Five Things to Love About Stockholm

Despite being somewhat broke after five months in Asia, I accompanied my friend (the fabulous Jon Turner) on a little trip to Stockholm. He was selling his rather fantastic prints at Stockholm Comic Con; my plan was to help him carry suitcases on the plane and then spend the weekend exploring Stockholm.

And what a beautiful city it was. No, it’s not exactly a cheap holiday destination (although we certainly got cheap flights), but it is stunningly situated and full of things to see and do. And, high prices aside, Sweden is very friendly, liberal, and just seems rather good at being a country. Plus there’s cake. And coffee! Here are five things I particularly rated about Stockholm:

1. The Water and the Light

Gamla Stan at Late SunsetGamla Stan at Late Sunset

Stockholm isn’t called the Venice of the North for nothing. Built on the Baltic Sea, it is spread over a series of connected islands, which means that you spend a lot of time walking alongside the water. What’s even better it that the long northern dusks, combined with the water, mean that Stockholm is a dream location for beautiful sunsets.

If you want to get a great view of the Old Town of Gamla Stan, head over to Monteliusvägen on Södermalm. In the Golden Hour, the light shines directly onto the spire of the church. If you then race down you can catch the last rays of sunset to the west.

2. Gamla Stan

Street in Gamla Stan
Street in Gamla Stan

The Old Town of Stockholm, Gamla Stan is really beautiful, with old houses, cobbled streets, and a variety of absurdly cute shops that, given budgetary constraints, I dared not venture into. Most of the tourists seemed to stay on the main thoroughfares of Västerlånggatan and Österlånggatan; I found that if I walked onto the back streets, it was very quiet, and you could easily imagine yourself back into the 17th century.

The old square of Stortorget (Swedish: the charmingly literal ‘Big Square’) is the historic centre of the city, has some very colourful buildings, and smells of pancakes.

I didn’t go into the royal palace, as tickets were quite expensive, but you can visit the royal chapel for free. It costs about £6 to get into Stockholm Cathedral, known locally as Storkyrkan (‘Great Church’), but a free alternative is the beautiful Tyksa Kyrkan (‘German Church’), which is free to enter.

 3. Food and Fika

Fika
Fika

Okay, so food in Stockholm wasn’t cheap, but given I wasn’t going anywhere near the shops, I decided that I’d at least enjoy some good food. I had a lovely long lunch at Stockholms Gastabud, and then ate with Jon in the evenings at Slingerbulten  and Samborombon. One thing to note is that restaurants close relatively early: we arrived at 9.30 on the Sunday and there weren’t many places still serving food.

Also, a must do is the Swedish tradition of fika, which simply means a lovely rest and chat with some great coffee and delicious baked goods, with the classic being the kanelbulle (cinnamon roll), which I now need to learn to make at home. Just walking past Bröd und Salt in Gamla Stan, where they make them, had me salivating. I also had delicious pecan pie, blueberry crumble, cardamon buns – all sorts of perfect autumn baked goods.

And for drinks? Well, they were hideously expensive everywhere, but I least particularly enjoyed the cup of mead I had at the Viking-themed bar Aifur. Touristy as hell, but where else can you drink like a Viking? Just wish they hadn’t closed at midnight on a Sunday: not very Viking of them.

Dark room, candlelight, and mead
Mead

4. Amazing Museums

The Vasa, a 17th century Swedish gunship that sank only a few hundred feet into its maiden voyage.

I loved all the museums I visited in Stockholm – they were very thoughtfully curated, and offered sensitive perspectives on Sweden’s history and culture. The exhibits at (the free) Historiska, for example, were self-aware in a way that would doubtless have some of our dear Brexiteers foaming at the mouth, pointing out how notions of ‘Swedishness’ are largely a modern construct and owe rather a lot to discredited 19th century racial science, and how Viking history has been appropriated to serve a range of purposes over the centuries. They had an extensive collection on prehistory and the Vikings, medieval altarpieces juxtaposed with a sound installation. Another fantastic free museum was the Moderna Museet, which had a great collection of modern art – and again, was very well curated. It’s open late on Friday evening, and free tours in English are available to better understand the exhibits.

Medieval Altarpieces at the Historiska Museet

I did pay to go to a few other museums (although I skipped the Abba Museum, which cost around £25 to get into – extortionate even for Sweden). I particularly enjoyed Fotografiska, with great exhibitions from, among others, the conflict photographer Paul Hansen and the great studio photographer Irving Penn.The cafe is great too, with a magnificent view out over Gamla Stan. The Vasa Museet is also a must see – it houses a complete and restored 17th century Swedish wooden gunship. The boat didn’t have much of a sea-faring career, sinking in the harbour just 350 feet into its maiden voyage (oops), but was brought up in the 1960s, along with a variety of objects that really take you back into seafaring culture during the time of Sweden’s Golden Age.

5. Staying on a boat

The MS Birger Jarl – which might set sail when you least expect it…

Jon and I stayed on MS Birger Jarl, a boat hotel/hostel that is moored near Fotografiska museum in Södermalm, close to the Old Town of Gamla Stan. This was good value for Stockholm, although the cabin was fairly basic and they insisted on putting the heater on, which meant on one night we did boil. It did give me a bit of a shock, however, when, after having come back briefly to the hotel just after midday to book a flight home, I emerged from my tiny-portholed cabin twenty minutes later to find the exit closed and the boat floating in the Baltic.

It turned out that on Saturdays they do a two hour cruise, which I was now going on, like it or not. Fortunately the weather was beautiful, so I got myself a nice cold beer and enjoyed a couple of hours drifting on the water.

Things I didn’t love:
  1. High prices – Sweden isn’t cheap. Especially so for Brits, given that the pound is currently languishing in the doldrums. 10 Swedish krona are about £1, or 1 Euro. Expect to pay upwards of 70Kr for a beer in the centre of town. Food is less eye-waveringly expensive, but a main course still cost at leat 160Kr.
  2. This dude:
The creepiest lamp in Stockholm.
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