Aah ! Summer in Scandinavia – visions of soft summer light glistening off crystal clear lake waters, parks and flowers in full bloom and most of all, the long days which almost never seems to end, all adding up to a very festive and party like feel . Yes, summer in Scandinavia is a three month long endless party after the harsh northern winters and the nonexistent spring and where else to enjoy this but the stately capital of Sweden and the de facto capital of Scandinavia, Stockholm ? Possessing one of the most stunning natural settings and made up of almost 30000 islands, Stockholm can perhaps lay claim to being one of the most beautiful capital cities in the world, at least during the summer months ! Encircled by the Lake Malaren and the Baltic Sea, Stockholm is actually a ring of interconnected islands, part of the Stockholm Archipelago and which number a mindboggling 30000! But the land of IKEA, ABBA, and the Nobel Prize is much more than stunning natural beauty and a laid back vibe. Full of history and packed with sights, Stockholm can give other more “established” tourist spots more than a run for their money. Here, I give my top ten list for Stockholm, which is slightly different from a conventional tourist to – do list :
GAMLA STAN OR OLD TOWN
Remarkably well preserved and dating back to the 15th Century, Gamla Stan is the throbbing heart of Stockholm and where all tourists converge. Narrow cobblestoned streets ringed in by buildings dating back to the 14th and 15th centuries, Gamla Stan is a history buffs delight as, unlike most other European capitals, Stockholm was untouched by the first and second world wars and the ideal place to do a time travel back to the Medieval ages. Gamla Stan is in fact an island connected by bridges to the other three major islands which form the bulk of the Stockholm capital city. The big ticket attractions such as the Royal Palace, the Nobel Museum and the Swedish Parliament are all located in Gamla Stan, which result in the narrow streets overflowing with tourists during the day time. Tip : The best time to walk Gamla Stan is during the nights, when the ancient streets, lit by yellow gas lamps lie empty and it is a surreal feeling which takes you back several centuries
The Royal Family of Sweden is a much loved institution and an integral part of Swedish life and culture. Though their role is now largely ceremonial, the King and Queen occupy a special part in Swedish hearts and a visit to the Royal Palaces is a must to understand this. There are actually two Royal Palaces – the first one in Gamla Stan, which is used largely for ceremonial purposes and the stunning Drottingholm Palace, set along Lake Malaren, where the Royal couple actually live. The Gamla Stan palace houses a very impressive collection of priceless jewelry and ceremonial dresses dating back several centuries. The Royal Hall where the King receives his guests is most impressive as is the Royal Stables and Royal Armory. The Drottingholm palace, situated about an hour’s drive from Stockholm is one of the most beautifully set Royal houses, on the banks of Lake Malaren. Surrounded by exquisitely landscaped gardens, a visit to the Drottingholm palace is an ideal relaxing day trip from Stockholm, easily reachable by the ultra-efficient Stockholm Metro. As a bonus, you might even meet the affable King Gustav or Queen Silvia who are known to be very down to earth and hospitable!
Djurgarden is where Stockholmers go to relax! A stone’s throw from Gamla Stan, Djurgarden is an island which houses some of Stockholm’s major tourist attractions such as the Vasa Museum, the ABBA Museum, the Grona Lund amusement Park, the Skansen Open air museum and best of all, the most incredible views of Gamla Stan and the rest of Stockholm from across the water ! An ideal way to take in Djurgarden is to take a leisurely three hour walk along the lakeside promenade taking in the views and the pure Nordic air.
Rated as one of Sweden’s most famous attractions, the Vasa Museum is a tribute to Sweden’s Viking roots and maritime traditions. Though hard to believe now looking at their genteel nature, the medieval and ancient Swedes were blood thirsty conquerors (Vikings) and feared for the plunder and destruction they rained on the lands they conquered through their seafaring skills. Vasa was designed to be the largest war ship to be launched. Built in the 16th century, the ill-fated ship which was on a maiden marauding trip to Greenland, sank right in the Stockholm harbor immediately after launch. Painstakingly salvaged from the bottom of the sea, the Vasa, which is over 100 meters in length and over 20 meters in width is a grand testimony to the ship building skills of the Medieval Swedes.
A pilgrimage spot for the 70’s and 80’s generation, the ABBA museum is a fitting ode to that iconic band which rocked the world during the 80’s with their clean and meaningful lyrics and songs. Housing several ABBA memorabilia, it gives a vivid insight into the rise of 4 four regular folk into one of the most famous pop icons of the 70’s and 80’s. Remember the “Dancing Queen ?”
