When I started this blog a former colleague of mine expressed his approval by the following remark: "Great idea, Oksana! Make us all fall in love with Stockholm!". Taking into consideration that this blog is now almost one year old and I still haven't written anything about Stockholm, I think I have failed that mission so far. So now I have to finally start living up to those expectations! Stockholm is a very charming city indeed so making someone fall in love with it should not be a particularly difficult task.
Stockholms archipelago is the largest archipelago in Sweden. It consists of around 24 000 islands and islets and the sunset views are almost too good to be true (on those days when it's actually sunny). You can swim, rent a kayak, have a BBQ, sun bathe or visit a spa.
If you have just one day and do not wish to stay overnight the best choice is an island that you can take a ferry to in the morning and a ferry back in the evening. This is usually possible with the larger islands or islands that have some larger villages. For instance, Sandhamn on Sandö is a great alternative. Other alternatives could be Finnhamn, Svartsö or Utö. If you wish to stay overnight you basically have three alternatives: staying in a hotel (usually it gets rather expensive), staying in a guest house (cheaper alternative bu you will need your own bedsheets, towels with you and usually you will need to pay extra for cleaning. Also, guest houses can easily be fully booked several weeks in advance). The last alternative is to set a tent somewhere. This can either be a specially designated camping place or somewhere wild. Usually in Sweden you can set a tent almost anywhere as long as it is not on someone's backyard or if you don't otherwise bother anyone. However, in nature reserves there can be some other rules. So before you decide on this alternative do some research. The best websites about the archipelago and which islands to go to are Visit Skärgården and Stockholms Skärgård. For boat traffic please check Waxholmsbolaget.
B: Basements in Gamla Stan
As Gamla Stan is the most touristic place in town there is of course no way you can miss it. However, not everyone knows that the coolest thing in Gamla Stan is all the numerous basements that have been preserved from Middle Ages! If you want to get the feeling of it I recommend you to visit several places: restaurant Kaffegillet at Trångsund 4 has a great basement downstairs; the Indiska Shop at Västerlånggatan 50 has several rooms selling antique furniture in a XVII century basement; the Wiströms Irish Pub at Stora Nygatan 13 has a huge catacomb like basement (cheap wine and beer, and Music and Film quiz nights once in a while) and the Meduza bar has a similar basement with extremely cheap wine and beer. All of these places are well worth a visit!
C: City Hall (Stadshuset)
City Hall is that iconic building you will see on a postcard and know it's from Stockholm.
Besides serving as an office to the city's Municipal Office it is also one of the most exclusive ceremonial halls in Stockholm! Every year the Nobel banquet is held in its Blue Hall. For those of you who hasn't been invited, there is a restaurant in the City Hall - Stadshuskällaren - that serves the menu from the last year Nobel dinner. Besides the Nobel banquet the City Hall hosts many other events including the graduation ceremonies of the Royal Institute of Technology and the Stockholm School of Economics. One could also arrange a wedding ceremony to be held in the City Hall. The ceremonies can be arranged on Saturdays and last for about 5 minutes.
I strongly suggest going on a free guided tour to the City Hall as this is really the only way to visit it. There are guided tours in English held at 10.00, 11.00, 12.00, 13.00, 14.00 and 15.00 around the year. During the summer time there are more times and more languages available. When you are there make sure you visit the City Hall Tower as well. The tower offers a great view on the city. The admission is 50 SEK and it can only be visited during special hours on special days between May and September. Please look here for more detailed information.
C: Cheap Places to Eat
Non-existent. Oh well, let's try.
The key thing to know is that most restaurants have a lunch menu that is usually cheaper than the à-la-carte menu during the other times of the day. The price of a lunch can be something between 85 and 100 SEK. The best place I know of is the Jensens Bofhus at Vasagatan (right across the Central Station) that has special lunch prices for their steaks and ribs (59 for the lunch steak and 89 for the heavenly good ribs). This, however, does not include tea, coffee or salad. Jensens is generally a great place to go for an inexpensive delicious meat meal outside of the lunch time as well. Just make sure you go the the Vasagatan one. This restaurant was renovated the last year and has very nice ambiance.
Other options may include Arigato sushi (99 SEK for a large sushi set) at Vasagatan, Kungshallen at Kungsgatan 44 (that is kind of a food court where you can choose from several restaurants) and K25 (a more traditional food court and probably a bit cheaper prices).
