STOCKHOLM often feels like two cities. Its self-important status as Sweden's most forward-looking commercial centre can seem at odds with the almost pastoral feel of its open spaces and expanses of water. First impressions can be of a distant and unwelcoming place – provincial Swedes call it the Ice Queen – but stick around for the weekend, when the population really lets its hair down, and you'll see another side to Stockholm.
Gamla Stan (meaning Old Town) was the site of the original settlement of Stockholm. Today it's an atmospheric mixture of pomp and history, with ceremonial buildings surrounded by a lattice of medieval lanes and alleyways. Close by to the east is the tiny island of Skeppsholmen, with fantastic views of the curving waterfront, while to the north is the modern centre, Norrmalm, with its shopping malls, huge department stores and conspicuous wealth, plus the lively Kungsträdgården park and the transport hub of Central Station. East of Norrmalm is the grand residential area of Östermalm, southeast of which is the green park island of Djurgården, home to two of Stockholm's best-known attractions: the extraordinary seventeenth-century warship, Vasa, and Skansen, Europe's oldest open-air museum. South of Gamla Stan, the island of Södermalm was traditionally Stockholm's working-class area; it's known today for its cool bars and restaurants and lively streetlife. To the west of the centre is Kungsholmen island, which is coming to rival its southern neighbour with its trendy eateries and drinking establishments.
Ask a Stockholmer where they are from, and they will most probably say the name of their closest subway station. Being a city practically on water, it is best getting around its many narrow streets and alleys on public transport. Furthermore, the subway stations separate the different parts of the city.
Stockholm is a city of many beautiful faces and each area of town is distinctive. Centralen, for example, is a typical downtown area with traffic jams and bustling crowds. This is the part known as the City or Norrmalm. Take the subway a couple of stations and spot modern, daring architecture, such as the City Library a few blocks north of Rådmansgatan subway station and the Cultural Centre at T-Centralen. Go through Kungsträdgården (The King's Garden) and walk over the bridge to cosy, little Skeppsholmen, popping into Moderna Museet or Skeppsholmen's church . You could take one of the ferries out to the magical archipelago and you will still be, geographically at least, within the borders of Stockholm.
Östermalm & Djurgården
Why not stroll through Östermalm? This is the most elegant part of town where some of the city's most impressive buildings are found (Östermalms Saluhall should not be missed!). You can also head alongside the water and over the bridge to Djurgården , a lovely island ideal for walks and picnics, and visit Skansen or the famous Gröna Lund amusement park.
The south side of town, Södermalm, is also worth seeing. In the late 1800s this was the home of Stockholm's working class. Returning home from a long, hard day by the ships the workers used to stop for a drink at the local taverns. This image of Södermalm as the home of the bohemian workers, of genuine pub culture and socializing has been preserved; more cafes, galleries and pubs are found here than in any other part of town. A lot of small, funky stores featuring local artists' and designers' works are also to be found in this area, as well as at the summer Mynttorget street-festivals. At Vita Bergen (subway station Skanstull) performances in theatre and song can be enjoyed. Whilst strolling around Mosebacke or Fjällgatan (subway station Slussen) you will still be in the same lovely city—Stockholm, the country's capital, and the Venice of the North. In particular, it is here, at Södermalm, where you will experience a living, creative, urban Stockholm.
Gamla Stan (The Old Town)
And if Södermalm is cultural Stockholm, Gamla Stan (the Old Town) is genuine Stockholm. It is still the city's pride and joy. Cobbled streets and narrow, 17th-century alleys (the smallest one being just over 26 inches wide!) create a unique atmosphere. Don't forget to look up at the impressive old church, Storkyrkan . The area's old houses all feature ambitious decor and ornaments. If you turned back the clock by about 700 years this is what all of Stockholm would look like. A lot has happened since, an example being the construction of the Royal Castle . Unfortunately, members of the royal family no longer live here; Drottningholm is now their home. Stroll through the lovely gardens, admire the water and appreciate the history of Stockholm, the country's diverse capital.
