Look who’s finally getting around to posting Sweden content! I know, I’m practically a snail at this point, but after many hours of sifting through hard drives, using location data to pinpoint our exact itinerary (the dementia’s already setting in!) and a lot of time editing on Adobe CC, I am pleased to share our time in the Scandinavian nation.
The Swedish capital city, Stockholm, was our base for two weeks while we explored everything the Nordic country had to offer. Hopefully, by the end of this travel series, you’ll see exactly why me and Mama Kilford didn’t want to leave! While we were out there, the locals informed us that Sweden was actually experiencing an unusually long heatwave and it was eventually named the hottest July in at least 260 years. So, if I look sweaty and tired in any of these photos, please cut me some slack. After all, we were trekking for hours in 30°C heat. Side note: Not to expose my body dysmorphia further, but this is all pre-depressive weight loss Sam so please be kind to her and her chubby cheeks!
The Radisson Blu Waterfront Hotel in the district of Norrmalm was our home for the trip. I’ll talk more about the hotel, the incredible view we were fortunate to be given and the surrounding area in in greater detail another time as I feel like how spectacular it is warrants a separate post. However, I will say, that the hotel is situated in such an incredibly central location that you’re literally always a stone’s through away from everything you’ll need.
We started off our Swedish adventure by making the fifteen minute walk from the hotel to Kungsträdgården (King’s Garden) Park which is one of the most popular places for meetings and hangouts in Stockholm. There’s plenty of outdoor cafés, art galleries and restaurants to visit including the Galleri Doktor Glas, named after the 1905 novel Doctor Glas by Hjalmar Söderberg.
Kungsträdgården is also famous for hosting open-air concerts and events in summer as well as offering an ice rink for the winter months. Unfortunately, we were a few months too late to witness the luscious cherry blossom trees in all their pink glory – but we’re adding it to the bucket list for next time!
From there, we took the tram a short distance, stopping at Djurgårdsbron which drops you off directly in front of the bridge that leads to the Vasa Museum. The best thing about Stockholm is that it’s literally the polar opposite to life in Bristol in that you don’t have to do long, tedious uphill walks every single time you want to go somewhere and the public transport actually shows up for once!
Djurgården, where the Vasa Museum is located, is a surprisingly calm island with plenty on offer. Before heading to the museum, we took the time to have a wander around, taking in the gorgeous natural scenery that surrounded us, particularly Lusthusportens Park.
We passed the Nordiska Museet (Nordic Museum) which is dedicated to Sweden’s cultural history and ethnography from the early modern period to the contemporary period.
Everyone and their mother is surely familiar with the Titanic by now, but Stockholm’s Vasa Museum houses another epic boat fail that happened hundreds of years before Rose and Jack’s ill-fated voyage.
The year is 1626 and the King of Sweden, Gustavus Adolphus, ordered a series of warships to use in the ongoing war against Poland. However, The Vasa is not just your standard-issue warship. Intended to represent Swedish power, it was designed by Dutch shipwright Henrik Hybertsson.
On Sunday, the 10th of August, 1628, disaster struck. The Vasa, carrying 64 cannons, sailed into Stockholm harbor where an excited crowd gathered to watch and celebrate her departure. On board, were over a hundred crewmen along with women and children as the crew were given permission to take family and guests along for the first part of the passage through the Archipelago.
But as Vasa came out from under the lee of the Södermalm cliffs, the tender ship heeled over to port and kept going. Water rushed in through the open gunports and the ship’s fate was sealed. It sunk after sailing barely 1300 meters.
The crew had no choice but to either throw themselves into the water or cling onto the rigging while they waited for rescue. Tragically, not everyone managed to save themselves. The numbers differ, but approximately 30 of the 150 people on board died.
The Vasa is the only preserved seventeenth-century ship in the world making it a unique historical treasure. More than 95% of the ship is original and it is one of the largest ships built during its time.
After the incident, Vasa sat on the ocean floor more than 300 years until a salvage operation in the 1960s. It was brought to the surface in 1961.
The museum consists of seven floors built around the ship, allowing you to see Vasa from every possible angle. Each floor contains exhibitions that focus on different aspects surrounding Vasa’s voyage. For example; life on board, 1600s naval warfare, the salvaging of Vasa, the people on board who perished and the work that the museum has done to preserve the ship.
The museum also holds daily guided tours and boasts its own souvenir shop and restaurant.
Why It’s Worth Visiting:
Um, it is the largest preserved item in the world! But if that’s not enough to tempt you, the view from the seventh floor of the ship and whole museum truly is breathtaking. A particular exhibition highlight is the first floor information on the preservation of the ship and the skeletons of those that died on board.
Opening hours: Monday-Friday 10:00-17:00.
Admission: Adults – SEK 170 / 18 years and under – FREE
Membership: SEK 200-300, gives free admission to the Vasa Museum.
After our historical lesson at the Vasa Museum, we continued walking along Djurgårdsvägen towards the ferry terminal, Allmänna gränd, that would take us to Gamla Stan.
