Stockholm: Off the Beaten Track and Well Worth the Trip
I didn’t really know what to expect from Stockholm. I skimmed the guidebooks and spent time on TripAdvisor, but the personality of the city remained a mystery. Like so many great European destinations, it is often forgotten in the rush to get to London, Paris, or Rome and just doesn’t enter into the imagination much… But my stepdaughter is studying in Stockholm, so we headed over for our family vacation and it turns out, it’s great!
We stayed in a beautiful apartment on Södermalm (South Island) that we found on Airbnb. From our quiet residential street, we could easily walk to a trendy district filled with shops and restaurants, but we also had the opportunity to live like locals. From the nearby bakery we tried delicious kanelbulle (a traditional cinnamon roll) and princess cake (a surprisingly light confection of sponge cake and cream). We shopped like Swedes for our dinner. A Swedish grocery store is an experience. The language is far enough from English that there are few clues in the names of many items. Is it cream cheese or yogurt? Salsa or pasta sauce? I have no idea. Thankfully, everyone we encountered spoke English and stepped in to help when we needed it.
Södermalm also proved a great starting point to explore the whole city. Stockholm is located on a series of islands that are part of a vast 35,000 island archipelago in the Baltic Sea. Nearly everywhere you turn, you are presented with a series of vistas over the water and with graceful architecture – many buildings hundreds of years old – lining the shores. The transportation system include not only the clean and efficient Tunnelbana (the subway system), but also a network of ferries, linking the many islands in just a few minutes.
We walked to Slussen to take the ferry to Djurgårten. This lovely island was once the royal game park and is now something of a city park for Stockholmers. Some of our favorite museums were located here: the incredible ship of the Vasa Museum, Skansen (a living history museum and zoo), and the ABBA Museum. Who knew that the story of Agnetha, Frida, Benny, and Björn would hold such fascination for fans 35 years later… I know more about their childhoods than I ever thought I would (or should). Did you know that Björn’s previous band was the Hootenanny Singers? Live and learn…
Another short ferry ride took us to Skeppsholmen, which is home to the Moderna Museet, one of the most accessible and comprehensive modern art museums I’ve ever visited. And the museum café was the surprising location of one of our favorite meals: light and delicious chicken with perfectly cooked vegetables, served in a lovely dining room overlooking the water. A quick bus ride and we were back in Gamla Stan (Old Town).
In addition to our daily kanelbulle, we enjoyed many great meals, from Café Tranen which brings a modern twist to Swedish traditional cuisine, to Pelikan, a former beer hall where the brusque-but-funny waitress scolded my husband for choosing a Belgian beer over a Swedish one to go with his reindeer steak. The cuisine included salmon, arctic char, Swedish meatballs, tiny red shrimp, and potatoes – lots of potatoes… Potatoes with dill cream sauce, potato pancakes with crème fraiche and red caviar, whole new potatoes with just a hint of butter.
On our last day, we visited Stockholms Stadshus (the working City Hall, built in the 1920s). The incentive planner in me couldn’t help but think that the Golden Room would be a great incentive program dinner venue… It’s where the Nobel laureates dance after their awards ceremony and dinner. The walls are covered with over 18 million mosaic tiles, made with 14 karat gold and depict the history of Sweden.
We will surely return to Stockholm. Its long summer days, endless museums and parks, and narrow streets to explore will pull us back. I’ll be glad to pull up a chair at a sidewalk café at 10:00 pm and watch the world go by. And besides, I’m still singing ABBA… (Waterloo, couldn’t escape if I wanted to… )