Exploring Stockholm in 48 hours
If you follow my blog or just occasionally read my posts you know that I’m totally crazy about London. As it happened just three weeks before my 11th trip to London my husband and I spent a weekend in Stockholm, Sweden. Because I was creating my to-do list for my solo trip to London I didn’t really spend a lot of time on planning our Stockholm trip. Also, I didn’t want to over-plan our stay since we literally had just a bit more than 48h to enjoy Stockholm. Our plane landed on Friday evening and we had our return flight on Monday morning (this April).
On the drive from Skavsta airport to Stockholm we got to admire the Swedish landscape: forests and lakes and colourful wooden houses. The scenery resembled our drive from the airport to Oslo center two years ago. Our trip to Oslo influenced this trip because when I researched briefly Stockholm sights I found a lot of similar things/museums as in Oslo and I didn’t really want to do the same things twice (e.g we visited the Norwegian Folk museum in Oslo so I didn’t see the point in visiting a similar museum in Stockholm).
On Saturday morning we had a big breakfast so that we could explore Stockholm on foot. The sun was shining and the temperature was around 6°C. We walked straight to the Central metro station and then turned left towards the Kungstradgarden which was in full bloom. I decided to follow more or less the suggested walk from a Lonely Planet guidebook to explore the Old Town (Gamla Stan) and a few other islands. We passed by a nice church and reached the water.
Stockholm is built on 14 islands connected by 57 bridges. So, yes any comparison with Amsterdam or Venice is valid. I was confused all the time whether I was standing by the lake or the sea or the river because Stockholm was founded at Lake Mälaren’s freshwater outflow to the Baltic Sea. Stockholm is an old city. Its beginnings date from the 13 century when Birger Jarl, the city’s official founder built a castle. The name of the city Stockholm could be translated as a tree-trunk islet. My main focus was to wander around the Old Town (Gamla Stan) spanning over several small islands.
We took a couple of photos of the Royal Palace across the water from the Gustav Adolfs torg (square) where you can find the Opera house. My dad is a musician so I like to take pictures of operas on my trips too. When I was a kid I liked to go through my mum’s postcards box and look at the postcards my dad sent from his concert tours from Italy, Luxembourg, Germany, etc. He was never in Sweden though.
My husband and I crossed the Norrbro bridge and took pictures of Riksdag (the Parliament house). We were on the tiny Helgeandsholmen island which together with Stadsholmen and with Riddarholmen forms the Old Town (Gamla Stan) of Stockholm. The name Gamla Stan can also refer just to Stadsholmen island where you can find the Royal Palace. It was around 10 am and most of the streets were almost empty. There were pricey souvenir shops but I couldn’t resist going in and having a look at the unnecessary mugs, glasses, coasters, t-shirts and the rest which I always end up buying.
The houses in the narrow streets on our way from the Parliament to the Cathedral were colourful and tall but narrow and they reminded me a bit of the houses I saw in Bruges. We entered the Cathedral (Storkrykan) from the 14th century. It is the oldest building in Stockholm. I was surprised to see a giant sculpture of St.George killing the dragon inside the cathedral. I didn’t know that he was an important saint for Swedish people too. I always just associate St.George with England. The organ music filled the air while we were looking around the warm cathedral. The churches are usually quite cold inside but every church we entered in Stockholm was warm.
the bridge through the parliament building
From the cathedral we walked down towards the square Stortorget which is the most photographed place in the whole Old Town. Unfortunately, there was a delivery truck so I struggled to get a decent photo of this charming square. The houses at the square look like they came alive from a page of a story book. The Nobel museum is too at this charming square which has a tragic history since the big bloodbath of 1520 took place there. We returned to Stortorget the next day to see it in the night. It was almost magical. Our next stop was another interesting square called Kopmantorget. There is a statue of St George and the dragon again.
At this point my husband went down to the water to see the navy boat while I strolled back and forth for a while and discovered narrow dark alleys and numerous cute historical houses. I also saw a restaurant called Unter Kestenjen whose name I could understand well because it resembled a lot the same Croatian word (under the chestnut):). I literally found it hard to keep my mouth shut while wandering around the Old Town (Gamla Stan) from all the aaaa and uuu at the beauty surrounding me. Wherever I looked I saw adorable pastel coloured historical houses.
When my husband returned we continued walking down to Jarntorget square where I saw a cake shop Sundbergs ( I didn’t go in but don’t you worry I returned there the next day). We soon stumbled upon the narrowest street called Marten Trotzigs Grand. That’s a funny name for a narrow street. At this point we were already in a shopping street Vasterlanggatan and came across more people than we saw so far walking around Gamla Stan. Suddenly I saw familiar letters and discovered the Viking restaurant. I didn’t care how touristy it might be I had to go there (my husband was even more excited than me). It was closed so we decided to return there for the dinner. Then he saw a games shop and his heart probably skipped a beat. You see, my husband is seriously into board games. The shop SF Bokhandeln AB was quite big and had books and Harry Potter wands too not just the board games.
It was almost 12 o’clock so we hurried back to the Royal Palace to see the changing of the guard at 12.15 pm ( on Saturday, it’s at 1.15 pm on Sunday). We passed by a funny looking urinal. I remember seeing a few of those in Brussels too but this one looked nicer. There were already a lot of people at the palace’s entrance so we found a spot and waited to see the changing of the guard. There was music (a brass band) and soldiers doing their routine. I found it a bit boring. And the rain started even though it was sunny and warm until then. The weather changes quickly in Stockholm, I came to realize.
