Stockholm has been one of those capitals I’ve always wanted to visit. I’m infatuated with the Nordic countries. Denmark’s capital charmed me, while the Norwegian capital Oslo stole my heart. So, when Tom started working on his project in Stockholm last year I was ecstatic, promptly buying books and magazines. I imagined flying up with Soeren to visit Tom on a regular basis and discovering Stockholm from a different side.
But things never really go the way one imagines and truth be told my imagination runs too wild when I am over-excited. It took us a whole year to actually make the trip. We unanimously decided that our first visit to the city should not be in the darkness of winter, then until Tom got settled, found an apartment and my own traveling schedule got sorted, we were already pushing May 2012!
Soeren finally cracked the idea after seeing the midsummer ad from a well known Swedish furniture store.
“Why not midsummer in Stockholm?”
Soeren and I took an extended weekend off and flew from Berlin. Air Berlin flies from Berlin Tegel airport four times a day. The airport is easily accessible from Berlin main station where buses located right across from the train station will bring you to the airport.
As we flew over Stockholm I could hardly contain my excitement. Soeren and I had our noses pressed to the plane window peering out at the sight of multiple archipelagoes colored in a saturated green surrounded by vivid blue. We had taken the last flight out of Berlin and it was just after 11 PM, but the sun was moderately high and below a few lights began to illuminate the city. Ironically, the lush dark forests made the city look darker than the sky above it and the lights twinkled like stars turning the world upside down for a moment.
A third of Stockholm’s area is water, which is apparently of the highest of quality. The other third of the city is green. Besides the countless small parks, Stockholm boasts of a 56 km2 protected National Park, the Ekoparken, which spans right across the city. In the months of May and June when it is in full bloom and the perfume of lilacs waft over the metropolitan, Stockholm comes to life. The residents celebrate summer with festivals, picnics and simply refuel on light after the darkness of the winter.
For a capital city, Stockholm is relatively compact: extending over 14 islands, connected by over 50 bridges and a network of tunnels: one can get a very good overview of the city thanks to its grid-like plan. Tom’s apartment is very much in the center of the city with easy access to the tube and buses. As Tom had the company car we were fairly independent for the entire three days.
In Stockholm the residents love to celebrate throughout the year, but the long summer nights of midsummer allures them most of all. Midsummer is one of the most popular festivals of the year and something I have wanted to experience. If you ask a Swede:
“How best to experience Midsummer?”
They’ll tell you to spend it outdoors in the nature and try and get invited to a Swedish family’s home. Luckily we managed both!
Midsommar is celebrated on the weekend closest to the 21st June. Traditionally, the Maypole is decorated with leaves from the birch tree and with dances around the pole, the Swedish celebrate the longest day of the year outdoors enjoying nature with music and a lot of alcohol.
Here is a great video that captures the essence of Midsummer: Swedish Midsummer for Dummies.
Tom, Soeren and I had planned to spend the first day a little outside Stockholm. Just like we had been told we wanted to experience Midsummer outdoors. We made our way to Stavsnäs, a 45 minute drive from Stockholm from there we planned to take a boat tour of the archipelagoes and relax in what was a picture-postcard-perfect Midsummer weather on the island of Sandhamn.
With a picnic of strawberries, slices gravad lax, some thickly cut spelt bread, fresh tomatoes and carrots, we boarded the boat. It was not surprising to see the harbor at Stavsnäs so full and all the boasts docked were rapidly filling up with people wearing lovely wreaths decorated with leaves and flowers. The Swedish folk have an air of happiness, calmness and general complacency. I felt very much at ease and even though the line was long there was absolutely no hint of hectic or stress.
From Stavsnäs the boats of Waxholmsbolaget will take you on a roundtrip to Sandhamn for €26. The route to Sandhamn takes about an hour and cruises past stunning islands, overflowing with pine trees, dotted with gorgeous red bath houses and magnificent villas.
