Now that the chaos of the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week is over, everyone can now relax, leave their fabulous clothes at the dry-cleaning and get back to the normalcy of life like cooking dinner at home and watching re-runs of the Boardwalk Empire on HBO.
This said, some of us finally have some time to catch up on recouping most recent trips with an aim to share it with the ones who also love to travel and experience different cultures.
I, myself, just recently came from a very exciting trip from Sweden and Germany, where I managed to visit and spent extensive time, despite it being a very short trip, in Stockholm and Berlin – the two cities I really wanted to visit for a while and for different reasons.
Today, though, I’ll be talking only about Stockholm. The story on Berlin is coming soon; I’m still in the post-grieving mode for not having been able to visit The Bauhaus Museum because of a very silly reason – I left to do it on the last day of my visit as the weather was so nice that I wanted to take advantage of the outside sightseeing and biking around the city and that day happened to be the only day of a week that the museum is closed on. (Note: the museum is closed on Tuesdays!) What a pity, really! (If you’ve ever studied graphic design as myself – or any kind of design, you’d join me in my grieving!)
So, Stockholm, Sweden – the beautiful Stockholm, the pride of the Vikings…The city of the notorious Nordic minimalist style, the motherland of IKEA and Swedish meatballs, the site of the Lingonberry produce.
Most likely, many of you wouldn’t think of Stockholm as being the sexiest, romantic city of them all, those are the descriptions that have been long-time ‘trademarked’ by the likes of Paris and Venice – and this is what I thought too, but ever since I’ve become friends with a Swedish exchange student at my high school, I always wanted to visit it. And that was about 15 years ago, and all this time – believe it or not – her and myself have stayed in touch (Amen, Facebook!).
She went ahead to move back to her homeland, finished an aircraft engineering school – yes, you’ve heard me – got married and had two beautiful kids, Jacob – a very common Swedish name – and Malcom. As for me, well, this article is not about me…
Ever since the end of 1990s, I wanted to go to Sweden, but opted to see other parts of Europe. I kept postponing and postponing until the perfect opportunity presented itself last August.
Last July when my parents decided to move to a town of Gottingen in Germany, I realized that despite the fact that they will be now living far away, they will be actually living in Europe, which means? Many, many trips to Europe to visit my parents, where everything is close and makes it more possible to travel around and combine the visiting parents part with the further exploration of Europe. This is exactly what I did last month, when I went to see my parents to make sure they are settling well and coordinated my trip to fit in between the visits to Berlin and Stockholm. Although I had to plan it to do it all in nine days, with the good planning and plenty of the past experiences traveling on a budget and on a time constrain, I managed to pull it off. Yes, with the lack of much sleep and very active sightseeing, I can safely say that I’ve seen both cities very, very thoroughly – inside and out.
Stockholm’s Getting Around:
First of all, unless you are traveling to Stockholm from Europe and using ryanair.com for cheap tickets, opt to fly to either Stockholm-Bromma Airport (BMA / ESSB) (about 7 km from the center of Stockholm) or Stockholm-Arlanda Airport (ARN / ESSA) (about 36 km from Stockholm) instead of Skavsta, which is about 1.5 hours away by bus from the city – and that’s where I flew to. If you have some time to spare, Skavsta is not bad at all, the bus is very comfortable and leaves every 30 min. It cost 25 Euros for both ends, and you get to see the countryside, which, actually, can be easily slept through as the countryside presents not much to look at except for the endless woods.
Stockholm is pretty easy to get around by bus, metro, bike and foot. I spent most of the time on my feet – which also helped to balance my intake of potato, meat and bread – and managed to see it all, only taking a boat once that transported me to the far islands of the city unreachable otherwise, like the island of Djurgarden, a home to the Vasa Museum (Vasamuseet).
Stockholm is also a very bike-friendly city, you can rent a bike anywhere and there are tons of bike lanes and parking lots. Metro, on the other hand, I found a bit confusing, and it’s not cheap either, although it’s fast and clean.