"An appetizer (or a main course) which consists of among others bread and butter, cold cuts and small hot dishes" is how a smorgåsbord is defined according to the National Encyclopedia. Stockholm's restaurant world could be described as giant smorgasbord, offering something for every taste. Over the last twenty years the Stockholm smorgasbord has developed enormously, inspired by culinary art from the four corners of the earth as well as the Swedish cuisine. One explanation for today's multi-cultural restaurant life lies in the fact that Swedes, including Swedish chefs, travel greatly all over the world, bringing new ingredients and flavors as they come back to their own cuisine. In the old days it would have been sacrilege if one served herring in any other way than the traditional. Today it is not uncommon that herring is flavored with ginger or oregano; it is no longer a question of breaking the rules of the local cuisine, but about reinventing and blending. A couple of years ago every self-respecting neighborhood had a pizzeria; now the pizzerias have been forced to move closer together to make space for more exotic spices offered by Indian and Thai cuisines. Restaurants have been and still are springing up like colorful mushrooms all over the city, which has left the ordinary man and woman in Stockholm more gastronomically adventurous.
Norrmalm - City
Why not start off with a real Swedish breakfast at Grand Hotel one of the most exclusive hotels and restaurants in Stockholm? The buffet and the view over the water will take your breath away, and some famous faces may be hidden behind the morning paper. If you would rather have people to complement your breakfast, grab a smoothie at the American-inspired Wayne's Coffee Or have a pleasant awakening with a cup of mint-chocolate coffee across the street at Dilas, the little Italian coffee shop, where a genuinely Italian atmosphere rules, even in the early morning hours.
A must for champagne drinkers and lobster fans is Berns in Berzelli Park. Operakällaren is a classic in the Stockholm restaurant world, but if the prices are too high one can find equally fine food on the other side of the Kungliga Operan at Bakfickan. Another classic and immortal restaurant is Cafe Opera where simple home cooking is the main attraction. The paradox of combining luxury with simple home cooking can be enjoyed at Sturehof the present hub of Stockholm's restaurant life, open practically round the clock. Prinsen is still the rendezvous place for many actors, poets and artists, and at KB the cultural elite mixed with Internet elite, sampling crossover and traditional Swedish dishes. Crossover and other food trends that characterised the Swedish cuisine during the Nineties began at Rolfs Kök . East regarded as the best soul bar in town, offers modern Asian food from Thailand, Japan, Korea and Vietnam.
Have a generous lunch and drink as much blueberry juice as you want to at Blåbär If the craving for a juicy entrecôte becomes too unbearable, visit the French tavern Minerva. Il Forno (which in Italian means "wood oven") does not look like much on the outside. It is a well-kept secret amongst pizza-lovers who make a pilgrimage from all over town to get their wood oven-baked pizzas. These, combined with great pasta at bargain prices are part of Leonardo's winning concept. Norma on the corner could easily be missed, but the cosy atmosphere and the traditional Swedish food with European influences make a meal here a long-lasting memory. Hoedupbab is a giant hit among other fun Korean specialties at Koreana. Habana is a great introduction to Cuban cuisine. Another modern Asian restaurant is Mooncake with its focus on Chinese food, serves with finesse and fantasy. A personal and relaxed atmosphere accompanied by the seas' delicacies is Musslan specialty.
Peppar is a classic in its neighborhood; here stout and masculine dishes such as chili, jambalaya and so forth dominate the menu. Sala Thai has for a long time been the Thai king of Vasastan. Small, fastidious, nice and comfortable is September, worth a visit; a piece of advice, though, is to book one of the few tables beforehand. Storstad on the other hand won the Stockholm Award for best restaurant, and is extremely popular. Tranan is well-visited, whether it is in the actual restaurant where the favourite dish is meatballs and Rydbergare, or downstairs in the bar with the pinball machines. Especially during the weekends it is frequented by young people out clubbing. Bistro de Wasahof is the pride of Vasastan located at Vasaparken where French cuisine gets on well with Swedish; it is appreciated by older-generation journalists, authors and actors. Last but not least, spend your Sunday morning relaxing at Sirap over a fragrant American brunch.
