Venice of the North
Happy to return to this beautiful city, considering the first and only time was almost 6 years ago! It would have been in September precisely 6 years, and that was back then a very short trip when the usual travelling gang we used to be “abused” on the super low Ryanair fares to everywhere we could find. It was just £2 return! Leaving on Saturday extremely early in the morning and returning the same day but already back in London way after midnight. Long and tiring happy days. Nowadays, circumstances have changed for all, and not only you can never find such air fare deals, but we rather spend the entire weekend leaving on Friday night to return Sunday night, or similar.
Although one of the downsides of flying a low-cost airline to Stockholm is to find yourself at Skavsta Airport. This is almost 100 kilometers to the south of Stockholm itself, but the almost 2 hours bus journey to the centre is in fact also well invested and to be honest, part of the trip for the beautiful scenery you will pass and see along the way.
Being the largest city in the whole of Scandinavia and having been always so powerful and rich in history due to its strategic location and trading within the Hanseatic League, you can imagine this legacy is greatly spread across the city at the many grand buildings, medieval wealthy houses, architecture and urbanism.
The city is built across 14 islands on the coast in the south east of Sweden by the Lake Mälaren. With that many islands and the hundreds or bridges crossing all over make it very different to any other city I’ve been before. Say it this way, the city is the water; a great combination and beautiful landscaping perfectly matching and complimenting each other. But with so much to see and do, you will need to plan at least 2 full days for visiting, though ideally would be 3. I can still remember how we were almost running 6 years ago to see as much as we could, but that did not work. Was therefore great to have in this occasion longer to enjoy every sight and more, without any rush.
It is incredible to see the amount of colours from the buildings. Each of them in one, and so vivid! it makes a huge difference to any other city let’s say for example, along the west coast of France where everything is mono colour and pastel like as Bordeaux or red-ish as Toulouse; even Paris along the Haussmann plan is monocolour in white and brown. Stockholm is like any city in Italy where colours are a key feature of their urbanism and design itself. Being that cold and dark during winter months it is a great sight for the eyes to find such colourful city and probably this is the real reason why all the Nordic countries have the same.
Commenting briefly to the subject of what to eat and where, the best is, obviously, in Gamla Stan (the old town), but as for any place in the world you are you will need to check few places beforehand to compare prices and choice or otherwise you might end up in a “tourist trap” or a not so nice place as probably that one next door (literally) and paying more for the same or lower quality. But this is nothing of any help really, it’s matter of common sense.
I can, however, highly recommend a restaurant that both quality of food and the incredible good prices were something to remember for future reference. Restaurant Kvarnen. This has 2 locations, almost next to each other, being one of them in Tjärhovsgatan Street a proper sit-down restaurant with full service and the other, right in the middle of Medborgarplatsen Square, more casual and self-service style. If I must recommend, unless the weather is bad, go for the casual one as the day menu is absolutely the same as the full service restaurant but cheaper since there is no service. The menu includes unlimited bread, tea or coffee and filtered water fountain to help yourself whenever you want. The included water, coffee/tea and bread is actually pretty much the norm at any restaurant not only in Stockholm but in Sweden.
Another great location, specially for dinner, is K25 on Kungsgatan Street number 25 (hence the name). Here you will find a really nice and trendy food court with 11 different restaurants to chose from with a wide range of food styles and great prices. For more information about this place check their website here.
For more information about Stockholm check the Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Swedish currency is the Krona (SEK). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Stockholm
- Norrmalm To the north of Gamla Stan and west of the Strandvägen.
-Sergels Torg Is the largest square and most important transport hub in the city.
-Kulturhuset (House of Culture) Opened in 1974 is still quite controversial due to its design.
-Crystal Is the name of the sculpture at the front of the Kulturhuset made of glass and steel designed by Edvin Öhrström.
-Santa Klara Kirka Church dating from 1572 just behind the Sergels Square.
