Stockholm manages to combine a 13th century heritage with 21st century ambitions. Medieval buildings and royal castles rub shoulders with world-class baristas and inspired designers of all things designable. Though you’re bound to have a good time in Stockholm regardless of where you spend it, here is a hands-on guide to – well heck, let’s stick with the slogan – The Capital of Scandinavia.
Start your day by taking a mandatory stroll through Old Town, where half a millennia worth of history is packed into the buildings. Let the narrow alleys transport you to the year of the “Stockholm bloodbath” –1520 – or to the everyday life of a medieval Swede. Don’t be surprised if those same alleys walked 500 and 700 years ago are now teeming with tourists, enough of them sometimes to deter your native Stockholmer from entering Old Town in the summers. This area is much like the Eiffel Tower or The Statue of Liberty – cool enough, but not the only reason to visit Paris or New York.
When you are done with the textbook tourism, turn on your heels and walk (yes, walk) towards your very own Stockholm.
To the north of Old Town is the city center, and if you’re aiming for great shopping, fine dining, or effortless people-gazing, Stureplan is one of the best bids in town. Flanked by luxurious office buildings on one side, and the equally luxurious homes of Östermalm on the other, this is the place to be seen. With the lion’s share of Sweden’s most exclusive nightclubs, Stureplan is the epicenter of Swedish nightlife. Try to get out early. The myth that Swedish people love to stand in line, well – it’s not a myth.
If Stureplan is the playground for H&M heirs, bankers, Spotify founders, and night owls in general, south of Old Town is where you’ll find the opposite. The island of Södermalm is home to a disproportionately large percentage of Sweden’s cultural elite. Singers, actors, writers and painters – they all live on “Söder”. As do journalists, art directors, and DJs. This is where you dress down instead of up, a challenge in itself. In Söder you’ll find vintage shops, award winning baristas and an abundance of chic bars and restaurants. It’s not necessarily cheaper than Stockholm’s other boroughs, but it tries to look that way. Here, the people-gazing is perhaps even more effortless.
If you have a few more days in the capital, turn towards the water surrounding you. About 30 minutes away, via ferry, 30,000 islands await you in the Stockholm archipelago. These specks of land range from small, uninhabited islets to larger islands full of summerhouses, restaurants, sail races, and even the occasional nightclub. But first and foremost, they are home to the most stunning natural sceneries Sweden has to offer. Closer to the mainland are green islands covered in grass and forest, and further out in the Baltic Sea, barren rocks of land rarely visited by man.
No matter what rocks your boat, Stockholm is an easy place to visit, not least because almost everyone speaks English with ease. Children are taught English from the first grade and most people jump at the chance to show off their skills. Another myth – aside from the ones about beautiful blondes and long queues – is that Swedish people are silent and difficult to talk to. If that has ever been true, perhaps around the time of the bloodbath, it is not in the least true today.