Something special is going on in this Swedish capital, as seen in our many travel videos. Scandinavians are often considered to have the worlds highest standard of living, with Sweden occupying the top of that happy ranking. So it figures there are many wonderful things for the visitor to enjoy in Stockholm, a city created by a society that truly cares about people. They really believe in quality of life, and have built a place that is one of Europes truly beautiful capitals. Stockholm is some kind of urban utopia so lets go find out what makes it special.
Stockholm offers a magical blend of efficiency and beauty, romance and common sense all working together to make your visit extremely rewarding. It is modern, yet offers some of Europes best-preserved historic neighborhoods, with an atmospheric mix of ancient cobbled alleys, 17th century buildings and contemporary shops. You are going to love it!
We have planned a schedule so that you cover the best things first. The most worthwhile activities are:
-walk the Old Town (of course)
-take a boat ride around the citys islands
-visit the reconstructed village of Skansen
-tour the Royal Palace and museums
-check out the modern downtown
-walk along pedestrian Drottninggatan.
DAY ONE: GAMLA STAN
Upon arrival this morning we transfer from the ship to our hotel, then take a walking tour of our hotels neighborhood, the Gamla Stan, which is the oldest part of town, the medieval city center. The narrow twisting pedestrian lanes of Gamla Stan are lined with superbly preserved old buildings which hold some very modern stores, so you can enjoy the historic experience and do a little shopping, as seen in our travel videos!
It is the most fascinating place in town, and is a prime reason for coming to Stockholm, so we have a good look around. They just dont build cities like this any more. Gamla Stan has been a place for commerce since the 12th century, when it was first settled as a trading center. Because of frequent fires that kept destroying the original wooden structures, most of the handsome buildings you see now were built of brick and stone in the 17th century when Sweden was one of the strongest nations in Europe. In those days Sweden was more powerful than Russia, and this island was the center of the country.
On Gamla Stans northern edge you could visit the Royal Palace, one of Europes largest and most elaborate. We will arrive in the courtyard just before noon for a good position to see the spectacular Changing of the Guards, which begins daily at 12:10pm, or 1:10pm on Sundays. The highly decorated palace interior is typical of what you find throughout the continents extravagant royal mansions. Before reaching the palace, the band marches through downtown on a mile-long route that starts about 11:30 a.m. near the NK department store.
The main activity in Gamla Stan is to simply walk, people-watch and shop along the fascinating shopping lane, the Vasterlanggatan, lined with an amazing variety of little places to spend your money. You would also enjoy a wander into the little side alleys, exploring past centuries frozen in stone. It is much quieter a block or two from the shopping throngs and there are an abundance of small pleasures to be found in the details of buildings, gardens and older shop fronts. Yet another example how you can step away from nearly any major tourist attraction anywhere to discover more peaceful authentic nearby surroundings.
There is so much rich atmosphere to absorb in Gamla Stan you will probably spend time here walking around on your own, as seen in our travel vifeos. It is just a great place to hang out, and offers an excellent opportunity for that most advanced travel technique: get lost. When you let go and just wander you can begin to get a feeling for a place that no organized itinerary can match. Since you are on a small island you wont be lost forever, as covered in our
Later this afternoon we will walk a few blocks to the docks in front of the Grand Hotel for our included boat tour -- a great way to learn some history while gliding through this city of islands linked by bridges and canals. This continues for about 90 minutes, then you are free for the evening.
When hunger strikes in Gamla Stan try the series of ancient restaurants behind the 13th-century Storkyrkan Cathedral on Skomakargatan. If the weather is mild you can sit outdoors, or better yet, have a traditional meal in their medieval barrel-vaulted cellars, which were storerooms four hundred years ago. You must see these ancient basements, even if you are merely passing by looking for a restroom. Here you really step down in time as you venture below street level into another world.
Alternatively, pick from the charming outdoor restaurants that line the Stortorget main square of the Gamla Stan, overlooking the historic Bourse stock market. See our restaurant list for more. Gamla Stan is the only part of town where stores remain open late nightly, so you will have time for browsing and shopping after dinner.
DOWNTOWN and MUSEUMS
Plan to see some of the modern downtown in the morning, then visit a few museums and the folk park in the afternoon.
Take the subway to the center of downtown, a vast traffic circle called Sergels Torg, a modern post-war design with interesting streets and squares around it. Have a brief look as we walk past heading for the nicest shopping blocks of Hamngatan. If you want to peek inside NK go ahead -- it's a fancy department store with a nice cafe. Across the street is the huge Gallerian shopping mall, covering two city blocks.
Now we are going to stroll through the pretty park called Kungstragarden, the outdoor living room of the city, shown in our travel movies. Here you will find locals relaxing, kids playing, fountains gushing, statues standing and flowers blooming. Walk back another two blocks to Birger Jarlsgatan and take a left into a beautiful five-block section of trendy shops and cafes, ending at the modern mall of Stureplan. Detour a few blocks behind to Ostermalmstorg if you would like to grab some take-out, or just look at the lively Sluhallen food market.
