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Stockholm: Venice of the North?
Member Name: Wickedinrock
Date: 10/10/11, updated on 10/10/11 (87 review reads)
Advantages: Beautiful city, lots of great attractions
Disadvantages: Expensive and that is all!
As most people will be aware, Stockholm is the capital city of Sweden. Something that isn't as well known is that the city is built on 14 islands of the Stockholm Archipelago and is sometimes referred to as the Venice of the North with over 30% of the city made up of water.
-- Getting there and getting around --
There are four airports in Stockholm, the main of which is Stockholm Arlanda, the destination of all major flights from the UK. Airlines which operate between the UK and Stockholm include British Airways, Fly BMI, Norwegian Air Finn Air and Sweden's national airline SAS, which I have always used in the past. The flight time from the UK is around 2 and a half hours which is comfortable.
When you arrive at the airport the easiest option to get into the city is by taking the Arlanda Express. The trains are very regular, every 10 to 15 minutes and are very similar to the Gatwick Express in London. It is the quickest route from the airport to the city centre (Central Station) taking only 20 minutes, but is also very expensive. The price is 260 SEK for a single ticket (roughly £25), but it is often better value to travel with another person (two for 260 SEK) or get a return ticket which can cost as little as 325 if bought in advance.
The best way to get around Stockholm is to walk! It is a small city centre and most of the city centre can be walked quite easily. However, if it's raining, if you need to be somewhere quickly or want to get outside the city centre you can always use the excellent Tunnelbanna, Stockholm's Metro network. Most of the lines run through T-Centralen right in the centre of the city.
--What to do in Stockholm --
Gamla Stan is the old town of Stockholm and normally the first point of call for visitors. It really has the old town feel with cobbled streets, alleyways and little squares which are now populated with expensive cafes. The largest and most prominent square is Stortorget which was the site of the Stockholm Bloodbath of 1520 when King Christian of Denmark entered the city and his troops killed over 80 Swedish noblemen. Gamla Stan really is Tourist Central and as you can imagine there are many cafes, restaurants (my favourite is Michelangelo!) and shops around which are nearly all aimed at this target group. In a typical souvenir shop you will find Swedish Dala horses, glass, Pippi Longstocking dolls, Viking helmets and troll soft toys and models, all for ridiculously high prices! Gamla Stan is a wonderful place to visit, especially on a lovely day when you can sit outside a café and listen to some live music on the street. It is quite typical of an old town but is so different from the rest of Stockholm that it really is somewhere you must go if you are planning to visit the city.
Gamla Stan's most famous site is The Royal Palace; the King's official residence and workplace. (He actually lives at beautiful Drottningholm Palace which is on the island of Lovon ouside the city). The palace was built between 1697 to 1754 and with over 600 rooms is actually the biggest palace in the world still used by a head of state. Although large and impressive, it isn't the most beautiful palace I've ever seen, in fact to me it always looked like any other big building and I never fancied taking a look around the inside, although my parents regularly took the guided tour with other visitors. Entrance, including the 45 minute guided tour (in either Swedish, English or German), is 100 SEK (£10ish) for adults and is open all year round with the exception of a few public holidays and with any events that King Gustav is hosting. The palace is guarded by soldiers who are always happy to have their photo taken!
Across the bridge as you enter Norrmalm, the complete opposite of quiet, scenic Gamla Stan, with streets packed full of shops, restaurants, bars, museums and hundreds of people! In fact, there were 7 H&M clothes shops within walking distance of each other last time I visited Stockholm but that's nothing compared to the number of expensive homeware shops! I won't start listing all of the restaurants and bars that I have visited, but the food and drink is generally expensive, but comparable with the rest of Scandinavia and central London. The main bar which is worth its own mention is the Absolut Ice Bar at the Nordic Sea Hotel which has become one of the most popular attractions in the city. The bar is made entirely of ice, from the bar, to the tables and chairs, from the menus to the glasses the drinks are served in. Entry is 140 SEK (£13) which includes a big shiny blue jacket with a furry hood and one vodka-based drink. Each additional drink costs a further 85 SEK. The bar is kept at -5 degrees and you can only stay in for around half an hour. In all honesty, I think the place is vastly overrated and is quite expensive to have to wait in turn for so long just to be thrown out after 30 minutes. It's really a novelty and something you would do once so it is worth it just to be able to say you've done it. A word of warning though, only 30 people are allowed in the bar at one time so there can be a long wait, especially if you turn up after 9.00 p.m. when you can't make a reservation. Also, take your I.D.! I went when I was 23 and didn't have anything with me so they wouldn't serve me a vodka even with my parents there to testify!
