The Swedish word skärgård refers to Stockholm’s beguiling archipelago of 14 islands connected by 57 bridges. Our Scandinavian cousins sure know about design and only they could design such a sublime capital in a maddening location. Stockholm draws envious glances from other European capitals who cannot replicate its mixture of beauty, high-end design, contemporary fashion, Michelin-studded restaurants and hub for youthful musical exuberance. The idea of tall blonde bombshells of both genders heading to the sauna carrying flat pack IKEA furniture and eating a cone of meatballs is still a pervasive enough stereotype to warrant a BUCKiTDREAM exposé. Significantly, 16% of greater Stockholm’s 1.2 million people are immigrants and the capital is a much more culturally diverse city than one would initially expect.
The reason why stereotypes persist is because many tourists can still not get their heads round the diversity of culture, art and urban cool that Stockholm possesses. They have the old town of Gamla Stan with its beautiful wooden houses and cobbled streets, while downtown Norrmalm and Östermalm offer stunning designer retail and Michelin-starred hip dining locations. Storybook forests lie off to the north, scattered rocky islands hosting rich bird and sealife are just a boat’s journey away to the south and in the evening Södermalm acts as a magnet for experimental art and indie music amidst downbeat cool bars. Stockholm is fast becoming a top bucket list dream destination for a reason and there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye; here are our top tips on how to get the most out of your stay.
What To Do
Cultural Discounts at Stockholm’s Museums Stockholm was the first European city to issue discount cards for visitors to the city. You can make the most out of this by visiting one or more of the city’s 70 museums. The National Museum houses Sweden’s largest art collection, with some 16,000 classic paintings and sculptures. Resembling an extravagant Renaissance castle, Nordiska Museet will bring you up to date on Swedish culture with its portrayal of everyday life from the middle ages to the present day. You’ll feel as if you’re walking through Swedish history, gasping at its beautiful folk art and Viking-style revival furniture. Not to be missed.
A Modern Fairytale at the Vasa Museum The pride of Sweden and the world’s mightiest ship ‘The Vasa’ sank on its maiden voyage in 1628, barely a thousand meters from its mooring. Some 333 years after it sank, the Swedish Navy’s most expensive, powerful, and ornate ship, which took over three years to build, was dredged from the ocean floor. It now stands proudly as Sweden’s most unique and visited museum thanks to wonderful guided tours and short films that brings this ship the rich glory it once deserved.
Walk Through the Cobblestone Streets of Gamla Stan Stockholm’s most visited area for a reason, Gamla Stan is the historic heart of the city. Walk the streets early and you will feel as if you’ve stepped back four centuries. The whole island is one huge area of historical heritage with the many sights just a few meters apart, from the bustling streets of souvenir shops, bookstores and antique shops to elegant palaces, churches and museums. Many medieval cellars are now restaurants and cafés, while the narrow streets recall a bygone era.
Take in the Whole City at Mosebacke This small area high up from the Katarinahissen elevator became famous for entertainment in the 1850s with carousels, a summer theater, and open-air dance floors. The Södra Teatern still remains and is joined by Mosebacke Etablissement, one of Stockholm’s iconic live music and performance venues. The area provides the best hangout spot in the city between bouts of sightseeing and is populated by local musicians and artists, all enjoying the laid-back atmosphere that also offers the most stunning views of the city.
Take to the Seas on a Boat Trip Stockholm is a city where the water is never far away. The city is surrounded by an exquisite natural landscape of rugged coastlines, idyllic towns and majestic castles. This is not to mention the birds and seals that you’ll see on the many scattered islands. Our top tip is to book on one of Stockholm’s historic steamships – it will give you a different perspective on life as you cruise its icy waters.
The World’s First Open-Air Museum at Skansen Skansen opened in 1891 to remind the Swedish people of its history and heritage. 150 old buildings, farms, houses, shops, churches, and workshops were brought from all over Sweden to show countryside traditions. A more family-friendly location, Skansen contains a delightful blend of traditional crafts, Nordic flora and fauna, open-air enclosures for bears, wolves, and elk as well as housing a celebration of Sweden’s indigenous Sami community. Skansen is also the location for many of Stockholm’s festivals.