Waxholmsbolaget Boat Cruises
Roundtrip tickets Stavsnäs-Sandhamn- Stavsnäs
€26 per person
Red summer residences and fisherman’s cottages are strewn across the grey cliffs of Sandhamn with the scent of rosebushes filling the summer breeze. This was just what we needed. We took time for us, to walk the beaches and stroll through the quaint town taking in the blue skies and the incredible luscious vegetation. After a 20 minute walk through a pine forest and blueberry fields we came to a sun warmed white sandy beach, where we kicked off our shoes and spread out our picnic.
I cannot even begin to tell you how all three of us delighted in the time we spent here. These moments are rare ever since Tom has been working in Stockholm. When one is in the daily routine and in the midst of every day life, we do not always realize what’s missing but moments like these remind us how important it is to find time to bond. Tom and I had time to talk heart-to-heart, while Soeren dipped his feet in the water and played in the sand. Sandhamn is a little paradise and worth a visit.
Make sure you try a seglarbulle, a yeasty raisin and cardamom bun, from the bakery Sandhamns Bageriet.
Late that afternoon we headed back to Stockholm as we had a Midsummer feast to attend. We were invited by the very lovely Anne of Anne’s Food to join her and her family for a Midsummer meal. She topped the invitation when she told me she had also invited Dagmar from A Cat in the Kitchen. If you’ve been blogging as long as I have been you get to meet some of the most generous people along the way. Twitter and Facebook make it easy to stay in touch and when the rare occasion allows us to meet for real, for me it’s a moment that I always cherish. I’ve “known” Anne and Dagmar during our Daring Bakers hay days, for a few years now. I was very excited when Anne instantly invited us to her home when she heard I was visiting Stockholm.
Anne and Dagmar are as lovely in person as they are virtually. I loved Anne’s laid back attitude and Dagmar was wonderfully refreshing. Both ladies had prepared a typical Swedish Midsummer feast, with a variety of herring fillet served with a selection of condiments, smoke salmon, a savory cheesecake and the famous Kötbullar. The highlight was the lavish Swedish Midsummer strawberry cake, Anne had prepared. It was a lovely evening with lots of good food and drink.
Thank you to both these ladies for inviting and treating us to a memorable feast.
The following day the weather did not play along as it did the previous day. Looking out of the window it was raining, grey and slightly chilly, dampening my mood. I noticed a few blue patches in the distant and hoped that the day would progress positively. I was really looking forward to discovering Stockholm’s old city, visit a few museums and celebrate more Midsummer in Skansen. Tom and I had worked out a walking tour, taking us to a few of the places we really wanted to see. Stockholm is a city that one can so wonderfully cover by foot, with its lovely green parks, the old town and kilometer long promenades along the waterfront.
Although the inner city is made up of 14 islands, connected with bridges and between the districts of Normalm, Djugarden and Gamla Stan one can travel by ferry, Stockholm is still compact enough that one can quite comfortably walk just about everywhere.
However, Stockholm provides some great public transportation with busses, underground and metro systems taking the visitor to their point of interest quickly. Tickets for buses and underground can be obtained at the underground stations clearly marked with “T” (“tunnelbana”) or at the pendeltåg stations (metro). The inner city is in Zone A and a single ride costs about €3.60.
Note: You cannot buy tickets in the buses or trains!
Tip: Buy a förköpsremsa ticket for approx. €22. This ticket allows you 8 rides within Zone A and a ticket is valid for an hour allowing you roundtrips within this Zone. The big advantage of this ticket is that many people can use the ticket.
A great place for a stunning view of the entire city is Monteliusvägen on Södermalm. I would recommend making your way and starting your tour on this 0.5 kilometer picturesque walking path offering truly breathtaking views of Stockholm’s inner city.
We made our way to Gamla Stan (Old Town) crossing the Centralbron bridge and winding our way straight to Stortorget, which lies in the heart of the Old Town. In the Middle Ages this area was used as a market place, however it is probably most famous for the so called Blood Bath of 1520, where the Danish King Kristian II, who wanted to force the Swedish under his throne, ordered the execution of 94 political antagonists. After a fire in 1625 many of the houses around the square were destroyed but were rebuilt in their original medieval character. The red and yellow painted houses add a beautiful highlight and many of the houses still have their vaulted cellars in which today several cafés and restaurant cater to the locals and tourists.
