Elegant, charming, and oozing both academic and stylistic prowess, the Swedish capital can almost be intimidating in its cultural panache. Home to some of Europe’s top universities and museums, and host to the annual Nobel Prize ceremony, Stockholm certainly asserts its authority as an intellectual hub. Don’t let this daunt you though- when you arrive for yourself, you’ll soon see that you can’t help but be charmed by this innovative city.
Stockholm is similar to Copenhagen in its layout; its sphere stretches beyond land alone, with the city covering over a whopping fourteen islands, as well as holding territory across the Baltic Sea in the form of its
archipelago. Despite this, its relatively straight forward to get around the city, with Stockholm’s fifty-seven bridges ensuring everything is within reach without feeling too compact. Each island has its own personality- whether you’re after modern city aesthetics, pristine waters, or opulent palaces, the Swedish capital has it all.
Taking the five hour train from Malmo across Sweden’s magnificent countryside, we arrived at Stockholm Central Station feeling a little lethargic. A labyrinth of walkways and teeming with people, the station itself was a little difficult to negotiate in our current sleepy state. Opting to simply buy a day rider card that allowed us to roam around the city at our leisure, we set off to our final Airbnb accommodation, hosted by the wonderful Lotta.
Only fifteen minutes away from the city centre, our accommodation was situated in the quiet suburbs of Gamla Enskede. A close-knit neighbourhood filled with quaint wooden houses and flourishing gardens, we were thrilled to find ourselves in such an idyllically Swedish scene. Perhaps our favourite find on Airbnb, we were situated in a cosy guesthouse at the bottom of the garden, complete with an outdoor dining table and hammock. It was the tranquillity of Lotta’s home that I miss the most about Stockholm- evenings spent relaxing outside whilst watching deer gamble around the garden, or else enjoying tea and chat with Lotta and her family. If you’re ever scouring Airbnb for a place to crash in Swedish capital, this is the place to stay.
When it comes to dining out in Stockholm, there’s an almost overwhelming variety of places to visit. While the city centre is the more obvious place to go, I’d recommend swinging by Gamla Stan, the capital’s Old Town primarily based on the island of Stadsholmen, which holds an abundance of independent eateries offering authentic cuisine. If you’re on a bit more of a budget, head to Stockholm’s Gatobud Bistro. A small restaurant specialising in informal dining, it offers a great selection of wine, and delivers refined, tasty food.
For those looking for gourmet eateries, take some time to sample some New-Nordic cuisine by visiting some of Stockholm’s modern innovative restaurants. Focusing upon carefully selected raw ingredients, with emphasis placed upon organic and locally sourced food, Stockholm manages to create an accessible fine dining experience that is both original and intriguing. Gastrologik, Gro and Oaxen Krog & Slip are some of the capital’s top eateries, and give a contemporary, seasonal perspective to classic Nordic cooking.
Unsurprisingly, there’s plenty of sightseeing destinations in Stockholm; Gamla Stan by day is beautiful in its romantic cobbled streets, and features an abundance of cafes, shops, and churches. Take a wander around Skansen, the capital’s open air museum, zoo and gardens, or pop on a boat to the fantastic Djurgarden, an island home to many of Stockholm’s historical buildings and monuments. If you’re looking to kick things up a notch, Grona Lund’s Amusement Park makes a great afternoon trip, or else swing by the Abba Museum for a slightly bizarre musical experience. Prepare yourself for sequins, disco balls, and plenty of excitable middle aged women.
When it comes to art and culture, Stockholm comes into its own. It was impossible to cram in everything during our stay, so if you’re short for time, head to Nationalmuseum, which showcases an innovative variety of art and design. Nationalmuseum is located on the Blasieholmen peninsula, across Strommen bay from the beautiful Royal Palace, and features classic works from the likes of Rubens, Rembrandt, and Goya, as well as traditional designs by a range of Swedish artists. For those looking for a more lavish artistic experience, visit Gustav III’s Pavilion, the opulent abode of King Gustav III until his death. One of the finest examples of European neoclassicism, it’s a visual feast packed with intricate metallic interiors. Continue the theme of decadent architecture by visiting Stockholm’s cathedral, a great example of Swedish brick Gothic, and the ornate Royal Opera House, the national venue for ballet and opera since 1773.
I’d also highly recommend taking some time out to walk down to Stockholm’s fantastic Fotografiska museum, situated in the Sodermalm district of the capital. It’s a contemporary space that features future giants of Swedish photography, as well as established international stars. Highlights included an emotionally charged exhibition created by Nick Brandt, who’s work stresses man’s impact upon the environment, and a paradoxical display of photography by Bryan Adams, featuring a contrast of lavish celebrity photos mixed with blunt portraits of ex-soldiers and the injuries they sustained during their service. In an expression that strives to toy with the viewer through its interplay between fantasy and reality, a trip to Fotografiska can be both challenging and thought-provoking in equal measure.
A trip to Stockholm wouldn’t however be complete without a trip to the stunning Swedish archipelago. Accessed easily from the city centre, there’s plenty of boats you can take to various islands surrounding the capital, all at a reasonable price. As our time was limited, we decided to take a trip to the wonderful island of Vaxholm, one of the largest islands within the archipelago. Now jewelled with rustic B&Bs and harbour side cafes, Vaxholm is an ideal day trip for those looking to escape the crowds of the city. Here you can take a wander around the town, enjoy a seafood lunch on the coast, or else brush up on your historical prowess by visiting Vaxholm Fortress. The voyage takes just under an hour, but you can easily hop on and off neighbouring islands along the way. It’s a picturesque journey; brilliantly clear, rippling waters, teeny-tiny wooden houses, and islands littered with jutting rocks and lush pine trees, it’s a great opportunity to enjoy the sights and sounds of the ocean.
Out of all the cities we’d visited during our chaotic trip, Stockholm really was the jewel in our European crown. The Swedish capital has spoken to me in a way that only Hamburg had managed before it- there was something special about the place, in its atmosphere and way of life, that was almost intoxicating. There’s so many aspects to Stockholm, so many beautiful layers to its culture, that it’s impossible to fully experience in one short stay. Stockholm manages to be intriguing, exciting, and decadent in equal measure, and certainly proves its worth as the top Scandinavian destination.