The word ‘verve’ could have been coined for Sweden’s ice-cool capital which displays the quality in spades – whether in its cutting-edge design scene or the local ability to look effortlessly chic whatever the weather. For all that, Stockholm is a friendly city with a cobbled medieval heart and a spectacularly lovely archipelago.
Sprawled across 14 islands, Stockholm is a haven for walkers and cyclists (and a bit of nightmare for drivers). Make the most of the comprehensive T-Bana metro system and the city’s fleet of buses. A small tram network does exist, the most popular of which is the Djurgårdslinjen that takes you past many of the main sights.
Gamla Stan is Stockholm’s mediaeval center and home to the imposing Kungliga Slottet – the official residence of the Swedish monarchy. A 608-room sprawl, part of the palace has been turned over to museums, among them the Royal Armory, while the daily changing of the guard is worth watching for the exercise in pomp and pageantry alone. Further along Gamla Stan’s cobbled streets is the magnificent Stockholm Cathedral and the Nobel Museum, as well as the tiny Mårten Trotzigs grand – a winding little alley just 90cm wide.
Djurgården, a small green island that sits a short ferry journey from Gamla Stan, is another favorite – thanks both to its natural beauty and the smorgasbord of top-class museums it hosts. Along with the ABBA Museum, which comes complete with a disco-balled dance floor, there is the Vasa Museet which comes houses the remains of 17th century galley, the Vasa.
Another popular option is Skansen, a large open-air recreation of mediaeval village life, and the utterly lovely House of The Nobility – a 17th century palace with a lavishly decorated Session Hall.
Elsewhere, Norrmalm is where most of Stockholm’s business is conducted, while chic Ostermalm is packed with tiny art galleries and upmarket shops. Despite being relatively residential, it’s also the hub for the city’s nightlife.
Once one of Stockholm’s less salubrious neighborhoods, the southern district of Södermalm has enjoyed a renaissance in recent years – in particular the ultra-trendy Hornstull area. Hipsters aside, the district is also famous for its views of Gamla Stan from Fjällgatan and Monteliusvägen, and for the tiny galleries that jostle for space along Hornsgatspuckeln.
From ‘SoFo’, as it’s known to locals, take a ferry to Långholmen, which until 1975, was used as a prison. The old jail is now an edgy hotel but the grounds remain unspoiled and perfect for a Sunday stroll. In summer, the island’s small beaches are thronged with locals taking a dip in the chill Baltic Sea.
Like Copenhagen, Stockholm has benefited from a wave of cool, new restaurants in recent years – the vast majority of them excellent. Old favorites such as Babette, a Norrmalm institution, remain and are as good as ever, as does Gro – a lunch-only restaurant (apart from Thursdays), which specializes in all things vegetable.
In Kungsholmen, Café Proviant has a micro-brewery at the door while Hornstulls Bodega in Södermalm combines an impressive wine list with delicate Spanish-inspired tapas. Not far away is Nook, a relatively inexpensive Korean which does excellent kimchi and has a lively bar next door for those who can’t face the trek back to Norrmalm and the many clubs and bars off Stureplan.