[ SUNDAY TRAVEL ]
Scandinavians often are considered to have the world's highest standard of living, with Sweden occupying the top spot in that ranking. So it figures there are many wonderful things to enjoy in Stockholm, a city created by a society that truly cares about people. The Swedes believe in quality of life and have built a place that is one of Europe's truly beautiful capitals.
THREE DAYS IN STOCKHOLMI'll Take Sweden,
Ya, Ya, Ya
Efficiency is the theme of Stockholm, a city
and that mixes history with convenience
By Dennis Callan
Special to the Star-Bulletin
Stockholm offers a magical blend of efficiency and beauty, romance and common sense, all working together to make visits rewarding. It is modern, yet offers some of Europe's best-preserved historic neighborhoods, with an atmospheric mix of ancient cobbled alleys, 17th-century buildings and contemporary shops. Plan your schedule to cover the best things first. The most worthwhile activities are:
>> Walk the Old Town;
>> Take a boat ride around some of the city's 14 islands;
>> Visit the reconstructed historic village of Skansen;
>> Tour the Royal Palace and the best museums;
>> Check out the modern downtown;
>> Walk along the great pedestrian promenade of Drottninggatan.
One good way to start is with a visit to the Stockholm Information Service in the heart of downtown on Kungstradgarden, across from the huge NK Department store. Its knowledgeable staff can fix you up with everything you need in one spot. A three-day transit ticket costs about $13 and is good for the metro, tram and bus lines. Or, for a more expensive comprehensive option you can purchase the Stockholm Card, which covers admission to nearly all the museums, rides on public transit, a free one-hour boat tour, discounted bus tour and other benefits. You can get it for one day ($20), two days ($40) or three days ($50). Walk a few blocks to the docks in front of the Grand Hotel for a short boat tour, a great way to learn some history while gliding through this city of islands linked by bridges and canals.
On your first afternoon, dive into the most interesting neighborhood, the "Old Town" cobbled alleys of Gamla Stan, once the medieval city center. The narrow twisting pedestrian lanes of Gamla Stan are lined with superbly preserved buildings that house some modern stores, so you can enjoy the historic experience while shopping. It is the most fascinating place in town, and is a prime reason for coming to Stockholm.
Gamla Stan has been a place for commerce since the 12th century, when it was first settled as a trading center. Because of frequent fires that kept destroying the original wooden structures, most of the handsome buildings you see now were built of brick and stone in the 17th century when Sweden was one of the strongest nations in Europe.
On Gamla Stan's northern edge you can visit the Royal Palace, one of Europe's largest and most elaborate. Arrive in the courtyard just before noon for a good position to see the spectacular Changing of the Guards, which begins at 12:10 p.m. Monday through Saturday, or 1:10 p.m. on Sundays. The palace interior is typical of what you find throughout the continent's extravagant royal mansions. Before reaching the palace, the band marches through downtown on a mile-long route that starts near the NK department store at around 11:30 a.m.
The main activity in Gamla Stan is to walk, people-watch and shop along the Vasterlanggatan, which is lined with a variety of little places to spend your money. You might also enjoy a wander into side alleys, exploring centuries frozen in stone. It is much quieter a block or two from the shopping throngs and there is an abundance of small pleasures to be found in the details of buildings, gardens and older shop fronts.
There is so much rich atmosphere to absorb in Gamla Stan we suggest you return for another few hours on the final day. It is a great place to just hang out and offers an excellent opportunity to get lost. When you let go and just wander, you get a feeling for a place that no organized itinerary can match. And because this is a small island, you won't be lost forever.
When hunger strikes in Gamla Stan, try the series of ancient restaurants behind the 13th-century Storkyrkan Cathedral on Skomakargatan. If the weather is mild you can sit outdoors, or better yet, have a traditional meal in its medieval barrel-vaulted cellars, which served as storerooms 400 years ago.
Alternatively, pick from the charming outdoor restaurants that line the Stortorget main square of the Gamla Stan, overlooking the historic Bourse stock market. (See our restaurant list for more.) Gamla Stan is the only part of town where stores stay open late, so you will have time for browsing and shopping after dinner.
Day 2You could start your second day in Stockholm with two outstanding history museums: the Vasa and the Nordic. You'll want to see the 17th-century wooden warship, the Vasa, briefly the world's largest battleship until it sunk on its maiden voyage in 1628. It was top-heavy with hundreds of wooden statues. You can see them all, because the massive ship was raised from the deep 20 years ago. Frequent tours are offered.
