsund 10. Uniquely set in the dungeons of a former prison, this cafe is a short walk from the Royal Palace and the main square of Stortorget. Drop in for a slice of Stockholm's history over a coffee and cinnamon roll - fika for sure. Equally impressive and situated right on Stortorget at number 20 is the lovely Cafe Kaffekoppen. With a pleasant decor and great fika, this joint is a must visit while exploring the Old Town. Not far away at Jarntorget 83 is Sundbergs Konditori. Dating from 1785, this is Stockholm’s oldest bakery and cafe, complete with chintzy chandeliers, a subdued parlor atmosphere and a glass case gleaming with pastries.
For lunch, head to Ostermalms Saluhall on Ostermalmstorg. Opened in 1888, this gourmet food hall inhabits a beautiful, spired brick building. It's a sophisticated take on the traditional market - with fresh produce, fish counters, butcher shops, baked goods and some dynamite places to grab a meal. Be sure to hit Robert's Coffee, Husmans Deli, Mesh, Melanders and Lisa Elmqvist. Note: the food hall is open from 9a-7p and is closed on Sunday. One cannot visit Sweden without having meatballs. When in Stockholm, go to Meatballs for the People, located at Nytorgsgatan 30 in Sodermalm. All hail the mighty meatball, the expected star turn at this neighborhood favorite serving a variety of meatballs daily, from moose and deer, to wild boar and lamb. Pair them with classic creamed potatoes, lingonberries and pickles - wash it all down with a homegrown Sleepy Bulldog craft beer. Close by at Blekingegatan 40 is Pelikan. Lofty ceilings, wood paneling and no nonsense waiters set the scene for classic husmanskost (home cooking) at this century old beer hall - think roasted reindeer, Vasterbotten cheese pie and Arctic char. The herring options are particularly good (try the 'SOS' starter, an assortment of pickled herring). There is a hefty list of akvavit (a distilled spirit that is principally produced in Scandinavia), which pairs nicely with the herring. Staying in Sodermalm, Bla Dorren (The Blue Door) can be found at Sodermalmstorg 6. A stone’s throw from Gamla Stan, it occupies the site of a 17th century pub. Vaulted ceilings and timber paneling set an appropriate scene for beautifully executed Swedish classics like tasty elk meatballs, accompanied with juicy lingonberries. Libations include an extensive array of beers and snaps (the Swedes’ favorite spirit). Next, head over the bridge to Gamla Stan and the excellent Den Gyldene Freden, found at Osterlanggatan 51. Open since 1722, this venerable barrel vaulted restaurant is run by the Swedish Academy, where (rumor has it) its members meet to decide the winners of the Nobel Prize. Sublime offerings include home style dishes like roast lamb with chanterelles, cabbage and country cheese, or old school Swedish meatballs and pan fried mustard herring with lingonberries. Across the street at Osterlanggatan 34 is Cultur Bar & Restaurant. This stylish gastropub does tapas with a Scandinavian twist and has a very nice beer and wine list. Located at Nygrand 10 is Fem Sma Hus. It offers the perfect combination of authentic historical setting with traditional cuisine, just a short walk from the Royal Palace in the heart of the Old Town. The menu features Swedish classics with a French touch - think reindeer fillets with port wine sauce, seared Arctic char, Swedish farm chicken confit - served in 17th century vaulted cellars. Nearby at Kindstugatan 1 is Under Kastanjen. Visit this place for its picturesque setting on a cobbled square beside a chestnut tree, surrounded by ochre and yellow storybook houses. The menu offers simple home cooking, from soups and stews to classic Swedish meatballs - plus cakes for that mid afternoon sugar hit.
For dinner, make your way to Kryp In, located at Prastgatan 17 in Gamla Stan. Small but perfectly formed, this spot wows diners with creative takes on traditional Swedish dishes. Expect the likes of salmon carpaccio, Kalix roe, reindeer roast or saffron aioli shellfish stew. The service is seamless and the atmosphere classy without being stuffy. Go with the three course set menu and be sure to book ahead. Note: the restaurant is open every day at 5p. Also in the Old Town at Lilla Nygatan 21 is the outstanding Kagges. This cozy spot has a laid back approach to New Nordic Cuisine, with seasonal and fresh ingredients served in small and mid size dishes. The menu is dynamic and the staff know their stuff. Book in advance (request a spot at the chef's counter) and do go with the tasting menu, you will not be disappointed. Note: the restaurant opens at 5p and is closed on Monday and Tuesday. Found at Mosebacketorg 9 in Sodermalm is the popular Woodstockholm. Reservations are essential at this hip yet welcoming hotspot. The menu's theme changes every couple of months or so, with a focus that ranges from specific geographic regions to more abstract concepts. What remains unchanging is a commitment to smaller, sustainable, local producers and honest, wonderfully textured dishes cooked with flair. The bar seats, reserved for walk ins, are perfect for solo diners seeking a little banter and bonhomie, while the drinks list offers no shortage of lesser known drops, from wines to ciders. Note: the restaurant opens at 5p and is closed on Sunday and Monday. One of the top food destinations in Stockholm is Ekstedt, located at Humlegardsgatan 17 in Ostermalm. Dining here is as much an experience as a meal. Chef Niklas Ekstedt's education in French and Italian cooking informs his approach to traditional Scandinavian cuisine. Choose from a four or six course set menu built around reindeer and pike perch - everything is cooked in a wood fired oven, over a fire pit or smoked in a chimney. This Michelin starred restaurant is frequently named among the best in Sweden; reservations are essential. Note: the restaurant is closed on Sunday and Monday. Also in Ostermalm at Artillerigatan 14 is Gastrologik. This trendy eatery is at the forefront of dynamic and modern Scandinavian cooking. Diners choose from a set three or six course menu, which changes frequently, as the chefs work closely with suppliers to deliver the freshest and most readily available produce with a nod to sustainability and tradition. Note: the restaurant is closed on Sunday and Monday, and reservations are a must. Lastly, there is Agrikultur - found at Roslagsgatan 43 in Vasastan. This Michelin starred restaurant finds inspiration from organic, local and seasonal ingredients. Here, you can enjoy Nordic flavors in a cozy setting, where the wood oven is used both to prepare food and to set the mood. Chef Filip Fasten offers a fixed menu of several dishes, where vegetables are typically front and center. Everything is light and delicious. Note: the restaurant opens at 5p and is closed on Sunday and Monday.
