I recently attended a business conference in Stockholm, Sweden. I had never been to Stockholm before. Neither had my wife, and since the trip overlapped our wedding anniversary, she decided to come with me. I extended my trip a couple of days once the conference was over so we could explore the city of Stockholm, often called “the Capital of Scandinavia”.
Stockholm in General
Stockholm is an old city, mentioned historically in 1252, but the area was settled in the 6th century BC. As we traveled to our hotel from the airport, we were impressed by the architecture and layout of the city. While most of the city has modern buildings, Stockholm has done an excellent job integrating new buildings with the older existing architecture. City streets are wide, clean and well maintained. Stockholm takes pride in its appearance.
As the city is built across many islands, there is water everywhere you go. While it was a little chilly when we were there (early April), it is easy to see how wonderful it must be on a warm summer day. There are plenty of open-air cafe and eateries near the waterways. Citizens of Stockholm appear to be immune to effects of the cold. Even when the temperatures were in the 40s, they had no problem eating/drinking outside.
Stockholm has an excellent public transportation system, with excellent bus and tram routes. With plenty of pedestrian walkways, it is possible to walk anywhere in the city without a car or taxi. Bridges connect all the islands for easy access, and water taxis and sightseeing ships are available for taking exploring the islands from the harbor.
Our hotel was near Gamla Stan, the “Old Town” of Stockholm. Gamla Stan is really a small group of islands, connected by bridges and walkways. For generations, when people referred to Stockholm, they were really referring to this area of the city. Gamla Stan is home to the Royal Palace, the Riddarhuset (House of Nobility), the Stockholm Cathedral and the Nobel Museum. Any visitor to Stockholm should expect to spend a lot of time wandering the narrow streets and alleyways of “Old Town”. There are great restaurants, out of the way cafes and plenty of pubs and bars throughout this section. The architecture appears to largely “Old German” style from the 1300s, with terracotta and pastel-colored townhouses. My only complaint about this part of Stockholm is the “chain” stores (example: Starbucks) that appear here, marring its beautiful old European charm.
My wife toured the Royal Palace and the Nobel Prize Museum, both found in Gamla Stan. While she felt the Royal Palace was underwhelming compared to other European palaces, she thought the Nobel Prize Museum was worth a visit for tourists visiting Stockholm.
The highlight of my time in Stockholm was a visit to the Vasa museum. The Vasa is a Swedish warship built between 1626 and 1618. Although there were concerns about her seaworthiness due to changes in her design during her build, the King of Sweden ordered the ship launched. She sank in Stockholm’s harbor on her maiden voyage on August 10, 1628. There she lay undisturbed until rediscovered in the 1950s. The water and soil environment of the harbor left her hull in excellent condition, and Sweden recovered the vessel 250 years after her demise in 1628. After extensive restoration, a museum was built to showcase the Vasa, and it opened to the public in 1990. Approximately 95% of the vessel is the original construction, making the Vasa the only 17th-century warship in the world still intact. The museum is the best one I have ever visited for a single site or artifact. It is also said to be the most visited museum in Scandinavia. This is a “must do” item on any tour of Stockholm.
Next to the Vasa Museum is Djurgarden, a large open-air park and greenway. Djurgarden would be Stockholm’s equivalent of New York City’s Central Park. Each year Stockholmers and visitors alike stroll through the beautiful walkways and open meadows. Djurgarden is an island (of course!) and there are several museums other than the Vasa museum available to the public. Some are good (Nordic History Museum) and some are not quite so good (70’s pop group ABBA museum).
We enjoyed our time in Stockholm. Our timing was not the best (it was still cold for us Americans), but we explored the city, walking through wonderful neighborhoods and small parks and monuments.
From the old shops in Gamla Stan to the excellent modern day shopping in Ostermalm, there were all the shopping options anyone could want. I was not a big fan of the food, but that is personal preference more than anything else. There were always excellent restaurants to try. While I can’t say it made my “top ten” list of places to visit, but it was a good trip, and has us eager to try other places in Scandinavia.