Tip: Here you willö also find the Nobel Museum, which is really worth a visit, especially if you are traveling with children.
Open from May 15–September 15 2012
Every day 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Tickets: Adults: SEK 80
Children: (–19 yrs) admission free
Continuing up to Slottsbacken we walked towards the Royal Palace, an imposing Renaissance-style building constructed by Nicodemus Tessin. The palace with its Italian façade and French-style interior was ready to be occupied by King Adolf Fredrik 60 years after it started to be built in 1697. Europe’s best artists and craftsmen were responsible for shaping and designing this opulent palace, which at the time was the largest in the world. Enjoy the palace from the outdoors. We were informed that the 90 SEK could be saved and enjoyed elsewhere.
Tip: If you manage to make it here around noon, try to catch the changing of the guards in the inner courtyard.
Don’t miss Brända Tomten (Burned Lot) in Själagårdsgatan. This is the most charming square in all of Stockholm. Take a break in this tiny haven of peace under the chestnut tree with a cup of coffee and kanelbullar, the famous Scandinavian cinnamon buns.
We continued in the direction of Djurgården, where the Vasa museum, the Nordic museum and Skansen are located. It is a lovely walk along the waterfront and through Stockholm’s prestigious boulevard Strandvägen.
The Vasa museum is an absolute must, especially if you have children accompanying you. An experience of an museum as soon as you enter: in a massive hall an imposing warship cuts through the darkness welcoming, astonished guests.
In the 17th Century Sweden was a powerful country in the region of the Baltic Sea. During the 30 year war King Gustav II Adolf ordered the construction of a stately warship, one that the world had not seen. With this gigantic project the King hoped to win the war against Poland.
The planning of the massive ship was impressive. Vasa was to set with sail 64 canons, 300 soldiers and 145 seamen – it was the pride of King Gustav. The intricate carvings of lion heads, over 500 sculptures of gods, mermaids and warriors on the ship was supposed to demonstrate Sweden’s pride and power to the enemy.
Unfortunately, it never came to that. In 1628, the 53m high and 69m long royal warship sank on its maiden voyage never even leaving Stockholm’s harbor. 333 years later, in 1961 the ship was raised in one piece out of the water, restored and a museum was built around it. Today visitors can walk on three galleries surrounding the warship and experience the beauty of this ship. There are lot of interactive media and movies in the museum making this visit very worthwhile.
The Nordic Museum (Nordiska Museet) is situated immediately beyond the Djurgården bridge to the right. The massive Renaissance style building gives a survey of how life and work in Sweden was over the past 500 years. Furniture, toys, jewelry, clothing and items from every day life can all be explored in this museum. We love museums like this as it makes a great foundation to educate ourselves and Soeren on how life was in the country we are visiting. Personally, I found the exhibition about the Sami people documenting their history, life and identity absorbing.
Tickets: 60 SEK
Our next and final stop on the walking tour was Skansen, which is an open-air museum and a branch of the Nordic Museum. I was very keen to see Skansen as not only do I love diving and reliving the history of a country hands-on, but was keen to celebrate more Midsummer festivities. According to the programme there was to be a lot of singing and dancing around the maypole that day.
The founder and initiator of Skansen, Arthur Hazelius wanted to preserve the folk culture of the farming people in Sweden. He set up Skansen in 1891 and today it is one of the oldest open-air museums in the world. Hazelius transported 150 characteristic and typical farmhouses and manors including furniture, household items and clothing from across Sweden and had them rebuilt on the grounds of Skansen.
One of our favorite areas of Skansen was the small 19th century town with traditional wood cottages, bakery, printing house and glass blowing workshop. As we neared the bakery we were encased by the luscious aromas of cardamom and cinnamon. Instantly Soeren and I rushed inside the tiny bakery just in time to greet the young lady, dressed in traditional attire, bring out a tray of freshly baked kanelbullar. We bought more than we could eat that day but the warm, spiced sweet dough provided us with energy and comfort as we took a few minutes to relax under the tree and enjoyed the few spots of blue in skies.
