on a 3-day trip in July 2006 and a 2 day follow-up in July 2007)
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
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!
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!
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
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
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
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.
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
If you're loaded enough to do a proper pub crawl, then check out
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
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
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
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,