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(Based on a 3-day trip in July 2006 and a 2 day follow-up in July 2007)

Scandinavia Introduction

I had planned to combine this with a guide to Oslo, but as the old saying goes: "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all!".

Sweden is the largest country in Scandinavia (which only consists of Sweden, Denmark and Norway - add Finland and Iceland and you have the Nordic Countries) and does come across as a bit of an England. This extends all the way from the "Stockholm - Capital of Scandinavia" t-shirts to the sometimes frosty view the Danes and Norwegians have of their more populus Swedish neighbours (sorry to break it to you, English people!). In fairness, Stockholm is the most stunning of three capitals.

I'll be honest with you, Scandinavia is not a region I am overly familiar with; in fact the only time I have ever been for anything but a Scotland match was for a single July weekend in July 2006 to Stockholm. This is for no other reason than the price - the cost of living is exorbitant, particularly food and alcohol (Norway is most expensive, Denmark is cheapest but still pricey by UK standards - Sweden sits in the middle). Some people describe Scandinavians as "cold", but I've never experienced this, possibly because I identify so readily with Germans, and there does seem to be a similar behavioural code. The two things I would point out is that Scandinavians don't seem to be able to handle their drink quiet as well as Scots (possibly because they drink it less often due to the price!), and that the concept of personal space is completely different - if someone brushes past you or knocks into your shoulder, they probably don't mean anything at all by it!

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Stockholm's TV Tower



Stockholm sits on 14 islands, not on a river but on the confluence of an inlet of the Baltic Sea and Lake Mälaren - take any guided tour (see below) and these facts will be branded onto your frontal lobe by the commentary! Gamla Stan (literally, "Old Town") is the pivotal island with the olde worlde streets and the boxy royal palace. To the south, separated by Slussen (lit: "lock", joining the Baltic to the lake) is Södermalm, the biggest island and home to some decent pubs, and to the north on the mainland is Norrmalm and Östermalm, where you'll find the shopping centres, offices, the main train station and the trendiest (and priciest) nightlife districts. To the east of the city is the Stockholm archipelago, apparently one of the largest in the world. Remember, no man is an island (apart from Archie Pelago...)

Many people arrive in Stockholm by boat - the Viking Line ferries to Finland and the cruise ships dock at the foot of the cliffs in north-east Södermalm, and the Silja and Tallink ships use the main port on the eastern fringe of Östermalm. Water is also a key transport link around the city, with several ferries plying the water, including links to the cruise berth.

The main airport, Arlanda, is to the north, halfway to the historic city of Uppsala and linked by a comfortable high-speed train to the main station. But tickets before you get on the train - there's a yellow machine at the top of the (absolutely massive) escalator in the airport terminals as well as a couple on the platform. Using a credit card will only take 90 seconds or so, as opposed to paying the extra 50SEK (around £4 at July 2006's rates) on the train. And believe me, you will have your ticket checked! There's a special deal for two adults if travelling together at a weekend as well. If there's more than two of you, taxi is a possibility if you can get it on a fixed fare.

Getting around the city is made easy by a network of metro and bus routes (as well as the Djurgården-Slussen ferry) run by SL. Travel passes are available, although we found the 72-hour SL Tourism Card (approx £15 from the tourism agency) to be a great deal. In addition to free travel on all SL services, it also gives half-price entrance to Skansen and free admission to Gröna Lund and the TV Tower. The fully comprehensive Stockholm Card gives all of this and much, much more, but at a price - only really worth it if you're going to really hammer the museums.

For further information, don't just take my word for it - Time Out City Guide to Stockholm is well worth the investment, even if just for the weekend (at £12, it will be cheaper than many other things!), and everything you could ever want to know about Stockholm's pubs is right here (aside from the handful of comments below).

Final question: would I go back? Yes, but I want a lottery win in the bank first!

