Stockholm - one chilled capital city

Stockholm is chilly in winter - but in summer it’s just very, very chilled.

By Jim Stewart
Monday, 18th July 2011, 8:07 am

It’s a beautiful, laid-back city in a very pleasant country where you can’t fail to enjoy whiling away a few days, or longer.

Stockholm was only my second visit to Scandinavia and my first to Sweden. The endless mention of how expensive that part of northern Europe was, and perhaps the wonder of just exactly how much there was to see and do, meant it had never figured highly on my radar before.

Yep, we’d all heard of Abba and Bjorn Borg as perhaps the main Swedish exports. That and Sven Goran Ericsson of course. And it has to be said, when we hopped off the plane at Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport the first giant murals we saw heading to arrivals were of a four-piece pop group from the 1970s and a tennis player with a beard. No sign, though, of a football manager prowling the touchline for England/ Mexico/ Manchester City/ Notts County/ Leicester.

But those images aside, Stockholm is a remarkable place not least because it’s clearly a great place to live, work, and yes, visit. Not for nothing has it been consistently in the top end of the cities offering the best quality of life on the planet.

It’s very chilled. It may be a capital city, the most populated urban area in Scandinavia and home to some 850,000 people, but it rarely feels crowded or frenetic.

Stockholm is clean, friendly and very accessible. Not too many of us outside the country know much Swedish but that’s hardly a problem when everybody, and I mean everybody, knows at least a smattering of English. It’s virtually a second language and many things, from train signs to menus to museums, carry an English version to help you through.

The city is built on islands and its historic heart is Gamla Stan. This tiny island takes all of ten minutes to walk from end to end and is a network of medieval passageways surrounding the Royal Palace. It’s touristy in parts, you’ll be tripping over viking hats and cuddly mooses, but it’s well worth a meander.

Stockholm has dozens of museums and attractions, and if you have to pick one I’d recommend Skansen. It’s the city’s recreation jewel, the world’s first open air museum. Swedish buildings and farmhouses from the past few centuries have been moved from elsewhere in the county and rebuilt in this giant park. There’s also a zoo there, with Scandinavian animals including the famous moose, reindeer and brown bears. All in all good value for 120SEK (£12) each and you can easily spend a few hours there. It’s on Djurgarden island, where you’ll also find Grona Lund Tivoli, Stockholm’s traditional and much loved fairground.

The list of other museums is extensive so it’s take your pick. The architecture museum is also central and gives a quick insight into Stockholm’s famous cutting edge design and architecture which you’ll experience throughout your stay - from the brutal concrete buildings of the seventies that have taken on new life, to the quirky and bold designs of the 21st Century.

Moderne Museet is the place for modern art while the city’s museum, Stockholm’s Stadsmuseum is highly recommended. You’ll find that on Sodermalm, the sharp and gritty island to the south of Gamla Stan which by all accounts is a great place to hang out. However, I’ll admit we didn’t make it there - there’s so much else to see.

The shopping and commercial hub is found close to the main station. Some of the prices in the window will see your jaw drop but many are little different to those you’ll see at home. And some, such as clothes, can be cheaper - this is, after all, the home of H&M and North Face.

What you must also do is hop on a boat and sample Stockholm’s archipelago. There are thousands upon thousands of islands in the area and in the sunny summer months hordes of city dwellers escape to the seclusion of island life.

Some are several hours away but there’s no shortage of sightseeing boat trips in the immediate vicinity - visit www.stromma.se

There’s a one and a half hour trip to Vaxholm, the capital. They also travel to Drottningholm Palace, home of the Swedish royal family, and also to the Viking Island of Burka, a world heritage site. For more visit www.strommakanalbolaget.se or you can buy tickets on the boat.

All the info you’ll need can be found at the city’s tourist information centre at Hamngatan 27 in Sweden House, open seven days. There’s also one at Arlanda Airport. You can buy the Stockholm Card at these places which gives you access to dozens of museums plus tour discounts, as well as unlimited travel on the buss, metro and trams. Visit www.visitstockholm.com/en

You won’t go hungry in Stockholm. It’s packed with bars and restaurants and in summer certainly, the street cafe culture is in full swing.

Finding something cheap is a bit tricky.

Restaurants serve up largely international fare with many steak houses and grills - plus a large number of japanese sushi bars that prove a popular lunchtime distraction. You can pick up a pub meal for around £10, but expect to pay £15 to £25 for a main course in restaurants.

Scandinavia has always shouldered the burden of being labelled an incredibly expensive place for a drink. And that’s not entirely unfair, as it’s certainly not cheap.

However, it’s not completely bonkers either. A pint of the local brew in Stockholm is likely to set you back around £6, with imported brews (Guinness and a whole host of ales are on offer in many bars) just a little more. Pricey, yes, but barely any more than upmarket places in central London, or Italy or Paris for that matter.

All in all Stockholm ticks a lot of boxes.

In the summer months it’s a delight, the sun barely sets this far north and you won’t be short of things to do, see, eat and drink. The locals are unfailingly polite and it feels very safe. No-one would ever suggest it is cheap, but with a careful eye on the kronas it needn’t break the bank either. I’d definitely recommend it.

Getting there:

Stockholm Arlanda Airport is the main, spacious and shiny arrivals point for many international visitors.

There are two main ways to get into Stockholm city, some 25 miles away. The quickest is by train - the Arlanda Express shoots you into the main central station in a mere 20 minutes and they run every 15 minutes at peak times. The price though, is worth noting in advance - 460SEK (£46) return (some discounts at weekend). Visit www.arlandaexpress.com

If that’s a little bit too much of a kick in the kronas before you’ve even started your holiday proper, the cheaper option is the more than adequate bus link.

Flygbussarna run every 10 to 15 minutes all day and leave directly from outside the main terminal. Tickets are easily bought from machines inside the arrivals hall (or online) and are a more reasonable 210SEK (£21) return. All it means is you have the responsibility of not losing your ticket during your time there. Visit www.flygbussarna.se

Note there are two buses plying the airport route. The busiest one is Flygbussarna, but Swebus also offer you a seat on the coach, with fares costing a similar amount. Buses are slightly less regular but there are still 40 a day. Visit www.swebus.se

The journey time is up to 40 minutes depending on traffic. Taxis are around 500SEK (£50) and take around 40 minutes.