Stockholm Travel Blog› entry 1 of 1 › view all entries
I have always wanted to visit Scandanavia but was worried about the cost. I had heard rumors for years about $10.00 beers, $14.00 glasses of wine and general expenses. After collecting several years of hotel points, I decided to visit Stockholm, Sweden during the off season in November, 2009. Living in Houston, Texas, I actually enjoy a change of weather and was actually looking forward to some cold.
I arrived in Stockholm on the afternoon of November 14 for four days. Swedish immigration laughed when I said the purpose of my visit was for vacation. The agent took one look at me and said "Bad timing...look" and pointed out the window at the cold and rainy weather.
Landing at Arlanda Airport is a pleasant experience. Signs to the express trains to central Stockholm are clearly marked, kiosks are easy to use and trains to the city are quick--taking roughly 20 minutes. The price will cost roughly SKR 240 each way. Each train is brightly painted on the inside (my train had a neon orange interior) to counteract the lack of light in the dark winters.
Gamla Stan is Stockholm's old town and over the course of four days, I must have visited five or six times. The buildings are colorful and historical as since the 11th century, Gamla Stan has served as the heart of Stockholm. Filled with narrow alleys, a storybook setting and inviting shops and cafes, being in Gamla Stan is like being in a movie.
Interestingly, most of the tourists stay on a street called Vasterlanggatan, which is filled with shops selling the usual tourist souvenirs. I stopped in one shop and asked for a sandwich shop selection. The clerk looked around and whispered "I never eat on this street" (translation--only tourists do). Once you are off Vasterlanggatan, Gamla Stan is yours to explore. The streets are practically empty with just a few locals and tourists taking pictures.
Gamla Stan has much to see. The royal palace, Kungliga Slottet, is worth a visit and I was lucky enough to time it during the changing of the guard.
Within Gamla Stan, Storkyrkan, Stockholm's 700-year-old cathedral is worth a stop. The interior includes interesting pews constructed of brick along with a statue, St. George and the Dragon, which was commissioned in the late 1400s when Sweden was under attack by the Danes. If you are lucky, there may be a Sunday classical concert in Storkyrkan. Brahms was being played the Sunday I was visiting.
Another historic church is Tyska Kyrkan (the German church) which was built between the late 1500s to mid 1600s.
The shops in Gamla Stan are well worth exploring. For some reason, this area of Stockholm is almost segregated as the tourists stay on one street while the locals can be found on Osterlanggatan. This street is filled with shops, art galleries and restaurauts. One of my favorite shops was a toy store called Kalika, which sells the handmade toys found in storybooks to delight any child. Kalika sells toys made by Russian mothers who are raising children with disabilities.
While walking along Osterlanggatan, have a drink at Bistro Ruby. Restaurants in Stockholm are very expensive (I lived on a lot of pie and hot chocolate at Chokladkoppen--highly recommended), but the interior of Bistro Ruby is very inviting. With brightly painted red walls, minimalist black and white art and lots of candles, a glass of wine is worth the stop.
Pastry shops and candy shops with giant lollipops are sprinkled throughout Gamla Stan. I've always heard about French pastries and Danish pastries, but my vote goes to Swedish pastries. I had coconut macaroon cookies at one shop where there was so much macaroon that I wasn't sure how to eat it. The taste is pure bliss.
One cafe had large slices of apple strudel in the window which were the size of a large steak.
Be sure to visit Marten Trotzigs Grand, which is the narrowest alley in Gamla Stan. It rained while I was visiting and the lane is so narrow, an open umbrella will not fit up the stairs. It was funny watching tourists trying to walk down the stairs manuevering sideways to avoid hitting the walls.
Various museums are scattered throughout Gamla Stan--some which may not sound interesting at first. For instance, the Postmuseum, which has exhibits about several centuries of Swedish mail, may not sound exciting, but it was actually worth the visit. Until the 1870s, Swedish farmers handled some of the mail delivery. Once this changed, the government realized there was a shortage of postal employees. Single middle class women were allowed to work in the postal service, but only for half pay and with no chance for promotion. If the woman married, she had to quit her job as her work was considered a sideline and not a career.
