- Do you ever daydream about setting off with your backpack in tow on an island-hopping adventure? Like me and thousands others, you probably do. So where do you have in mind? Thailand maybe? Or Greece possibly? While both countries present the intrepid traveller a wealth of opportunity for such a holiday, you really need more than a fortnight to thoroughly enjoy the potential of any country’s archipelago.
Stockholm, on the other hand, presents anybody who is adamant on bouncing back and forth between a number of islands the chance to do so over a couple of days. This is because the Swedish capital is a city built on islands: 14 to be exact. And that’s just the city centre. The archipelago located just half an hour outside the city centre has anything between 14,000 and 100,000 islands to explore. Naturally, getting around them all will be well beyond your grasp, but visit the Swedish capital for two or three days and you should have a good stab at seeing what its main 14 islands have to offer.
Let the island hopping begin
Gamla Stan, Stockholm’s old town right in the centre of the archipelago, is where most tourists get trapped in during their first day sightseeing. Easily explored on foot, its main thoroughfares are Vasterlanggatan and Stora Nygatan. Narrow and pedestrianised, this street is riddled with shops that sell everything Swedish. Picture Pippy Longstocking dolls and navy t-shirts with ‘Sweden’ plastered across them in canary yellow. While it has been overtook by shops catering for the hordes of tourists which populate it daily, it still maintains a lot of charm and meandering through the lines of tourists which bombard it is altogether a pleasant experience.
Veering away from the tourist trodden streets, the old town’s real gems are the even narrower streets that crisscross through the Gamla Stan. It is on these streets that you will discover cosy cafés, small art galleries and even statues of bald boxers battling against each other.
If spending too many krona is your main concern, visit the churches on Gamla Stan. Some of them are free. Storkyrkan (Trangsund; open 9am-6pm June-Sep & to 4pm Oct-May; admission free/10 SEK May-Aug), Stockholm’s oldest cathedral, is an old gothic building with a huge statue of St George looming in the back of it, while Tyska Kan (Svartmangatan 16; open 12pm-4pm; admission free) is a brighter church thanks to enough gold that would require one of Midas’ better touches.
Towards the western tip of the old island is the Kungliga Slottet (city palace), where you can see the changing of the guard daily at midday between June and August and at the weekends the rest of the year. Further west on Kungsholmen is the Stadshuset (Hantverkargatan 1; tours hourly between 10am-4pm; admission 70SEK interior/10SEK tower), Stockholm’s most instantly recognisable landmark. This is where the famed Nobel Prizes are awarded each year. The small Nobelmuseet (Börshuset, Stortorget. Gamla Stan; open Wed-Sun 11am-5pm. Tues 11am-8pm; admission 50 SEK) back in the centre of Gamla Stan is dedicated to each and every winner.
At the eastern side of Gamla Stan is the ferry terminal. Jump on one bound for Djurgården and within 15 minutes you can immerse yourself in totally new surroundings. This short journey gives you breathtaking views of Gamla Stan and brings you to two of Stockholm’s best-known museums. The first of these, the Vasamusset (Galarvarvsvagen 14; open daily 10am-5pm/8pm on Wed; admission 80 SEK) is where you will find the Vasa, one of the oldest surviving vessel ships in the world. Spread out over 7 floors, its hard not to be impressed as you first set eyes on this monstrous ship. Different displays and exhibitions throughout the museum document such things as who were the people who fell to their death after its fateful first voyage, how it was built and how it was salvaged from the bottom of the Swedish capital’s harbour.
The other museum on the island is Skansen (open daily 10am-4pm (times vary with season); admission 50 SEK), Europe’s first open-air museum. Even though I had read so much about it, and was told it was one of the city’s premier attractions, my short visit was marred by grey clouds and too much rain. Instead I found the Nordiska Museet (open Mon-Fri 10am-4pm, Sat & Sun 11am-5pm; admission 100 SEK) to be more fulfilling, not just because I had a roof over my head but also because it gives an interesting insight into the life of a Swede.
If Swedish culture is what you are after, but the thoughts of visiting a museum doesn’t appeal, then you need to become a spectator at a bandy game. This Scandinavian version of ice hockey isn’t exactly a huge crowd puller, but seeing what ice-hockey would be like if it was to be fused with football is engaging. You can catch a game at the rink on the island of Sodermalm just south of the Gamla Stam.
Dining out in Stockholm isn’t exactly cheap when compared to other European cities, but there are many places that should be within your budget. As geared towards tourists as Gamla Stan is, there are a number of restaurants which won’t fail to entice. One of these is Sally’s Bar, a warm pizzeria on Vasterlanggatan. For 100KR you’ll get a filling pizza brought to your table by friendly, efficient staff. Also in the old town, Restaurang Kryp In (Prastgatan) has a decent lunch menu between 12.30pm and 4.30pm.
Sandwiched in between the Vasamusset and Nordiska Museet on Djurgården is Amiralen Restaurang. On first glance, this restaurant may seem too stuffy for the casual backpacker, but thanks to a lunch menu between 11.30am and 3pm (Mon–Fri), with a good selection of meals from 70 SEK, you don’t have to splash out to eat in such pleasant surroundings.
Stockholm after dark
While socialising in the city isn’t exactly cheap either, it certainly isn’t as expensive as so many expect it to be. The average barman will expect 50 SEK in return for a pint of his finest brew. O’Connell’s Irish Bar on Vasterlanggatan in the old town is a typical Irish bar frequented by ex-pats and tourists, hence making it a good place to meet people. My friend and I met four Australian girls who we subsequently bumped into (approximately) every 12 hours thereafter.
The old town is a nice place to go for a few drinks, but you won’t be mixing with too many Swedes as you sip/guzzle them. Instead Sodermalm is where the action is in terms of bars. This island just south of the old town is teeming with trend setting bars. One of the island’s most popular is Kvarnen on Medborgarplatsen. You have a choice of three bars to choose from here. The first has all the trademarks of a German beer hall, the second has more of a modern buzz about it, while downstairs is where to go when the lower half of your body begins to gyrate uncontrollably and you need to boogie. Further up Gotgatan the busy street which strips through Sodermalm, Metró is an altogether trendier affair and although it gets quite busy at weekends, it’s worth it for a couple. Just make sure to save your best threads for the occasion.
I learnt a many things after visiting Stockholm. I learnt you don’t need three weeks to go island hopping, I leant that you can bump into the same group of people twice a day in a thriving city, and I learnt that Stockholm isn’t as expensive as I thought it was. So while I won’t return in the winter, I can’t wait to see it in all its glory in the summer months. Roll on summer 2005.
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