Stockholm: A Week in the Stunning Capitol of Sweden
Our Scandinavian adventure started in Stockholm, with plans to visit Norway and Denmark on our month-long Nordic experience. As our first foray into the Nordic countries we didn't know what to expect, but we had high hopes! And Stockholm didn't disappoint!
What did disappoint? The weather! Oh, the weather. In June we were carrying around our umbrellas, rain jackets, and sweaters everywhere we went. It was a bummer, but the schizophrenic weather would give us some moments of blue sky and sun before turning on the raindrops, so it wasn't all bad. But, even when the weather wasn't cooperating, we did love a new thing we experienced - 19 hours of full daylight (and the remaining 5 hours are dusk and sunrise, it never gets dark)! It was incredibly disorienting because we never really knew what time it was, but it was also very cool!
Stockholm stretches across fourteen islands where the freshwater Lake Mälaren—Sweden's third-largest lake—flows out into the Baltic Sea. There is water everywhere, which makes it not only beautiful but fun because you are actually island hopping in a city of almost one million people. Although there are lots of islands, they are all easy to get to either by walking (lots of bridges) or ferry.
On our first night in Stockholm we explored Gamla Stan, the city's old town that consists primarily of the island Stadsholmen (we always love to start with the oldest part of the cities we visit). The cobbled streets and colorful 17th and 18th century buildings were beautiful and felt very much like the old European cities we've experienced on our travels with a Swedish twist. Nowhere was this more apparent than one of our dinners.
Mårten Trotzig is located in the heart of Gamla Stan and when we peeked our heads inside the seventeenth century setting with modern sensibilities we were immediately enamored with this restaurant. When we received our meals, it became full-on love.
Although it is probably bad karma and will result in coal at Christmas time, I selected the roasted fillet of reindeer with lingonberry sabayon and port wine sauce. It was unbelievable and I became an instant fan of reindeer, which I would eat again on our Scandinavian trip. Joe wanted to go full-on Swedish meatballs and ordered the elk meatballs with potato puree, cream sauce, lingonberries, pickled cucumber (he later learned that elk here is actually moose).
Are you seeing a lingonberry trend here? They are on lots of menus and that's a good thing, they are delicious!
It was still light out after our meal so we decided to pop into some bars, including Lasse i Gatan, an underground cave bar with a guitar-playing pirate. It was awesome and fun singing along to pirate songs...corny yes, but still a good time. When we left Lasse i Gatan at midnight it was still light out! So we decided to keep going, only this time we picked an Irish bar with a guitar player singing more familiar songs. Finally, around 2:00am, the bar was closing and it was time to walk home...under a still-light dusky blue sky! Amazing!
When we woke up the next day we didn't know if it was the middle of the night or the morning because the sunrise was at 3:30am! In any case, we got ourselves up and out into the pouring rain for our number one priority - a visit to the Abba Museum.
We slogged through the puddles to the island of island of Djurgården, where the museum is located, and waited in the rain for our entry time. It was worth every wet minute.
Not an Abba fan? You will be after going here. It's just pure fun as you follow the band's rise, from winning the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974 (performing Waterloo) to becoming one of the top selling bands of all time with over 300 million albums and singles (behind only the Beatles and Queen).
We got to sing Dancing Queen in a recording studio and get on stage to sing Mama Mia with holograms of the band. Yes, that is me in the photo, signing along with the group! Seeing their original costumes (crazy) alone was worth visiting! It was pouring again on our walk home, so we decided to stop into one of the waterside restaurants along Strandvägen for a drink to wait out the weather. This area is filled with great spots for eating and cocktails and we went back when the sun was shining for a meal on one of the restaurants permanently sited on a boat along the way.
While pirate bars are fun, we also love experiencing local cocktail speakeasies and talented mixologists, so we made reservations at Lucy's Flower Shop, voted one of the top 50 bars in 2022. As it tends to happen, the entrance was disguised so it took a bit of hunting to find the right door, but when we did we were granted entrance and found ourselves in a purple-hued subterranean bar in the Östermalm area.
This bar is small but funky and our cocktails were inventive and so good. Check it out if you like a good, creative cocktail. You can find the recipes for these unique cocktail creations on Instagram at Worldwide.Cocktails.