Stockholm’s Sightseeing Musts:
Stockholm has five distinctive districts: Gamla Stan – or the Old City, Norrmalm, Ostermalm, Sodermalm and Kungsholmen. I say, if you have just a few days to spare in the city, concentrate more on Gamla Stan, Norrmalm, and Sodermalm and take a boat to briefly visit other ‘islands’/parts of the city.
- Gamla Stan is all about the history and old town atmosphere, but that makes it very touristic as well. Think of it as the old town of Dubrovnik and/or the Acropolis of Athens – it’s a relatively small area, you can see it all in one day. It’s very charming, very beautiful and offers plenty of things to occupy yourself. The narrow and cobblestone streets lead you in and out of various cafes, restaurants, and shops – and you can see some of the street artists entertaining the crowds. It’s surrounded by the waterfront, which makes it a sight on its own – take a walk along the waterfront and enjoy the 360-degree view of the Old Town. (Don’t forget to see some trolls – the Swedish folklore characters, which you can spot outside some of the shops…)
- Norrmalm is the City, the metropolitan, modern, business part of Stockholm. It’s the area, where I stayed. It’s the metro city of the city with all that a metro city usually has to offer: from business centers – offices, big corporations, etc. – to dining and wining. There’s plenty of things to see: from office buildings with modern designs to old school Swedish restaurants and local designers’ shops. It’s also perfect for people-watching as there are more locals than tourists in this area. The mansards of the buildings were ones of my favorite things to see, as well as to see the Stokholmers’ many biking styles. I can now understand, why Karlsson-on-the-Roof, one of the most popular fictional characters in a series of children’s books created by Swedish author Astrid Lindgren, ‘lived’ here – on a Stockholm’s mansard. I would live there too as those mansards are very beautiful and cozy. By the way, there’s still a house, where the author used to live and where she created the Karlsson-on-the-Roof character, but, ironically, her house doesn’t have a mansard, perhaps it’s one of the reasons she fantasized about this adorable character with a propeller living on a mansard, ‘traveling’ through him from one building mansard to another. You can learn about Lindgren here.
- But Sodermalm – by far, was one of my favorites. If I’d have to describe it, Sodermalm district is like New York City’s SoHo + West Village, San Francisco’s Laurel Heights, or DC’s Georgetown. On my way to Stockholm, I’ve read in the guide that this district has flourished over the years with design shops, fashion boutiques, art galleries, furniture stores, cafes, restaurants and what-not and became one hip place for the artistic and fashionable people to hang around, so, I made it a mission to spend enough time exploring that area so that I could get the full vibe of the district, and I did. I would definitely recommend boutique shopping, walking around the residential area even just to enjoy the sights of many bikes and have a lunch and hot chocolate at the Cafe String – by far, one of the coolest cafes I’ve been to in the city. For specific shopping places to visit in Sodermalm, read below.
As for the museums, I didn’t go to any. This has nothing to do with the quality of the museums, they have quite a few very good ones – from modern to historic. It’s the fact that I’ve been a bit spoiled by Europe, having been there more than 15 times and acquired an attitude of ‘have seen it all / have done it all’, so unless it’s Acropolis and/or Kremlin, I’ve been choosing to experience Europe a bit differently in the past few years – transport by foot and/or bike and see only the ‘exteriors’ of the cities with peeking into cafes, shops and galleries…But, play it by your own interests. If you have more than a few days, definitely check out the museums and galleries in the city. For the museums in Gamla Stan, click here.
Stockholm’s Food & Drinks Musts:
- Meatballs, meatballs, meatballs – this is about the best ‘cuisine’ that Sweden can offer that is very Swedish, and it is usually served with mashed potatoes and Lingonberry sauce (you can pre-test it at the American IKEA stores, it’s available in a jam and concentrate to make a juice). I tried the Swedish meatballs (again, recommended by my Swedish friend) at the restaurant Tranan in Norrmalm, they don’t even have them on the menu, because it’s so good. When I asked the waiter, why they don’t have on the menu (although I knew it from my friend already), the waiter told me that if they put it on the menu, they wouldn’t sell anything else! I also liked the atmosphere at Melanders – their Fisk Casserole was to die for.