Double back to Stureplan for another look at this recently renovated intersection that is one of the most popular centers of town, day and night. We continue a few blocks along another busy shopping street, Kungsgatan, where you just might find that Swedish crystal vase youve been craving. Turn left into the busy outdoor market of Hotorget, where you will be immersed in flowers, fruits and veggies, with friendly hawkers enticing you to buy.
Rather than returning to Sergels Torg where we began, we walk a block over to the busy pedestrian shopping lane of Drottninggatan. This is truly one of the worlds great streets! Always filled with locals -- its a perfect spot for a stroll and people-watching. Make your way south for ten blocks of retail heaven. As it leads you back to Gamla Stan, the street gets narrower and then becomes the Vasterlanggatan, Old Towns main pedestrian street that you were on your first day. All together this route is about one mile long, offering a happy experience you must not miss.
In the afternoon we can visit two outstanding history museums that you would really enjoy - the Vasa and the Nordic, shown in our travel movies. You will want to see the 17th century wooden warship, the Vasa, briefly the worlds largest battleship until it tragically sunk on its maiden voyage in 1628. It was top-heavy with hundreds of wooden statues. You can see them all, because the massive ship was rescued from the deep twenty years ago and put on display here, with many related nautical artifacts, and friendly knowledgeable guides who lead frequent tours of the exhibit. It looks brand new.
When you are finished here walk one block over to the Nordic Museum, the largest collection of Scandinavian artifacts in the world. They have tons of history on display, including folk art, handicrafts, furniture, table-settings, clothing, interiors and special exhibits. Their caf√© features a fine salad bar, or hold off eating if you can until the next stop.
After you finish these two museums we take a five minute tram or bus ride to Skansen, the worlds first, and still the best, outdoor museum. Sweden-in-a-nutshell, this vast park features about 150 houses and farmsteads that have been collected from all over the country and brought together in an exquisite living exhibit. For many visitors this transplanted chunk of old-fashioned life will be the main highlight of Stockholm. Most of the houses are open only from 11:00am until 5:00pm, so you dont want to get here when the park gates open at 10:00am. Arrive at mid-day and if you are hungry, recharge your batteries with lunch at one of the many fine eateries in the park or just outside the gates.
Skansens buildings date from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, and show how people in different social classes lived, worked and were housed. There are costumed local guides dressed in historic outfits ready to explain the story of each display and tell you about life as it used to be lived in the building you are visiting. Dont be shy -- ask the guide to please tell you about the place, or listen in if they are in the middle of telling someone else. You will also find animals in the farmyard, and a naturalistic zoo with bears, bison, elk, wolves and reindeer. There is a village center with a blacksmith, carpenter, silversmith, druggist, printer, weaver, gift shop, windmill, and a school
Later you can enjoy a charming folk dance performance with live music and skilled amateur dancers, shown in our travel movies. If you are here on a Sunday you get afternoon open houses, plus dancing from 2:30pm until 3:30pm. You might run into more entertainment in the amphitheater, so check the schedule at the park entrance.
Other diversions to squeeze in: If you are interested in fine arts, consider a visit to the Moderna Museet, opened in 1998 with an excellent collection of 20th century famous artists. For a more traditional collection, visit the nearby Nationalmuseum, which holds a decent collection of Old Masters and Impressionists. This is a good but not a great museum -- definitely worthwhile for the art lover but not quite in Europes top ten, so you could whip through it in one hour.
After the museum, enjoy some refreshments in the opulent Grand Hotel, one block over. You should try their world-famous smorgasbord for dinner! Even if you dont want to pay the price, sit in their lobby and rest for a while amidst the plush setting, featured in our travel videos. Another nearby restaurant is the very famous Operakallaren in the Opera House. Its an Art Nouveau masterpiece, first opened in the 18th century and noted for a smorgasbord lunch and heavy crowds, so its better to arrive at a non-peak time. Downstairs you will find the equally beautiful Opera Caf√©, very busy at dinner, but even busier later when it becomes the citys main yuppie meeting place.
That covers our outline of two ideal days. Of course you can modify this plan any way you like, shifting days and segments, or ignore any parts you question. You also need to find time to take a break now and then. It does help to catch your breath, relax, stop your culture-pursuit and do nothing for a while -- perhaps sit at a sidewalk caf√© or rest on somebodys front steps and watch the endless parade of people pass by.
You can walk everywhere in this civilized place, or utilize the efficient public transit bus and subway system to really cover some extra ground. The Swedes are friendly and nearly everyone speaks English, so it is worth your effort to say hello. An effective technique to meet a local anywhere is stop one who is not in a hurry and ask them for directions, or for tips on a nearby place to eat.
You will find that Stockholm is the most interesting of all Scandinavian cities to visit. Swedens socialistic cradle-to-the-grave support system provides tremendous benefits to the population, such as paying young people to go to college and making sure nobody dies from poverty. The outcome is a healthy society with friendly well-educated people, and a culture that has many things to offer the visitor. When you enter their country you too will reap the rewards of a well-planned society where everybody contributes, and everybody benefits. There are so many things to see here, featured in our travel videos! Have we found a small utopia? Yes!