If you are reasonably fit you can walk Stockholm. I chose to walk the city taking in; Gamla Stan or the old town, Drottninggatan, which is their high street and the NK and Galerian malls where the well heeled shop. Stockholm is a fashion forward city but with a pared down twist. You will find a branch of H & M on nearly every corner. I am not a museum person but there are plenty for those who do, however, I do like grand old churches. S:ta Clara kyrka in the city is special.
Changing of the guards
Gamla Stan is an absolute must-see. Try visiting between 11.30am and 13.00pm when you can watch the changing of the guards at the Royal Palace. It’s a major production. I did chuckle when the guards did an interesting high kicking jog into the parade ground.
You would be remiss if you didn’t take in at least one, maybe two of the islands. The contrast between the concrete high rise city and the traditional laid-back islands is vast. I chose to go to Sigtuna Island on the advice of many. It has been lovingly preserved and I got to see old homes and how the Swedes lived a few centuries ago.
Ferry to Sigtuna Island
They still have summer houses on the islands where they retreat and escape the rat race of city life. On Sigtuna Island I found runic stones, museums, castles and church ruins as well as the Church of Maria which in still use and dates back to 1247.
Skansen, on the green island of Djurgården is another must-see. It was the hunting island in days gone by. They have a zoo full of Nordic animals as well as traditional old houses and villages, an amusement park with scary rides and lots of open land. At Skansen there are also plenty museums. You can visit a cafe to taste traditional Swedish cakes and cookies, you can watch glass blowers in action, visit the pottery or watch the animals being fed at the aquarium. Get there by ferry or take the tram.
I had to visit IKEA. Diagonally opposite the Tourism office is a free bus to the biggest and best IKEA in the world. IKEA is set in a large building and you work your way from the top spiralling down in a clockwise direction taking in all sorts. Think – office decor, kitchen cabinets, linen, space saving gadgets and loads more. Plan more time than you think you will need. They have a cafe with bargain meals. I had a spinach and feta pancake for SEK29.
Swedish food doesn’t lend itself to vegetarians. They are inclined to meatballs and mash type cuisine. That doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty fancy global and fusion restaurants. There are, but you will pay dearly for a meal out. At a sushi spot, my other half and I shared some Korean pancakes, then we had a tofu stir fry and one beer each. Our bill came to SEK 750. I will say, the portions were generous and the food was excellent. You frequently smell the aroma of waffles being cooked on a griddle to make ice cream cones as you walk the streets. This is one time to permit a sweet treat.
View from Sheraton Hotel
I was incredibly lucky that I was the recipient of a few nights hospitality and great advice from a friend which made my stay that much more affordable and ensured I got to see the best of Stockholm. My other half and I stayed in his summer house in Åland Island with him. We spent the last four days at the Sheraton Hotel which is located in the city centre. Accommodation prices are steep. The tourism office has a couple of computers visitors can use to find accommodation. Or you can view more on this link – Accommodation Sweden
When you think of Sweden, what comes to mind? How about, ABBA, Bjorn Borg, leggy blondes, the Nobel prize, IKEA, Electrolux, Absolut Vodka and Volvo. Swedes have a sensibility about them that is evident in their people and design aesthetic. They use the word “lagam” which means not too much and not too little, just in the middle. And that is exactly how they are.
I liked that they don’t insist on helmets for bikers, they allow drivers to use their cell phones, they permit drinking in three of their public parks and hot air balloons are free to coast quietly over the city skyline. They assume that the public will use enough sense to act responsibly. Clearly in Sweden, they do. The Swedish royal family send their children to the same schools they expect their subjects to attend. No wonder the Swedes like their royal family.
The leggy blonde bit is also true. I saw the highest concentration of attractive woman, and men, in a wholesome sort of way, than I have seen anywhere else.
As the plane flew in to land at Arlanda Airport I peeked through the window and saw forests and lakes. They say that Stockholm is one third forest, one third lakes and one third city. Stockholm is not a land mass as such, but an archipelago of 14 islands linked by 52 bridges. This makes it one of the greenest cities in the world. On a sunny day you will find Stockholm residents swimming, cycling, walking or running about. They happily bask in the sun and are spoilt for choice with places to go.
Heading north, the country becomes mainland but Sweden has 93 000 lakes in all. Sweden is clean and the Swedes pride themselves on their clear lakes. The water is good to drink and you can safely swim in their waters. Sweden has a law called – Allemans rätten – which allows all people right of access to natural land. Again, their inherent sensibility allows such a law to work.
Hot air balloon over the city
The summer months in Sweden are from June to August. For the rest of the year it is cold. Really cold. The winters are also dark. The cold sets in from October and lasts till end of April. You can do a winter snow break in Stockholm if you fancy something a bit different. You might even be lucky enough to see the Northern lights. Just remember you also get 24 hours of night around that time of the year depending how far north you go.
Every single person I encountered spoke perfect English, so language wasn’t a problem at all. A few handy words are “hej” (pronounced hay) which is hello and goodbye; “tack” (pronounced tuck) which is thank you and “gatan” means street or road, it follows on after a street name.
Bicycles for hire
Scandinavia has a reputation for being beyond the purse of the average person. While Norway is off the Richter scale expensive, Sweden is the cheapest of all the Scandinavian countries and is manageable on a modest budget. Tour prices are around SEK300 – 500. You are looking at SEK40 for a single ferry ticket to Skansen Island. A meal out can cost from SEK100 – 400. I tended to buy a take-out salad and a sandwich, then find the nearest park to relax and eat. That would cost about SEK70 – 80. A coffee at a cafe costs around SEK40. The northern areas of Stockholm are classier and you will pay more. The southern areas were a lot more laid back with a meal costing SEK85 including a drink.
There are a number of options for getting to the city from Arlanda Airport, which is a good 40 mins from the city centre. I chose Swebus over the high speed train, plain and simply because it was cheaper. You could also take a Flybussarna bus. Click on this link for more – Flygbussarna. These busses run regularly between the city terminus and the airport and cost about SEK99 one way.
A beach in the city
You can also avail yourself of a travel card for 24, 72 or more hours. This card allows you to ride any bus, overland train or tube train. The card costs a nominal amount and you are looking at about SEK250 for a 72 hour card. I had a SL card. Go to this link for more – travel card. Just be aware that it is cheaper to top up your card at the local supermarket – Pressbyran – than at the train stations. I can’t explain this. You could also hire a bicycle. For more follow this link – Citybikes.