Ask a Stockholmer where they are from, and they will most probably say the name of their closest subway station. Being a city practically on water, it is best getting around its many narrow streets and alleys on public transport. Furthermore, the subway stations separate the different parts of the city.
Stockholm is a city of many beautiful faces and each area of town is distinctive. Centralen, for example, is a typical downtown area with traffic jams and bustling crowds. This is the part known as the City or Norrmalm. Take the subway a couple of stations and spot modern, daring architecture, such as the City Library a few blocks north of Rådmansgatan subway station and the
Östermalm & Djurgården
Why not stroll through Östermalm? This is the most elegant part of town where some of the city's most impressive buildings are found (Östermalms Saluhall should not be missed!). You can also head alongside the water and over the bridge to
The south side of town, Södermalm, is also worth seeing. In the late 1800s this was the home of Stockholm's working class. Returning home from a long, hard day by the ships the workers used to stop for a drink at the local taverns. This image of Södermalm as the home of the bohemian workers, of genuine pub culture and socializing has been preserved; more cafés, galleries and pubs are found here than in any other part of town. A lot of small, funky stores featuring local artists' and designers' works are also to be found in this area, as well as at the summer Mynttorget street-festivals. At
Gamla Stan (The Old Town)
And if Södermalm is cultural Stockholm,
Once upon a time, there lived a fisherman was in Bishop of Strängnäs' service at the castle of Tynnelsö. On an especially beautiful day the fisherman caught an enormous salmon, which he wanted to keep all for hismself. Therefore, he decided to flee across the islands of Lake Mälaren and he ended up on an island at the outlet of the big lake—thus becoming Stockholm's first inhabitant.
This popular story about the salmon fisher is one of many legends of how Stockholm came to be founded. With regards to the name Stockholm, there is another known tale that goes as follows: when the town Sigtuna was destroyed by the Estonians, the citizens hid their things of great value in a hollow log and threw it in lake Mälaren. The log (called stock in Swedish) floated ashore at the island (holm) in question, and the homeless Sigtuna citizens thought this was the perfect place to settle down.
Archaeological excavations show that Stockholm was not founded until the 13th century. According to Erikskrönikan, the oldest depiction of medieval Sweden, the Regent Birger Jarl was Stockholm's founder. Stockholm went through a swift expansion and already in a document from 1289 the city is described as one of the most populated in Sweden. From the middle of the fifteenth century, the city had more than 1000 households and a total population of 5000 to 6000, thus being far larger than any other contemporary Swedish city. Back then, and for a long time afterwards, the population consisted of three dominating ethnic groups: the Swedes, who were a majority, the Germans, of whom many were leading merchants, and the Finns who mainly worked as servants and plain craftsmen. Maybe the most important prerequisite for the city's early expansion was the fact that Stockholm had an excellent location as a lock to Mälaren. The elevation of the land made Stockholm's waters the only passage for ships heading towards the Baltic sea.
The battle at Brunkeberg became one of the most influential events in Sweden's political history. It once and for all ended the union kings' power over Sweden and the group of Swedish employers who had been allied with Denmark finally surrendered. 10 October 1470 the Swede Sten Sture fought the Danish king Kristian. The Dane had besieged Brunkeberg, which had not yet been settled, and the swamp where Kungsträdgården, Norrmalmstorg, and Birger Jarlsgatan are today located. The Danes were attacked from two fronts and tried to retreat to Blaiseholmen. However, Stockholmers in boats attacked the bridge and succeeded in cutting it to pieces as the Danes ran over it. Many soldiers fell into the water and many drowned. Sten Sture's victory was great and glorious. King Kristian was wounded in battle—he lost some teeth caused by a bullet in the mouth—and never returned to the Swedish east coast. Sten Sture erected a monument in honour of his victory; the result was the wonderful sculpture Sankt Göran och Draken (St George and the Dragon), which can now be seen in Storkyrkan. More than a monument it was a token of appreciation for the saint's support and assistance during the battle.
Stockholm gained such strength and independence during the latter part of the Middle Ages, that the city became a powerful factor nationally on a political level, acting between the Danish union kings and the national movement lead by the Sture family. The dramatic course of events culminated in 1520 in a mass execution of the leading Swedish opposition. The massacre would forever be remembered as "Stockholm's Bloodbath". The majority of the townspeople and the realm's nobility had been invited to the coronation of the Danish king Kristian II, nicknamed Kristian the Tyrant. After three days of hectic partying, the archbishop Gustav Trolle accused the nobility of heresy, and a temporary court found all of them guilty. The executions began the very next day. Between the depressing 8 and 9 November approximately 100 people were beheaded at Stortorget.
