Author: Tim Campbell (More Trip Reviews by Tim Campbell)
Date of Trip: October 2013
Stockholm – More than just ABBA.
If you’re around 60 years old then you’ll probably remember ABBA winning the 1976 Eurovision song contest with the hit “Waterloo”. This iconic group has been a symbol of Stockholm and Sweden as much as IKEA and Volvo since then, and in April 2013 a museum to these masters of pop opened its doors. The ABBA museum was the culmination of requests from fans worldwide to remember their idols, and immediately they started flocking to the new destination. With original outfits and plenty of photos of your favorite band, for around $30 (20 UK pounds) the ABBA museum is an interactive experience where you can dance and sing, and even download your own personal experience. But if you go to Stockholm solely to visit the musical museum, then you’ll be pleasantly surprised about how much else you can see and do there.
The Abba building itself is at the end of the number 7 tram line from the city centre, on the island of Djurgarden, but you can also take the ferry from Gamle Stan for 4 Krona. Djurgarden is home to the Stockholm’s Grona Lund amusement park but also the celebrated district known as Skansen, Sweden’s first ever open air museum. This recreational area is home to Stockholm’s wonderful zoo, an aquarium, and even a funicular on the northwest side of Skansen hill.
Founded in 1891, Skansen epitomizes old Sweden with over five centuries of life and history in this Nordic wonderland. Full of characters in period dress you’ll be able to spend several hours learning how they used to work and survive in bygone centuries. The area is reminiscent of Jamestown and Old Virginia back in the United States.
Skansen is located adjacent to the VASA Museum, a ship which sank on its maiden voyage because it was too top heavy, and the Rosendal Palace, a getaway for King Karl XIV Johan, the first Bernadotte (the current Royal house of Sweden) King who frequented the pavilion as an escape from his daily regal duties. The three spots together will take you almost all day to walk around but you’ll still have time to enjoy the beauty of Skansen, founded in 1891 by Artur Hazelius (1833–1901) to show the Victorian way of life in the different parts of Sweden before the industrial era. The zoo is fairly small and probably not on your list if you don’t have the time, but if you do go in you’ll see native animals from the arctic and Polar Regions that you won’t see anywhere else like the wolverine, brown bear and lynx. There’s also a small petting zoo for the kiddies. If you go in winter they have a Christmas market second to none in the Baltic region, and if you visit in summer they have folk dancing and concerts; but be prepared to rub shoulders with about 25000 visitors per day in this popular habitat during July and August.
Djurgarden is only one of 24,000 Islands in the Stockholm archipelago, the most famous of which is Gamla Stan, the site of the Royal Swedish court. This is pure walking territory so it’s recommended that you take your hiking boots and get marching around the city, or get the local transport bus pass called the Stockholm Card. It will help when your feet get tired of traipsing around the city to see all the attractions, and covers the whole transportation system plus huge discounts off most museums and boat tours. It’s not cheap if you buy it for one day at 495 Krona ($75) but that reduces to 210 Krona per day if you buy it for 5 days (Total 1050 SEK = $160), If you’re spending a week or more.
Previously known as the town between two bridges, it’s not the largest island but it is the focal point of Stockholm. This is where old Stockholm has its centre and where the Royal palace is situated. Walking around Gamla Stan envelopes you into the literary realm of Hans Christian Andersen with old cobbled streets and historical architecture similar to that of old Germany. Home to the palace but also the old and new, you’ll find contemporary construction like Stockholm cathedral, the Nobel Peace Museum and the parliament buildings, but by contrast medieval fortifications, walls and defensive towers. Once the only town of Stockholm it is now a lasting medieval symbol of old Sweden full of shops, restaurants and souvenir shops. Tour the palace early morning due to the large influx of tourist coaches that arrive at all times making the area difficult to maneuver later in the day.
