Stockholm, Sweden’s capital, is often overlooked as a “can’t miss” destination, relegated to just one of numerous ports on a Northern European cruise itinerary. But, Stockholm is a city for all seasons and worthy of a longer stay. Made up of 14 islands and 50 bridges, it’s an eclectic Nordic mix of nature and culture easily explored on foot. To truly experience all this dynamic city has to offer, several days are required. Check out my top twelve moments:
Catch the Changing of the Guard: This daily ceremony is held at the Royal Palace, one of the largest in Europe. This 18th century baroque style residence also houses five museums. Visit the Armory with its stately royal costumes, armor, and coronation carriages. Or go below ground to the Museum Tre Kronor housed in the cellars – it tells the story of what it took to defend the castle in ages gone by.
Embrace Gamla Stan’s Medieval Glory: Founded in 1251, Gamla Stan is the Old Town and the heart of the city. Its pedestrian-friendly, narrow cobblestone winding streets are lined with historic colorful buildings in shades of crimson and ochre. (Marten Trotzigs street is the most narrow – less than three feet wide!) Browse authentic souvenir shops or enjoy lunch in a cozy local tavern. In summer take a seat in the city’s oldest square, Stortoget, a lively meeting spot. In winter, it transforms into a enchanting storybook setting with festive lights and snow underfoot.
Visit the Vasa: a maritime museum located on the island of Djurgarden. The main feature? The Vasa, an almost fully intact 17th century 64-gun warship. In 1628 on her maiden voyage, the 69-metre ship sank right in the heart of Stockholm harbor. After 333 years on the seabed, the massive warship was salvaged and basically raised from the dead. To keep it from decomposing, it is now contained within a humidity-controlled space.
Turn back time at Skansen: Wander the world’s largest open-air museum and discover Swedish customs, culture and celebrations on the green island of Djurgarden. To preserve the history of Sweden, 150 houses and structures were brought from all over the country and preserved here. Spring and summer brings outdoor concerts and performances; winter brings holiday markets and festive entertainment. There are child friendly activities including a Children’s Zoo and Aquarium.
Settle into SoFo: The bohemian island/neighborhood of Södermalm is a city within the city. Head to SoFo (South of Folkungagatan) to sample a lovely mix of independent stores, vintage shops, pubs, cafes, and plenty of nightlife.
Must eat Meatballs: Anyone who has shopped at Ikea knows Sweden’s obsession with meatballs. But, you have never tasted the most divine and flavor packed specimens found only in Stockholm. Made from whatever is in season – veal, pork, or wild boar – the side dishes are just as important: pickles and tart lingonberries, the perfect compliment to the rich and creamy brown sauce. Try Pelikan, the Stockholm classic in Sodermalm. Theirs are dense, extra-large, light on ingredients but heavy on flavor. With a side of mashed potatoes, it’s the perfect meal!
Take the Tunnelbana: The subway is a great way to get around the city and since 1950, artists have turned this underground system into a giant urban art installation. Sculptures, paintings, mosaics, and cave-like features transform transit into an event. Buy a 24-hour or single use ticket valid for 75 minutes. (Note: the Blue Line is the most colorful.)
Walk in the footsteps of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: Fans of the psychological crime thriller series written by famed Swede Stieg Larsson, will appreciate a walking tour of Lisbeth Salander’s and Mikael Blomkvist’s many neighborhood haunts. Watch the films before you go—the Swedish versions are even more moody and noirish than the Hollywood incarnations.
Ride a coaster with a view: Gröna Lund amusement park offers just enough entertainment to keep the younger members of your family engaged. The thirty rides come with a view of the surrounding harbor and islands. In the summertime, outdoor musical concerts are an added attraction.
Walk in and dance out of the Abba Museum: The music! The clothing! The lyrics! Admit, it, you cannot NOT be hooked by the sound and sight of this famous Swedish Pop band, well deserving of its own, pleasantly interactive exhibition.
Get smart at the Noble Museum: This petite museum celebrates big ideas: winners of the most prestigious prize in the world named for Swedish inventor and engineer, Arthur Noble. Remember, ideas can change the world: “The courage, creativity and persistence of the Nobel Laureates inspires us and gives us hope for the future.”
Finally…take a Fika Break: It’s difficult to translate, but basically it means meeting up for a coffee and a piece of yummy cake or pastry. It’s a Swedish thing, part of everyday life, and everywhere you go you will find cafes with plenty of character, but absolutely no to-go cups. Fika’s function? To take a moment to slow down and appreciate the good things in life. We could all use a little more Fika.
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Header photo courtesy of: Ola Ericson/www.stockholmsfoto.se