The massacre became the catalyst to a series of events that resulted in Gustav Vasa (with a fast-growing beard) marching into the city in 1523, and proclaiming himself Sweden's first king and dynasty founder.
On 7 May 1697, Stockholm's pride until then, the castle Tre Kronor (Three crowns), burned down. Miraculously, no one perished in the flames. The fire broke out in the middle of the day in the attic above the drawing-room, which was located in the medieval part of the big complex: the old castle consisted of houses from different eras. When the fire was finally discovered it had spread with such speed that the outer roof and the inner ceiling were ablaze. The old tower Tre Kronor was on fire as well, and eight guns and one church bell that were stored on the upper floor fell down with a terrible crash into the Queen's wine cellar, causing the whole tower to collapse. The fire continued the whole day and the whole night and destroyed everything except the north wing. The new castle—Slottet—is located exactly where Tre Kronor once stood, facing the Opera.
It was not until the seventeenth century that the political institutions such as riksdagen (Swedish Parliament), the central administration, and the Svea court of appeal were located in Stockholm.
Several bad harvests at the end of the seventeenth century and a plague in 1710-11, along with the Nordic wars, stretched the country economically. However, through growing industrialization, at the end of the century Stockholm managed to regain its role as the realm's prominent industrial community.
King Gustav III adored France, and it was through him that the Swedish language, art, music and other culture developed, inspired by the baguette-loving kingdom. On Friday 16 March 1792 the king went to the opera in the evening for a masquerade. He had been warned of an assasination plot, but unfortunately the king ignored the warning, put on his mask and walked downstairs to the party. There, a group of masked men surrounded him and greeted him with the words "Bonjour, beau masque" (Greetings, beautiful mask). In the very next instant the king was shot at close range. But he did not fall over, he just uttered the words "Je suis blessé"—(I am hurt). The assassins shouted "Fire!", but no one panicked and they were all caught and arrested. Gustav III did not die that night at the opera, but his gun wound became infected, and he passed away many days later. Captain Anckarström, one of the conspirators, who fired the fatal shot, took the full blame for the crime and was duly executed. It has gone down in history as the Masquerade Murder.
With the long, dark winters of northern Europe, it is hardly surprising that Stockholmers need plenty of diversions, and you do not have to walk far to find some form of entertainment. When the rain and the snows begin to assail the city, all of Stockholm's theatres enjoy their peak season, the many cinemas draw crowds with both Hollywood fare and film festivals, the exhibitions proliferate at the museums, and the bars and nightclubs stay open until early morning. If you are in the downtown area or on Söder, you will find all the recreation you need within easy walking distance; if your stamina fails you there are plenty of buses both during the day and at night, and the metro runs until midnight on weekdays, with extended night service on weekends. In the summertime, the city itself is a fantastic experience, with all its water and bridges, swimming and fishing areas, all the architectural diversity imaginable, swarming street life, and much-frequented parks. Stockholm veritably explodes with life at the first sign of spring sunshine, and both residents and visitors delight in the long days and nearly non-existent nights that characterise the fantastic Swedish summers. This is the perfect time to stroll around Gamla stan or Djurgården and admire the boats and ships in Nybroviken, try to haggle with the vendors at Hötorget, spend a whole day at Skansen or Tivoli Gröna Lund take a trip out to the fabulous archipelago, see one of the Parkteatern outdoor performances, or to go swimming and soaking up the sunshine on Långholmen.
Stockholm's theatrical community is characterized by four main sections: state-subsidised theaters, privately operated theaters, independent theater companies, and opera/operetta.
The state-subsidised theaters typically have a large and varied selection of classics, dramas, comedies and children's theatre on offer. The Stockholm City Theater which is housed in the enormous Cultural Center at Sergels Torg, is a prime example of this with its seven stages. There are performances here from early morning until late at night, catering for all tastes and ages. Among the most popular stages are the well-known Klara "Soup theater", Unga Klara, Backstage and the Park Theater. And yes, a number of famous faces, familiar from TV and movie screens, can be glimpsed at the stage entrance. The best place to catch celebrities is probably the Royal Dramatic Theater at Nybroplan, however. Ingmar Bergman has left an indelible mark in this theatrical institution, and while The Stockholm City Theatre is modern and populist, The Royal Dramatic Theatre offers an exclusive atmosphere and royal boxes. The exception to this is their satellite stage Elverket on Östermalm, which has a much more modern and youthful appeal.