The Nobelmuseet is a small museum dedicated to the history of the Nobel Peace Prize. I especially enjoyed hearing some of the speeches from different winners.
Another interesting quick stop is the Royal Coin Cabinet Museum, just down the street from the palace. Included are historical coins and I happened to see a scary exhibition on hyperinflation and how this effects governments.
I could spend many days just walking in Gamla Stan.
The Vasa Museum is a little hard to get to as this is located in Djurgarden. I think the easiest access is to take the Djurgarden ferry which is just down the street from the Slussen T-bana (Metro) station. Buy a 24-hour travel card from any T-bana station as this will sell itself. The card costs 100 SKR for unlimited T-bana usage and includes ferry rides (which individually would cost 40 SKR each way).
I enjoyed the 10 minute ferry ride from Slussen and stood on the open deck with two other tourists.
Entering the dimly lit Vasa Museum is entering a unique piece of nautical history. On August 10, 1628, the Vasa warship tragically sank on its maiden voyage in Stockholm harbor. Rumors flew around Stockholm for years as to where this vessel sank, with the site finally pinpointed in 1961. 95% of the Vasa has been reconstructed like a complex jigsaw puzzle and this vessel is the only surviving 17th century ship in the world. I was stunned at the size and detail of this ship. I found myself saying "wow" out loud without even realizing it. The gun holes are decorated with lions' heads and I don't think I would have wanted to encounter this ship on the high seas.
This museum will take several hours to explore and some of the exhibits are sad. Conditions for sailors were not good--quarters were cramped and most sailors slept on the deck. Even the ship's officers lived together in small cabins. Diets were poor and disease was rampant. Typhus, scurvy and bubonic plague were some of the diseases that could wipe out any ship.
The tools available to a ship's mechanic in 1628 were bleak. If a ship was in distress, looking at the tools available, it looked like few mechanical problems could be solved anyway.
When leaving the Vasa Museum, be sure to take a walk through the Djurgarden which is a fantastic park in the middle of Stockholm.
A saluhall is a food hall and Ostermalms is the best of the best. Easily accessible by taking the T-bana to Ostermalmstorg, this food hall represents the best of Sweden's foods. I could spend hours just browsing the different stands. Start off with a cup of coffee from Robert Paulig (Robert's Coffee) while looking at the various kiosks. Anything from pastries to produce to large counters of meat to cheeses to fish is available.
I had to stop for some samples at Betsy Sandberg's chocolates which will run 35-45 SKR for a small taste of chocolate. Amandas Brodbod is the kiosk for bread as loaves and loaves of fresh baked goods are avaliable. Lisa Elmqvist is the place for fish and I noticed the restaurant was packed with "ladies who lunch". The seafood is extremely fresh.
Ostermalms is spotlessly clean and the vendors are obviously proud of their goods. I noticed cases being constantly polished and the saluhall almost glistens. Swedish flags are all through the hall and moose and deer heads add decoration. Many of the stalls have tables where you can eat in, which is a nice feature.
Ostermalms is expensive but I like to just browse. I am always big on food markets anyway and this one is a gem.
Overall, I loved Stockholm and want to go back. A few pointers are be careful of costs (I really watched my food budget) and be sure to wear waterproof clothing if you are going during the fall/winter. I quickly found out that my shoes were not waterproof from the rain. Sweden itself seems to have an amazing openness and level of trust. I was walking around Gamla Stan and saw a stroller parked outside a bakery. I was shocked to look in and see the baby there, waiting patiently for her mother. No one seemed concerned about an unattended baby, which I think is impressive.
I was sitting in the airport waiting for my return flight and sat back with a toasty hot chocolate. As I plugged into my iPod, I realized that I was listening to Abba.