Shopping for Swedish Design in Östermalm The envy of the world, Swedish interior design is the most sought-after style for aspiring homemakers. The place to visit for the best shopping is Östermalm which sells the very best in Scandinavian and Nordic designers including Alvar Aalto, Carl Westmann, Arne Jacobsen (he of the world-renowned egg chair fame) Mies van der Rohe and Josef Frank. If it’s furniture, jewelry, textiles or art you’re after, you simply must visit the many gorgeous shops such as Jacksons, Modernity, 10 Gruppen and Nordiska Galleriet.
Exploring Drottningholm With its palace, theatre, park and Chinese Pavilion, the whole of Drottningholm has been included in UNESCO’S World Heritage list. The Royal Family still reside there to this day in one of the most lavish buildings of its era. Also, the Palace sits next to the Drottningsholms Slottsteater, the world’s oldest theater. Three stunning Baroque gardens stretch out from behind the palace with dramatic statues, a topiary and grandiose water fountains. The whole area is flanked by rows of symmetrically-cut chestnut trees. To the north, the English Park is dotted with lakes, small islands, and buildings are all well worth a visit.
Where to eat
Östermalms Saluhall is the best indoor food market in Europe, dating back to 1888. Says it all really! Small but stacked full of such Nordic culinary delicacies as salmon and herring, moose and elk, sourdough and rye bread, conserves, preserves, and pastries. Our tip is to dig into a portion of salted salmon with warm dill potatoes in between sightseeing. Divine!
New on the scene and already attracting rave reviews, Omakase Köttslöjd displays fusion cooking at its finest. Blending Swedish ingredients with Japanese techniques, a meal is based on the chefs’ daily selection of exceptional produce. Expect langoustine, dill, juniper berries, grouse, pickles, slow-cooked pork and the freshest of fresh fish.
Michelin-starred for a reason and run by two young Swedish chefs, Jacob Holmström and Anton Bjuhr, Gastrologik focuses on the very best of Swedish produce. At the forefront of Swedish cooking, the chefs’ sumptuous food reflects a commitment to finding, growing and foraging great ingredients. Sleek, modern yet utilizing traditional methods, Gastrologik is the place to be.
Where To Drink
Craft beer enthusiasts and whisky drinkers should head for Akkurat, a wooden-floored and paneled traditional pub that has 28 beers on tap and about 400 different types of whisky from all over the world; the staff are knowledgeable and service is quick. Grodan tops the city’s nightlife charts and has for many years despite regular new competition. It has an inimitable cocktail list and hosts some of the best club nights around. If you’re after a quieter affair after a long day of trekking about the city, Operabaren is a peaceful spot for a drink in splendid Jugendstil surroundings. Old-fashioned and charming and a great people-watching spot.
Where To Stay
If you have a large budget and want to experience the crème de la crème of Swedish design, we suggest you stay at either the Nordic Light Hotel.The former resides in the beating heart of the city and prides itself on reflecting the ever-changing nature of Swedish design with its focus on precision, light and idiosyncratic flair.
Modern and fab, Sweden’s leading fashion designers have had their input into the design at Hotel Birger Jarl. Its rooms and lobby have some of the chicest design in the world and its staff are professional and very accommodating.
Scandic Hotel Gama Stan offers charming rooms, in a peaceful setting surrounded by cobblestone streets at affordable prices. Parts of the hotel date back to 1650 and offer a perfect blend of the old and the new.
Work Up a Sweat in the Sauna No visit to Sweden, and Stockholm in particular, would be complete without experiencing a Swedish spa/sauna. This fundamentally Swedish experience has been mastered by our Scandic cousins and the Wilhelm Klemming-designed Jugendsil Centralbadet spa dates back to 1904. Situated in a pretty garden away from the hustle and bustle, it has beautiful art nouveau interiors and others a plethora of pampering services, from dips in a jacuzzi and dozens of spa treatments to various saunas and massages. After pounding the streets and taking in all what Stockholm has to offer, what better way to round off your day?
We hope you have enjoyed this lowdown on the best of Stockholm. If the city entices you as much as it did us, don’t forget to add this experience to your BUCKiTDREAM planner and get sharing!