Sweden is an amazing country, known for its clean streets, successful welfare and great design. But none of those things are as well-known or as popular as its famous exports – ABBA, IKEA, Volvo & Saab cars, Spotify …and Minecraft if you’re a gamer. I’m old enough to remember ABBA’s Eurovision win in 1974 and no Christmas Party is complete for me without belting out “Dancing Queen” 😂.
But this blog isn’t about any of Sweden’s exports….instead it’s about the country’s gorgeous capital city, Stockholm, which I had the pleasure of visiting several times when I worked for Sunrock (the Japanese Aircraft Leasing Company). On one particular business trip in the Autumn of 1996 I was treated to a memorable walking tour of the city by our business partners during our “down time”. Poor Sven pulled the short straw in having to show me around….but I’ll be forever grateful for the day we spent exploring this gorgeous city. This is what we saw that day (and apologies for the quality of the photos, I didn’t have a smart phone back then).
Often called the "Venice of the North" for its waterways and lakes, Stockholm, the capital city of Sweden, lies on a number of islands and peninsulas at the outflow of Lake Mälar into the Baltic, which forms a deep inlet. The charm of its setting lies in the intermingling of land and water — the skerries fringing the coast, the crags rearing up from the sea, the intricate pattern of waterways encompassing the city.
World-class museums, theatres, galleries, and gorgeous parklands await, and travelling around couldn't be easier. The excellent underground railway system, the Tunnelbana (T-bana), takes you almost anywhere in the city. A highly efficient and regular bus network fills in any gaps between destinations. Alternatively, take the time to walk as we did, as Stockholm is a terrific city to absorb on foot. The city also has an efficient network of bicycle lanes.
Locals proudly call the city a "levande stad," or "living city," as a large part of the cosmopolitan population still lives in the downtown areas. It was really cold every time I was there but spotlessly clean. I was amazed to see people fishing from the quayside in the middle of the city – very rare to see the waterway so clear and clean in a capital city.
So we walked mainly in Gamla Stan (Stockholm Old Town). Winding cobblestone streets, ancient churches, medieval squares – even a royal palace - it’s all here. Dating back to 1252, Gamla Stan is one of the biggest and best preserved medieval centres in Europe. Needless to say, there are many interesting things to do here.
8 Things to do in Stockholm
1) See the Stockholm Royal Palace
We started our walk by viewing the Royal Palace. This was just across the water from my beautiful hotel, the Grand Hotel Stockholm, and I could see it from my room. Built in Baroque style, the 18th century Stockholm Royal Palace is the official residence of the Swedish monarchy. Many rooms are open to the public, however, including five museums. When wondering what to do in Stockholm, it’s worth building in some time to see some of these museums.
The Armory contains royal costumes and armour. The reception rooms with their splendid interiors are worth a look too. And don’t miss the daily changing of the guard, which is quite a show-stopper.
2) Admire the Kaknäs tower (Swedish: Kaknästornet)
On our walk we saw this telecommunications tower located at Ladugårdsgärdet. Sven explained that the tower is a major hub of Swedish television, radio and satellite broadcasts. It was finished in 1967, designed by architect Bengt Lindroos, and the height is 155 metres (509 ft) or 170 metres (560 ft) with the top antenna included. For a few years Kaknästornet was the tallest building in the Nordic countries. It was surpassed in 2005 by the Turning Torso in Malmö. The tower is owned by the national Swedish broadcasting company Teracom. Its name comes from the ancient name of the area, Kaknäs.
The tower used to be open to the public, with an information centre and gift shop, indoor and outdoor observation decks as well as a restaurant, but I understand it has now been permanently closed to the public since 2018 on the grounds that the security repairs would have become too expensive. It was later revealed that the real cause is the threat from foreign intelligence. The fear is that a foreign power would seek to take control of important communication lines and systems of society. According to Swedish television, the Swedish security police have stated in a report in 2017 that the number of foreign intelligence companies has increased and the tower was closed due to the report!!
3) Relive Sweden's Seafaring Past at the Vasa Museum
The place that stays in my memory all these years later is the Vasa Museum. The incredible Vasa battleship — the main attraction at Stockholm's brilliant Vasa Museum (Vasamuseet) — was intended to be the pride of the Swedish Imperial fleet. Yet, in a forerunner of the Titanic disaster centuries later, this majestic 64-gun vessel sank on its maiden voyage in 1628.
An amazing salvage operation took place in 1961, and now you can marvel at this glorious time capsule, 95 percent of which is entirely original. The three masts on the roof of the museum are not just a tourist draw; they were reconstructed to the exact height and specifications of the original masts.
This is the most visited museum in Sweden, and rightfully so. More than one million people a year come here to enjoy the different exhibitions and watch the movie on the ship's history. A variety of other historic vessels are also located on-site, including an icebreaker, a lightship, and a torpedo boat.
Address: Galärvarvsvägen 14, 115 21 Stockholm
Official site: www.vasamuseet.se
4) Stop for fika
Fika (pronounced “fee-ka”) is essentially Swedish for taking a break for coffee and a pastry, perhaps a cinnamon roll or vanilla bun. After the Vasa Museum, Sven and I were gasping for a coffee so, of course, our next item on the agenda was to indulge in this Swedish custom too and so we stopped for fika while walking Gamla Stan. (Sure, it would have been rude not to! 😉) The Swedish cinnamon buns were scrumptious!
