If you’ve ever thought about going to Stockholm, Sweden’s charming and vibrant capital city, stop hesitating and go! This delightful historic town of fourteen islands connected by 50 plus bridges on freshwater Lake Mälaren, which flows into the Baltic Sea, is a wonderful city to explore. Stockholm, in a nutshell, is very likable. Here are our top seven things you’ll love to enjoy in Stockholm.
1. Gamla Stan
This tiny island, once the entire city of Stockholm, is a wonderful place to actually feel history. Cobblestone streets ramble up, down and around amongst tall, narrow medieval buildings. The 18th century Royal Palace is a commanding presence of order amongst the disjointed thoroughfares of the rest of Gamla Stan. Tiny town squares pop up intermittently as you begin to wonder just what it must have been like to live back in the day.
Visiting Gamla Stan is a must in order to capture the true old world feel of early Stockholm. Touristy trinket shops are the majority of shopping options, however it is a delightful place to stroll amongst historic architecture without a map and just embrace what is around the next corner.
Note: Wear comfortable shoes; don’t even think of a shoe without a rubber sole or your legs will be screaming at you.
2. Royal Palace and Treasury
Built on the site of an earlier 10th or 11th century castle Stockholm’s Royal Palace is one of Europe’s oldest working royal palaces. You’ll often catch a glimpse of the Royal Swedish Guard in their pristine blue and white uniforms, which reminds you this isn’t just another old building. High atop the palace is first Swedish flag to rise in the morning and the first to come down at the end of the day. Notice the shape of the flag, if you see three tails, royalty is present. Open to visitors this official royal residence is home to many official events, departments of the royal court and four distinct museums:
- Royal Apartments – historical and official rooms of the Swedish Royal Family
- Treasury – royal regalia, crown jewels and carriages
- Tre Kronor Museum – portrays the palaces medieval history
- Gustav III’s Museum of Antiquities – collection of King Gustav III’s sculptures and art
Despite being fourteen islands, Stockholm like many cities is best enjoyed by walking. The islands are small and each has its own unique character often with some historical anchor.
One evening, from 8 to 9PM we walked around the island of Skeppsholmen, trapsing around the grounds of the Museum of Modern Art, old military buildings one of which is now a hotel and another we later learned was a vacant torpedo factory. What made it neat was it felt nothing like a city, with barely a car or other people in sight.
You needn’t worry about starving in Stockholm. Every meal we had, we’d have again. Every restaurant, big or small, we visited was splendid. We relied on locals for recommendations which were consistently spot on.
If you want the best Swedish meatballs, the gourmet foodie-worthy version, Tradition restaurant in Gamla Stan will fuel your tastebuds.
Bakeries are a delicious way to sample the Swedish culture. At Grillska Huset a bustling cafe/bakery run by the Stockholm City Mission you’ll find some of the best patisserie and baked goods in Stockholm.
Try new things, you’ll be amazed. Pickled cucumbers, lingonberries aren’t just for color, add them to your fork for the perfect bite of your main dish. Flavors such as anise or cardamom add a pleasant surprise to the typical bakery fare. They have different versions of rye bread than what we are used to, some sweeter others not, but what you won’t find are those pesky seeds which are ground completely before adding them to the dough.
5. Stockholm City Hall
One of the first major buildings which catches your eye upon entering Stockholm proper, is the iconic City Hall. Built from eight million bricks and completed in 1923 this fortress like municipal building is home to both city government and the site of the Nobel Prize banquet. Make your way to the humongous banquet hall, Gyllene Salen (The Golden Hall), to view one of the most spectacular mosaic tile murals, a majority in gold, you’ll ever see.
6. Private Tour
One of the most efficient ways to see everything on your list is to take a private tour. Tours By Locals offers numerous tour options for many global cites and where we found Simona our fabulous private tour guide. It was worth every penny to shortcut typical tourist lines, discounted admissions, no waiting, and the ability to ask lots of questions and see exactly what we wanted. When evaluating our complete fifteen days in Europe our tour with Simona was at the top of our list.
7. Fika and Swedish People
As much as auto correct does not want me to type Fika, pronounced Fee-ka, it is a real thing. Think of it like a coffee break though it can be in the morning, afternoon or evening. Adults and children love Fika, adults substituting a beer, glass of wine or cocktail for coffee or tea later in the day and children drinking juice or lemonade. A sweet such as a cookie a Kanelbullar (cinnamon roll) and not the goopy block sized American version or even a sandwich can also be part of the event. Point being the Swedes know and appreciate how to take a break, slow down and reconnect with people. What won’t you find at Fika, people checking their cell phones.
The Swedish people are wonderful. They happily speak english, don’t talk politics or religion, keep their egos in check and generally have a pretty happy outlook on life. Everyone we encountered was helpful, never a abrupt, condescending or pushy.
June is a spectacular time to visit. The weather is comfortably warm, days are long and trendy sidewalk cafes and bars are aflutter with activity beginning mid afternoon into the evening. Stockholm is easy, a bustling big city with a small town feel full of new experiences you’ll love to enjoy.