It may not be Bagdad Cafe, but it is Beirut Cafe that whets the appetite for Lebanese food. The Lebanese cuisine has a lot in common with the Turkish, and the Turkish cuisine has a lot in common with the Greek. The result is Halv Grek Plus Turk The name is a wordplay as one of the owners is a Turk and the other is half Greek. Step in through the somewhat anonymous door and in an instant you are in the Mediterranean with a taste of aniseed and green figs. Grodan Grev Ture is the mecca for many young, hip, hardworking people around Stureplan, who go to enjoy its traditional dishes. Ciao Ciao Due crowd consists of both young gluttons and well-behaved families ordering the same tasty, traditional Italian food. Lydmar has a stylish dining room where one can choose between a range of appetizing dishes, no matter what the budget, since the food comes in three different sizes. Tures is the natural hang-out after the end of a working day, while No 18 gets better the closer it gets to midnight. Wedholms Fisk is the fish restaurant with a capital F, and has kept its winning concept through the years: fresh fish, heavenly sauces and enormous portions.
Ulla Winbladh was originally built as a baker's shop for the international Stockholm exhibition in 1897, and everything from the interior decor to the food still is genuinely Swedish. Villa Källhagen is regarded as one of the best restaurants in town. The food is made with a never-ending passion for the Swedish flora and the four seasons. Please make a trip to Rosendals trädgård a priority. On a sunny day either go here for an early fresh lunch (the queue starts early) or have one of the irresistible home-baked pastries and sit down among the old, beautiful, knotty apple trees in the garden.
The Old Town
The historical Den Gyldene Freden was opened in celebration of the peace at Nystad in 1722. Hence the name, Gyldene Freden, which means "the golden peace". Ever since, the restaurant has been much frequented, and well-established among locals. A comfortable quality restaurant with staff that does everything to make you happy is Järnet. Kaos is an imaginative retreat and a culinary surprise. Gourmet food is served at Lejontornet, in medieval surroundings. The modern and robust atmosphere at Mårten Trotzig is hard to resist. Trattoria Romana is located in a charming basement, with equally charming food and accompanying violinists.
The view is unique and dazzling at the international Gondolen and the same goes for the food. The flagship at Södermalm is Hannas with unaffected and unconventional food and patrons. Across the street is Hannas Deli which is much more crowded and fashionable. Il Tempo Italian food is a cherished culinary dream. The kitchen's concept is "food from all over the world" and Matkultur is a place where lunch is a sacred institution. Muggen is a romantic place with praiseworthy, modern Italian food. Delicious French crepes are made in a steady succession at Creperie Fyra Knop and ordering in French is deeply appreciated. Snaps/Rangus Tangus is an affable restaurant located in a palatial building at Medborgarplatsen. An unpretentious eaterie is Sjögräs either after work or before the adventure of the evening. Sushi and sashimi are very good reasons to visit Sushi-Ya . Wake up slowly at Mosebacke Etablissement eat their weekend buffet and play a game of chess.
Mamas and Tapas is Spanish culture and cuisine personified. You are well taken care of, plus you have the opportunity of enjoying traditional Swedish food in the yellow-painted place called Absinth Bar & Bistro . Snails cooked in a variety of ways are L'Escargot's speciality. High-class food and perfection are Bon Lloc's guidelines—the world champion chef Mathias Dahlgren rules in this kitchen. Göken used to be a beer-house, and has developed into a little pearl with regards to the food and the service. The sushi is in a division of its own at Roppongi Something as original as a crossover between Gotlandish and Mediterranean food is what people eat at Spisa hos Helena . Beautiful restaurants with carefully cooked food close to the water are Sjöpaviljongen and Ocean.
Although the Stockholmer has become more educated in the culinary art, a hot dog with bostongurka and rostad lök still has a sacred place in most hearts. You might actually get one of your best culinary experiences in Stockholm at one of the hot-dog stands around town.
The Royal Castle and the Old Town
We meet outside the Royal Castle after a walk from the Central Station over Norrbro bridge. To the right is the old Government House. You cannot be here without noticing Stockholm's Middle Age Museum; it is newly built and exhibits a lot about medieval Stockholm. The entrance is under Norrbro bridge. We turn our back to this now but promise to come back here soon.
