Stockholm is spread out on 14 islands, a peaceful, beautiful city of graceful architecture and calm waterways. We visited for three days in early spring, as the snow and ice were just beginning to thaw, and the Swedish capital was waking up to sun and blue skies. We booked a room via AirBnB at Carina’s cosy flat, in funky Sodermalm, and wandered where our feet took us.
Our first stop was the fairytale-like heart of medieval Stockholm – Gamla Stan, which was by far, my favourite spot in Stockholm. full of picturesque cobblestone streets and twisty, tight little alleys. The buildings are all painted in warm ochres, yellows or reds and architectural details like old wooden windows, door handles shaped like lions, and brass knockers abound. We visit the Riddarholmskyrkan, a church built by Franciscan monks in the late 13th century. The lacy, intricate iron spire is a beautiful piece of architecture, soaring above the city.
We also explored the Grand Palace and managed to catch the stately Changing of the Guards at the Palace’s entrance. The building is beautifully decked out on the inside, and we see our first kakelugn, or tiled stove, a traditional masonry heater used across the Nordic countries. The ones in the Grand Palace are marvellously decked out in colourful tiles, and date from the 19th century.
As the day wore on, we took breaks from the cold by ducking into the shops. In the capital of cool, even the tourist shops are stocked with beautiful and practical designs, like coat hangers in the shape of reindeer, knitted throws, and reindeer skins. I content myself with a beautiful little enameled Dalahäst charm, traditional Swedish toy shaped like a horse.
To cap off our first day in Sweden, we take in the sunset over Gamla Stan from the Stadhuset, or town hall, across the water. As twilight creeps in the lights go on, illuminating the spires and sharp lines of Stockholm’s rooftops. On our way back, we pass by a futuristic building overlooking an ice-locked canal, the Radisson Blu hotel, a beautiful, glittering beast. The Swedes take design very seriously.
We start the day with a traditional Swedish breakfast of cereal, toast, yoghurt and courtesy of Carina, homemade lingonberry conserve. The bright red berries are a staple in Swedish households, and make a delicious cordial, jam or conserve, especially in accompaniment to meatballs!
On this second day, we planned to spend some time in Djurgarten and its plethora of museums. We want to see the Vasa and explore the open air museum. To get there, we catch a ferry. There’s nothing quite like seeing Stockholm from the water. This city is built for sightseeing by boat, and we cruise along on the ferry while snapping photos of the sights.
At the Vasamusset, we are awed by the Vasa, a 17th century royal ship. She one of the biggest of her time, but her construction was poorly engineered and rushed. On her maiden voyage, a light squall made her topple, and she sank not 150m from where she set sail. Raised in the 1960s, itself a marvellously daring engineering feat, she now stands reconstructed to her full glory. The museum is vast and extremely entertaining, full of interactive displays, preserved artifacts and interesting facts about the Vasa.
Next stop – the Skansen open air museum. This is a folksy collection of architectural styles from all around Sweden, dating from the 16th century and populated by people wandering around in dress up, pretending to be woodcutters, apothecaries, doctors, and housewives, all there for you to speak to and ask questions of. It felt a little kitsch, but I enjoyed it. There’s nothing quite like making history come alive than a good, original 17th century wooden farmhouse and a “farmer” tending to the fire inside who’s willing to talk to you about traditional methods of salting reindeer.
The icy paths made everything a little slippery, and the bears (and their cubs!) were in hibernation, but the harbour seals were happy to see us, as were the red foxes, gambolling about in the snow. There was also lots of reindeer, penned in next to a traditional Sami tent. Other Swedish animals also included lynx, 2m tall elk and furry draught horses.
“Go to the National Theatre. To the side you will see a statue of a famous Swedish actress. You should touch her.”
So says Carina, and as we always trust 100% in whatever our AirBnB hosts say, we do exactly that.
The statue is of Margaretha Krook, an actress who didn’t want a statue erected in her honour, as she thought them “cold and unapproachable.” So the sculptors made her statue warm. She’s 37 C all year round, and brilliantly warm to the touch! You can see where fans have given her a shiny patina. I’m told on good authority that she’s a favourite with everyone on a cigarette break during cold winter nights.
It’s our last day in Stockholm, and we spend it shopping in Ostermalm’s famed Saluhall, or food hall. The place is full to bursting with meats, seafood, cheeses, fine teas and coffees. We sample, try and taste, then buy a little round of dried reindeer meat. Rich, gamey and tough, it’s a dark, blood red in colour. We also browse through the shops of Sodermalm, which are perfect to while away a few hours of time. The streets are filled with funky, unique boutiques – be warned though, that prices are still high!
Stockholm is a perfect little city for a quick 3 day getaway. Refined, clean and easy to get around, it’s a beautiful city to get lost in and just wander around.