There are so many museums in Stockholm, it's hard to choose which ones to visit. We decided to pick one that focused on Nordic culture (Nordiska Museet), one that gave us a glimpse into history (Vasa Museum), and one for art (Moderna Museet).
The Nordiska Museet, Sweden's largest museum of cultural history, is located on the island of Djurgården. We were lucky that the day we decided to go it was actually sunny, so we took advantage of the weather and strolled along the water to the Royal National City Park, which is also on the island. It's a lovely place to wander and also see Rosendal Palace, a summer palace that offered a respite from city life for the royal family (that said, it's about ten minutes from their main palace so not sure why it was such a respite!).
There is a stunning garden around the palace and a few restaurants in the park as well, so if you're hungry it's a beautiful place to grab a bite.
We were a little hesitant to visit the Vasa Museum but were so glad we did. Initially the idea of a museum dedicated to a 17th century warship didn't sound like it could hold our attention for very long, but we ended up being one of the last people in the museum when it finally closed. Located on the island of Djurgården, the Vasa museum houses the only almost fully intact 17th-century ship that has ever been salvaged.
The 64-gun warship Vasa sank on her maiden voyage in 1628, only making it 1,300 meters before going under as horrified people watched from land. It was fascinating to learn about the building of the ship (a design flaw is why it sunk) and its resurrection from the floor of Stockholm harbor in April 1961.
We picked the Moderna Museet (located on the island of Skeppsholmen) because we love modern art, but if contemporary art is your thing there is the Bonniers Konsthall art gallery, if you enjoy photography there is Fotografiska, or if you prefer your art more classical there is the Nationalmuseum. And there is a lot more to choose from, too! When we visited the Moderna Museet there was a very cool exhibit for American avant-garde artist and experimental musician Laurie Anderson (Looking into a mirror sideways). It was unlike anything we'd ever seen, and we thoroughly enjoyed it.
There were many pastry shops and so we had to try the Swedish kardemummabullar, or cardamom bun. There is also a kanelbullar, cinnamon bun, for those who don't prefer the taste of cardamom, but whichever you choose, this classic Swedish bun is a lot like a pull-apart cinnamon bun and you can find them everywhere, definitely give it a try!
In a city comprised of islands, you need to take a boat ride! We decided to take a boat to visit Drottningham Palace, a 17th century castle on the island of Lovön that, today, serves as the royal family's permanent residence. The view of the castle when it appears along the water's edge makes the trip worth it before you even step foot off the boat. The gardens are expansive and gorgeous and there are various pavilions on the grounds. We were a little underwhelmed by our visit inside the actual palace, it was lovely but because the family lives in the home, there weren't as many rooms to see as we'd expected. Still, this excursion satisfied our desire to see Stockholm from the water and see the surrounding islands.
Speaking of royalty...2023 is the double jubilee, which marks 500 years since Gustav Vasa was elected king in 1523, and it's also the 50th jubilee of the current King Carl Gustaf.
The Royal Palace dominates the old town and there was an exhibit outside chronicling King Carl Gustaf's life, it was a great way to learn about his rise to the role of Sweden’s head of state and discover more about the royal family - without having to go inside the palace for a tour (we were palaced-out at that point).
Near the Royal Palace, the Nobel Prize Museum is a centerpiece of Stortorget square in Gamla Stan. Located in the former Stock Exchange building, the museum is dedicated to Alfred Nobel and his establishment of the Nobel Prize to reward those who had done the greatest good for humanity in a variety of fields (Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature, and Peace, although the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences is administered by the Nobel Foundation, it was not one of the original five Alfred funded in his will).
How did Alfred Nobel get the money to establish these prizes? He was the inventor of dynamite! While it was neat to see all of the things people have won prizes for, one thing we thought was a huge miss was that we never learned why the recipients' work was so important and what impact it had on society. That said, Joe had fun sitting down to write his own Nobel Prize winning novel while visiting.
Our week in Stockholm was amazing! There is so much to do and see, incredible food, a rich history, and beauty around every corner. The rain may have dampened our time there, but it didn't dampen our spirits or enthusiasm about this city.
After our wonderful time here we were even more curious about the other Scandinavian cities we planned to visit...next up, a quick flight to Oslo, Norway to continue our Nordic adventure!
Enjoy a taste of our travels with drink recipes on Instagram - Worldwide.Cocktails.