The cheapest place to eat in whole Stockholm would of course be IKEA! No one can beat a hot dog for 5 SEK! There is even a funny story about IKEA in Kungens Kurva (the oldest in the world one) that lowered its hot dog price to 4 SEK after the local ICA set their hot dog price to 5. People say that Ingvar Kamprad himself was involved in taking this strategic decision!
C: Cherry Blossom Trees in Kungsträdgården
Once per year Kungsträdgården (the King's Garden) turns into this magnificent almost magical place full of cherry blossom. Usually this happens in the last week of April and it's really one of the highlights of the year. The absolutely best way to see the cherry blossom trees is in the early morning. In this way you will avoid the crowds and the only people you will be sharing the wonder with will be some couples taking wedding photos in the morning light.
No one takes Eurovision as seriously as the Swedes do! Even though they stubbornly call it by the name of the national selection final - Melodifestivalen - that takes place in January-March. This is because to the Swedes Eurovision is just a natural next stage of the Melodifestivalen. The country starts going crazy about their performer who is going to represent Sweden on the European stage right after the Melodifestival final in February. Swedes never doubt their song is the absolutely best one and it will most definitely win. Sometimes it goes really well. Next year Sweden will host the Eurovision Song Contest again after hosting it just three years ago. Sometimes it doesn't go as well as intented, for instance, in 2010 Anna Bergendahl who was a big favorite in Sweden didn't manage to take the country to the final - for the first and only time in the Swedish Eurovision history. However, currently Sweden holds the second most number of Eurovision wins - six - and is only outperformed by Ireland (7 wins) and directly followed by France, Luxemburg and UK (5 each).
Going crazy about Eurovision in Sweden includes watching four episodes of the "Before Eurovision Song Contest" TV Show (where a panel of Swedish Eurovision experts discusses all the countries' contributions and usually agrees that the Swedish song is the best) and organizing Eurovision parties at home with quizzes, flags and prizes. The party at my place got just a little bit too crazy this year as Sweden won. So crazy that the security service had to knock on the door and calm us down. You see, I thought if Sweden wins it's like the New Year's Eve: you can go as crazy as you want and no one can be against it. Apparently it doesn't work that way. Next year going crazy about Eurovision will of course include actually going to the final that will be held in the Globen/Friends Arena in Stockholm in May 2016!
The fika concept is so extremely central to the Swedish culture that it should have really be put in front of all this list denying the alphabetical order. During my five years in Sweden I had to explain what fika is to people many times. I think it's only now that I can finally put the explanation in the right words. Fika is a coffee break while socializing with someone when the socializing part is more important than the coffee part. So you can have a fike with coffee, or a fika with tee, you can have it with a cake or with fruit. You could do it at work with your colleagues (some people have it twice a day!) or you could invite your friend for a fika in the city.
F: Free Walking Tours
If you want to explore the city in a more systematic way and actually learn something about Stockholm, Sweden and Swedes I highly recommend you to join one of the free walking tours. Free walking tours is nothing uniquely Swedish and you can find this concept in almost all the major tourist cities around the world. The tours are really for free and you only pay tips in case you actually like the tour. I joined the Old City tour in Stockholm and you could either leave a tip or hug the guide to show your appreciation. Because the tours are tip-based the guides usually try to make them very interesting and exciting. Currently there are three different tours you can join: Modern Stockholm tour in the morning, Old City tour and a Söder tour in the afternoon. Joining one of these tours is a great way to get overview of all of the city before you decide which placing you would like to explore on your own. Check out the webpage for the current schedule! Free Walking Tours Stockholm
F: Free Museum Entrance
Certain museums have special days or hours when the admission is free for everyone. These are:
1. National Museum: free admission for those under 26 years old
2. The Army Museum: free admission for under 20s
3. The Museum of Medieval Stockholm: free entrance
4. The Royal Coin Cabinet: free entrance for everyone during the summer of 2015. Free admission for those under 19.
5. The Strindberg Museum: Free entrance for those under 20.
6. The Vasa Museum: free entrance for those under 19.
7. The Maritime Museum: free admission
8. Tekniska Museum: free entrance Wednesdays 17-20
9. Nordiska Museum: free admission Wednesdays 17-20 September- May
10. The Dance Museum: free admission during June, July and August
11. Bonniers Art Gallery: free admission
Ok, by now you should have got the point. And by the way, on Mondays all the museums are usually closed.
G: Gröna Lund
Yay! Now this is a favorite!
