The old city of Stockholm (Gamla Stan) draws many visitors to the capital of Sweden. Deservedly so. However, there is more to see and this article will highlight more attractions.
A quick orientation
Stockholm is placed in a huge archipelago connecting the lake of Mälaren to the west and the Baltic Sea to the east. The centre of the city is also made up of several islets and islands. Right in the middle we find the islands of Gamla Stan, Helgeandsholmen (the oldest parts of Stockholm) as well as Riddarholmen, Skeppsholmen and Djurgården. If we add the districts of Södermalm to the south and Vasastaden and Östermalm to the north we have just about mentioned all the names a first or second time visitor will have to learn.
This is what we experienced on a short visit in late November and early December.
Gamla Stan and Helgeandsholmen
The essence of Gamla Stan is narrow cobbled stone streets and even narrower alleys, old ochre coloured buildings, and quaint squares. If you have been walking the streets of other old towns in continental Europe, you will probably get a sense of déjà vu here.
The atmosphere here is that of romance, beauty, history, and lots of exciting photographic angles. Not surprisingly, this is something that has not gone unheeded by other visitors. The streets were full of visitors in the day and at night, even as the dark month of November was about to become December. Nonetheless, if you avoid the main arteries such as the street called Västerlånggatan and the main squares as much as you can, you will without trouble find some really nice spots.
I could have been name-dropping a few restaurants, some of which are on the rather touristy side, but I would suggest you make it a personal choice for lunch or dinner. There are plenty of restaurants, cafés, and bakeries to choose from. The quality is good.
In addition to just walking the streets and alleys of Gamla Stan, I will have to mention three buildings. The first is the Tyska Kyrkan (German church), the second is the Cathedral, or Storkyrkan as it is called. In the latter seek out the gold-plated sculpture of St. George and the dragon. There is also a copy cast in bronze at the Köpmantorget square.
The third building is one of many entrances. The royal palace (Kungliga Slottet) hosts many treasures. We dropped the Royal Armoury and went for the Treasury instead. Actually, we found it rather dull, even though the crowns and all were impressive. We liked better the royal apartments, meeting rooms, stairways and halls inside the palace proper. One ticket covers all.
In the weeks before Christmas there is a Christmas market on Stortorget, the main square, with a good choice of quality handicrafts and glögg (hot, mulled wine with different spices).
Next to the Palace and Gamla Stan, the islet of Helgeandsholmen is dominated by the Riksdag, the national assembly of Sweden. This is a monumental sight, and I doubt any visitor to Stockholm misses grabbing at least one shot of it.
“Holme” means islet. “Riddar” means knight. On this islet you will find the Riddarholmskyrkan, the church with the very high spear reminding you of lacework. This is the burial church of Swedish monarchs. Take a walk across the square outside and have a look at the statue of (one of) Sweden’s national troubadours, Evert Taube, at the lake.
Riddarhuset, the House of Nobility, is an elegant palace on the land side of the islet.
Stadshuset and beyond
In early December, all pomp and circumstance Sweden can muster, is displayed in a live televised show at the City hall. Stadshuset is the venue of the annual Nobel banquet. 1,300 and more laureates, royals, nobility and foreign notabilities are celebrating this years winners of the Nobel prizes in cultural and scientific advances.
I was lucky to join a guided tour of the Stadshuset, to the Blue Hall, the assembly hall of the Stockholm city council, to the Golden Hall and more. Very fascinating and not to be missed on a visit to Stockholm.
Norr Mälarstrand is the name of the embankment on Lake Mälaren west of Stadshuset. It is as picturesque in winter as in summer. Enjoy the trees, and not least the boats docking here. In summer some of them take tourists on guided tours in the archipelago. Other boats are picturesque but look as though would sink any moment soon.
I walked this way and turned right here on Kungsholmen after a few hundred metres to have a look at a few more prominent buildings in a predominantly residential neighbourhood.
There is one more attraction outside the central islands I would like to mention, Östermalms Saluhall. I have always been fascinated by food halls (food courts) with quality gourmet food. It is a public market, with a number of places to sit down and enjoy the delicacies here and now. I was startled when I first came here 18 years ago, and was not disappointed this time.
You could spend a week at Djurgården, we unfortunately only had an afternoon in the dark season at our disposal. In other words we missed the boat ride around the island, we missed the zoo, we missed the Skansen, and more. Summer would be a better time of year to visit these attractions.
Two attractions here may be visited no matter season. I had been to the Vasa Museum before but saw no reason to skip it. It is utterly fascinating to see the ship launched in 1628 only to capsize on her maiden voyage.
The next attraction was new to me: The ABBA museum. The Swedish band has managed to stay on top long after their incredible popularity on stage ended. The exhibition was fascinating, in particular the outfits.
More and even more
Stockholm has more to offer, perhaps even more in summer than in the darkest of seasons. On the other hand that offers an opportunity to return some other time. Surely, we had a walk into the neighbourhood of Södermalm to the south, and we walked on Monteliusvägen for a fabulous view of Gamla Stan and more at night.
The surroundings of Stockholm even has a few UNESCO World Heritage Sites to offer: Drottningholm, Birka and Skogskyrkogården. Only the latter is easy to visit this time of year. Read about the visit to the magnificent cemetery called Skogskyrkogården.
Find all Sweden entries on Sandalsand.