-Royal Swedish Opera The former original building was inaugurated in 1773, the current reincarnation is from the 19th century.
-Central Train Station Opened in 1871 has a beautiful terminal building and interior. Do not miss the metro station in here, it’s the best designed of the whole network.
- Gamla Stan Is the name that receives the Old Town, fully built on Stadsholmen Island, the original small islands of the city’s earliest settlements and still featuring the medieval street layout. Much of the historical sights are located here.
-Stortorget (Big Square) Is the main square in the Old Town surrounding by old merchant houses. The most picturesque and historical in the city and where you will find the oldest buildings in Stockholm.
-Stock Exchange Building Located at the north side of the square was erected for the Swedish Academy, formerly used as the stock exchange but now used for meetings such as those announcing the Nobel Prizes for Literature; Nobel Museum and Nobel library.
-The Grill House Located at number 3, was built by the merchant Hans Bremer in the 1640s although the goldsmith Antoni Grillit bought it and lived there. It features the original cross vaults and a German inscription in the entrance hall.
-House at number 5 Has a ceiling with paintings from the 1640s displaying animals, flowers, and fruits, accessible to view to the general public.
-Merchant houses Those are one of the major tourist attractions, being the oldest in the city. Number 14-16 from the 17th century, where the Raven Pharmacy stood for more than 300 years. Numbers 18-20, from the 17th century; number 22 from 1758.
-Tyska Kyrkan (German Church) Home of the first German speaking parish outside Germany due to the importance and number of German merchants in the 14th century.
-Riddarhuset (The House of Knights) Commonly named as The House of Nobility. Built in 1660.
-Mårten Trotzigs Gränd With less than a metre wide is the narrowest alley in the city.
-Kungliga Slottet (Royal Palace) Is the official residency of the Swedish monarch although the Royal Family do not live here. Built between 1697 and 1754. Open to the public for visiting except Monday when it closes. Tickets must be purchased at 100SEK and depending of which rooms you want to visit.
-Storkyrkan Cathedral Is the episcopal seat of the Bishop of Stockholm, located next to the Royal Palace. Founded in the 13th century although with a much later Baroque exterior dating from the 18th century.
-Riksdagshuset (Parliament) It is located occupying nearly half of Helgeandsholmen Island which is directly north of Gamla Stan. Built between 1897 and 1905 in Neoclassical style.
- Riddarholmen Is a small island to the west of Gamla Stan, part of the Old Town.
-Riddarholm Church Is the oldest building in the city from the late 13th century. Burial place of some Swedish monarchs as Magnus III (1290), Charles VIII (1470) and from Gustavus Adolphus (1632) to Gustaf V (1950). Nowadays discontinued as a royal burial place in favour of the Royal Cemetery instead.
-Stembock Palace Designed in Baroque style was built in the place of the former castle which was destroyed by the fire of 1697.
- Kungsholmen Island Connected directly to Gamla Stan on the west side.
-City Hall Built between 1911-1923 by architect Ragnar Östberg in Art Nouveau style is one of the major tourist attractions. Acting as the venue of the Nobel Prize banquet, City Hall offices, conference venue, luxurious restaurant, and the best of all, the viewing platform from the top where you will get the best view of the city without equal.
- Södermalm Island The bohemian part of the city, characterised for its hills. It is connected to Gamla Stan to the north by the Slussen bridge.
-Ryssgården Square Is the main square in the island
-Katarina Lift This lift and a bridge between Stadsgården and Mosebacke Torg was built originally in 1883 although the current one dates from 1935. It is currently closed to the public due to lack of security.
-Södra Teatern The Southern Theatre is one of the largest in the city and most prestigious, dating from 1859.
-Katarina Kyrka The Church of Catherine is one of the largest churches in the city. Original built between 1656 and 1695, it was rebuilt twice after being destroyed by fires, being the latest that of 1990 leaving only the outer walls standing. The current reincarnation was opened in 1995.
