It’s difficult not to fall in love with a city that provides so many fun opportunities: from rose wine and strawberries at a waterside bar to a picnic on an island in the archipelago to a gourmet meal featuring locally foraged ingredients made into things like pine needle purée. Stockholm has all of this and so much more — the neighborhoods, the very fun Swedes, museums, sun, and water. A summer weekend in Stockholm just cannot be beat.
The first of three perfect days in Stockholm begins touring Gamla stan, Stockholm’s old town, which is the historic birthplace of Stockholm. The massive Royal Palace is intimidating when viewed from the water. The Royal Palace has the ceremonial rooms, the royal apartments, and the armory and each are worthy of a visit. Changing the Guard draws a crowd at midday, featuring a very fun parade and associated royal band.
The maze of cobblestone streets of Gamla stan are fun to meander and an easy way to get away from all of the tourists we encountered outside the Royal Palace during the Changing of the Guard. The main square — Stortorget — is really lovely with its cafes and hot dog stands (yes the hot dog arrived here as well). The most lovely part of the walk are the polychrome and ochre facades.
From Gamla stan we crossed the bridge to Södermalm, which is Stockholm’s hippest neighborhood. Here there are chic cafes, exotic restaurants, design shops, art galleries, and fashion boutiques. We stopped by the Fotografiska, a museum of photograph that puts on really special exhibitions and has a great water view (photo below). This museum is open late and is a perfect early date night location. Just off of one of Sodermalm’s many parks (Vitabergsparken), we went to Urban Deli Nytorget, which is a super slick cafe and small grocery with sidewalk seating. Here we met some new friends who told us what the rest of our itinerary “must” contain — at least 1 day on the archipelago (see below). Here we had delicious local oysters and farm-to-table cured charcuterie and cheese along with super crisp white wine.
On our second day, we started by meandering through the city to meet a scheduled tour at the Stadshuset, which is Stockholm’s city hall.
The in-person tour of Stockholm’s city hall is fantastic. It takes you through all parts of the functioning city hall including where the famous Nobel dinner is set. Here you can almost imagine the 1300 guests crammed into the brick Blue Hall dressed in formal attire to celebrate the enduring gift given by Alfred Nobel recognizing great achievements in science. The rest of city hall is stunning: the council chamber is built with a decorative Viking-style ceiling; the Golden Hall contains thousands of individual gold pieces as a mosaic of the Queen of the Lake sitting at the center of the earthly world and the rest of the universe.
From city hall, we meandered back across the city to Djurgarden, Stockholm’s largest park, which was originally the royal hunting ground in the 17th century. The park is also the home of two museums we really wanted to see: the Vasa Museum (Vasamuseet) and the contemporary art museum (Liljevalchs).
The Vasa Museum is the star attraction and “must see.” The museum is all about the Vasa, a 160-foot tall ship commissioned by King Gustavus Adolphus in 1628 as part of a military expansion he initiated. Intended to be the most powerfully armed vessels in the world, the Vasa contained an extra level of canon. But the Vasa was too top heavy and after sailing just 1,300 meters, a stiff breeze grabbed the sail and capsized her. The weight of the canons took her to the bottom of Stockholm’s harbor where she was lost until 1961 (333 years later). In 1961, archeologists, through a combination of massive steel cables and floatation devices, brought her to the surface and today she is one of the most well-preserved maritime objects ever. The intricate wood carvings are a sight to behold in person.
Nearby, in a magnificent neoclassical house, Stockholm’s contemporary art museum Liljevalchs is a wonderful array of color and creativity and a joy to experience.
After taking in some culture, we took a lovely 30-minute boat ride to Drottningholm Palace, the private residence of the Swedish royal family.
The palace is often referred to as Sweden’s Versailles, the public rooms are gorgeous and the garden is expansive and welcoming.
The boat ride along the river and into the lake is just a joy in the summer. Large well-appointed houses line the river. Landing back in Norrmalm, we found an outdoor cafe along the water near the Stockholm Opera where we had rose wine with fresh Swedish strawberries and a cup of peanuts and talked about our very long day of touring.
The end of our second day featured one of the best meals of food we have ever had. Oaxen Krog is a two-Michelin star restaurant situated in Djurgarden in Stockholm. It has regularly been listed as one of the best restaurants in the world. The tasting menu was out of this world with local foraged ingredients and it was the first (and last) time that we have had pine needle purée (spoiler alert, it was awesome).
Our third day in Stockholm was all about summer relaxation, Stockholm style — on the archipelago. The archipelago is a short way of referring to the 80 miles of scenic islands that stretch out from downtown Stockholm. Wondering why we flew all this way to experience the city that we were fleeing, we were reminded of our dinner on Friday night where we met the two Annas (optimistic and pessimistic Anna to differentiate) and both told us that to really experience Stockholm, we needed to experience archipelago. There are two major ferry companies that leave downtown Stockholm at regular intervals. Within 45 minutes we are away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Stockholm, up on deck with the locals, and taking in the scenery. The self-proclaimed “gateway to the archipelago” is Vaxholm, which is very well developed and has a large number of restaurants and galleries. But we’re headed out of Stockholm to get away from city life. So just down the way a little is traffic-free and very rustic Grinda. There are walking paths and granite beaches to explore and have a nice picnic.
When we get back into Stockholm center, we feel like we’ve really experienced what the city has to offer. So much of our time was spent on boats, along the water, in the parks, and just soaking up the summer sun. We felt like we belonged in Stockholm, and frankly it’s difficult not to feel that way. For our last evening in Stockholm, we had drinks at the Hotel Terrassen before dinner at the veranda at the Grand Hotel. Both provided us great views of our final sunset in Stockholm over Gamla stan. This feeling is why we’ll go back.
Stay: the Nobis Hotel Stockholm is a very fine accommodation on a square in Norrmalm.