The first thing you notice about Stockholm is that while it’s a pretty place, it’s also expensive, and bargains are few and far between. It is however undeniably beautiful, and when the sun shines and the ferryboats ply back and forth between the islands that the city sits upon, you sort of forget about the fact that the beer in your hand is half as expensive again as it would be back home.
The core of ‘downtown Stockholm’ is based across 4 islands. The northernmost one has the main shopping drag – Drottingatan. It’s filled with chain stores, home design shops and upmarket clothes shops, but relax, you won’t be able to afford much more than a teeshirt, so focus on the city itself and just soak in the scenery.
The end of that island (Norrmalm) facing the water is a bit of a mess due to roadworks, but opposite that and approached through a smaller island is Gamla Stan – which my guidebook says means ‘old town’. And that’s pretty accurate, with a winding main street packed mostly with tourist shops and so on, but with loads of side streets that have nicer bars, quirky shops and generally interesting places to linger. Once such place that I wandered into was the heaving jazz pub called Stampen, where there was quite a buzz already at 5pm on a Sunday afternoon. On Gamla Stan also are a number of museums (incl the Nobel museum), the Royal Palace, and more. Plus Stortorget, which is a very nice little square with bars and restaurants waiting to take some more of those Swedish Kroner from your wallet. People watching is relatively free however, and this is one of the best places to linger over a beer or coffee, and observe the populace in motion.
Just at the other side of Gamla Stan (walking N to S) is the ferry port at Slussen, where you can catch a ferry to go over to Djurgarden, the island to the East. There you find a whole cluster of Museums and a very scary looking amusements park. I should say in passing that we bought the 72 hour ‘all Stockholm public transport’ card, which cost about 27 Euro apiece. I think they are great value, and apart from saving the hassle of having to keep buying individual tickets, they cover that ferry from Slussen to Djurgarden and back. Which is a nice scenic ride in itself across the harbour.
There is also a Stockholm Card that covers many attractions (though crucially NOT the ABBA museum, of which more anon) but it’s about 100 Euro a head and unless you are going to literally go to museum after museum, I don’t believe it’s worth the outlay. Back to our trip. After the short hop from Slussen to Djurgarden, we nipped into the VASA museum for an hour to see the perfectly formed royal warship that sank in the harbour on its maiden voyage in 1628, just a few hundred metres from it’s launch-point. It’s huge, ornate, impressive, and there are good tours that tell you all about it running all the time. Ironically it survived intact because Stockholm Harbour was so polluted that the micro-organisms that would have eaten the wood could not have survived. It was top-heavy, by the way, which was why it keeled over, to public horror and disbelief.
And then, the main event. 300 metres away, the ABBA museum. Let’s just be charitable and say that we all suspended belief and wallowed in nostalgia (even those who were unborn when the Swedish fab four burst onto the scene). It’s quite scary how many of the songs were familiar – two weeks later I’m still humming ‘The winner takes it all’….
And then I explored Skansen (also on Djurgarden) which is a sort of ‘folk park’ with historic houses from many parts of Sweden transplanted into a wildflower zone, adding in some folk-dancers and a small zoo of mostly indigenous animals. Plus petting animals for the kids. The sun continued to shine and it was all very pleasant indeed. There was an entrance fee, but it is a quick way to get a sense of Sweden’s rural roots – even if it is a tad artificial to see them all in close proximity to each other. The other fellow tourists had gone their separate ways, but we connected later and headed down to Sodermalm, due S again from Gamla Stan. This is a quieter, less touristic and residential area, but with lots of great restaurants and bars quite close to one another, and easy to reach by the underground. And very easy to walk around. By the way, I should have said that Stockholm feels like a very safe city, and there is zero litter. Not a scrap.
We ate in a well-known Stockholm restaurant called Pelikan. Good Swedish food, but expensive, but then so is everywhere else. We then walked back up the bluffs overlooking the harbour on the N edge of Sodermalm and had a drink (with about 1000 other people) in the grounds of the Sodra Teatern ‘venue’. It’s a concert venue, a nightclub and a great place to see the sun set over Stockholm from the grounds. Finally we grabbed the underground back to our hotel. The ‘T-bana’ is the underground and, as you would expect from Stockholm, it’s regular, efficient, clean and hassle free.
Sunday was, happily, another sunshine day and we walked all over the city (by now our feet had grown used to the regular pain). We got the T-bana over to Kungsholmen island and sat and had coffee on a floating garden moored on the water. Then we walked all the way up to City Hall and on to the island of Skeppsholm (light lunch) followed by the Modern Art Museum (free). A bit of souvenir shopping for fridge magnets (affordable, light, addictive) and we were thinking about packing our bags for the early start on Monday.
All in all, a great city to visit. IF you are lucky enough to get good weather, it’s even more enjoyable. They have the islands and the water. They have history and beautiful buildings and ferries and a first class public transport system. They have expensive bars and restaurants filled with mostly beautiful people who – btw – ALL speak perfect English and like to practice. They have ABBA. So no matter how you look at it, there’s a lot to see and do, and I’m acutely aware of how many things we never managed to do or sights we missed. But it’s a beautiful place, and I have a feeling a return visit at some stage could be on the cards. Can you hear the drums, Fernando?