End your evening in Stockholm with a drink or two. Tweed can be found at Lilla Nygatan 5 in Gamla Stan. This excellent cocktail bar not only does top notch drinks - it has reservable, voluminous chesterfield chairs. Note: the bar is open from 5p-1a and is closed on Sunday and Monday. Go online or call to book your comfy chesterfield armchair. Staying in the Old Town, Wirstroms is at Stora Nygatan 13. It's a friendly, atmospheric pub with a sports bar upstairs and a cavernous series of seemingly endless tunnels and dark little alcoves underground. There's regular live music with an emphasis on the blues. If you fancy wine, do try Gaston at Malartorget 15. Intimate, sophisticated yet relaxed, this is where clued in Stockholmers swill in Gamla Stan. Sommelier Janni Berndt's weakness for hand harvested wines and smaller winemakers with fascinating backstories translates into an exciting, ever changing wine list. From there, head south to Sodermalm and Akkurat. Located at Hornsgatan 18, this bar boasts a huge selection of Belgian ales as well as a good range of Swedish made microbrews and hard ciders. There's also a fine selection of whisky and live music several nights a week. An old school Hammarby (Stockholm soccer club) fan hang out, Kvarnen is one of the best loved bars in Soder. Found at Tjarhovsgatan 4, this beautiful beer hall dates from 1908 and seeps tradition. Note: the bar also hosts a popular weekend smorgasbord lunch. Nearby at Asogatan 140 is Nada. With its soft orange glow, mini chandelier and decadent black toned back bar, this cozy establishment brings in Soder’s beautiful people. Nightly, DJs play everything from alternative pop to ’80s retro, while behind the bar mixologists sling elaborate cocktails. Close out Sodermalm at Folii, which can be found at Erstagatan 21, and is one of the city's top wine bars. Here, you can sample any of its impeccably chosen wines by the glass, with genial half glass serves available for those wanting to explore without a next day hangover. The wines pair nicely with high quality charcuterie. For live music, check out Debaser Strand (Hornstulls Strand 4) and Hus 7 (Styckmastargatan 10). Finish up your Stockholm adventure at Berns Salonger, located in Berzelii Park - Norrmalm. A Stockholm institution since 1862, this glitzy entertainment palace remains one of the city’s hottest party spots. While the gorgeous ballroom hosts some brilliant live music gigs, the best of Berns’ bars is in the intimate basement, packed with cool creative types, top notch DJs and projected art house images. Note: check the website for a schedule of events; some require advance ticket purchase.
WHERE TO STAY
Stockholm offers a number of places to call home during your stay and there are 2 that I especially enjoyed. Both are in prime locations and provide exceptional service, modern amenities and comfort. The first is the Grand Hotel, located on the waterfront at Sodra Blasieholmshamnen 8. Overlooking the Royal Palace, this elegant hotel dating from 1874 is adjacent to the Nationalmuseum and a short walk from the Moderna Museet. Plush rooms offer flat screen TVs and free WiFi, plus minibars and designer toiletries. Upgrades add kitchens, living rooms and balconies. Amenities include 2 fine dining restaurants and a bright cafe, along with an ornate bar and a posh wine cellar. There's also a fitness center, a spa and an indoor pool.
A second option is Hotel At Six, located near Kungstradgarden at Brunkebergstorg 6. This contemporary hotel is a short walk from Gamla Stan and the Royal Palace. Stylish rooms with modern decor feature complimentary WiFi and flat screen TVs, plus minibars, sitting areas, and tea and coffee makers. Upgraded accommodations have city views, balconies and separate living areas. Other perks include a sophisticated international restaurant, a casual cafe and 2 hip bars.
Stockholm is loaded with natural beauty, fascinating history, fantastic food and magnificent art. It treated me well and I look forward to returning.