Norrmalm is also home to the department store NK (Nordiska Kompaniet), founded in 1915; arguably the most famous and certainly the most popular shop in Stockholm with over 12 million visitors annually. It is similar to London's Harrod's or New York's Macy's selling jewellery, designer clothing, shoes furniture and books, but for me the best part is the wonderful food hall! A book I read last week featured a murderer purchasing a watch from the store NK in Stockholm and it reminded me that my only purchase from the store was actually a watch that my parents bought me for Christmas back in 2006! Not the nicest thought but still, I was quite excited!
Stockholm is one of the cleanest European cities and was awarded the 2010 European Green Capital Award by the EU Commission. Djurgården is one of the greenest areas of Stockholm and the island is the home of the impressive embassy buildings, museums, historic houses, Skansen Zoo and the theme park, Gronalund. It's a wonderful place to go for a walk on a nice day and pop into a café for lunch or grab an ice cream. The beautiful lake in the centre of Djurgården is a popular place for joggers. The ferry boat trip around Djurgården is another fantastic way to see the island and the audio guide will point out the embassy buildings and the house belonging to Agnetha from ABBA!
One of the highlights of Stockholm for me is the Vasa Museum (Vasamuseet) which is located on Djurgården. The huge warship Vasa sank in 1628 on its maiden voyage and salvaged in 1961. Since then it has been restored to its former glory using 95% of the boat's original materials including its carved sculptures and has been housed in the custom made Vasa Museum for the past two decades. The museum contains various exhibitions relating to the ship including and 17th century Swedish history. There is also an excellent film which takes the viewer from the construction of the ship to the sinking and ultimately its conservation. The video lasts 25 minutes and is repeated every hour and is subtitled in various European languages. It is open from 10.00 a.m. until 5.00 p.m. daily with the exception of Wednesday when it stays open until 8.00 p.m. and the entry price is 110 SEK for adults which is close to £10 and free for children. It's interesting from the outside as it just looks like a big wooden shed with the top of a boat poking out! Nevertheless, it's a must-visit for all ages and of all the museums in Stockholm it's the one worth paying for!
Almost next door is the Nordic Museum (Nordiskamuseet), one of the most beautiful buildings in Stockholm. It displays items of Swedish cultural history through the years including clothes and household objects which have been significant in Sweden over the past 500 years. It really is a stunning building but unfortunately the museum itself is less impressive and I wouldn't recommend a visit unless you happen to be in the area (which is likely with so many things to do on Djurgården!) For me, the best of the lot is Skansen, an open air museum and zoo. Entry is 100 SEK (£10) for adults and 40 SEK (£4) for children which is quite pricey but worth it because you can make a whole day out of it as it is open daily from 10.00 a.m. until 8.00 p.m. The site is home to a replica 19th century Swedish town of over 150 buildings among which there is a traditional glassmakers where you can watch glass blowing. The zoo features many wild and native Nordic animals including bisons, seals, moose, wolves, reindeer, foxes, owls and my favourites, the brown bear which is often hibernating at Skansen. The zookeepers give talks and feed the animals at various times through the day which is included in the entrance fee. We actually spent Christmas Day at Skansen in 2007 as most places are still open (their Christmas is celebrated on our Christmas Eve). The lovely thing about visiting in December is that the Christmas markets are there giving a wonderful festive feel. Not the most traditional Danielle family Christmas and something we are not likely to do again, but it was a great experience and a lot of fun to be out looking at animals in the snow on Christmas Day!
