Take a delightfully different vacation in Stockholm
Odds are, you probably know something about Stockholm — that it’s Sweden’s capital, for example; or that it’s the birthplace of the now ubiquitous music streaming app Spotify.
You may remember that the city stretches across 14 islands, with thousands more trickling into the Baltic Sea to form the Stockholm Archipelago. Maybe you know it as the host of the annual Nobel Prize ceremonies; or as one of the most sustainable cities in the world.
But in a place this smart, open-minded and experimental, reinvention happens constantly. In other words, the only way to get a true snapshot of all that Stockholm is on any given day is to go.
Thankfully, experiencing the beauty and brains of this vibrant metropolis just became easier for Canadians, thanks to Scandinavian Airlines’ (SAS) new direct routes from Toronto — just in time to catch Sweden’s famous white nights and welcoming summer weather. These flights run three or four times per week, depending on the season, and significantly cut climate emissions compared to previous generation aircraft, in true sustainably Swedish style.
Now that your flights are covered, here are just a few ideas for how to spend your days in the self-proclaimed “Capital of Scandinavia.”
Revel in Stockholm’s urban nature
Once you arrive in the city, it won't take long for Stockholm's designation as the "Venice of the North" to make sense. The beautiful and historic architecture is certainly part of what's earned it this moniker, but the abundant open water that surrounds and snakes through its terra firma is no doubt even more to credit.
You'll see plenty of this much-heralded Baltic Sea water when you visit Djurgården, a beautiful island at the center of Stockholm. Scenic public parks cover much of the land here, among them a waterfront one with large sculpture installations (PREKS) and the nearly 10-kilometre-long Royal National City Park. The latter offers walks through ancient forests, bike rentals and even a swimmable beach. You'll also find excellent food. The park is home to two Michelin-starred restaurants, plus several waterfront dining venues and casual cafes where you can enjoy traditional Swedish fika — that is, the Swedish tradition of gathering for some good coffee and food.
To experience Sweden's foremost example of an English landscape garden, head to Haga Park in Solna, just a 30-minute bus ride north of Stockholm. Haga is also the site of numerous interesting landmarks built for Swedish monarchs. Among these are Haga Castle, the residence of the Swedish Crown Princess Victoria and her family; a Pompeian-style pavilion; a Chinese pagoda and a Turkish kiosk. The towering copper tents are also an Instagram-worthy curiosity.
Or, for the ultimate comingling of outdoor adventure and city life, take a tour of the city via kayak. Led by local experts who share local history and customs as you paddle, these two-hour tours depart from the city centre.
You can add on a traditional Swedish midsummer meal to your tour (think herring, potatoes, meats, boiled eggs and Swedish Västerbotten cheese), or continue your open-air adventure at a garden cafe or restaurant by the water. Strandhäxan on the north end of Djurgården is a local favourite, serving comfort foods like fried chicken thighs with slaw and chilli jam (plus a vegan equivalent) under an expansive outdoor tent.
For a meal directly on the water, head to Strandbryggan on the south end of Östermalm, an area known for its cultural venues and boutiques. The Asian-fusion restaurant offers head-turning choices like sirloin steak with green apple, kimchi and rum; and rainbow trout paired with beets and wheatgrass.
Check out what’s cool before it’s cool
As the native home of so many things that have taken the world by storm — Candy Crush, Skype, H&M and Swedish House Mafia, just to name a few — Stockholm has long been a trendsetting city. And it's showing no signs of slowing down in the post-pandemic landscape.
Stockholm is at the forefront of the movement toward sustainable (and statement-making) fashion, as evidenced by the myriad boutiques offering eco-friendly, sustainable and second-hand clothing. Among those to check out are Green Laces, a shop offering vegan, recycled and ethically produced wares; and Dedicated, a clothing line that incorporates recycled bottles, organic cotton and other sustainable materials in their designs. And shopaholics will rejoice in the news that Canadians and other non-EU travellers enjoy a significant VAT refund rate on their purchases in Sweden — up to 19%.
And the hipness doesn't stop at the local shops. For a departure from your average dining experience, try Punk Royale. As its name implies, the restaurant defies norms by, for example, beginning the tasting menu with a scoop of caviar placed directly in guests' outstretched palms. And oh yes, a shot of vodka. Between courses, guests are invited to play with Legos in this anti-fine-dining hipster spot.
Or venture to Häktet, an ultra-modern, on-trend locale set inside a former 18th-century jail. Grilled summer cabbage, kale chips with cream cheese and sooted green asparagus with sunflower seeds are among the simple, yet raved-about dishes to try. Tip: Stick around late and you'll find the place transforms into a dancing joint after midnight.
Speaking of dancing, Stockholm has an incredible array of nightlife options. For a unique experience that takes full advantage of Stockholm's aqueous surroundings, step onto Patricia, an old ship-turned-nightclub anchored between Södermalm and Gamla Stan. There's a restaurant, rock bar and singalong Swedish pop bar, and the LGBTQ-focused club stays open till 5 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Or take in performances by big names in the DJ world, at Berns, which comprises four diverse lounges and clubs, all attached to a boutique hotel of the same name.
Soak up all things Swedish
There's no better time to revel in the creativity, simplicity, beauty and brains that characterize Sweden than during your Stockholm vacation. So go ahead, walk through the interactive ABBA Museum, where you can literally (albeit virtually) try on the power quartet's costumes, create your own pop tunes and "become" the fifth member of the band.
For family travellers, the Skansen Open-Air Museum, described as a "Sweden in miniature" for its recreation of houses and farmsteads from all over the country, is a great fit. Kids will also delight in a trip to Junibacken, a children's cultural centre. There they can take the Story Train ride, an enchanting trip through the pages of a storybook written by Astrid Lindgren, Swedish children's author and creator of internationally famous Pippi Longstocking. After all, it doesn't get more Swedish than Pippi Longstocking!
For some traditional Swedish eats, Meatballs for the People is a natural choice. As you may have guessed, the focus is on Swedish meatballs, created with organic, sustainable and — at times — novel ingredients. Bear and moose meatballs are among the unexpected varieties to have graced the menu. If the sheer volume of choice is overwhelming, go with the We Love Meatballs meal, which includes a sampling of four kinds along with authentic Swedish sides (lingonberry preserves, for example). Retro-inspired Älskade Traditioner is another classic choice. Here, waffles are the specialty, and they come with toppings ranging from cheddar and ham to vanilla ice cream and nougat.
Of course, no trip to Stockholm would be complete without a visit to The Royal Palace. The impressive castle — with 600 rooms spread across 11 floors, it's one of the largest in Europe — is also one of the oldest that still serves as an official royal residence. Visitors can tour parts of the castle and three onsite museums.
In a city this dynamic, no guide and, truthfully, no single trip could cover it all. But whatever portion of this enigmatic place you can see on your Stockholm adventure is sure to inspire you. In fact, your first inspiration may be to book another trip soon.