Another great attraction for the children is the game preserve with animals typically found in the Nordic countries. Bears, elks and reindeers are all part of the preserve as are untypical animals for the Nordic countries like peacocks and penguins.
A slight breeze filled the air with the perfume of field flowers as we made our way to the festival grounds. Nearing the field where the maypole had been set up we could hear music, singing and a lot of laughter. A boisterous group of people, some dressed in the traditional clothing, others, presumably tourists like us, in clothing of all colors and styles, almost all wore the lovely wreaths studded with flowers and leaves. We bought our own wreaths and Soeren and I joined the group dancing our way to songs like The Little Frogs. It was such a perfect way to end a perfect day.
Ticket prices vary but start at 60 SEK
We spent the evening back in Gamla Stan, enjoying a wonderful dinner in a fantastic surrounding. If you are looking for exquisite Swedish cuisine in a relaxed and classy environment then make a reservation at Kryp In, in the center the Old Town. The service is simply outstanding and friendly with food that is well presented and boasts of an impressive wine list. The chef not only looks after his guests personally but also prepares the dishes with a lot of love and attention to detail, while you watch. On the menu you will find dishes like Reindeer carpaccio or roastbeef and an excellent fish soup and marinated herring. You are served freshly baked bread but the pièce de résistance was most certainly dessert: a luscious cappuccino crème brulé served with orange and cognac ice cream and topped off with candied macadamia nuts! Do I need to say more?
Prästgatan 17, Gamla Stan
Telephone: ++046 (0) 8-208841
The next day we managed to get some shopping and visit a few markets before heading back to Arlanda Airport.
Choklafabriken (Chocolate Factory)
For all the chocolate addicts a must. You will be greeted by the rich aroma of delicious pralines, spices, truffles and cakes. The best part is you can watch the pastry chef in action of taste a few of the specialties in the café next door.
Renstiernas gata 12, Södermalm
Apparently Great Garbo worked here as a sales lady! Some great Swedish designer names and incredible for prop buying!
I was extremely disappointed that this exclusive food market hall was closed due to Midsummer Holidays. Make sure you do put this on your list (and check the opening hours properly!). This delicatessen is a foodie’s paradise offering high quality ingredients and has been around since 1888. It was acknowledged as the “World’s 7th best food hall” by the magazine Bon Appetit in 2007.
Monday to Thursday: 9.30-18:00
You will find some lovely Swedish specialties in this market, which make great foodie souvenirs. There are also several lovely cafés and restaurants here so do take a minute to enjoy a coffee and some of the specialties. On Sunday there is a fantastic flea market on the marketplace taunting you with some great vintage props!
Marketplace: Monday to Friday 7.30-18:00
Market Hall: Monday to Thursday 10-18:00
After an action packed, yet relaxing weekend in Stockholm we headed back to the airport. I truly fell in love with this city. There is still so much to discover and I look forward to my next visit here already. I never felt the hectic one does when one is in a tourist capital, visiting all the tourist sights. On the contrary, the Swedish folk, with their gentle smiles and relaxed nature transferred some of their jovial and serene attitude to everyone they came in contact with.
If you are looking for a short weekend break put Stockholm on the top of your list. You will be pleasantly surprised at what this city has to offer.
Stockholm Tourist Center
Sverigehuset, Hamngatan 27
I hope you enjoyed the virtual trip to Stockholm with me and that I was able to tickle your traveling feet a little. If you are thinking of getting away and need more inspiration allow me to make a few suggestions:
Vienna - A Weekend Getaway
Malta and Gozo - Magical Maltese islands
Norway - Mandal, Stavangar, Preikestolen and Hardanger Region
I’ll be on the road again for the next couple of weeks as we break for our vacation. A road trip through Austria, Venice and Croatia! We’re looking forward to adventure, culture good food and relaxation.
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