The privately operated theatres have higher ticket prices, lots of chartered buses coming in from all over Sweden, and a repertoire of musicals and farces. The beautiful Oscarsteatern with its long theatrical history, has been at the centre of much controversy lately because of acrimonious disputes over changes of ownership, but the theater and the productions are generally magnificent and lavish, with strong casts and award-winning productions. The latter is equally true of Chinateatern at Berzelii Park and Cirkus on Djurgården. Intiman and Maxim are sure bets if you are in the mood for a farce, and Göta Lejon has also had a number of productions that have been well worth seeing over the past couple of years.
The independent theatre companies typically offer rather reasonable ticket prices, and are often home to a more experimental staging by young, hot directors and actors. Among the better known companies are Teater Galeasen and Teater Plaza, where names like Thorsten Flinck, Mikael Persbrandt, Simon Norrthon and Stefan Larsson often appear on the programmes.
The Stockholm opera scene is dominated by two stages: the Royal Opera and the Folkopera. The same comparison applies here as between The Royal Dramatic Theatre and The Stockholm City Theatre. The Royal Opera is fancy and often fairly traditional, whereas The Folkopera is often younger, fresher and more modern. The great divas appear at The Royal Opera, and the upcoming opera stars of tomorrow at The Folkopera. Both are well worth a visit.
If you prefer cinematic Hollywood entertainment, downtown Stockholm has a lot to offer. Along the route from Hötorget to Stureplan, you will find Filmstaden Sergel, Saga and Rigoletto practically next door to one another. On Sveavägen, there is the Grand, and Söder sports all the offerings of Filmstaden Söder, Biopalatset Rival and Victoria. Röda and Lilla Kvarn on Biblioteksgatan are well worth a visit, as are charming Astoria on Nybrogatan or beautiful Park on Sturegatan.
The suburbs also have their fair share of Hollywood blockbuster cinemas, of course. If you find yourself a bit off the beaten visitor track, you can make your way to Filmstaden Camera in Täby or Grand Lidingö.
For those who prefer a more original cinematic repertoire, one place to go is Zita on Birger Jarlsgatan. Sture also has a great deal to offer to those who have had enough of American box office hits. The non Swedish-speaking visitor will be pleased to hear that foreign films in Sweden are shown in the original language with Swedish subtitles. The one exception to this is in children's movies, which are usually dubbed into Swedish. Even with children's movies, however, you may find that there are two versions available, subtitled or dubbed. This is especially likely with the major Disney movies, and it could be well worth your while to check with the box office.
Stockholm has a lot to offer to those in the mood for more cultural types of diversions. Djurgården is an excellent first stop. The dramatic reconstruction of the war ship Vasa, which sank in the Stockholm harbour on its maiden voyage, is a truly impressive sight at Vasamuséet, which is highly recommended for visitors of almost all ages. Close by is the magnificent Nordiska muséet, which has been mistaken by many a visitor for a royal palace, with all its towers and pinnacles. Liljevalchs and Waldemarsudde are a must for art lovers, while the Museum of Maritime History is a boat lover's dream. Skansen is not just a zoological park, but also a reserve for historic architecture and crafts, and visitors to Stockholm should definitely put several hours aside for all the wonderful sights here. Next to Skansen is the Biological Museum which specialises in displays of taxidermists' work in showing animals in their natural habitats.
If you are the least bit interested in history, a visit to the Museum of Medieval History is an experience you will not soon forget. Here, you can learn all about the history of Stockholm through the centuries of the Middle Ages, and the displays are usually of very high quality. The National Museum of Natural History is a bit off the beaten track out by The University of Stockholm, but it is well worth the effort of taking a bus or the metro to see all the fantastic exhibits and installations. While you are here, don't miss out on the omniplex films at Cosmonova where you can learn more about the cosmos or the Egypt of Pharaohs.
Fans of sculpture should definitely make a point of visiting the amazing Millesgården.. Färgfabriken by Liljeholmen also has a lot to offer, in both sculpture and modern art. In the latter category, a visit to the Museum of Modern Art is also a must, naturally.
The Concert Hall at Hötorget, with its philharmonic orchestra under the direction of American conductor Alan Gilbert, offers a sterling repertoire of classical music. Berwaldhallen, home to The Swedish Radio Symphony, is also highly recommended, with its unique acoustic design of beautiful natural wood. Rikskonserter arrange musical events all over Sweden, with a base at Nybrokajen in Stockholm.
