Stockholm doesn’t have the oppulence of Vienna or the organized chaos of Berlin. It doesn’t feel as old as Prague and nowhere near as expansive as Paris. Because of that, and the generally colder weather, I didn’t think it held anything of significance to tourists and would have never really considered visiting it for a holiday.
Until I started planning our spring trip of 2019, and was happily proven wrong.
Its 14 islands each portray a different side to the city: the old, the new, the bohemian, the rich, the cultured, and so on. But they are all interconnected by bridges, public transport, and a sense of Scandinavian cool you can’t shake off no matter where you turn.
It’s exactly that Scandinavian cool- that there’s so much going on but at its own unhurried pace-that lured me to Stockholm, and had me falling in love with it fast and hard. Also, how can you not love a place that makes a whole social event (fika) out of having cake and coffee?
A few days before we were set to apply for our visas, Germania declared bankrupcy and threw my plans into near-disarray. We quickly rebooked on Pegasus, though we had to connect through Istanbul and there’s nothing spectacular about the lost cost airline. But we were in a bind, and this was our cheapest and fastest option.
We arrived at Stockholm Arlanda Airport just a little before 11 am. A mere 15 minutes later, and only because I took some time admiring their hardwood floors and stopped by the tourist information booth to pick up maps and flyers, we were boarding the Flygbussarna (bus) that would drop us off at T-Centralen. From there, we were only one metro stop away from our hotel.
Where We Stayed
Located in Norrmalm, Stockholm’s central district, we couldn’t have chosen better than Haymarket by Scandic.The location of this old department store, turned ode to the 1920s, meant that we were well within walking distance of the Old Town, the main shopping street Drottninggatan, and just across the square from the Konserthuset- where the annual Nobel Prize Ceremony is held! Right next door is the Hotorgshallen, a food market that knocked our socks off.
And the hotel itself is a true beauty, even though I had trouble orienting myself at first.
No thought or expense were spared in transforming it into an art-deco wonder and walking in inspires both glamor and comfort. Unlike other European hotels, the rooms here are spacious and well-decorated. I did not appreciate constantly banging my head against the ceiling every time I got out of bed.
It also didn’t hurt that we had an expansive breakfast buffet with many, many options to induldge in every morning before we set out on our adventures.
What We Did
The ease and interconnectededness of Stockholm make it perfect for wandering around, visting a museum or two (or four if you’re me), then winding down in any of the incredible cafes for a fika- and that’s how we spent the majority of our time.
Because we were only staying for 4 days before embarking on our grand road trip, I tried to draw up a loose itinerary, allocating a day for one part of the city while leaving us with enough time to relax, shop, and have a good meal.
- Day One: Arrival in Stockholm, check into hotel, explore Norrmalm and the surrounding area. We ended up walking all the way to the Swedish Parliament building before heading back to rest.
- Day Two: After breakfast, we headed to Gamla Stan, the old town, to join a walking tour. That helped us gather our bearings and learn things about Sweden like their lack of formalities when addressing authority figures, the royal family, and the history behind the Vasa ship. Once that was over, we toured the royal palace before taking in the beautiful Spring sunshine in the King’s Garden surrounded by cherry blossoms. The afternoon saw us discover Gamla Stan’s winding streets before losing ourselves in the mind-blowing Nobel Prize Museum. We were so lucky that a guided tour was starting just as we’d entered-and that gave us plenty of insight on the whole process up to the awards ceremony.
- Day Three: Morning sickness forced me to take it easy so we spent the morning shopping in the streets surrounding the hotel. I may or may not have spent considerable time in H&M- but hey, it’s local. Shout-out to the local department store Ahlens, which has everything I could have ever wanted. In the afternoon, we crossed over to Södermalm to see Fotografiska and witness the sunset from its resto-cafe.
- Day Four: Discovering Djurgården was a lot of fun for me because SO. MANY. MUSEUMS. This island is home to so many amazing things like the Vasa ship, the only almost fully intact 17th century ship that has ever been salvaged. We also made a stop at the Nordiska to learn more about Nordic culture and lifestyle. And finally, because it’s a must-see even if you just know a song or two, let alone a big fan, the super entertaining and super interactive ABBA museum! I wanted to visit Skansen, the open air museum, but it had gotten too cold, we were too tired, and it was near closing time.
The Absolute Highlight
I cannot state this enough but Stockholm really knows how to do a museum! The four we ended up seeing on our trip each tackled a different aspect (Science, History, Culture, and Music) but somehow also taught us a lot about Sweden in general. We ended up spending at least two hours in each, even the ABBA museum, because there was just so much to see and do.
In the Nordiska Museum, one exhibit that we really enjoyed was a replica of a Swedish flat from the 1950s, in which an elderly woman showed us around and shared her experiences of growing up in a similar flat.
The Nobel Prize one has an area dedicated to items donated by past winners to the museum collection- so that was fascinating to see, as well as their temporary exhibition on Martin Luther King Jr.
And well the Vasa? I have no words. You have to see it for yourself to truly absorb the scale of it all. If you ever find yourself in Stockholm, this you absolutely have to see. Nowhere else will you get the chance to witness history like this- and the fact that’s intact even after all those years!
What I’d Skip
At this point in my travels, all royal palaces look the same to me- Stockholm is no exception. We got a good laugh out of the Royal Throne room being the only part of the palace that has free wifi, because the King’s gotta check Instagram while doing king things, but that’s pretty much it. No more palaces for me.
Morning sickness does not discriminate and surely doesn’t understand that I’d been anxiously awaiting our trip to indulge in Scandinavian cuisine. We ate at some amazing places, including the Hotorgshallen next to the hotel. But the best would have to be Pelikan, a traditional Swedish eatery which has been around for 110 years. Ahmad even tried reindeer meat! I stuck to a vegeterian version of the famed Swedish meatballs, as that’s all I could stomach. As for fika, well that’s a post of it’s own
I did not expect to enjoy Stockholm as much as I did. But now that I’ve been there, I truly wonder why it hadn’t been on my radar sooner. There’s plenty to see, even if you’re not a museum fiend like me. And for a capital city, nature mixes harmoniously with urban living- I guess it has something to do with being on the water and all that clean air.
One other aspect of Stockholm is the friendliness of the locals. Whether it was giving us directions, filling up our water bottle, or a kind storekeeper taking the time to explain the history behind the posters sold in his shop, I never felt like I was just another tourist imposing on them and burdening the local infrastructure.
Stockholm truly exemplifies the saying that it’s the things you least expect that end up surprising you the most-and it was the happiest of all surprises!