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Stockholm from the water

An old tram

Sergels Torg in Norrmalm


Things to see & Do

Stockholm is one of those places where just living is so expensive, it makes sense to spend your time seeing and doing things. That £20 archipelago boat trip may seem pricey, but believe me, you'll spend a lot more money in a pub during the equivalent amount of time!

We did the following:

Boat trip - We managed two (three if you count the ferry!). The classic is the Under The Bridges tour, which takes you through Slussen in Lake Mälaren, around the whole of Södermalm and out a lock the other side. There are other trips too, including the royal canal and various archipelago options - we opted for the speedboat tour around Lidingö,

Skansen - Does the thought of the world's largest museum excite you? Me neither, but this one on Djurgården has it all - 150 buildings from all over Sweden, old craft shops, beer, an exotic aquarium-zoo with mini monkeys, a Scandinavian zoo (with frisky bears and seals), a big escalator and, to top it all, a funicular railway. Well worth a few hours.

Gröna Lund - A sprawling amusment park on the south-west corner of Djurgården. A mix of adult and kids rides, including a couple of intertwining roller-coasters and a mental looking vertical drop machine. And some bars serving pear cider.

Tram - There's a restored tram route running between Norrmalm and Djurgården, which is handy for Skansen and Gröna Lund. If you don't catch it, you'll need to get the bus or the boat as there is no metro nearby.

Kaknastornet (TV Tower) - Until the bridge connecting Sweden to Denmark was built, this extremely ugly block out past Östermalm was the tallest building in the country. The views are pretty good across Djurgården and to Gamla Stan, and there's a cafe-bar selling pear cider.

Old town - The streets and squares of Gamla Stan are an attraction in themselves, and worth taking a while to wander around. Beware - many of the bars, restaurants and cafes in this area are real tourist traps.

Katarina Hissen - the Katarina lift, just south of Slussen, is a tourist attraction in it's own right. Either pay the lift attendant in the lift itself, or brass-neck it by taking the service lift in the office block opposite to Eriks Gondolen bar restaurant, walk to the top floor and out onto the viewing platform. From here you can look down on the concrete jungle that is Slussen - not just the lock but the complex clover-leaf road junction, which for some unfathomable reason the locals are immensely proud of (I thought it was a poor man's spaghetti junction, but there you go!).

Bus tour - You knew it had to be in here! Unlike the complete waste of time and money the Oslo bus trip represents, there are actually plenty of sights to be seen on the Stockholm version. I'd recommend the City Sightseeing tour from Gustav Adolf Plats (as opposed to the hop-on, hop-off version), and if you fancy both a boat and bus tour take the bus one first (we did it the other way around).

Rasunda Stadium - We wandered out to Solna using our travel passes to see the national stadium (also plays host to AIK Solna). It was shut and there was nothing of interest there (if you go during the week, you'll at least get into the national team's and AIK's shops on the main road).

And if we'd had more time (and for the last one, more money!)

Globen - The iconic Globen Arena sits like a huge white golf ball south of Södermalm, next to the Söder Stadion (home to popular Hammarby IF). It does tours, which we only found out about on the last day. May be worth a look, but be warned, it's in a barren concrete urban wasteland!

Stockholms Stadion - Built for the 1912 Olympics, this classic stadium is in northern Östermalm. Home to Djurgårdens IF, when they aren't fighting with the council.

Vin & Spirithistoriska Museet - the Wine & Spirits Museum sounds like a good laugh, but it's a wee bit out the centre in northern Norrmalm.

Hot air balloon - Pricey, but reputedly worth it. Stockholm is unusual in letting hot air balloons over the city centre, and apparently most trips include a champagne picnic at the destination.