One block away is the Nordic Museum, the largest collection of Scandinavian artifacts in the world. It has tons of history on display, including folk art, handicrafts, furniture, table-settings, clothing, interiors and special exhibits such as the current splash on ABBA, Sweden's most successful pop group.
Next, take a 5-minute tram or bus ride to Skansen, the world's first, and still the best, outdoor museum. Sweden-in-a-nutshell, this vast park features about 150 houses and farmsteads that have been collected from all over the country in an exquisite living exhibit. For many visitors, this transplanted chunk of old-fashioned life will be the highlight of Stockholm. Park gates open at 10 a.m., but most of the houses are open only from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m.
Arrive at mid-day and if you are hungry, recharge with lunch at one of the many fine eateries in the park or just outside the gates.
Skansen's buildings date from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, and show how people in different social classes lived and worked. There are costumed local guides ready to explain the story of each display. You also will find animals in the farm yard, and a naturalistic zoo with bears, bison, elk, wolves and reindeer. There also is a village center with a blacksmith, carpenter, silversmith, druggist, printer, weaver, gift shop, windmill and a school
Stick around for a charming folk dance performance in the village, featuring live music and skilled amateur dancers. The performance takes place in the evening a few hours after the historic houses have closed. Re-entry is free with your Stockholm Card. If you go on a Sunday, the dancing runs from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. Check the schedule at the park entrance for additional performances.
Day 3Today, you'll want to see some of the modern downtown in the morning, visit the fine art museum, eat in a stylish café, walk the main shopping street back to the Gamla Stan in the afternoon and stay there through the evening.
Start at the center of downtown, a vast traffic circle called Sergels Torg, a modern post-war design with interesting streets and squares around it. Have a look as you walk past heading for the nicest shopping blocks of Hamngatan where you began your tour at the information office. If you want to peek inside NK go ahead; it's a fancy department store with a nice cafe. Across the street is the huge Gallerian shopping mall, covering two city blocks.
Loop around here and there for 15 blocks, starting with a stroll through the pretty park called Kungstradgarden, the outdoor living room of the city. Here, you will find locals relaxing, kids playing, fountains gushing, statues standing and flowers blooming. Walk back another two blocks to Birger Jarlsgatan and take a left into a beautiful five-block section of trendy shops and cafes, ending at the modern mall of Stureplan. Detour a few blocks behind to Ostermalmstorg if you would like to grab some take-out, or just look at the lively Sluhallen food market.
Double back to Stureplan for another look at the recently renovated intersection that is one of the most popular centers of town, day and night. Continue a few blocks along another busy shopping street, Kungsgatan, where you just might find that Swedish crystal vase you've been wanting. Turn left into the busy outdoor market of Hotorget, where you will be immersed in flowers and vegetables, with noisy hawkers enticing you to buy.
Rather than returning to Sergels Torg, walk a block over to the busy pedestrian shopping lane of Drottninggatan. This is truly one of the world's great streets. Always filled with locals, it's a perfect spot for a stroll and people-watching. Make your way south for 10 blocks of retail heaven. As it leads you back to Gamla Stan, the street gets narrower and then becomes the Vasterlanggatan, Old Town's main pedestrian street that you were on your first day. This route is about a mile long, offering an experience you must not miss.
Just before arriving in Gamla Stan, you will pass over a canal and through two triumphal arches at the back of the Parliament, where you can take a brief detour if you want another glimpse back into the past. The Museum of Medieval Times, underneath the Parliament, recreates the atmosphere of old Stockholm including a section of the city wall in its original location and many artifacts from Viking days.
It is great to be back in Gamla Stan, the best part of Stockholm. Things to buy here include renowned Swedish crystal and related glassware, wooden toys, silverware, handicrafts and other objects of Swedish design. Non-shoppers can wander into side alleys to explore four centuries of ancient buildings. The more you stroll around the old and new sections of town, the more you'll appreciate the variety of the architecture.
Other diversions to squeeze in: If you are interested in fine arts, consider a visit to the Moderna Museet, opened in 1998 with an excellent collection of 20th century famous artists. For a more traditional collection, visit the nearby National museum, which holds a decent collection of Old Masters and Impressionists. This is a good, not great, museum. It may not be in the Europe's top 10 for art, but is definitely worthwhile.
After the museum, stop for refreshments in the opulent Grand Hotel, one block over. Try its world-famous smorgasbord for dinner, or simply rest for a while in the plush lobby.
Another nearby restaurant is the famous Operakallaren in the Opera House. It's an Art Nouveau masterpiece, opened in the 18th century and noted for a smorgasbord lunch and heavy crowds. It's best to arrive at a non-peak time. Downstairs you will find the equally beautiful Opera Café, very busy at dinner, but even busier later when it becomes the city's main yuppie meeting place.