Long time ago Sweden was a part of a union with Norway and Denmark. In the sixteenth century the Swedish nobility broke ties with the union and the modern-day Sweden was born. The first independent Swedish king was Gustav Eriksson Vasa. If you are more interested in the Swedish royal family you might want to visit the Royal Palace apartments but I didn’t really want to pay for the entrance so we just saw the changing of the guard and took photos of the palace’s exterior.
After the short ceremony we went to the free Royal Armoury Museum in the royal palace’s dark cellar. Everything was written in Swedish in the museum. But I saw interesting royal coaches, armour, weapons, crowns, royal clothes and even some dead kings. It’s a good museum and it’s free which is always a bonus.
Across the museum I saw a Finnish church and we also passed by a German church on our way back to Vasterlanggatan street where we stopped our sightseeing before to see the changing of the guard. We continued walking down Vasterlanggatan until we reached a zebra crossing that leads to another small island-Riddarholmen. It’s smaller than Stadsholmen where we wandered all morning and it looked deserted. You’ll find a big church Riddarholmskyrkan on this island and a number of private palaces from the 17th century. The islet boasts an excellent panoramic view of the bay Riddarfjärden with Stockholm City Hall in the background. I wished we had more time to thoroughly explore the Knights’ islet since we just walked passed the church to the shore to see the red City Hall.
I loved the red brick building of the City Hall in Oslo and this one in Stockholm was even more spectacular. It was across the bay so we walked on and crossed the bridge to come to another island- Kungsholmen. I saw an ad for the Eurovision contest. Since it was Saturday we saw several wedding parties in the City Hall’s courtyard. You can visit the City Hall on a guided tour but we came too late. The annual Nobel Prize ceremony is held there too. We strolled by the lake and saw interesting old boats and some modern apartment buildings that resembled the historical houses of Gamla Stan.
When I travel somewhere I tend to walk for hours and hours without a proper rest because I don’t want to waste the precious little time I have in a city. We only had 48h to see everything we wanted in Stockholm so we returned to Gamla Stan from the City Hall the other way round to look for the Medieval Museum which is supposedly under a bridge near the Parliament building. We came back to the Opera square and saw the sign for the Museum of Mediterranean and Near Eastern Antiquities. We decided to go in there and ask for the directions for the Medieval museum. While we were there already and since it was free we checked out the Museum of Mediterranean and Near Eastern Antiquities too. It’s got a large Egyptian collection and impressive artifacts from Cyprus. There’s even a cool looking café upstairs. We didn’t spend a lot of time in this museum because it was already approaching 5 pm when the museums close and we still haven’t done the Medieval museum which was on our wish list.
We found the Medieval Museum under the Norrbro bridge which we actually crossed in the morning. This museum is free and it is one of the most interesting museums I’ve ever been to. It focuses on the people and their everyday life in the medieval times. You can also find inside the museum Stockholm’s city wall from about 1520 preserved as a fixed ancient remnant 55 meters long. The museum is totally family friendly. Even though it doesn’t have a lot of interactive stuff it’s quite fun because you can enter a reconstruction of a pub, a farm or a church from the yesteryear. It’s definitely not one of those dreary museums where you just see a lot of exhibits in glass cabinets with boring descriptions on cards. Plus everything is in English and in Swedish!
It was finally time for dinner so we retraced our steps back to the Viking restaurant eagerly awaiting a true Viking feast. Alas the whole place was booked and it wasn’t opened on Sunday either so we left Stockholm without eating in a theme restaurant. I was starving since we haven’t eaten much from breakfast apart from muesli bars and chocolate so I wasn’t too picky to find a place to eat. I wanted something Swedish and I didn’t care much about the price. A lot of places were booked so we ended up in a restaurant called Magnus Ladulas which is one of the old town’s core taverns according to their business card. We didn’t actually get a table in the wine cellar part of the restaurant because it was full but we got one in the bar area.
My husband ordered Swedish meatballs and beer while I had some chicken in a tasty sauce accompanied by wine and followed by an ice-cream for both of us. It was a good meal but it wasn’t the best especially when you take the price into account. Moreover, it was probably one of the most expensive dinners I ever had and it wasn’t a Michelin starred restaurant. However, we were hungry and we were in Stockholm on a Saturday night so we couldn’t really choose if we wanted to eat in a Swedish place that wasn’t fully booked.
After the dinner we walked back to our hotel. This time we crossed the bridge that separates two parts of the parliament building when we left Gamla Stan and proceeded down the main shopping street of Drottninggatan towards the Central station. By the time we reached our hotel it was already around 9 pm so we went to sleep. No partying in expensive Stockholm. To be honest those years are far behind me.
Nowadays when I travel I enjoy exploring as much as I can during the day and then I have a dinner or perhaps go out for drinks later. But I was kind of disappointed that we stayed at the hotel for two nights in a row (the first night we just arrived and were too tired to wander around our neighbourhod) so I told my husband that we have to go out for drinks tomorrow night on our final night in Stockholm. What about you? Do you enjoy the night life when you travel?
Have you been to Stockholm? Did you find Gamla Stan to be as beautiful as I did?
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ps. Did you check my post on Vasa museum in Stockholm?
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