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It's a lift

A bear at Skansen

Skansen's Bredablick Tower

Slussen's spaghetti junction

Changing the guard at the palace

Places to drink

Two things to bear in mind: 1, all public enclosed places are non-smoking; this doesn't really bother the snuff-addicted Swedes who are still able to get their nicotine fix; 2, all bars have to serve food as a condition of the licence, meaning there is often a blurred line between cafe, bar, restaurant and nightclub. There is a decent brewing culture developing in Sweden, albeit mostly around lager-style drinks; for some unknown reason Shepherd's Neame beers and American Samuel Adams' beers are also insanely popular and relatively easily obtainable. If you're not a beer drinker, then pear cider is the tipple for you - incredibly sweet, and with varying degrees of chemicals, this clear syrupy drink is available from an increasing number of manufacturers (just watch out for the non-alcoholic version you can buy in normal shops!).

If you're loaded enough to do a proper pub crawl, then check out this excellent guide to Stockholm pubs or the trendier places around Stureplan in Östermalm. Otherwise, I can vouch for the ones below:

Glenfiddich Warehouse #68, Västerlångatan 68 - posher than my usual haunts, and pricey even by Stockholm standards, this trendy bar in the beating touristy heart of Gamla Stan doesn't just offer an amazing range of whiskies but also boasts a stunning selection of microbrewed Swedish ales at around the £5 mark.

Akkurat, Hornsgatan 18 - on a main road in northern Södermalm, this bar is hailed as the best beer bar in the city. Unfortunately, it was extremely crowded on the Friday early evening we orbited the place searching in vain for a seat, a task made even harder by daft American tourists tucking into full meals at the bar counter (you've no idea how mad that makes me....). As a result, we never managed a beer, but judging by the sheer volume of grumpy looking punters with empty glasses in front of them, perhaps the service was struggling that evening?

Black & Brown, Hornsgatan 50 - so you've tried and failed to get a beer in Akkurat? Well, never fear - just carry on along Hornsgatan for a few blocks and you'll see Black & Brown on a street corner. Another great selection of beers with much better service.

Pub in Bellmansgatan - despite the expense, I did manage to become "tired and emotional", hence forgetting the name of this place. If you walk between Akkurat and Black & Brown, you'll pass Mary Magdelene Church and the park next to it (both on the other side of the road from the two pubs above) - Bellmansgatan is the street running at right angles to Hornsgatan opposite the park. Amazingly, we were given free shots in here!

Pelikan, Blekingegatan 40 - in the southern part of Södermalm, near Skanstull metro (come out on main road, turn left and cross road to the right into Blekingegatan. This is described as a beer hall, but is really a bit more foody. Excellent meatballs, or go for the bacon in onion gravy for something lighter.

Kvarnen, Tjärhovsgatan 4 - this iconic beer hall in the heart of Södermalm (right by Medborgaplatsen) is a favouite of Hammarby supporters, and it plays its part with several murals and wall displays. I went for the Swedish Deli Plate meal, which was a bit like herring tapas (nicer than it sounds). Kvarnen (which means "Windmill", hence the sign outside) also has two trendy club-like bars that open later in the evenings.

Engelen, Kornhammstorg 59 - a grown-up rock pub for respectable adults and steak-lovers, this pub is in prime tourist territory facing Slussen at the southern end of Gamla Stan.

Edelweiss, opposite southern exit of Solna Centrum T-bana - small corner pub with a cute, alpine style frontage and an outside terrace. As with all Solna pubs, prices are considerably cheaper than the centre of town.

East & Company, Solnavagen 104 - multi-roomed pub (with terrace) opposite the north-east side of the Rasunda Stadium. The room to the left of the left-most door is very English pub-like, and very comfortable. Sit at the bar for faster service if in before a game. Serves a good range of beers, including Murphy's Stout and Red plus, bizarrely, Starebrno from Moravia.

Dick Turpin, Solnavagen 55 - just around the corner from East & Co, Dick Turpin is a full-on faux--English/Irish extravangaza, included here purely for its proximity to the Rasunda (and the cheaper than centre beer prices, including Guinness).

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Small woman, big beer

The view from outside the pub



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