Located bang in the middle of Gamla Stan, a visit to the Nobel Museum is a very educative experience and a celebration of human achievement in the fields of literature, economics and science. Housing countless priceless treasures including actual Nobel Medals and personal memorabilia of such incredible personalities such as Albert Einstein, Madame Curie, Ernst Hemingway, and Martin Luther King etc. Another very interesting exhibit is the actual will made by Alfred Nobel, which started the Prize. Scrawled on a single scrap of paper in a very untidy hand, it is perhaps one of the most famous wills which changed the course of human endeavor! Don’t forget to visit the Museum Café, the Nobel Bistro and after your cappuccino, please look underneath your chair. Each chair in the Bistro Café is personally autographed by a Nobel Prize winner, making you think twice before sitting on them! The sheer scale and brilliance of human intellect on display at this museum is mind boggling.
STOCKHOLM CITY HALL
A short and scenic walk from Gamla Stan, the Stockholm City Hall is world famous as the venue for the annual Nobel Prize Banquet held during the first week of December. The Banquet Hall is exquisite with
parquet floors in the classical central European style with ceilings reaching up almost 70 meters! The Grand Staircase, through which the King and Queen arrive is an incredible piece of architecture, wholly made of white marble. All Nobel winners are expected to attend the banquet which is the single most important social event in Sweden, with the who is who of Scandinavia in attendance. This is also a working City Hall building and it is quite interesting to see the efficient Swedish bureaucracy at work. It is incredible how they manage to squeeze in so much work in so few hours – in summers, the average work day is only 6 hours!
This being the land of minimalism and IKEA, I just had to have a look at some Interior Design or Home Design stores. What better store than the biggest department store in Scandinavia, NK or Nordiska Kompaniet? NK is an institution in Stockholm with a well-stocked food hall in the basement and five levels each dedicated to different departments such as women’s, men’s and kids, home décor etc. This being Sweden, the prices are certain to induce sticker shock to Dubai residents, but the Home Décor section is a must visit to get to know the latest trends in interior design. This is the epitome of Swedish design skills at work with an incredible variety of modern, minimalistic furniture, lighting, and other home décor items at equally incredible prices! Looking at the designs available there, my estimate is that it takes a minimum of 3 -4 years for the latest trends to reach other parts of the world. The IKEA “mother store” in Stockholm is also well worth a visit to see the original version in its full glory.
Though Stockholm is a very walkable city and walking is one of the best ways to see and experience Stockholm, a trip down Stockholm Metro is an absolute MUST for every visitor! In cities around the world, a Metro is usually a dark and dingy place, uninteresting and in most cases, dirty and grimy. Not so in Stockholm! Housing perhaps the world’s longest art gallery, the Stockholm Metro is a tribute to Swedish ingenuity and their skill in making the mundane interesting and appealing. Also perhaps is the Scandinavian culture of equality and egalitarianism which wanted art to be accessible to everyone and not just the museum going elite. The 110 km long Stock holm metro and Stations are works of art with incredible paintings, statues and other works of art. Some of the must visit stations are T- Centralen, Solna Centrum, Kungstradgarden and the Stadion station which, I guarantee, will be unlike any Metro station you would have ever visited in your life !
ISLAND HOPPING IN THE ARCHIPELAGO
The Stockholm Archipelago comprises of at least 30000 islands most of which are uninhabited and in summer, offers residents and visitors alike an incredible opportunity to visit some of the most scenic beaches and unspoilt islands on the Baltic sea. There are regular ferry services to the 40 bigger and inhabited islands throughout the year and in the summer months, the services are extended to over 100 smaller islands too. A day pass which allows you visit 7 -8 islands over a 24 hour period is a good bargain. However, be prepared to shed your conventional views on a ship’s captain and crew. Contrary to expectations, the Captain and crew are not some gnarled, bearded, weather-beaten men, but, this being Sweden, blonde and beautiful women, which in turn adds to the allure! Some of the must visit islands include the party hub of Sandhamn, Voxholm, Uto and Svartso, each with a different character and vibe.
Some are really tiny, only about a square kilometer in area which makes them ideal for walking. The only caution is to take care of the return timings of your ferry, because if you miss it, you are stuck on a deserted island on the Baltic Sea, not a bad thing at all!
By Satish V