For those looking to stick around Djurgården, you can visit the world’s oldest open-air museum, Skansen. Sporting spectacular views over all of Stockholm, Skansen is also the whole of Sweden in miniature form. 150 farms and dwellings from different parts of the country were disassembled and transported there for showcase. These reconstructed homes depict Swedish life through the decades. Swedish traditions such as Midsummer, Walpurgis Night and Lucia are also celebrated at Skansen!
If, like me, you grew up hearing ABBA on a loop in the house then Djurgården will be your haven as the island features ABBA: The Museum. We were on tight time constraints so sadly didn’t venture in, but it has plenty of the pop band’s memorabilia, old records and costumes. When Richard Ayoade visited the Swedish capital with Sally Phillips for Travel Man, they stopped by the ABBA Museum and even did a spot of karaoke with the ABBA members in holographic form.
The ferries dock next to Gröna Lund, an amusement park known for its thrilling rides and summer concerts. It’s quite a tiny theme park with only thirty rides due to its central location limiting chances for massive expansion, but there’s plenty of restaurants and a killer sea view!
Visiting in July meant that our trip was perfectly timed with the release of the iconic cinematic masterpiece that is Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again so the city was full of Mamma Mia themed posters and events. Sadly, did not find myself a Young Bill or Young Harry… Perhaps when I next return!
No trip to Stockholm is complete without a visit to Gamla Stan.
Swedish for ‘Old Town’, Gamla Stan is one of the largest and best preserved medieval city centers in Europe. It’s one of the most popular tourist attractions in the capital and for very good reason. After all, it’s where Stockholm all began in 1252.
Dating back to the 13th century, you’ll fall in love with Gamla Stan’s medieval alleyways, narrow cobbled streets and archaic architecture. The colourful buildings in varying shades of orange, red and gold give the town a unique and lively character.
Dubbed a ‘living pedestrian-friendly museum’, much of Gamla Stan and the adjacent island of Riddarholmen are full of sights, attractions, restaurants, cafés, bars and shops to spend your hard-earned krona.
Due to its narrow streets and crowds, the best way to get around Gamla Stan is on foot. The island itself is relatively small compared to other areas of Stockholm so you can traipse and marvel at its beauty in about an hour.
So what is there to see? Stortorget, the large main square in the centre of Gamla Stan, is probably the first image you’ll see associated with the place on Google and rightly so, because it is beautiful. One of the most photographed places in Stockholm, Stortorget is surrounded by old merchants’ houses and the Stockholm Stock Exchange Building.
You can find a bronze sculpture in the square that depicts St. George mounted on horseback while slaying a dragon to save a princess. It’s believed to be an allegory to the victory at the Battle of Brunkeberg which occurred on October 10, 1471 when Sweden was attacked by and defeated the Danes. The slaying of a dragon has since become a symbol of Sweden. German artist, Bernt Notke, created the original wood carving of the sculpture in 1489 before a cast was taken and made into a bronze copy in 1912 by Otto Meyer. The princess was added in 1913.
The main square was also the site of the Stockholm Bloodbath, where the Danish King Christian II massacred Swedish noblemen in 1520.
Gamla Stan is also home to the Royal Palace which I’ll be honest looks like a fairly average building compared to the rest of Gamla Stan, but it apparently contains over 600 rooms! The changing of the guards happens daily at 12:15pm (1:15pm on Sundays) in the courtyard which is a worth a watch. The royal apartments are also available to visit along with several museums within the palace such as Royal Treasury, Tre Kronor (which houses the ruins of the former palace that burned down) and Royal Armory.
The town boasts several stunning churches too. There’s the main cathedral in Stockholm (Storkyrkan) as well as Riddarholm Church and the German Church (Tyska kyrkan). You’ll also find the Nobel Museum, dedicated to Alfred Nobel and the Noble Prizes.
Maybe one of the most famous alleys in the world, Mårten Trotzigs gränd (Mårten Trotzigs alley) has become a huge must-see for tourists. Named after a German merchant who owned property in this part of Gamla Stan in the late 1500s, the alley – which can be hard to find – connects the streets of Västerlånggatan and Prästgatan and consists of 36 steps. At its narrowest point, it’s 90 centimeters wide!
No afternoon in Stockholm would be complete without Fika. Fika, which basically means grabbing coffee or a snack, is a big part of everyday Swedish life. It’s so much more than a simple ‘coffee and snack’ for Swedes, it’s a social institution, giving them the opportunity to meet and hang out with friends and get to know others.
There are many cafés dotted around Gamla Stan that you’ll be spoilt for choice. Apparently the average Swede eats cakes and pastry equivalent to 316 cinnamon buns per year and I wholeheartedly recommend trying a Swedish cinnamon roll (kanelbulle). After two weeks in the Swedish capital, it became a staple in my diet. My daily routine would be sprinting from the hotel to the nearest 7/11 to stock up every morning – I seriously would eat about five a day! No sweet pastry at Greggs has ever come close…
With our stomachs satisfied and sweating from the 30 degree heat, we plodded back to Kungsträdgården before collapsing onto our beds in the hotel.
Keep an eye out for further Sweden posts featuring the gorgeous City Hall, a look at the hotel we stayed at and a trip to Uppsala soon.