I love the Scandinavians; their outlook on life, their progressive attitudes, their easiness on the eye…
Stockholm, therefore, has long been one of the cities on my must-do list. I’ve meant to go each summer, when the days are long and life moves outdoors. My first visit, however, ended up being in November, when it was dark by four and the best place to be was indoors with a glass of red.
Even so, I absolutely loved it. The food was unexpectedly outstanding, the interiors warm and cosy, and the people laid back and friendly. And even with winter setting in, I was genuinely surprised by just how much there is to do in Stockholm.
I found that when you have just a long weekend to explore Stockholm, it’s useful to keep the Swedish concept of lagom in mind. Lagom is the hot new trend taking over from hygge, and translates to ‘just right’ – or, finding contentment by achieving balance in everyday life.
With 14 different islands, close to 100 museums, and countless bars and restaurants to explore, Stockholm can easily become overwhelming. Striking a balance is a good guiding principle. It’s best to take it slow, have a ‘fika’ (I’ll explain), and don’t try and cram everything in.
So with that in mind, here’s how my suggestion for spending a winter’s weekend in Stockholm that’s not too little, not too much, but just right.
Kick off your visit where it all began – Gamla Stan. This medieval centre is where Stockholm was founded in 1252 and today it’s basically a living museum.
Spend the afternoon navigating the cobblestone streets with their colourful buildings, and take in some impressive historical sites such as the colossal Royal Palace and the Swedish Parliament building. There’s also a number of museums and galleries in the area, including the Nobel Museum, dedicated to the Nobel Prize.
Night time takes a firm grip early here during the colder months. As the evening sets in, walk across to the Östermalm district for an evening of window shopping and bar hopping.
Östermalm is Stockholm’s posh neighbourhood. It’s here that you’ll find many designer boutiques and swanky bars. The streets are lined with grand buildings, which, like the store windows within them, are brightly illuminated, making it a nice area to wander aimlessly through during the evening.
With Sweden being notoriously expensive, there’s a good chance you’ll be perusing here rather than purchasing. But it’s still fun to take in the simple yet sophisticated Scandinavian style from the sidelines and, after a few beverages, begin to ponder whether if you skipped a few meals you could possibly afford it too.
There are plenty of bars to break up the evening, including some surprisingly bustling ones in the flashy shopping centres. Try the bar at Boqueria in the stylish Mood Galleria (side note: the homeware store here, Posh Living, is total furniture porn), or Sturehof in the Sturegallerian (which also serves great seafood).
When you can take the temptation no more, move on to dinner at Hantverket. There’s nothing I can say really except, I LOVE THIS PLACE! Everything about it was über cool – the on-point interiors, the sharply-dressed clientele, the tattooed chefs.
It was also without doubt one of the best meals I’ve had in a long time, and at the risk of sounding totally pretentious, one of the most exciting – intricate takes on traditional Swedish flavours using fresh, seasonal ingredients. My favourite was the squid with radish, citronette and feta cheese. Or was it the mashed potatoes with smoked roe, browned butter, crispy chicken skin and dill? Urgh, I loved it all.
Explore Södermalm, the island immediately south of Galma Stan. This used to be a no-go zone during the evenings, however it’s reinvented itself to become the creative, hipster heart of Stockholm, where you’ll find independent designers, vintage stores and some very trendy cafes and bars.
Start the morning by partaking in a Swedish pastime – fika. Fika is a Swedish coffee break, often accompanied by pastries. But it’s more than that. It’s taking a deliberate moment out of your day to stop and appreciate life. I’m told that many companies in Sweden have mandatory fika breaks, which has given me a new cause to campaign for back home.
For your fika, I recommend trying Drop Coffee (delicious cinnamon buns!), or Johan & Nyström around the corner. Or do as we did and try both. I’ve decided that you can never have too much fika in your life. Or cinnamon buns for that matter. What was that about balance?
If you’re going to do any shopping that results in actual purchases, Södermalm is the area to do it. While there are still high-end boutiques, there are many more affordable alternatives. Start your shopping expedition on Gotgarten, a long street that runs the entire length of the island. The north end in particular is a shopping mecca. You’ll find vintage and second-hand stores mingling effortless with high street labels and designer brands.
As you make your way down Gotgarden, you’ll enter SoFo (south of Folkungagat), an incredibly trendy but still accessible neighbourhood. The side streets are lined with independent designers, snug cafes and effortlessly cool restaurants.
For a cosy lunch, try Nytorget 6, opposite Nytorget Park in the heart of SoFo. It’s popular with the locals, and you’ll find hearty Swedish classics on the menu here, including meatballs of course. It’s a perfect winter warmer. (The owners also operate Meatballs for the People up the road, which also gets good reviews.)
If you’re looking for a lunch that’s more on-the-go, wander down to Teatern in the Ringen Centrum shopping centre. Ignore the shopping centre itself, it’s pretty rubbish – but that just make its food court all the more incredible. Teatern features stalls from some of Stockholm’s top chefs, offering top-notch street-food at affordable prices.
After lunch, head to Fotografiska (the nearest metro is Slussen), a contemporary photography gallery housed in a restored customs building on the waterfront. Fotografiscka regularly exhibits some of the world’s leading photographers, and is well worth a visit. During my visit I saw Paul Hansen’s ‘Being there’ exhibition, which documented the consequences of war and natural disasters on people. It was both technically beautiful and overwhelmingly haunting in equal measures.
On the top floor you’ll find a bar, cafe and restaurant, with panoramic views across the Stockholm inlet. By now it’s wine o’clock, so finish off your visit with a drink in the bar. (The award-winning restaurant is only open for dinner.)
If you’re looking for something a little cosier, take the metro one stop to Mariatorget and head to Gamla Amsterdam Cheese Shop & Cheese Bar on Hornsgartan. It’s a tiny neighbourhood store serving delicious cheese matched with wine, or even beer. (On a Saturday they do a cheese and wine/beer tastings, but you’ll need to book ahead.) Just don’t go overboard with the cheese; you have dinner ahead!
Time to get dressed in your best (not easy to do on a hand luggage-only fare) and head to dinner at Matthias Dahlgren, in the aptly named Grand Hotel.
There are two options for dinner here – Matthias Dahlgren Rutabaga, a “lacto-ovo-vegetarian” restaurant (I have no idea what that means either), or Matthias Dahlgren Matbaren, a modern ‘informal’ bistro with meat on the menu.
We chose Matbaren and loved it. The food was definitely on par with Hantverket, although the atmosphere felt a bit stiffer (I’m being picky). I loved the “Flavours of the West Coast” (algae, trout roe and oysterleaf) and the steamed spicy brisket bun with Sichuan pepper and shiso.
In keeping with lagom, order one dish at a time until you feel you’ve had enough. Which to me seemed more like a challenge…
Before heading home, visit Djurgården island for a museum day. The island is home to a number of museums and galleries, as well as a theme park and vast areas of parkland, making it one of Stockholm’s most popular attractions.
There are many highly-regarded museums to choose from here, including the Vasa Museum with its 17th century warship, or the open-air Skansen museum showcasing Swedish history. However, as penance for my Skiathos blog post, I was made to endure the ABBA museum, which I don’t think requires too much explanation. It was high-tech, surprisingly interesting and even kind of fun. Fine. Whatever.
Before heading back, if the weather is playing nice, make time for a stroll through the Royal National Park, which used to be the royal hunting grounds. Or if you’re feeling more adventurous, try a ride in the Gröna Lund theme park, some of which are so high they’re clearly visible from Södermalm on the other side of the inlet.
Quick tips when traveling to Stockholm