As you might remember from my previous columns, my husband Roger and I traveled on Viking Ocean Cruise’s ship Viking Jupiter, visiting 11 ports and eight countries in 15 days. While it seems like a busy itinerary, it was our most relaxing cruise ever.
Our cruise disembarked in Stockholm, the capital of the Kingdom of Sweden. It’s a beautiful city of 14 islands connected by 57 bridges and where the fresh water of Lake Mälaren meets the salt water of the Baltic Sea.
The current exchange rate of nearly 10 Swedish Kronor to a dollar makes a visit here affordable, so Roger and I decided to stay a week.
Where to stay
Our search for a centrally located hotel with easy access to Stockholm’s public transportation system led us to the newly renovated Radisson Strand, located in the city’s cultural district. Swedish actresses Ingrid Bergman and Greta Garbo are among its notable guests. The decor, like that of the Viking Jupiter, is one that exemplifies Scandinavian simplicity.
The room rate includes a breakfast buffet of traditional and Nordic favorites as well as à la carte favorites. Breakfast is served in the urban-chic brasserie, which is also a popular spot for lunch, dinner and weekend brunch.
From our hotel, it’s a 10 minute walk to some of the city’s top free attractions, like the Royal Palace and medieval Old Town. Two museums, the National Museum and the History Museum, are also free and within walking distance. The National Museum features Sweden’s finest art, from the Middle Ages to the present, and the History Museum is known for its dazzling Gold Room and the world’s largest collection of Viking artifacts. A new exhibit on Viking culture is scheduled to open there in June 2020.
Our view stretched from the Royal Dramatic Theater all the way to Djurgården and gave us a birds-eye view of the commuter ferries and tour boats coming in and out of the harbor. Some days, we popped back to the hotel to enjoy the complimentary cinnamon buns and other treats along with our favorite view of the city.
The Radisson Strand faces Strandvägen, the elegant boulevard built for the 1897 World’s Fair. The wide waterfront esplanade along Strandvägen leads to the island of Djurgården, the former royal hunting grounds that is now open to all.
The Stockholm Pass, with unlimited Hop On, Hop Off Bus tours, Royal Canal Tour, Drottningholm Palace Boat Tour, free entry to 60 top attractions, museums and tours and a guide book, is a good value if you plan to take bus and boat tours and visit numerous museums. The passes are available in 24-, 48-, 72- and 120-hour increments. The Travelcard for public transportation is available separately.
Djurgården is a place to dine, visit some of the city’s top museums or find thrills at an amusement park. Since we were thoroughly enjoying Stockholm’s culinary scene, we walked as much as possible, but buses, trams and ferries run frequently to and from Djurgården.
Blue gates mark the entrance to a green oasis, Royal Djurgården Park. It’s the perfect place for a stroll or a picnic.
The Vasa Museum is the most visited museum in Scandinavia. Built as the most powerful warship in the Baltic during Sweden’s Great Power Era, the grand but top-heavy Vasa capsized in the harbor on its maiden voyage in 1628. It was located and raised intact over 300 years later and is now the best preserved 17th century warship in the world.
Learn about Swedish cultural traditions going back as far as 1523 at the adjacent Nordic Museum. See fashions, jewelry, folk art, glass and porcelain and other home furnishings and table settings from the 16th century onward. Learn more about the indigenous people, the Sami, here.
You can ride the story train through Pippi Longstocking’s adventures for a fanciful experience at the nearby Junibacken. Children can climb and play in exhibits based on books by Astrid Lindgren.
If you like Colonial Williamsburg, you will love spending the day at the museum that inspired it. Artur Hazelius founded Skansen, the world’s oldest open-air museum, in 1891 to show how Swedes lived in the past. Craftspeople and other interpreters are found throughout the area of over 200 houses, farmsteads and other structures that have been moved here from every part of Sweden. It’s also the only open-air museum with wild animals.
Skansen is near the ABBA Museum, an interactive experience all about legendary the pop stars from the 1970s. Go onstage or try on their costumes with virtual reality. You can log your experience on your ticket and access it for 15 days.
Prince Eugen (1865-1947) was one of the foremost landscape painters of his time and an avid art collector. See his works and collections in his mansion, Waldemar-sudde. The Prince’s private apartments are largely unchanged, and two upper floors are used for exhibits. It is surrounded by a beautiful sculpture garden with works by Carl Milles, Rodin and others.