Gröna Lund is the amusement park of Stockholm. It cannot directly compete with the giant amusement parks in the USA but it is certainly one of the best ones in Europe. The park is very old and was founded already in 1883 but it is constantly developing. During the last four or five years we got several new rides including the Insane ride (it's exactly what the name suggests), the Eclipse ride (the giant chain swings 130 meters up in the sky) and the Twister wooden roller coaster to name a few. Gröna Lund is the place where you can see the most magnificent views on Stockholm - from the top of the Catapult, from the top of the Free Fall and from the Eclipse swinger. Of course if you dare trying those. If you are really afraid of/you are not a big fan of free falls I can strongly suggest you try the Eclipse. It takes you high up in the sky but it's a super predictable and smooth ride. It's not scary at all! ;)
Gröna Lund is also a great venue for outdoor summer concerts. If you are in Stockholm for a longer time you can get a season entrance card for 230 SEK (entrance on the concert nights costs 220 SEK and 110 SEK otherwise) and enjoy free entrance all summer. The concert schedule can be found here. If you actually want to ride the roller coasters you will need an "Åkband" that costs additional 320 SEK.
Renting a kayak and exploring the city from water is one of the best possible ways to see it. When looking for a place to rent a kayak there are other things you should consider than just the rental price. While there is a lot of water in Stockholm, not all of the water reservoirs are connected. So you should choose a rental place dependent on where you would like to go paddling. Some of the options are: Brunnsvikens Kanotklubb for paddling in Brunnsviken, Långholmen Kayak for paddling around Södermalm or next to the City Hall. There are plenty of other choices. Just look at the map to find out which ones are most interesting!
M: Made in Sweden
If you are looking for a stylish present from your trip or something that would add a bit of a Swedish character to your home but you are not so much interested in soulless mass production fridge magnets then visit Made in Sweden at Västerlånggatan 57. This small boutique has a collection of unique hand-picked things made by different artists from all around Sweden.
Söder is one of the best places I know for cozy atmospheric walks. (Hey, it's good for bars as well!) This is also one of the very few places in town where they still have the traditional old-style paving. Take a subway ride to Slussen, go out in the direction of the Stadsmuseet, start walking up the Hornsgatan and take a turn to the right up the Bellmansgatan. Check out that house with an entrance from a bridge and then follow to the left to the Monteliusvägen. It's one of the most beautiful views of Stockholm that you can find!
There are several very nice spa places in Stockholm but most of them are extremely expensive. If your budget allows check out Blue Hotell Spa at Lidingö and Yasuragi Japanese Spa. If you don't want to spend a fortune but still would like to have a very nice spa experience book an evening at Selma City Spa that is located on the Clarion Hotel Sign rooftop. The swimming pool on the rooftop with a view over Kungsholmen is open throughout the year and is warmed up to about 30-32 degrees. Selma City Spa costs 495 SEK per person if you are not a hotel guest and is a very beautiful place to relax view a rooftop city view.
Don't even try to pronounce that! A literal translation to English would be something like "The Sandwich Cake Place". While sandwich cakes (smörgåstårtor) is something very Swedish and this a Swedish cuisine restaurant do not expect any sandwich cakes here! This is a charming little place that serves a tasting menu (5-8 smaller dishes that you cannot choose but that come all together as a menu) of Swedish food. All the ingredients are local (Sweden) and are often bought from the producers themselves. The origins of the food can be tracked down to a specific farm and most of the ingredients are organic. The restaurant offers two menus: the little menu called (The Express Tour) and the large menu (The Landscape Tour). Each menu consists of a number of dishes and each dish originates from a different place in Sweden. The little menu takes 2 hours to eat and the large one up to 4 hours. The menus are changed once a month so you probably wouldn't go here every evening. While this is an expensive place (the little menu costs 435 SEK and the large one 685 SEK excluding wine) it doesn't feel posh at all. This is not the kind of place where you will feel under dressed and this is the best restaurant I can recommend in Stockholm. Currently Smörgåstårteriet is number 2 on the TripAdvisor list of restaurants in Stockholm but I think it deserves to become number 1.
As I was really surprised there were no sandwich cakes the first time I visited the restaurant I had to ask the waiter why they had such a weird name. The answer was extremely Swedish: "Well, one must have a name anyway, right?" (Någonting ska man ju heta). Apparently when they opened that was the business idea that turned out to be less popular than the rest of the food they served. Currently it's a small charming place where the chief cook can do whatever he likes and that's why it's just excellent.
If you have more time (and money) and want to check out some other restaurants I can recommend Lux Dag för Dag (Swedish) and Trattoria (Italian but super atmospheric).
So now it's the time for you to go out and explore Stockholm! And if you find other places you think are great feel free to comment below and share with others!