The oldest church in Gamla Stan is Stockholm Cathedral, or Stockholms domkyrka in Swedish. Also known as Sankt Nikolai kyrka, the church of Saint Nicolas or even Storkyrka, the great church, this religious icon is situated in the centre of the old town. It was originally thought to have been built by Birger Jarl, the founder of Stockholm, in 1279, and now is where all the kings and queens of Sweden have their coronations, weddings or funerals. Known as one of the most venerated Cathedrals in all of Europe, the Storkyrka is not to be missed.
The hip quarter of the city, this island is full of boutique shops, cool restaurants and bars. A heavily populated and residential area with a population of around 100,000, Sodermalm is a classy bohemian district with an alternative culture. Once a working class neighborhood it is now one of the classier corners of the city.
Literally the “eastern neighborhood”, this district in the city just north of Gamla Stan has the highest house prices in all of Sweden. An eclectic zone, Ostermalm is colourful and vibrant. Its main shopping street called Nybrogatan is also home to the Saluhall market where you can buy fresh fish and meat, sit at one of their meal counters and have a meal made from freshly prepared ingredients, or just enjoy a coffee and cake as a break from an afternoon of shopping. Outside of Saluhall is the main square and park with a delightful flower market, and a church called the Eleonora kyrka with such a glorious interior that once inside you will want to take photos to show everyone back home how beautiful it actually was. Ostermalm is also home to the Swedish Army museum and numerous hotels and restaurants. You might want to make this your base once you see it.
This bastion has been the home to the Swedish Royal family since 1981 and is now a familiar Stockholm landmark. Built in the late 16th century it is reminiscent of Versailles in France or the Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna. In 1991 the Palace became a UNESCO world heritage site because of its Chinese pavilion and theatre, although on visiting it for the first time the outstanding feature in most peoples’ opinions are the gardens. The Baroque garden and the English garden were both created during the 17th century and now remain a focal point for this unique landscape. Peppered with antique marble statues, canals and bridges these garden masterpieces are laid out in a way that whichever direction you look there is a particular vista at the end of the line of sight. Over the centuries the palace has been rebuilt several times but today remains one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of Sweden.
The islands by boat
One thing you have to do in Stockholm is take a ferry ride. With hundreds of islands to choose from there are plenty of tourist companies and boats heading out to one of them on the hour every hour during the summer season. There are a few tours which run all year but most of the attractions are closed so the options are limited after September until April, and in December and January you’ll find ice preventing ship navigation. Some of the main islands are more residential than touristy so check trip advisor for the best ones with the most goings on. During the summer they have all sorts of festivals and parties plus beaches for swimming and barbecues. If you’re checking on trip advisor then Stromma Boat Tours is the most popular with every archipelago destination imaginable.
The most popular tours according to Stromma are the lunch and dinner cruises where you just cruise between various islands, but for actual destinations they recommend Sandhamn which is very historical, Birka where they have Viking re-enactments and Vaxholm with its narrow shops and art galleries. All three major palaces have their own tours also. Check http://www.stromma.se/en/Stockholm/The-Archipelago/ for the latest information.
If you don’t have time to visit any of the outlying islands, the alternative is to take a canal tour which takes about an hour and through some of the water veins of the city. You’re taken under bridges and shown views of most of the city from the water, that gives a different perspective of how this inland
City is still dominated by the sea on every side.
Within Metropolitan Stockholm but in the far north of the city, Solna is not only home to the capital’s professional football team but is also the site of the main stadium called Friend’s Arena where the national team plays. There are no tours of the stadium available, but they do have numerous events held weekly during the year from concerts such as One Dimension and Pearl Jam to Monster trucks and Speedway. For tickets go to https://friendsarena.se/Press/english/. Solna is a bus or metro ride away from Stockholm city centre, check the metro maps and guides and look for Solna Station.
Stockholm is one of Europe’s adored cities, rich in character and always full of life with friendly people. Its nickname is the Venice of the north, and once you see all the water in and around the city you can understand why. With over 200 restaurants there is every type of cuisine imaginable, and bars and pubs abound in all areas. Some say Stockholm is expensive, but if you know where to go and follow the locals lead then you’ll find a way to make your money go much further than you think, especially if you’ve only visited just to see the ABBA museum.