After a flight of one and a half hours I arrive on schedule at Arlanda International Airport. I am only carrying hand luggage, so I can walk out directly. Online I have bought a ticket for the Arlanda Express, the train that takes me to Stockholm Central Station in twenty minutes. The capital of Sweden, the land of Ikea and Volvo, of Abba and Roxette, of forests and lakes, is located on the east coast of the country and has 1.8 million inhabitants. The city is built on 14 islands, of which Norrmalm, Östermalm, Djürgarden, Södermalm, Kungsholmen and the historic Gamla Stan form the center.
It is still quiet in the shopping street Drottninggatan when I look for a place to have coffee. Soon I cross a bridge to the small island of Helgeandsholmen. This island is dominated by the Sveriges Rikstag, Sweden’s parliament building. Across the next bridge you reach the island of Gamla Stan. From this side you mainly look at the robust side facade of the Kungliga Slottet, the Royal Palace. A short distance away is the Riddarhuset, a building partly designed by a Dutchman, where the nobility met in the 17th century. On the other side of the water from the small Riddarsholmen, with the church of the same name, you can see the Stadshuset, the red brick town hall of Stockholm, where the annual banquet of the Nobel Committee takes place.
A crowd has gathered at the Royal Palace. The changing of the guard takes place here every day at exactly a quarter past twelve. This is quite an event, an elaborate ritual including military fanfare. After witnessing this spectacle, it is time for lunch. On the Stortorget, the picturesque central square of Gamla Stan, I find a seat on a terrace, where I order coffee and a sandwich. It is very busy, but I mainly see tourists around me.
After lunch I stroll down the old streets of Gamla Stan. This is where Stockholm originated and many houses date from the eleventh century. The colored facades, the cobbled streets, the lanterns on the houses, especially in the quieter streets, make you feel like you are back in time. Only to end up at the next intersection in a street full of souvenir shops and tourists… Although Gamla Stan covers less than four square kilometers, you can easily spend quite a long time walking down the maze of streets.
By 4 p.m. I am done walking and sightseeing. Via Helgeandsholmen I walk back to Norrmalm, where by now it is a lot busier in the shopping street. My hotel is the Nordic Sea Hotel, right next to the central station. Here my feet get some rest. After relaxing for an hour, I am fully charged again. I take the metro to Slussen station, on the north bank of Södermalm. The street Katarinavägen goes uphill, parallel to the water, so you have a beautiful view of Gamla Stan from here. At Slussen is also the Katarinahissen, where you can go up with a lift (a ‘his’ is a lift in Swedish). At the top is a lookout point (just a little higher than Katarinavägen) and a restaurant.
For dinner I walk back to Gamla Stan, where I end up in one of the many streets on the modest terrace of Restaurang (no, not a typo) C&C. This building has been a restaurant since the 17th century. And what do you eat when you are in Sweden? That’s right: Swedish meatballs. With a beer. Alcohol is very pricey in Sweden (because of the excise tax to discourage alcohol consumption, which of course doesn’t work), but the 4.5 euros for a bottle is not much more than in Amsterdam. It’s wonderful to be able to sit outside in the evening and really enjoyable in this atmospheric part of Stockholm.
After breakfast (in an overcrowded breakfast room) I walk into Norrmalm. This part of Stockholm was largely flattened in the 1960s and 1970s. As a result, most of the buildings are built in the architecture of the time. Too old to be modern, not old enough to be beautiful, but that is of course a matter of taste. This is the business center and shopping heart of Stockholm. Besides the central station here you will find the department store NK and the shopping street Drottninggatan.
Mid-morning it’s time for a typical Swedish custom: fika. Which basically comes down to coffee with cake or pastry. If you really want to do as the locals do, you can have a kanelbüllar with your coffee. Next I walk over to Södermalm. Here you will find much less tourists. This district therefore breathes much more of the atmosphere of a ‘normal’ city district, with apartment buildings, small shops (antique shops, boutiques and galleries) and many popular cafes. In the early afternoon I visit the popular photography museum Fotografiska, on the quay of Södermalm.
Here on the water you can relax and enjoy the view of Gamla Stan. Just as I walk back into Södermalm, a dark cloud comes over and opens unannounced. Everyone starts running in search of a dry spot. The shower lasts only thirty seconds, then it is dry again, but everyone who was walking outside is now soaked. A little later I step into the small coffee bar SoFo (South of Folkungagatan), where, just like in the other ‘kaffe bars’, the locals are enjoying a fika. While it is alternately raining and dry outside, I spend the next 2.5 hours in SoFo with coffee, kanelbüllar and a good book. The atmosphere in Södermalm is relaxed and so is SoFo.
The next day the weather is beautiful. After checking out of my hotel, I walk to Kungsholmen. At the tip of this island, west of Norrmalm, is the Stadshuset. In addition to the striking clock tower, the town hall, built in the 1920s, has a beautiful courtyard. Through the colonnade you have a view over the water with Riddarsholmen on the other side. A beautiful place.
I walk along the water back to Norrmalm and over the quay of Gamla Stan, the Skeppsbrokajen. All that water makes Stockholm a particularly beautiful city. Along the way I snap the necessary photos. When you pass by a place for the second or third time, you still see different things. Such as the 17th century plaque in Gamla Stan, with a text in old Dutch, which translates: “If all goes well, one has many friends. Turns the luck, where does one find them?” Old Dutch in Sweden?
I have another coffee at Järntorget in Gamla Stan. Then I take the ferry to Djürgarden. Here you will find the Vasa Museum (about a ship that sunk on the first voyage), open-air museum Skansen and an amusement park. When you’ve left the crowds that flock here on Sunday afternoons, you’re walking into a huge park. Djürgarden largely consists of this park, where you can enjoy walking, cycling, running or picnicking. And many residents of Stockholm do on a beautiful Sunday afternoon like this. You get the impression that you are outside the city, it is so quiet and green here.
After a long walk I cross a bridge and arrive at the south side of Östermalm. Here along the quay are many sailing yachts and fishing boats. In Östermalm everything is just that little bit more hip, chic and more expensive. Back in the center of the city I walk in and out of some shops, after which I look for a place to have a sandwich. At the end of the afternoon it is already time to go to the airport. I had a wonderfully relaxed weekend, in an equally relaxed city. Strolling through old streets in Gamla Stan, having a drink in one of the cafes in Södermalm, shopping in Norrmalm, it’s all possible in Stockholm. A city that is definitely recommended as a destination for a city trip.