For jazz and blues lovers, Fasching and Stampen are the top choices, but many of Stockholm's bars and pubs offer musical entertainment of this genre, especially on weekends, so check their programmes.
The major pop and rock concerts are usually held at the Globe Arena, Cirkus the Stadium or the Concert Hall. Tickets can usually be purchased at tobacconists displaying an ATG symbol, or at Sweden House on Hamngatan.
Nightclubs and Bars
Stockholm's undisputed centre of nightlife is the area between Kungsträdgården and Stureplan. This is where you find the hottest clubs and bars, and you can count on long queues after 11pm, with celebrities and other VIP guests blithely ignoring the said queues completely. Most places are open until 3am on weekends, with a few clubs enjoying extended hours until 5am.
In Kungsträdgården, Café Opera is the ultimate nightlife attraction, but Victoria and Daily News Café are also very popular. If you make your way towards Stureplan, you may want to check out Biblos, Sophie's Bar, Karlsson & Co or Halv trappa plus gård on the way. Once there, you cannot miss the queues outside Spy Bar, East, Laroy and Sturecompagniet.
If you prefer local pub life, Söder is the place to go. Söders Hjärta, Folkhemmet or Fenix are all safe bets. Vasastan also has a number of good pubs and bars, such as Cliff Barnes and Storstad. Or why not explore the huge selection of whiskeys and the genuine British pub atmosphere of the little known but very congenial Bishop's Arms on St. Eriksgatan. For that genuine pub feeling, The Loft on Regeringsgatan also comes highly recommended to those who prefer to stick to the central parts of downtown Stockholm.
If you come to Sweden by air, you will most probably land at Arlanda (ARN) International Airport http://www.arlanda.se/en/. Here you will find very practical and elegant accommodation. The Radisson SAS Arlandia Hotel and Radisson SAS SkyCity Hotel are located nearby.
From Arlanda you will surely journey to Central Station. This is the crossroads for most forms of transport in Stockholm. This city can be proud of its transport system: it is one of the finest in the world. There are subways, railways, buses and boats to take you wherever you want to go. You can travel on the Arlanda Express to the international airport, or take the super fast X2000 passenger railway to most major cities in Sweden. Boats are available to islands and countries surrounding Sweden. From Stockholm you can travel by boat throughout the archipelago, a magnificent journey to thousands of islands. Tour buses often leave from City Terminal in the same block.
In the Central Station area, there are hotels, restaurants and a wide variety of shops within a couple blocks. Some of Stockholm's finest and most expensive places of accommodation are within two blocks of Central Station. Next to the station is the Radisson SAS Royal Viking Hotel Stockholm one of Stockholm's finest hotels. Across the street are the Scandic Continental and the Sheraton. These hotels are expensive, but worth it. Most include breakfast in the price. Shopping in this area is very interesting; you can shop for tour guides, maps, and pictures of Stockholm, as well as for gifts such as crystal glass. There are tax free stores available and the selection is excellent. Many restaurants and cafes with lots of outdoor dining are available, or if you crave a fast-food hamburger you can buy one here also.
North, on Vasagatan, you will find many places to stay. These are all within walking distance of the Central Station. Freys Hotel, Hotel Terminus, Adlon Hotel and Central Hotel are close by. In this area you can go to a concert at the Vasa Teatern or buy a tour guide map from Kart Butiken. Scandic Sergel Plaza Hotel and Rica Hotel are nearby as well. These are mid-priced hotels with quality, clean rooms and service. From Vasagatan it is a short walk to Drottinggatan and hundreds of fine, specialized shops for all ages and preferences. Near Central Station there are also some lower-priced but first class hotels. Comfort Hotel located on Kungsbron (the King's Bridge) as well as Wallin Hotel on Wallingatan all offer moderately priced, but good accommodation. One of the lower priced options is the City BackPackers Hostel on Upplandsgatan.
South of Vasagatan is the famous Gamla Stan or Old Town. To visit the district of Gamla Stan is like travelling back in time. There is a good choice of hotels in this area, something for every pocket. If you want first class luxury, Grand Hotel is the best alternative. This hotel offers excellent service and is located opposite the Royal Castle and Old Town. Within walking distance of Grand Hotel are many museums, for instance Modern Museum and the Architecture Museum. A walk over the bridge Strömbron to the Old Town is special. There is always someone fishing for salmon in the clean water of Strömmen. An evening walk through the Old Town alleys is a wonderful way to finish your day.
