5 things not to miss on a weekend break in Stockholm
What a glorious place Stockholm is. My daughter and I were there for two and a half packed days in early June, when the days are long and the temperatures delightfully balmy, so we were reluctant to spend too much time inside. Whilst that means my indoor recommendations definitely earn their place on the list, there are sights, like the Royal Palace, where in other circumstances (ie less clement weather, or more time) we would have explored inside rather than just admiring them from the outside.
Two things to bear in mind about Stockholm: It's not a cheap city, but it's perfectly possible to see and experience it without spending a fortune, and as a place built across 14 islands (don't worry, the main attractions are only on 3/4 of them), which of course is part of its beautiful appeal, it is very spread out, so there's a lot of walking involved. Having said that, the transport system - metro, busses and trams - is very efficient and easy to use.
It also helps that the Swedes are not only a remarkably good looking and stylish bunch, (I recommend allowing yourself some proper people watching time in your schedule, easy to do in a city rammed with brilliant cafe's and bars), they're also immensely friendly and virtually all of them speak impeccable English.
Recommendation 1: Do a Segway tour
It had been suggested to me that a Segway is a brilliant way of exploring a city by so many people, but had never given one a go before. Now I can see why everyone raves about them so much. The Segways themselves really easy to balance on and get the hang of (you control the speed by rocking your feet backwards and forwards on the base plates, and control the direction with the upright handle bar). And in a city as spread out as Stockholm (see above) they're the ideal way to cram in a number of sights in a short space of time. Our tour lasted an hour, with our excellent guide stopping us along the way to explain about the history of the city and the sights we were seeing, and gave us a chance to scope out the things we wanted to spend time visiting on foot. You get 15 minutes of instruction before you set off and there are some age and weight restrictions. Check with the operator before booking.
We did our ride with OURWAY Tours (we did the Stockholm Segway Public one) and it cost 395 Swedish kroner each (approx £34)
Recommendation 2: Get around by boat
On any city break the first thing I usually do is one of those hop-on-hop-off bus tours. It helps me get a sense of the layout, see as many of the sights as possible and get between them as efficiently as possible. Whilst the Segway tour does some of that too (without being able to stop off and visit any of the sights though), if you want to see and get around a city that is gloriously one third water (the other two thirds are streets and parks), then a hop-on-hop-off boat is the way to do it. This is my recommended mode of transport for your main sightseeing. All the tour boats have commentary in multiple languages, and all of them cover all the headline attractions, so it's really a matter of taking your pick. We did the Red Buses one simply because it was the next boat to arrive when we wanted to go. They offer a 24 hour combination bus and boat ticket, or separate tickets for each.
Recommendation 3: Visit two museums (one high culture, the other....not so much)
With such lovely weather, so little time, and so much to see, we were necessarily picky about what we went indoors to do. But both these more than warranted our time out of the sunshine. There is only one word to describe the Vasa Museum - astonishing. This fantastic and fascinating museum has been created to house the fully reconstructed wreck of the 17th Century ship the Vasa, which sank in Stockholm harbour on her maiden voyage. Salvaged in 1961 after 333 years on the seabed, 98% of the vessel is original which is remarkable enough in itself, but nothing can prepare you for the vast scale of the ship which fills the whole of the centre of this five story building (no picture can begin to do it justice). Whatever else you do in Stockholm, don't miss seeing this.
At the other end of the historical scale is a museum celebrating one of Sweden's greatest contributions to popular culture - ABBA. This is a place designed not just to tell the story of Sweden's fabulous four, but where you can sing, dance and perform on stage along with them. I definitely can't think of a museum more full of inventive interactive activities or where I've had more fun.
The Vasa Museum is open from 0830 until 1830 Adults 130Kr (approx £11) Children up to 18 free. The ABBA Museum opens from 0900 to 1900 Adults 250Kr (£21) Children 95Kr (£8)
Recommendation 4: Do some shopping
I do find it depressing that wherever you go, the main shopping streets are so often full of the same shops and chains. So I'll always avoid those (there are plenty of them to be had in Stockholm if that is your thing) and seek out the small, quirky, independent shops, which, happily there are also plenty of. I wouldn't normally recommend the shops around popular tourist places like Gamala Stan, the Old Town, with its cobbled streets, narrow alleys and bustling squares (don't miss strolling around here), but there are some wonderfully unusual and colourful ones that are well worth wandering around. I fell in love with fashion and homeware boutique Gudrun Sjorden (and er, two cardigans particularly) which you can find at Stora Nygatan 33 and three other sites around the city.
Another area that's worth visiting is Katarina-Sofia on Sodermalm, where you'll find a number of treasure-trove vintage shops.
Recommendation 5: Eat great food
That same area (Katarina-Sofia) is also home to one of a number of terrific restaurants where we ate. Nytorget 6, serves outrageously delicious classic Swedish dishes with a modern twist and a reasonable price tag, in a friendly, relaxed atmosphere. Elsewhere, Oxaen Slip is a buzzing, modern, waterside bistro serving simple, and simply delicious, seasonal lunches and dinners.
We also stumbled across a little cafe/restaurant in the Old Town where we'd stopped for a drink, but ended up sharing a plate of their extremely reasonably priced and very delicious dish-of-the-day.
There are, of course, many other things to do and see that I've had to leave off this list but are well worth your consideration, like the Royal Palace, the beautiful (inside) city library and the wonderful view over the city from Ivar Los Park, Soder Malarstrand, not far from the Centralborn bridge.
We stayed at the Haymarket By Scandic hotel, which I'd certainly recommend for it's position, wonderful art deco interior and brilliantly good breakfast.
If you have any other Stockholm recommendations, or suggestions for great city-break destinations, I'd love to hear them!
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