The truly great thing about living in England is how accessible the non-American Western world is from here. For example: for about the same effort of getting from Omaha to, oh, almost anywhere, one can fly from, say, London to Sweden. And suddenly, in a weekend, “visit Scandinavian country” is checked off of your bucket list!
To be honest, though, I added that to my bucket list in the way I add accomplished To Dos – after the fact to enjoy the satisfaction of that check mark. I knew NOTHING about Sweden. (That’s not much of an exaggeration: IKEA and Swedish meatballs. That’s it.) That said, I’m really glad I made the trip!
I’ve gotten used to traveling at a toddler’s pace, so taking a weekend to bulldoze through as many sights as possible is a forgotten concept to me. But this is how my friends and I knocked out Stockholm in just under 30 hours. (And here is my disclaimer that this is SO far from an exhaustive review of all there is to see and do!)
Changing of the Guard at The Royal Palace
Our first order of business (after the business of catching a non-sold out bus from the airport and figuring out Swedish currency enough to pay to use a toilet) was to catch the Changing of the Guard at the Royal Palace. We made it just in time… to catch glimpses of the soldiers’ helmets peeking between tall Scandinavian tourists’ heads.
A very bold friend who elbowed her way to the front reported that the show was impressive. Like a marching band on horseback. But royal.
This was the guy who told us to keep the street clear for the show.
Our hotel was located across a small harbor from Strandvägen, a prestigious street where the swanky folks have lived since Stockholm’s 1857 World’s Fair. It was a picturesque location, with a view of docked boats and the street’s coral, yellow and white buildings with glittering tile roofs.
A view of Strandvägen from the lovely Radisson Blu Strand Hotel.
We strolled that stretch of water to the next island (Djurgården). This island is home to the Vasa Museum and Skansen, an open air museum of Swedish life. We opted to explore the museum about the war ship, Vasa, that sank in the harbor on its maiden voyage in the 1600s. It was pulled from the water, nearly intact, three hundred years later. The ACTUAL ship (95% original) is inside the museum. It is stunning! The museum itself is very well designed with many interesting exhibits. We were impressed – but in a hurry to catch a canal tour.
The back of the Vasa ship, looking down into the museum. Do you see the people way down there on the right?
Unfortunately, the canal tour was sold out. So we tried for a free walking tour of the city, but decided the crowd was too big, the area too noisy, and our energy levels too low to endure a 2 hour tour chocked with long tales of matters such as the uncertainty of the gender of Queen Christina.
A less-than-spectacular view of a shopping area where the walking tour began. To the left are three H&M stores. And in researching this post, I learned that the real city center is further along that way. Ah well.
We instead wandered toward Gamla Stan, or Old Town, which we barely touched on with our visit to the Royal Palace. This area is filled with a variety of historic buildings, shops and restaurants, and was a perfectly lovely area to wander in an effort to fill time until our 8:30 dinner reservation. If we weren’t so wiped by then, we would have tried harder to pick out and visit the top sights… but we’re pretty sure we accidentally saw them all anyway.
Wandering through Gamla Stan.
Our hotel booked us a reservation at Prinsen, in the upscale Östermalm area. We requested a place with traditional Swedish cuisine and no dress code. Prinsen offered an unpretentious and warm elegance that made us feel welcome but underdressed. (After all, we stopped to admire some Louboutins in a window on our way there.) There was confusion about our reservation time, so we headed to the bar for drinks from Fred. He mixed my Manhattan with panache and precision, and we all had a delightful time getting maybe a little tipsy as we waited for dinner. The food was delicious and cooked to perfection, and in all we were quite pleased with the recommendation.
Cheers, from Prinsen!
My stomach rules my life, so I was unwavering in my determination to acquire a Kanelbullar, or Swedish cinnamon roll. (Particularly after the previous day’s lunch of apple muffin – these people know how to bake a good.)
While the cinnamon roll was really delicious, our breakfast quest caused us to miss a ferry by one minute. There’s something about the cool, fresh air that keeps Swedes on schedule, I guess. We savored our breakfast in the brisk sunshine and admired a view of City Hall and Gamla Stan.
Recipe for one happy tourist: take one cinnamon roll and serve with a side of coffee.
The boat we did catch an hour later took us to Drottingholm Palace, the current royal residence and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Its light yellow facade is striking amidst the greenery and water, and the approach by boat felt regal. We found it surprising that much of the interior is painted to look like marble, but much of what there is to see (murals, tapestries, chandeliers, etc.) is really beautiful. The palace is situated on extensive grounds, much like a park with some formal gardens, but very little was in bloom at the end of April. We decided to duck out to catch the ferry, grab lunch, and hit the canal tour. With more time this would have been a nice destination for a picnic.
Drottingholm Palace from the boat.
While searching for lunch we discovered that food was hard to come by. Unless you count hotdogs, pastries and ice cream as real food. The plan to “just grab something” completely failed us both days. It seemed most of the grab-and-go meal food was along the main (read: really crowded) tourist shop drag, and not along the water. So, plan better than that if you go.
Oh, I guess there were sandwiches under those chocolate balls and cheesecakes after all!
We did buy tickets well in advance of departure for an Under the Bridges boat tour. This tour cruised the islands along Lake Mäleren and the Baltic Sea. It was a cool way to cover more of the city, including some of the uber-modern new developments, but my favorite part was experiencing a boat lock for the first time.
The bridges aren’t exactly the point of the tour. Unless you’re into that kind of thing.
Isn’t this how you imagine the apartments that would house the model rooms at IKEA?
We were left with enough time to book it to the bus station for a snack and a place “in line” for the shuttle to the airport. Nothing will make you feel more like livestock than trying to get onto a bus in anywhere but America! But we made it.
So, if you’re planning to visit Stockholm, here are some handy things to know:
- Nearly everyone speaks very good English.
- Buy tickets for the things you want to do a little in advance, and show up ahead of time to get a seat.
- Definitely do some kind of tour of the city, by boat or bus.
- Check out the Vasa Museum. It really is extraordinary!
- Don’t plan on it being a budget vacation. A cup of regular ol’ coffee costs about $3!
- Go get lost for a bit. You really can’t get too far.
- Visit Skansen and eat at Rosendal’s cafe.
- Go ape and book a meal at Frantzén-Lindeberg, one of the world’s 50 best restaurants.
- Ogle my way around Östermalm’s Saluhall.
- Wander through The Modern Museum.
There’s some amazing shopping and beautiful tours of the archipelago. Many historic sights, delicious restaurants, and stylish places for stylish people to go. Really, it seems there’s a range of activities to appeal to anyone. It’s just a matter of time you have available! VisitStockholm.com offered some good information, and there was a tourist center with extensive information across the street from the train station.
Tell me: Have you been to Stockholm? What would you recommend to someone planning to visit?