It has been a long time since I have been in a city that I considered dropping everything and moving to. Stockholm did that to me.
Stockholm is the capital of Scandinavia and rightfully so. All the charms of the Scandinavian countries are amplified in Stockholm’s streets. There’s a spirit here- like people know that their city is amazing, they know their people are beautiful and well dressed, and they know life as a Swede is full of abundance and satisfaction. They have everything to boast about, but it doesn’t even cross their minds to brag. Swedes are unbelievably unpretentious. It is like Pleasantville, but minus all the boring, predictable, excess sweetness that makes your teeth hurt.
The fact is that cold winters, meatballs, reindeer, and IKEA are definitely not the highlights of Sweden. The biggest thing going on is Style and Design. Stockholm is one of the most refined cities that will ever grace the soles of my white loafers. Everything that stands on the archipelago is either a modern masterpiece or soaked in old charm. The defining hues of red, green and yellow reflect all along the shores of Stockholm, but these lovely buildings are just shells that contain the spirit of modern life.
So after all the whistle blowing I have been doing I guess I should tell you what you might actually DO in Stockholm.
Every visitor to Stockholm needs to start in Gamla Stan- the old Island that takes the cake at the post-card stand. The island will give you a great first glance at the city. Stately buildings and lovely squares let you see Stockholm’s art nouveau style and an idea of life in the city hundreds of years prior. You can find great shops, restaurants, and all your touristy trinkets here, however it isn’t so saturated with tourist trash that it’s gone toxic. You will find the royal palace on the island, where you should spend an hour poking around, and then bridge the island to the mainland by passing through the courtyard of the Parliament building. You can pick up free tours in English several times a day.
The next area you will encounter starts touristy but soon transforms into a shopping paradise. You will be in the area from T-Centralen to Hötorget Tunelbanna stops and the streets Kunsgatan and Drottninggatan. Here you can find home furnishings so modern that they seem Spartan to exclusive pieces that are as much artwork as functional. To find hand-picked pieces of Nordic design check out Design Torget.
After the center it is best to tackle each neighborhood one at a time. The Tunnel banana is well developed and will get you anywhere you desire.
Fashion here is unique and in wild abundance. It doesn’t matter if a Swede is out for milk or out for a night on the town they look great. One funny fashion must-have I noticed in Sweden was white high tops and tight fitting jeans or black tights. You can find the gambit of Euro fashion labels here but the real fashion lovers will bolster their closet with the pieces from a treasure trove of ahead-of-their-time Scandinavian designers. Original stuff can be found off Drottninggatan, and for the daring (or sometimes too daring) Södermalm has a mix of new, vintage, and eco-design. A shop for men’s (and women’s!) clothes I was lucky enough to find was Grandpa.
Now it would be too easy to brand Stockholm as a realm of superficial beauty and design freaks. Stockholm is host to the most Museums in any one city and has a museum for some of the most obscure interests. I have been to a lot of museums and the list was a bit overwhelming so I chose one. I would suggest the Vasa Museum. The museum has a giant warship preserved inside it. The boat was design as an ornate vessel to lead the Swedish forces into battle and display the wealth of the nation. Alas the boat sank on it maiden voyage due to poor design and sat on the floor of the harbor for years before it was brought up and made into one bad-ass exhibit. Surrounded the enormous ship you will find a great deal of Stockholm history around the time of its building and get some insight into medieval Scandinavia.
Usually going to a theme park means that you need to drive to some remote outer-city area where the steel dragons hide. However the roller coasters are right on the islands of central Stockholm- the dragons live right in plain sight at Grona Lund (Green Grove) Amusement park. Now I have to be honest. The theme park is better than a state fair, but holds no thunder against the big wigs like Six Flags, Disney, Universal and the likes. It is however a great place if you are a roller coaster junkie, if want a great time with family and friends or you want a high-sky view over the city before your screaming decent. Aside from the rides and carnival games Grona Lund has musical events throughout the season and attracts some big names in Sweden and international music scenes.
One of the greatest things about Stockholm is that it has an entire Archipelago at its disposal. The city dwellers escape the rush of life on a variety of small islands where they can hole up in their cabins, fish, boat, and swim. There are a variety of cruises offered to tour some of the more known islands and I can imagine in fair weather they would be breathtaking and give you a glimpse of small town sea-faring Swedish life.
The food here is an international mix and you can find anything. A lot of modern fusion fare is around. You can also rely on some fairly homey Swedish classics and it would be a crime not to hunt down some meatballs on your trip. Also: Swedes have cinnamon buns everywhere. And they are good. Even in Press Bryan- the equivalent of 7-11 has supremely baked fresh buns all day. My favorite part is that they sprinkle them with rock sugar. YUM!
Just buy a ticket and GO!