Hungry? Try the greenhouse or the terrace at Rosendals Trädgard’s garden café and wood fired bakery. The fruits, vegetables, flowers and herbs are the product of biodynamic farming and organically certified.
Gamla Stan, The Old Town
Visitors and locals alike enjoy strolling along the cobblestone lanes of the pedestrian-friendly Old Town, Gamla Stan. This well-preserved medieval city center is a living museum where you can shop, stop for lunch or a Swedish fika (coffee and a sweet), dine in a Michelin-star restaurant, visit a museum, bask in royal splendor at the Royal Palace or simply take in the sights.
Stortorget, the “big square,” is the historic center and now the site of the Nobel Museum, cafés and a Christmas market featuring handicrafts and food. But it wasn’t always so alluring.
The 82 white stones on the 15th century red house there are said to have been added in the 1600s to represent the anti-unionist nobles executed in the 1520 Stockholm Bloodbath. This three-day siege after the coronation of the Danish king Christian “the Tyrant” II as King of Sweden outraged supporters of nobleman Gustav Vasa. They drove the Danes out, winning Swedish independence and making Gustav Vasa king.
The busy main streets, Västerlånggatan and Österlånggatan, offer an array of dining and both high quality and touristy shopping. It’s also fun to explore beyond them.
A little tunnel might lead to a tiny café. There are passageways and alleyways, like Mårten Trotzigs Gränd, which narrows to under a yard wide. And you might stumble upon little doorways like that of the Draymen’s House, built around 1600 for the guild licensed to distribute wine and spirits and now a museum. There are enchanting shops — like Tomtar and Troll, filled with handmade creatures from Swedish folklore — that make unique souvenirs.
The Royal Palace, the official home of the king and queen of Sweden, has more than 600 rooms, making it one of the largest palaces in Europe. Visitors can see the reception rooms and surround themselves with treasures like Queen Kristina’s silver throne. The palace also has five museums — Gustav III’s Museum of Antiquities, the Tre Kronor Museum, the Hall of State, Halls of the Orders of Chivalry, and the Treasury.
The Armory, with its gilded coronation carriages and coaches from the Royal Stable, royal costumes and, of course, royal armor, is a favorite stop for us. It’s in the old vaults of the Royal Palace and is the oldest museum in Sweden. Visitors can also view the parade of soldiers and the daily changing of the guard.
The adjacent Stockholm Cathedral, built in 1279, is where Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel were married in 2010. There’s a magnificent 15th century statue of St. George and the Dragon inside.
A trip to Stockholm isn’t complete without getting out to the Stockholm archipelago. Although many of the coastal islands are also accessible by car, train, bus or bike, thanks to the bridges, tunnels and car ferries, the best way to get out there is by boat or ferry. Once there, it’s easy to get around on foot or with a rental bike.
You can sunbathe at Grinda’s beaches, kayak around Sandön, and learn more about Sigtuna’s Viking Age and its rune stones. If your time is limited, browse the artists’ studios and stroll the loop around Fjäderholmarna, just a 20-minute boat ride from the city center.
Whether you stay overnight or just cruise around the islands to enjoy the view, be sure to check the return schedules and be aware that some tour boats run only during the summer season.
Dining in Stockholm
Dining in Stockholm means anything from traditional meatballs with potato purée, pickled cucumbers and lingonberries, to inventive Michelin-star cuisine. Our hotel was in an ideal location for sampling it all.
Wholesome and inexpensive meals are found at places like the café at NK Department store, where two salmon dinners cost around $25. Or look for a sign for “dagens rätt,” the lunch plate of the day, commonplace in Gamla Stan.
For seafood like Baltic herring and shellfish, there’s Sturehof, in a unconventional yet traditional restaurant. At B.A.R., just behind the hotel, choose your own fish, shellfish or meat right at the counter, order à la carte or, like us, try a combination like the mixed grill for two.
For fine dining, Operakallaren, with its gilded panels and crystal chandeliers, and the informal Matbaren, in the basement of the five-star Grand Hotel, each have one Michelin star. Gastrologik, which features “logical gastronomy” that takes farm-to-table to the max, has two Michelin stars. Another two Michelin-star restaurant, Oaxen Krog, is in Djurgården. Its sister brasserie, Oaxen Slip, is said to serve the best Sunday roasts in town.
The ultimate splurge is the New Nordic dining at Frantzén, the only three Michelin star restaurant in Sweden. Ranked on a list of the 50 Best Restaurants in the World, the tasting menu there will set you back over $350.