Stockholm, One of the Great Cities of the World 7

Ancient and modern architecture, fashion-forward and quaint fashion boutiques, unique museums and a wide-ranging variety of dining define the city.

Stockholm shakes to life in spring. The season, perched between a bitter, if atmospheric, winter and sun-splashed, if brief, summer, is when residents unbundle a bit, waterfront restaurants launch outdoor dining (outfitted with heat lamps and woolen blankets), and a stunning pastel canopy of cherry blossoms unfurl in Kungsträdgården, one of the city’s most popular parks.

Stockholm is comprised of a series of fourteen islands, where Lake Målaren flows into the Baltic Sea, so it’s no surprise that ferries are plentiful, inexpensive, and provide beautiful views. The city’s architecture, some ancient, some modern, is grand, and the street culture lively with bikes, skateboards, along with 100-year old trams. Bridges, often shrouded in mist, stitch neighborhoods together. Below ground, the subway, known as T-bana, offers a cheap easy way to zip round the city. And, many of the subway stations are worthy destinations in their own right because otherwise drab underground walls are brightened with provocative artwork.

The city is known for its chic boutiques with fashion-forward furniture and clothing. But, it is NK, Stockholm’s answer to London’s Harrod’s, a multi-tiered department store that has been a must-visit since 1902. The opulent setting provides every conceivable luxury, from handbags to perfume, along with galleries featuring trendy Swedish designers.

Old Town

To get a feel for how Stockholm earned its place among the great cities of the world, orient yourself with a visit in Gamla Stan, or Old Town, a warren of cobblestone streets dating back to the 13th century packed with cafes and little shops, grand squares and pocket parks.

The neighborhood also happens to be home to the Nobel Museum with high tech exhibits that honor Peace Prize winners. There are even resident scientists who help you muddle your way through replicating experiments that led to breakthroughs that changed the world. Stop at the gift shop to pick up “only here” souvenirs, like Nobel Peace Prize chocolate coins.

Nearby, the Royal Palace has a staggering 1,430 rooms. Yes, Sweden still has a royal family. They occupy just a portion of the palace now, so visitors are free to wander amid the grand ballrooms, majestic hallways, elegant parlor rooms and marble staircases while admiring historic treasures, including the crown jewels. Plus, there’s an impressive changing of the guard, complete with horse parade and military band each day.

Swedes are coffee fanatics, drinking about 864 cups per person each year. Cafes here are woven into the landscape and provide the ideal setting for enjoying fika, or snack time, a moment set aside for coffee, conversation, and pastry like bulles, knotted cinnamon rolls, sometimes spiked with cardamom, or semlors, cream puffs built upon foundations of marzipan.

Culture

Cosmopolitan and cultured, Stockholm has dozens of unique museums:

Vasa Museet is built around the only preserved 17th century ship in the world. This tall ship sunk soon after its launch in 1628 and spent 333 years on the sea floor. The museum drives home the fate of this merchant ship by displaying the skeletons of the crew, who died gruesome deaths. The intricately carved ship has suffered serious deterioration since first being exhibited. Rumors have it that this ship will be replaced by a replica in 2019, making this year possibly the last chance to see the actual ship.

Another of the “only in Stockholm” experiences is one of the newest, the ABBA Museum, an uplifting tribute to the iconic 1970s band that inspired Mamma Mia, the Broadway show and the film. Along with costumes and 70’s era props, there are interactive stations, like mini music studios, where you can try your hand at singing and engineering hit songs like “Dancing Queen.” There’s even a disco floor with a strobe light tailor-made for shooting worthy Instagram Stories.

Tekniska Museet is a mammoth interactive science space with a treasure of hands-on experiences. Stroll into a disorienting platform of virtual reality crowded by lumbering dinosaurs and hopping astronauts. Sit in a futuristic pod while a computer translates your thoughts into a symphony. Learn how 100 of the most important inventions from the pen to the GPS to the sewer were invented.

Fotografiska is a sleek museum dedicated to photography. The blustery arrival by boat onto the quay at the foot of the museum sets the tone. The hauntingly stark space exhibits provocative works from international photographers focusing on subjects that run the gamut from fashion to social justice.

Once you’ve had your fill of being indoors, hop a ferry to Skansen, a living museum. Make your way along expanses of rolling parkland laced with winding paths to a 100-year-old funicular, which will hoist you to the top. Here, the modern world melts away.  You are now transported into the Colonial Williamsburg of Stockholm with historic farmsteads and chapels patrolled by historical interpreters. This village is paired with an open-air zoo specializing in Scandinavian animals like the wolverine and reindeer. Take a break at the rustic outdoor market where you can roast sausages over an open fire and treat yourself to colossal hand-spun cotton candy.

Dining and Dreaming

It’s no wonder the smorgasbord, which, by the way, is still often served in restaurants during breakfast and lunch, was invented in Sweden. The sheer variety of foods available is in this country is a marvel. Don’t limit yourself to familiar favorites like gravlax with lemon and meatballs and lingonberry. There are many other dishes worth sampling, if only because where else will you find fermented herring, blodpalt (blood dumplings) and flåskpannkakas (baked pork pancakes)?

As for staying overnight, nothing beats one of the few hotels located along the waterfront in the center of Stockholm, such as the Hotel Diplomat, where the historic (Beaux Art architecture, a filigreed cage elevator) has been melded with the modern (sleek bathrooms, a fulsome gym). It’s from here that you can take in the soul of the city—the bustling streets, the busy marina and the golden glow that the springtime sun casts upon the palace and old town beyond. From this vantage point you’ll recognize just why after nearly 800 years, Stockholm remains a beacon of the north.

To get a feel for how Stockholm earned its place among the great cities of the world, orient yourself with a visit in Gamla Stan, or Old Town, a warren of cobblestone streets dating back to the 13th century packed with cafes and little shops, grand squares and pocket parks.