The Old Town (Gamla Stan) is exactly what it sounds like, a very old town. One does not really know exactly how the town of Stockholm developed here more than seven hundred years ago. One thing is sure though: the water. During the twelfth century, this was the only connection to lake Mälaren from the Baltic Sea. The Old Town in those days was a reloading place for the ships from different countries. We start our walk through the Old Town at Lejonbacken in front of the Royal Castle . The King does not live here nowadays, but the castle is used for state visits and royal dinners. The royal castles in Stockholm permit visitors. Start walking to the left of the castle. The castle has been here since the 1200s. Before, it was called "Tre Kronor", (Three Crowns); unfortunately it burned down in 1697. The present castle and the obelisk you can see on the other side of the castle were built shortly after the fire. The obelisk is a thank you to the people from the king for helping to protect the city during the war against Russia in 1788-1790.
On Slottsbacken is the museum Livrustkammaren and on this street we find also the Royal Mint. The Old Town has many very narrow alleys. Now we walk down one of them, Källargränd, to the market Stortorget. The famous restaurant Stortorgskällaren is located here. You can have lunch in its deep cellar caves dating back to around 1500. For a more upscale dining experience, you might try the well-regarded Leijonstornet .
Gamla Stan's Cultural Treasures
The composer and singer Carl Mikael Bellman's spirit rests heavy here. We now pass the cathedral, Storkyrkan . It is hard to imagine that it has been here since at least 1279! Inside the church you can see the wooden sculpture St. Göran och Draket (St George and the Dragon). Many medieval streets lead out from this marketplace—Köpmangatan, Svartmangatan, Skomakargatan and Lilla Solgränd. Here, too, is the site of one of Sweden's most famous events, the Nobelfesten , where Alfred Nobel's bequest has become a byword for raising the bar of excellence for human endeavors. When you go through the Old Town, observe its streetlights. They are replicas of the old models. We continue our walk south on Skomakargatan. Along the way, you will see doorways carved and sculpted from oak trees. Johan Feder was the name of a shoemaker that gave the street its name.
We now enter Tyska Brinken and Tyska Kyrkan (the German Church). If the time is 8am, 12 noon, 4pm or 8pm you can hear the church bells chime. Next you come to Västerlånggatan. It is absolutely full of small and large shops on both sides of the street. You will find anything and everything for souvenirs and gifts. You may also hear street musicians along the way. When Västerlånggatan ends in the south, you find Järntorget market. The name dates back to 1400, when iron (järn) was exported from this area.
Now you walk along Österlånggatan north until you come to Köpmantorget. The statue depicts the same scene as the one in Storkyrkan, St George and the dragon. Any of the narrow alleys to the right go down to Skeppsbron. Go down any of them to see a big white ship; that is the hostel Af Chapman where you can rent a room. For a post-tour bite, there are many wonderful restaurants in the Old Town- we recommend Brännvin for authentic Swedish cuisine in a spectacular waterfront setting.
Södermalm and Mariaberget
We now take the subway (red line) to Mariatorget. When you come up through the exit to Mariatorget you will see Maria Magdalena church. The churchyard is a calm oasis in the city, and the beloved musician Evert Taube´s grave is here. An older church was here already in the 1300s, but is now home to Hornsgatan. It is a long street and stretches between Slussen and Hornstull. Here you will see a variety of different shops of all sizes and descriptions; have fun exploring these! We now cross Hornsgatan and go up through Blecktornsgränd until we reach Bastugatan. This is like entering an ancient world. You will see small houses with gardens and a panoramic view of Stockholm that are simply breathtaking. Bastugatan (Sauna Street) got its name from all the little bathing cottages that were here in the Middle Ages.
To see Stockholm from up here you must walk along to Ivar Los Park on Mariaberget. There is a walkway and benches to sit on while enjoying this spectacular viewpoint. Looking straight across the water you see the main Town Hall with its three crowns on top (Stockholms stadshus). A little to the right you see the Old Town with its alleys. Far away to the right you see Skansen and Gröna Lund . The water in front of you is Lake Mälaren, but at Slussen it changes from sweet water to the salt water of the Baltic Sea.
One handy thing to know is that all street numbers in Stockholm start at Slussen. So wherever you are in town, keep in mind that all streets are numbered away from Slussen.
Take a walk up to Mariahissen. You can have a cup of coffee here before going down the lift to Ryssgården. Located here is Stockholm's Stadsmuseum. Mariahissen is one of two lifts that take you up and down to Södermalm. The other one is Katarinahissen located on the other side of Slussen. The subway takes you back to Central Station anytime to finish your walk, but first, stop in at Matkultur for a delcious meal from any culinary tradition that strikes your fancy.
