Snowy landscapes, romantic islands, a stunning coastline, more lakes than you dare to count, mountains, forests, the northern lights, skiing, sailing, hiking, music festivals and the most glorious summers when the sun doesn’t really set at all, this is Sweden. The country’s beautiful natural surroundings set the backdrop for fabulously designed interiors, beautiful architecture, cool cities, inspiring design, fantastic fashion and deliciously fresh food. Be warned once you start exploring, it’s difficult to stop.
Stockholm is Sweden’s capital and it is without a doubt a beautiful and sophisticated city. Built on 14 islands between Lake Malaren and the Baltic Sea, in a 24,000-island archipelago, it is a breathtaking combination of waterways, green spaces and stunning architecture. Whether you visit in winter, when the city is snow covered and takes on a magical fairy tale appearance or in the summer, when the days are long and nights almost non-existent, you will not be disappointed.
Accommodation in Stockholm is excellent and there is a wide range of great hotels available, a quick glance on the internet will provide you a gorgeous choice of places to stay. But if, like me, you often tire of staying in a hotel and the label “boutique” has long lost its charm, then I suggest you rent an apartment. There are a number of sites offering this service but the one that really stands out above all the rest is Stockholm City Rentals (www.stockholmcityrental.se). It is run by Christian and Biggles and their selection is small but perfect. They have brought together a collection of truly superb apartments in the best locations in Stockholm and it doesn’t stop there, their aim is to provide truly excellent service and they will arrange anything you might want to make your stay more memorable.
Stockholm is an easy city to get around. There is an excellent metro and tram system but the best way to start exploring the city, in my opinion, is on foot. There is a surprise around every corner and after a few hours you’ll soon have a good idea of how you want to spend the rest of your time in the city, whether it’s exploring the excellent museums, listening to music, visiting the islands of the archipelago, seeking out Swedish design, discovering Scandinavian fashion or just soaking up the vibe in city’s bars and cafes. And you will soon learn to “fika” – this is getting together with your friends to have coffee and cake, it’s a national pastime and taken so seriously that it is a verb!
Gamla Stan is a great place to start, from here you can easily head towards the other main areas of the city such as Södermalm (to the south), Östermalm and Norrmalm (to the north), Djurgården and Ladugårdsgärdet (to the East). Gamla stan is the old city and an island in its own right, the royal palace (www.kungahuset.se) is here. The whole island is famous for its narrow cobbled lanes, traditional buildings and old squares. One of my favourite parts is Riddarholmen and the Riddarholmen Church, where the view out across the water is breathtaking and in summer it is a lovely place stop to have a drink or bite to eat. From Gamla Stan you can easily walk to Norrmalm and Östermalm, go over Strömbron and you will find yourself on the edge of Kungsträdgården a lovely open garden area with fantastic cafes and restaurants. The Royal Opera house (www.operan.se) is nearby and well worth a visit. As well as a world class operatic programme they run behind-the-scene tours in English and their restaurant and bar are amongst the best in the city.
From Kungsträdgården you can easily reach the harbour and from here you can join one of the excellent boat tours. It may sound a little touristy for some people and it is, but unless you charter your own boat it really is the best way to see the city from the water. A very different way to see the city is from the air, Stockholm is one of the few cities in Europe that offers balloon ride over the city and these tours are amazing.
Continuing along beside the water edge you come to the beautiful island of Skeppsholmen. Linked to the mainland by pretty bridge this tiny island is beautiful and offers magnificent views across to Djurgården, Strandvägen and Södermalm . It is also home to the excellent Modern Art Museum (www.modernamuseet.se) and the delightful Hjerta restaurant (www.restauranghjerta.se) .
In fact Stockholm has a fantastic choice of museums, over 100, so there is something for every interest. Some of the more famous museums are concentrated in Djurgården, the city’s large park and a huge green space to explore (www.djurgarden.net). Two of my favourite museums are here; the Nordiska Museet (www.nordiskamuseet.se) and The Vasa Musuem (www.vasamuseet.se). The Nordiska Museet houses collections and exhibitions that focus on Swedish trends and traditions and uses themes around home interiors, fashion, celebrations and festivals to explore the Swedish culture and history. The Vasa Museum is home to the The Vasa – the only preserved seventeenth-century ship in the world. Now before your eyes glaze over and your mind dulls at the thought of a boring old boat, abandon all your preconceptions, this is truly amazing. The boat is a unique art treasure, more than 95 percent of the ship is original, and it is decorated with hundreds of carved sculptures. As soon as you see this ghost of a ship you will instantly see the source of the creative inspiration and spirit that so many directors have tried to capture for their films.
Coming back towards the centre of Stockholm one passes through the elegant areas of Östermalm and Norrmalm. These two neighbourhoods are great places for browsing, the shopping and dining is outstanding and there are innumerable galleries, showrooms and museums too. The discerning visitors will love to make their own discoveries but just too wet the appétit I have included a few of my favourites shops: A great place to start is NK (www.nk.se) this is the best department store in town and showcases the very best in Scandinavian design, as well as international brands. I love the ACNE store (www.acnestudios.com) on Norrmalmstorg, once barely known outside of Sweden this brand is now wooing fashionistas worldwide. HOPE (www.hope-sthlm.com) is another cutting edge Swedish brand and their store on Smålandsgatan offers Swedish cool and simple designs for both men and women. Filippa K (www.filippa-k.com) has a cult like following for her sleek and graceful staples; and Whyred (www.whyred.se) is renowned for refreshing and unique creations. For interior design stop by Nordiska Galleriet (www.nordiskagalleriet.se); Svenskt Ten (www.svenskttenn.se); Malmsten (www.malmstenbutiken.se) and for the very best in carpets and rugs Kasthall (www.kasthall.com).
If Östermalm and Norrmalm are the sleek and sophisticated side to the city and Gamla Stan the historic enclave then Södermalm , the suburb to the south, is the grittier, more urban-trendy side of the town. Over the years Södermalm has become synonymous with urban-chic and ultra-cool street trends, it is here you will find street after street of unusual contemporary boutiques, clothes stores, art galleries and eateries. It is a fun area to roam around and the contemporary photographers’ gallery, Fotografiska (www.fotografiska.eu) shouldn’t be missed. It is one of the largest contemporary photography museums in the world and overlooks the stunning Saltsjön bay with Skeppsholmen and Djurgården in the distance.
Click here for some more ideas of things to do in Stockholm.
As with any great city there is a huge selection of restaurants and those in favour with the “in-crowd” change regularly. There are always new additions to be tried and exciting chefs making a name for themselves. However, whenever I go to Stockholm I try and get a table at one of the “grand-dames” of the Stockholm culinary scene such as:
Gondolen – amazing food with amazing views. 33 metres up with views over the bay. (www.eriks.se)
Strandvagen 1 – A stone throw from the Royal Theatre and views over the harbour. (www.strandvagen1.se)
Teatergrillen – hidden away on a regular looking street, don’t be fooled by this low key little restaurant whose interior dates back to 1968. The food and service are second to none in the city (www.teatergrillen.se)
F12 – Amazing, fresh and full of surprises that’s F12. (www.f12.se)
I have also heard excellent things about the Restaurant Himlen (www.restauranghimlen.se).
These restaurants are popular with everyone, tourists and locals alike so if want a table – book ahead.
For more information on Stockholm the Visit Stockholm website gives some good overviews and advice on things to do and see (www.visitstockholm.se). HG2 is also an excellent site (www.hg2stockholm.com).
Photographic Credits: Lanan Li from the Visit Stockholm website.