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Write: Serdar Turan Photos: Russell J. Young
“If you think this is a cold Northern European city, you’re quite mistaken,” says our tour guide Jörgen on meeting us. “Stockholm is going to amaze you.” The few days we spent there proved him right. Stockholm is a city that combines yesterday and today, the traditional and the modern.Exuding tranquillity on the one hand, it radiates an energy that grabs you on the other. We feel that energy from the first instant.
FROM THE MIDDLE AGES TO NOW: GAMLA STAN
The old city, aka Gamla Stan, is an ideal place to start exploring Stockholm. Although the people are dressed in modern clothes, you’ll feel you’ve boarded a time machine back to the medieval times. Saffron-hued buildings rise in the narrow lanes of this quarter, a settlement since the 1200’s. The sometimes steep and narrow streets harbor many a surprise. Sometimes a small but charming cafe will catch your eye and you won’t be able to resist going in and sitting down. As you catch your breath and sip a coffee, you may find yourself distracted by hundreds of designer objects in a tiny shop window. The area around Gamla Stan is also quite lively. The cathedral and the Nobel Museum are two places definitely worth seeing. The Royal Palace is located here as well. Watching the horses and ceremonies of the palace guards in their predominantly blue uniforms is a fun experience.
Stockholm’s unique urban texture is apparent right off the bat. Art is part and parcel of everyday life here. The metro stations especially are a must-see, each stop exhibiting a different concept of art. Not only that, the whole city is bursting with sculptures and installations. It’s possible to find an interesting event any season of the year at art lovers’ venues like the National Museum and the Museum of Modern Art.
If art is one of the essential components of Stockholm’s vibrant image, food is certainly another. The Swedes set great store by the delights of the palace, and their evening meals and weekend brunches are practically a ritual. When it comes to food, you can find anything you want in Stockholm. Be it traditional Swedish fare, or the tasting menu of a Michelin chef, you will definitely find something to please you. Our guide takes us to a bakery frequented by the locals. The aroma of the oven-fresh bread is enough to seduce even a man with a full stomach. And the pastry shops that lurk in the side streets are a delightful boon for those with a sweet tooth. The colorful tarts and cakes look delectable enough to put paid to even the strictest diet.
One place not to be missed while you’re in Stockholm is Skansen. The world’s largest open air museum, this area was founded in 1883 and designed to reflect the traditional Swedish way of life. The region is also home to a zoo with fauna native to Northern Europe. Another must-stop for adrenaline addicts is the fun fair at Gröna Lunda, where the Fritt Fall Tilt, the world’s tallest free fall ride, may strain the limits of your courage.
After a few days in and around the city center, we head for the sea. Stockholm is a quintessential maritime city, and its archipelago, known as Skärgård, is truly amazing. Made up of more than thirty thousand islands large and small, this archipelago is a place of unusual beauty. There are cruises to some of the islands at Skärgård, but others are accessible only by private boat. Although a cruise among the islands is an enjoyable experience, our guide Jörgen warns that not all of them offer accommodation. When planning your days on the islands, you will therefore need to identify suitable stops for accommodation and food beforehand.
Each island has its own unique features. If it’s comfortable accommodation and eating alternatives you seek, and you want to visit a historic castle and museum, you should go to Vaxholm. If you prefer outdoor activities, especially cycling, then Utö is the place for you, where you can pose with your bike in front of a more than 200-year-old windmill. Taking in the landscape on Svartsö, the largest island of the archipelago, sipping your coffee as you look out over the Möja marina, touring the museum at Djurgården, located in a ship named Vasa that sank on its maiden voyage in 1628, and viewing the sunset while perched on the rocks at Sandham are all pleasant experiences.
Stockholm also stands out as a environmentalist city. Waiting for you to explore it as it deserves. And it’s going to amaze you at every turn.