- Chocolates and ice-cream – try a place in Norrmalm, ChokladFabriken, I came across it by accident and absolutely loved their dark chocolate lolly-pops, it’s a pop with one chocolate cover on top of another with a third kind of chocolate in the middle – it was an absolute afternoon death-by-chocolate experience! Note: it’s not that cheap, but totally worths it. These lollypops cost about 4 Euros.
- As for the drinks, alcohol in Sweden is very, very expensive, so expensive that you can spot everyone on your airplane carrying Duty Free bags filled with the alcohol back to the country. You might want to do it as well, if you are planning on enjoying some wine at your hotel room. Most common prices for a drink, say, a martini, in Stockholm is 15-17 Euros…
- Also, do not avoid the Stockholm’s hot dog stands, these are not the hotdogs that you might have had in USA. Their hotdogs come with seafood and with various sauces, in a bun and in a tortilla…It was very, very tempting, but I’ve had too much of hot cocoa to drink to have any space left for a hotdog
- Hot chocolate – this is not your average cocoa drink, try their local hot cocoa drinks, made out of dark and white Swedish chocolate, and the way they make it, they put chocolate pieces on the bottom of a glass/cup and then pour over it with some hot milk. The end result – and absolute deliciousness! I tried it at a few places, and as much as it was a rather pleasant view to have a hot chocolate with in Gamla Stan on a petite square in the middle of the Old Town, the best hot chocolate I had was in Sodermalm district, at the Cafe String – those guys know how to make it and I watched them making mine. (You can attempt to make it at home too with this Swedish recipe.)
- Swedish flat brad that comes with each meal at almost every restaurant – don’t deny yourself the local butter and bread, you’ll loose those pounds back at home (I gained 4 pounds traveling in Germany and Sweden, lost 2 the week after my return, and another two after I started working out and eating salads again)
Stockholm’s Shopping Musts:
- If you are looking for the souvenirs, there’s not a better place to shop for it than in Gamla Stan – the Old Town, being tourist and everything, offers many, many various shops with a wide variety of goodies you can bring back home with you. My favorite gifts were the post cards with a very Swedish humor (see the photos.)
- If you are looking to shop some Nordic designs – furniture, tableware, etc. – head to Sodermalm and/or Norrmalm, just browse the main streets of these two districts and you’ll find many interesting things. No planning necessary.
- If you are looking for the local fashion brands/labels – head to Sodermalma. Check out the following boutiques: Emmaus, Fröken Söt, Hattbaren, Matilda Wendelobe, Sara Clausin, Time Out Boutique, Tjallamalla, T-Shirt store, Viktoria & Erik.
- If you are looking for major international labels, including the Swedish H&M stories – head to Norrmalm and browse through their multiple department stores like Ahlens, PUB, and NK Man and small shops, all located within the walking distance from each other. Although I did like the department stores, I had more luck buying accessories, shoes and clothes at the small Swedish label shops in Norrmalm. Check out Swedish labels like Hunky Dory, Fillipa K, and ACNE.
And if I had to choose only 5 things to do in Stockholm, there will be the following.
Stockholm’s Top 5 Things To Do:
- Rent a bike
- Swedish Meatballs
- Hot Chocolate
- Visit as many design shops / home decor shops as possible – just walk around and peek inside to see some of the best minimalist designs
- A boat cruise around the islands – take a boat from the Old Town waterfront, for 15 Euros you get an all-inclusive boat trip on Stromma that includes two days of boating
Note: Sweden is on a colder side, if you are planning on visiting it at the end of the summer as I did – expect cold evenings and some rain, so bring one warm sweater and a coat, complemented with some swanky boots. Avoid going to Stockholm in November, according to my Swedish friend, it’s the most depressing month of the year – lots of rain and gray skies. But don’t worry if you forget it, you’d have a very good reason to shop some cool local designers!