If you want to stay on the Old Town island, there are alternatives such as First Hotel Reisen on Skeppsbron, which offers wonderful view from many of its rooms. This accounts for the high prices. Victory Hotel is somewhat cheaper and offers a nice atmosphere and modern comfort. For those needing only a room without a restaurant, Lord Nelson Hotel or Rica Hotel Gamla Stan are economical and a wise choice. In the Old Town there are many wonderful restaurants and pizzerias to choose from.
For the newlyweds, there are dreamy and romantic rooms at the Lady Hamilton Hotel. Opposite Hotel Reisen across the water, you can see a white ship; this ship is anchored permanently and serves as a hostel. It is called Af Chapman and Skeppsholmen. This accommodation is offered at low prices and is a unique opportunity for accommodation near the Old Town. Breakfast is served on deck in the summer; that alone is worth the price.
South of Gamla Stan is the district of Södermalm. You will find many good alternatives for accommodation in different price groups. You go "up" to Södermalm, literally, because you can get here by two lifts on both sides of Slussen, although you can also walk there. On Södermalm there are many picturesque streets and old houses with gardens. Scandic Hotel has two hotels in the area and all are high in both quality and price. Scandic Hotel Sjöfartshotellet is close to Slussen. The view of Stockholm from here is lovely. From Slussen you can take a ferry to the large amusement park Gröna Lund and the wonderful outdoor museum and zoo, Skansen. Scandic Hotel Malmen is located at Medborgarplatsen. All these hotels are modern and clean, providing all the high standards of service you expect. The walk between these hotels is a memorable experience. On Götgatan you will find many music stores and cafes.
More economical accommodation near Söderhallarna is offered by the Columbus Hotel & Hostel. Rival Hotel is splendid for families. There is no shortage of cafes and dining places in this area. An historical building is Hotell Anno 1647, which is decorated in a 16th century style. A cafe and a dining room are available for guests. On the south end of Södermalm is a very good business hotel called Alexandra Hotell. It is not expensive and not far from Stockholm's Globe City.
Within a few minutes' travel from Stockholm Central there are many more alternatives. The district of Östermalm offers hostels and splendid hotels. Near Östermalmstorg are rather expensive, British-style hotels—Mornington Hotel and Comfort Hotel Wellington. A large food market is nearby where many fresh products from different countries are sold. Delicacies from every nation can be found here, such as caviar, canned ants, and rooster combs. Behind the Dramaten is Hotel Örnsköld. It is moderate in price and close to the harbour, from where you can take a boat to the archipelago.
Östermalm has many boutiques and shops with a very personal style, as well as the Comfort Home Hotel Tapto, which offers a very personal service. On one of Stockholm's most luxurious streets, Strandvägen is Hotel Esplanade. All comforts and services are offered at a high price.
The district of Vasastaden has many very good, expensive hotels as well as less expensive alternatives. All hotels in this part of town have many shops and a good variety of entertainment and restaurants around them. By the park Humlegården are Hotel Kung Carl, Scandic Hotel Anglais and Elite Hotel Stockholm Plaza. Take a little walk to Stureplan where you find an old swimming hall, Sturebadet, with its wonderful interior decor.
If you come on the Arlanda bus from the airport, you can stop at Elite Palace Hotel near Wennergren Center and the beautiful Hagapark with the butterfly and birdhouse. Cheaper alternatives in a quieter area are Hotel Tegnérlunden and Hotell August Strindberg which is located near a little park.
For the businessman, Hotel Birger Jarl on Tulegatan is perfect. They have fast ISDN computer connections and other facilities available. Hotell Lilla Rådmannen and Kom Hotel are other cheaper alternatives in this area. If you want something a little cheaper you will find Wasa Park Hotel,a very good alternative in calm and peaceful surroundings.
The district of Kungsholmen has some good hotels for families, Hotel Aldoria is less expensive, and First Hotel Amaranten is an exclusive alternative. Both are located near Kronobergs Park.
Another suggestion while visiting the district of Djurgården is Villa Källhagen. The old house is quite charming, and there is plenty to do in the area to justify a stay here. It is like the countryside down at the water, and the hotel has a very good restaurant. Within walking distance are the Vasa Ship museum, Gröna Lund and Skansen. There are many more to choose from. One last one to mention here is an exclusive hotel called Grand Hotel Saltsjöbaden. It is beautifully located just east of the city.