If you have spare hours between any of these suggestions, hop another boat for the "Under the Bridges" two-hour tour. It's especially nice at sunset. If you admire civic architecture, ride over to the City Hall. Venturing further, there are many palaces and homes devoted to Sweden's monarchs scattered throughout suburbia, connected with a multitude of parks, walking paths and bicycle trails.
You can walk everywhere in this civilized place, or use the efficient public transit bus and subway system to cover extra ground. Residents are friendly and nearly everyone speaks English, so it is worth your effort to say hello and ask for a restaurant recommendation.
Following these tips, you will find that Stockholm is the most interesting of all Scandinavian cities to visit. Sweden's cradle-to-the-grave support system provides tremendous benefits, such as paying youths to go to college and making sure nobody dies from poverty. The outcome is a healthy society with friendly well-educated people, and a culture that has many things to offer the visitor. Have we found a small utopia? Yes!
In Gamla Stan
PLACES TO EAT
>> Café Nova, Jarntorget (Iron Square). Self-service light meals that you can take to a table in the middle of a charming square.
>> Den Gyldene Freden, 51 Osterlanggatan, 08-249760. Said to be Stockholm's oldest restaurant, opened in 1722. Cozy dining rooms with traditional Swedish cookery.
>> Fem Sma Hus, 10 Nygrand, 08-108775. Historic restaurant with 17th-century cellar, candelit rooms, lush interior.
>> Kaffegillet, 4 Trangsund, 08-213995. Has ancient cellar rooms, and outside tables. Behind the Catherdral.
>> Kristina, 56 Vasterlanggatan. Open all day, with excellent value in dinners before 5 p.m. dinner. Jazz combo nightly.
>> Magnus Ladulas, 26 Osterlanggatan, 08-211957. Choose from three outdoor tables on a charming cobbled alley, or the vaulted inner room of a 12th-century weaving factory.
>> Marten Trotzig, 79 Vasterlanggatan, indoor and courtyard dining, popular but crowded.
>> Movitz, 34 Tyska Brinken. Ancient cellar, featuring Swedish cuisine.
>> Pontus in the Green House, 17 Osterlanggatan, 08-238500. One of the most expensive gourmet restaurants in town.
>> Slingerbulten, 24 Stora Nygatan, 08-107622. Specializes in fish and Swedish cuisine.
>> Grand Veranda, in the Grand Hotel, 8 Sodra Blasieholmshammen, 08-6793500. Famous for the evening smorgasbord, featuring about 25 items, including eight kinds of herring, reindeer, duck, etc., in Sweden's only five-star hotel.
>> Operakallaren, in the Opera House, 08-6765801. The city's temple of gastronomy, generally acknowledged as Stockholm's best food, with authentic Art Nouveau interior. Downstairs Café Opera less expensive but also delicious.
>> Ostermalms Saluhall, 31 Nybrogatan. The produce market has several nice eateries, such as Lisa Elmquist and Tysta Mari.
Here are places to stay while you're in Stockholm. All prices include breakfast. Prices vary with the season. During the winter, when the city is cold and dark, rates are less expensive. The summer rates are listed here.
PLACES TO STAY
For research, www.stockholmtown.com is a good overall Web site with many links;
In Gamla Stan
>> Rica City Hotel Gamla Stan, Lilla Nygatan 25, phone 011-46-8-723-7250. Small and clean; a favorite in the heart of the Old Town. About $210 for a double room.
>> Lady Hamilton Hotel, Storkyrkobrinken 5, 011-46-8-506-401-00. About $250 for a double room, or try their partner hotel nearby, the Lord Nelson, 001-46-8-506-401-20.
>> Victory Hotel, Lilla Nygatan, 5, 011-46-8-506-400-00. The only deluxe hotel in the Old Town. About $300 for a double room.
>> Radisson SAS Royal Viking Hotel, Vasagatan 1, 011-46-8-14-10-00. A flagship property of this deluxe Scandinavian chain. About $310 for a double.
>> Sheraton Stockholm Hotel and Towers, Tegelbacken 6, 011-46-8-412-34-00. Excellent location between the train station and central shopping zone. About $300 for a double.
Dennis Callan is the president of the Hawaii Geographic Society and produces the "World Traveler" series that airs at 7 p.m. Tuesdays on channel 52, 'Olelo Community Programming, repeating 9 a.m. Wednesdays. "Three Days in ..." appears the first Sunday of the month. Tune in Tuesday to "World Traveler" for a video tour of Stockholm. It is presented by the Hawaii Geographic Society.