-Sofia Kyrka Another of the major churches in the city but of recent creation, built in 1906. Located in the middle of the larger beautiful Vitabergsparken Park.
-Söder Torn This 86 meter tall building was originally meant to be double in height. Built in 1997 designed by Danish architect Henning Larsen. It’s One of the tallest residential towers in Stockholm.
- Skogskyrkogården Continuing south after Södermalm Island, merely few minutes on the metro, is this UNESCO World Heritage Site listed woodland cemetery. Greta Garbo is one of the famous persons buried here.
- Strandvägen Translates as Shore Street. It’s a boulevard on Östermalm (eastern part of the city) completed for the Stockholm World’s Fair of 1897. It’s one of the most prestigious addresses, most luxurious and expensive in the city with impressive buildings along it.
-Bünsow House Occupying number 29–33 was one of the first to be constructed, designed by Isak Gustaf Clason in 1886 setting a new standard of luxurious construction which followed with and spread across the whole city.
-Royal Dramatic Theatre One of Europe’s most renowned theatres occupying a beautiful Art Nouveau building from 1908. Located right at the beginning of Strandvägen.
- Drottningholm Palace One of the private residences of the Royal Family, located at the west of the city in the locality of Drottningholm. It has been listed an UNESCO World Heritage Site, and worth to spend some time to admire the architecture and gardens surrounding it.
- Metro stations The metro system has a great design and art at many stations, making it one of the most impressive systems in the world. The artwork on the blue line is the best, you should get a ride and stop at some stations only to admire them.
The city boasts 4 major airports you can benefit from if arriving to the city by plane. Basically with that much choice it is almost guaranteed you can find a good deal around, even if this involves having to fly to the farther ones.
Arlanda is the main international one, some 40 km north of the city. The cheapest option to get to the city centre is by taking the buses Flygbussarna which run to the Central Train Station with some intermediary stops. The journey time is around 40 minutes and costs 119 SEK (cheaper if you have a student card). Another faster option are trains but those will set you up paying double or even more.
Bromma Airport is the smallest of them all, located only 8 km to the west of the city centre, but it is mainly used for domestic flights with very few international destinations. The local bus 152 to Sundbyberg station costs 26 SEK and from there you can connect to the metro system onwards to your final destination.
Västerås Airport is 100 km to the west of the city and serves mostly low cost carriers as Ryanair. The Airport buses connect it with the City Terminal in around 80 minutes for 139 SEK one way, 249 SEK round trip
Skavsta Airport is almost uniquely used by Ryanair and Wizzair. This is the airport we landed on our way into Stockholm. It’s located 100 km southwest of Stockholm, near the town Nyköping. Flygbussarna buses connect it with the City Terminal for 139 SEK (online) or 159 SEK at the bus terminal one way and 248 SEK (if online) or 259 SEK at the bus terminal for a return ticket. The travel time is around 80 minutes.
Within the city there is a good network of commuter trains, metro, trams and buses taking you everywhere you need to very fast and reliable. Yet the best way to admire the old town is by walking of course, taking the many bridge connecting the islands in between.
Being such an important city not only for tourism but also for business the choice and selection of hotels is quite vast, yet the prices are also not as “nicer” you would want them to be. Yes it is true you can find nice and good hotels, even 4* for very decent fares, but when checking on the location map, surprise! It might be where the wind turn back, far, nor even near the public transportation, and as result, not the most convenient place as you will lose time and money having to move to the city centre and back daily. A good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
We found, however, a great deal at the Park Inn by Radisson Solna, in Hotellgatan 11, district of Solna. Right by the large shopping centre and metro station, 4 stops by metro to the north from the Central Train Station, therefore very well located and not far from all the sights in the city centre. Just a quick metro ride away. The property was great! Large, very decent size rooms, high standards and quality with very friendly and helpful staff and a nice buffet breakfast included in the rate. Definitely a great choice and fantastic value for money.