Close to Skansen is the amusement park, Gronalund. It has rides including dodgems, a big tall contraption which pulls the carriage up high and then drops you, swings that fly out right into the sky and various other fun things that I can't begin to describe properly! The park also has cafes and restaurants as well as lots of fair type stalls where you can win cuddly toys and giant bars of Maribou chocolate! My friends and I spent about an hour and most of our holiday money trying to win one of these bars in a basketball throwing competition which we were useless at. In the end the nice man just gave us one which made our day! I've even attached the photo as proof which I had to scan because it was taken back before I had a digital camera! Gronalund is not quite Alton Towers but it's a great day out and something to tie in to a day at Djurgården.
A museum that I always wanted to visit but never got round to is Junibacken, dedicated to Swedish children's stories, especially the works of Astrid Lindgren, the creator of Pippi Longstocking. It contains the largest children's bookstore in Sweden, Storybook Square, where each house is dedicated to a different children's author and a children's railway which takes the visitors through the world of Astrid Lingren's books. The price for entry ranges from 125 to 145 SEK depending on the time of year, which roughly converts to £11-13.
-- The Stockholm Card --
You may have noticed that some of Stockholm's tourist attractions are particularly expensive. However, if you are spending even just one day in Stockholm it is worth investing in the 'Stockholm Card'. It is quite an expensive one off payment but could save a fortune if you are planning on visiting some of the main attractions in the city. The prices are listed below.
One day pass: 425 SEK (£40) for adults, 195 SEK (£18) for children (up to 17, only valid with adult)
Two day pass: 550 SEK (£51) for adults, 225 SEK (£21) for children (up to 17, only valid with adult)
Five day pass: 895 SEK (£83) for adults, 285 SEK (£26) for children (up to 17, only valid with adult)
The Stockholm Card provides free entry to lots of attractions including most of the ones I've listed above; The Vasa Museum, Nordic Museum, Royal Palace, Drottningholm Palace, Skansen and Gronalund as well as others including many other museums, gardens, castles and historic buildings which normally cost about £10 each. It also provides free transport on the Metro, buses, city bicycles, trains and trams throughout the city as well as the hop on-hop off sightseeing boat during the summer months which is an excellent way to see the city!
-- Other information about Stockholm --
It would be wrong to review Stockholm without talking about its climate. It has the most beautiful sunny days which are perfectly spent walking round Djurgarden or visiting some of the cities tourist attractions. However, the snowy winters are just magical. The beautiful old churches lit up at night and making the first footprints in the snow on the city's empty streets are some of the things that stand out in my mind about Stockholm and what makes it one of my favourite places in the world.
One thing I always pick up when I'm over in Stockholm is my favourite chocolate, Maribou. It can be bought in bars or in a Rolo type packet with small chocolates in it. I've noticed that Ikea now sell it at inflated prices but still, it's nice to know it's there! Food in Stockholm is as varied as it is in England with all types of restaurants in the city including Italians, Chinese restaurants and some wonderful steak restaurants! Ikea had me thinking that Swedes only ate meatballs in gravy and Daim bars but I can assure you that it is as diverse as most other major cities.
-- Overall --
There are some beautiful cities in Europe and for me Stockholm is right up there. I love that I never feel that I need to pack lots of sights in and see certain things; it feels like I'm at home! I always feel safe and am happy to walk round the city alone whether shopping, sightseeing or just on a wander. There are so many attractions and things to keep tourists happy but it's also a lovely city to spend time in and immerse yourself in Swedish life. It's such a beautiful city with all the water and greenery and it's all very peaceful without the hustle and bustle that is common in many capital cities. It would be impossible for me to tell you everything about Stockholm but I hope I've managed to provide a balance of my experience with information about the city. I would recommend a visit to anyone and can award it no less than 5 stars!
Summary: A beautiful city with lots of things to see