Djurgården, Vasamuseet, Gröna Lund and Skansen
For this walking tour, take bus 56 from Central Station to bus stop Biologiska Museet . This house, a museum since 1893, is one of Stockholm's most famous buildings. It looks like an ancient Norwegian wooden church. Inside you can see "the animals of the north seen in their natural habitat". Artist Bruno Liljefors, and taxidermist Gustaf Kolthoff have done fantastic work. In daylight they show the silent animals in the forest, on the mountain, and in the sea.
Opposite the museum is a long brick wall. Behind the wall is a graveyard for fishermen, seafarers, merchants, and any others whose lives were connected with the sea. It is very beautiful and has a wonderful view over the water. Down from the graveyard, you can see one of Sweden's most visited museums, Vasamuseet . There you can see the extraordinarily well preserved remains of the 17th century warship Vasa, which sank outside the beach on its maiden voyage on 10 August 1628. She is one of the only examples of her kind still extant, an incredible sight to see, and a unique museumgoing experience.
You cannot leave Djurgåden without a visit to Gröna Lund , Stockholm's lively amusement park. Fun for all ages and all types is found here, with amusements such as slot machines, cotton candy, rides, a funhouse, restaurants and bars. One special feature is the free-fall ride. The faint-of-heart can also try the drop from a much lower height. The roller-coaster ride has had some new turns added and the merry-go-rounds are full of happy children. On the large stage many artists perform throughout the summer.
A little further out on Djurgården to the left is Skansen . This is Stockholm's fantastic open-air museum and zoo. Here there are ancient farms, brought here and rebuilt from different parts of Sweden, demonstrations of old-fashioned machines and activities, such as carting, spinning and weaving. They show how people lived and worked on the ancient farms. There is also Small Skansen for children to enjoy, with baby animals. It is hard to leave, but there's still more to see.
Above Skansen is Soliden restaurant with a wonderful view over Stockholm. Many couples have chosen to be married in the old church called Seglora . If you have strength enough left, we continue to Waldemarsudde. This is Prince Eugene's Castle and is open for the public as a museum and art gallery. The Prince was a skilled artist, and it is worth the walk here to see the park, the castle and his masterpieces. Don't miss the painting Vitsippor, it is quite wonderful.
Sergelstorg, Hötorget, Kungsträdgården and Nybroplan
We gather at Sergels Torg. Here is the Culture House (Kulturhuset) - go in and have a look at the Designtorget; there you will find new ideas and designs for articles that you didn't know you needed. Kulturhuset is made up of several large floors with a lot happenings, such as dance, theatre, music, and exhibitions. Take a look at its programme. We walk up some stairs and turn north (right) to Drottninggatan. This is the most outstanding shopping street in Stockholm. Street musicians are often here to entertain you when you pass. Åhlens's large department store is here and along Drottninggatan you will find numerous interesting and varied shops for shoes, clothes and everything else. Butterick's is the place to go to buy things for practical jokes, parties, masquerades, and so on: you will never come out empty-handed from this shop. Take one street to the right and you will end up at Hötorget. The name comes from the hay (hö) market held here in old times. It is wonderful to see all the flowers, fruit, and little market stands everywhere. On one side of Hötorget is a blue building that houses Stockholm's Concert Hall , whose programme you should check during your stay. There is a fantastic fresh food market under Hötorget. One of the entrances you will find at the cinema, saying "Hötorgshallen" on the door. Down here you can enjoy a bowl of fish soup or fresh bread or pastries and rest your feet before continuing. This place smells fantastic. You can buy something from anywhere around the world here.
Upstairs again, you can walk to the right past the blue Concert Hall. This takes you back to Sergels Torg with its high glass obelisk, which is lit up in the winter. Turn to the left on Hamngatan down to NK . This is another large department store known for its quality merchandise. Opposite NK is the Kungsträdgården. It was earlier the King's vegetable garden. Today it is a park with many activities going on daily. The big fountain sounds refreshing and the ice-cream sellers are kept busy. There is a permanent boules court here, and in the summer music of various kinds is performed on the stage next to it. In the wintertime you can skate to music on the skating rink. Nearby is the subway station Östermalmstorg from which you can catch a train to take you home.