5) People-watch in Stortorget
Of course, while stopping for fika it also allowed me to indulge in a bit of people-watching. Stortorget (or “the Big Square”) is the oldest square in Stockholm…and is a super place to people watch. It’s lined by beautiful buildings and houses dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries, once owned by wealthy merchants. The cafés around this Gamla Stan square make good people watching spots. As do the many benches which invite you to plop yourself down and soak up the atmosphere…I was struck at how good-looking the people were and how well dressed they all seemed to be. In general, they also speak excellent English which is not heavily accented.
6. Take a Stroll and See the Sights of Djurgården
A tranquil oasis in the heart of the city, the island of Djurgården draws crowds of tourists and locals alike. The park forms part of the Royal National City Park, and it's a perfect place for a stroll, as well as being home to several of Stockholm's top museums and other attractions.
Scattered about are pleasant cafés, restaurants, snack-bars, and hotels. You can rent bicycles to explore the forest trails or, if you're feeling adventurous, take to the waterways in a canoe. The popular ABBA the Museum opened here in May 2013 since my last visit to Stockholm and I would definitely visit if I ever get the chance to go to Stockholm again!!
7. Admire Karl Johans Torg ("Square of Charles John" – I’ve noticed that Charlies get around!!)
This is a public square between the old town Gamla stan and Slussen in central Stockholm.
The square is named after the presence of the equestrian statue of King Charles XIV John (1763–1844) today placed just north of the square but originally located south of the canal, and inaugurated on 4 November 1854, the 40th anniversary of the union between Sweden and Norway. Designed by Bengt Erland Fogelberg (1786−1854), at the time located in Italy, the sculpture was cut in Rome and cast in Munich in 1852, while the tall base was cut in Carrara to the design of the artist. The original intentions of the sculptor apparently was to have the statue facing east, the king's command baton pointing out the obvious enemy on the opposite side of the Baltic. When inaugurated, however, the statue was instead turned north towards the city, thus symbolizing the French general and the Bernadotte Dynasty which came with him, arriving to Stockholm to occupy the Swedish throne.
When the Slussen area was adapted to accommodate modern traffic loads in 1935, the statue was turned south, pointing straight at the new and much discussed roundabout. While the reason for this U-turn remains unexplained, save for the fact the statue would otherwise be standing face to face with the façades north of the square, Sweden remains a monarchy and the Bernadotte Dynasty is still occupying the Royal Palace in the old town.
8. Enjoy Millegarden – the tranquil sculpture garden
We finished up the day at Millesgarden, an art museum and sculpture garden, located on the island of Lidingö. It is located on the grounds of the former home of sculptor Carl Milles (1875–1955) and his wife, artist Olga Milles (1874-1967). Millesgården consists of three main parts: the artist's former home, an art gallery, and a sculpture park. I took several photos in the sculpture park but particularly liked these:
he first one I loved is called The Hand of God. A small man standing in a large hand. He looks upward and his body is tense, his fingers spread wide. Granted, he balances on the thumb and forefinger of the large hand, which seems strenuous. But his focus lies elsewhere. The man´s attention is directed toward something in the heavens, as if he were receiving a message or carrying on a conversation.
Carl Milles worked with God´s Hand between 1949 and 1953. Initially, it was made for Eskilstuna, and today it can be found in many locations in the world, such as Tokyo, Melbourne and Beijing. The sculpture is elevated on a tall column. This is the case with many of Carl Milles´ later sculptures. Already as a young man, Carl Milles was very interested in astronomy. This interest grew with age and finally applied to all things connected with the heavens and the universe, as well as questions about the existence of God. Toward the end of his life he often raised his sculptures high up on tall pillars, in order to make them a part of the heavens which fascinated him so much.
The second one I loved is called Poseidon.......Poseidon is the god of the sea in Greek mythology. In the early 1920s, Carl Milles received a commission to create a fountain for Götaplatsen in Göteborg. The work in making the fountain was conducted between 1925 and 1930. Poseidon is a mighty figure, seven meters tall, standing naked with steady legs on a rock. In one hand he holds a fish, in the other a shell. Poseidon appears to be part of the ocean to which he belongs. His hair is made of mussels, his hat is a shell, and his face can be described as wild, powerful and a far cry from classically beautiful. In the myths, Poseidon is both temperamental and unpredictable.
At Millesgården, Poseidon watches over the Värtan waters the kingdom of the sea over which he reigns, according to legend. The sculpture was created keeping in mind the placement at Götaplatsen in Göteborg. There, Poseidon looks out toward Kungsport Avenue. The basin in which he stands is filled with various inhabitants of the ocean - fish, lobsters, crabs and mermaids. At Millesgården, Poseidon is nearly alone in his fountain, but not completely. Look carefully at the rock on which he is standing there are a few figures there.
So as you can see I only scratched the surface of this beautiful city but what I did see impressed me a lot. Hopefully I will get to re-visit one day to see more. I'll finish with some more random photos I took on that trip. Enjoy!
Bucket List Items Ticked Off in the above Blog 67
Number 34 - Food & Drink - Have Fika with Swedish Cinnamon Buns in Stockholm, Sweden
Number 57 - Travel - 7 Continents
Other Blog Posts
Blog 11 - Sydney, Australia
Blog 12 - Hong Kong, China
Blog 17 - Beijing, Xi'an & Shanghai, China
Blog 19 - California, USA
Blog 27 - Scotland
Blog 28 - Barbados
Blog 29 - Canada
Blog 30 - Alaska
Blog 31 - Everglades, Florida
Have you ever visited Stockholm? Tell me about your experience in the comments section below.
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My name is Mary and this is my bucket list blog ...having survived a near-death experience. I hope it encourages you to "live your best life". See how I'm completing my own bucket list items. And let me know how you're getting on with yours!