Georgia Humphreys travels to the Scandinavian capital, Stockholm, to discover an elegant waterside city where modernity meets tranquility.
People dress differently on this island,’ whispers my guide Gabriela, as we drive across the bridge from central Stockholm to trendy Södermalm, one of 14 islands making up Sweden’s capital. While each island and neighbourhood has its own distinctive character, they’re close enough together and linked by 57 bridges in all, to make traveling between them simple.
Mooching around the funky second-hand shops and treasure-filled antique troves of Sofo (or South of Folkungagatan), I quickly understand what she means. Outfits are a bit more daring (yet always sophisticated) and hairstyles have been coiffured into all sorts of angular cuts.
But wherever you are in this relaxed, waterside city, a ‘go as you like’ attitude prevails. Even the daily commute is a breeze on a metro network where more than 90 stations are brightly decorated in outlandish and abstract designs. Stretching 110km and featuring the work of multiple artists, it’s often called ‘the longest art gallery in the world’.
I’m mesmerised by the swirling harlequin ceiling of the Kungsträdgården stop, created by artist Ulrik Samuelson in 1977 to represent a royal 17th century garden. So much so, in fact, I manage to miss several trains.
But who cares? Unlike so many capital cities, there’s no pressure to hurry in Stockholm. After all, people like to do things a little bit differently here.
BEST FOR NATURE LOVERS
Step down a set of rickety wooden steps to board the historic ship MS Ostana I, built in 1906, for this beautiful cruise. From Strandvagen in central Stockholm, you’ll chug along for 20 minutes before reaching Fjäderholmarna, the first small group of islands in Stockholm’s archipelago. Hear about archipelago life from the on-board guide, while eyeing up the tiny red cabins peeking out from clusters of forest (about £23 for a three-hour cruise; stromma.se). Or head to Rosendals Trädgård garden (rosendalstradgard.se) on Djurgården island, where you can pick your own fruit, enjoy a picnic in the apple orchard and enjoy their beautiful salads and pastries while the kids run free.
BEST FOR ARCHITECTURE
Around 3,000 lucky people call the enchanting district Gamla Stan their home. Exploring the city’s Old Town – founded in 1252 – feels like being on the set of a Disney fairytale, with its cobbled streets, medieval passages and the beautiful Baroque-style Royal Palace. Make sure you visit the city’s oldest and most famous square, Stortorget, lined with charming buildings built in the 17th and 18th centuries. This is the perfect place to bask in the sunshine, enjoy a coffee and people watch. One of the best ways to discover all its hidden secrets is via a walking tour, available through stromma.se (about £16 for 75 minutes). Guides will take you to Marten Trotzigs Grand, the narrowest alley in Gamla Stan, which is just 90cm wide at one point and can be tricky to find by yourself.
BEST FOR BRUNCHING
If you have one meal while on Södermalm, make it brunch at Scandi-chic Urban Deli, a nifty combination of restaurant and food store. After browsing groceries, plump for the Swedish chuck steak burger (about £17) and sip on a brunch cocktail (about £10). The Hugo consists of cava, lime and tonic, and has a strong alcohol-to-tonic ratio for a tangy kick. As it gets warmer, artificial grass and seating are placed outside, stretching to Nytorgsgatan, the park across the street. It’s an eclectic and trendy crowd here – think designers, art directors, hipsters and celebrities. Also recommended, albeit rather pricier, is Asian brunch at the celeb hangout Berns Hotel, next to Berzelii Park adjacent to the harbour of Nybroviken.
BEST FOR COCKTAIL AFICIONADOS
Trendy new urban spaces are popping up in downtown central Stockholm, such as the luxurious Hotel At Six. Head upstairs past the marble statues for a Punch Bowl in the bar, served in pineapple-shaped bowls with a generous ladle, so you can share it out amongst yourselves about £70; hotelatsix.com). The hotel only opened in March, but their tipsy afternoon tea – with teapots of gin cocktails – is already popular with young Stockholmers (about £35 per person).
BEST FOR CULTURE SEEKERS
Fotografiska photography space holds 25 exhibitions a year in a beautiful art deco building on the waterfront. You’ll experience Stockholm’s fashionable vibe if you visit on a bustling Saturday morning (about £12 for adults; fotografiska.eu/en). The café on the top floor also boasts one of the city’s very best views and the restaurant at Fotografiska, run by chef Paul Svensson, recently won a prestigious Gold Dragon Award. Beautiful Millesgården, the home and studio of famous Swedish sculptor Carl Milles on the island of Lindigö, peppered with his work, is also worth a visit (millesgarden.se).
BEST FOR SHOPPERS
On Bohemian Södermalm, the relaxed and creative island in central Stockholm, you’ll also find the vibrant Mosebacke Design District – Stockholm’s highest point and a melting pot of crafts and culture through the centuries. Its edgy, independent stores offer a fascinating mix. For typically sophisticated Scandinavian clothes, head to APLACE in the Bruno Galleria shopping centre, or visit Snickars Records, a record store with a gallery attached on nearby Hokens Street. For fabulous Nordic homeware and mid-century modern furnishings, head to Sibyllegatan in the Östermalm neighbourhood – just be prepared to spend spend spend!
BEST FOR MUSIC FANS
It wasn’t always cool to like Abba in Sweden. But go to the island of Djurgården and that’s a longforgotten memory. ABBA The Museum proudly exhibits memorabilia, including the band’s most famous outfits (tickets about £17 for adults). Hone your singing skills in karaoke booths or pluck up the courage to perform on stage with holograms of Agnetha, Anni-Frid, Björn and Benny! Scan your ticket before singing and your rendition of classic hit Dancing Queen will be available online for you to watch at home, if you so desire!
BEST FOR BATHERS
There are few cities in the world where you can go for a swim right in the centre of town, but the balmy summers and strict environmental laws in Stockholm mean you can do just that. Smedsuddbadet on Kungsholmen, just below the Västerbron bridge, and Rålambshov Park are favourite spots, while the sandy beach on Långholmen island (which once housed one of the largest prisons in Sweden) is popular too.
Georgia Humphreys was a guest of easyJet (easyjet.com), which flies from London Luton airport to Stockholm up to four times a week, with prices starting from £25.24 per person (one way, including taxes and based on two people on the same booking).