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  • Candace Ahlfinger

Three Days in Stockholm, Sweden

Updated: Mar 23

We arrived in Stockholm in the late afternoon, checked into the Radisson Blu Waterfront Hotel, got more maps from the front desk, and set off for a little exploration after many hours of traveling. (We have realized that getting out into sunlight and walking around immediately gets us past jet lag faster.) We found Gamla Stan, the Old Town, and wandered around to get the feel of the town before dinner and an early bedtime. We did discover that Stockholm is built on multiple levels and GPS does not always take you to the right level! In addition to being built on multiple levels, Stockholm is composed of 14 islands connected by over 50 bridges within Lake Mälaren. The city is very walkable, with frequent parks and greenspaces; however, public transportation is also reasonably priced and easy to use.

Gamla Stan, Stockholm

The next morning, armed with our GPS, maps and city information, we headed out to explore the nearby areas. We caught the tram near the hotel on Klarabergsgatan Street.

Stockholm Tram

The tram is an easy way to get to many of the museums, including the Vasa Museum, our first stop of the day. (After you board the tram, a conductor will come by so you can tap your credit card. Each person must have his/her own card. The conductor was extremely helpful!)

The Vasa Museum

The short ride took us near the long-anticipated Vasa Museum on Djurgården Island to see the amazing 1628 warship that sank in front of a large crowd assembled to see if off on its maiden voyage. The king, Gustav II Adolf had the ship outfitted with 64 bronze cannons, a number that had never before been attempted. Less than 1,500 yards from the shore, the ship was buffeted by a light gust of wind that resulted in its sinking into the cold Baltic Sea. The findings of the inquest that investigated the sinking were never revealed, but pride seems to me to have played a major part. The good news though for modern tourists and archaeologists is that the waters preserved the ship until its retrieval 333 years later. If the Vasa had sailed successfully, we would not have it today.

The Vasa

The museum is a magnificent structure. It was built for the ship and provides multi-level observation points for the ship. There are movies explaining the salvage process and activities for children. The video demonstrating the ship’s recovery is especially good. We joined the tour of the ship and gained more understanding of the purpose of the colorful sculptures and learned other details that we might have missed. A few notes: We spent about 2 ½ hours in the museum. Also, the restrooms, as in most Scandinavian areas, are unisex so don’t be surprised.

Strandvägen--Waterside Promenade

Upon leaving the Vasa Museum, we walked through the nearby gardens, across the Djurgardsbron Bridge, and along Strandvägen, a wonderful promenade by the waterway with restaurants and souvenir shopping. We picked an open-air Swedish restaurant where we ate Greek Salad while listening to Spanish music. The world is definitely getting smaller.

After lunch we strolled down the Strandvägen while admiring pictures of wildlife by Viktor Sundberg and other artists. Our next stop was the train (aka subway or metro) for a colorful cave-like experience. Over 150 artists have used their creative ability to make almost all of the 100 stations works of art. We bought a 90-minute train pass—thank you to the helpfulness of the person at the ticket stand for his recommendations—and stayed on the blue line. We could have easily spent more time and explored more stops, but we limited ourselves to a few.

Kungsträdgården Train Station

Kungsträdgården was our first stop. The artist, Ulrik Samuelson, used archaeological pieces from the Stockholm Museum to replicate the feeling and history of the park located above the stop. Our next stop was T-Centralen Station, with blue and white art by Per Olof Ultvedt. Next was Solna Centrum, my favorite. The two artists, Anders Åberg and Karl-Olov Björk, addressed hot topics from the 1970s. The red ceiling overhanging the green forest below features vignettes of the changing society of the time.

T-Centralen Station
Solna Centrum Train Station

We still had time in the afternoon to take a walking tour of Gamla Stan. (Thank you, Rick Steves, for such detailed information.) To be honest, yes, Gamla Stan is touristy, but we enjoyed exploring it using Steves’ self-guided tour and then later just walking through it. One of our first stops was to see a Viking rune complete with a Viking—or at least an excellent tour guide who was dressed in costume. We had to pause during our walking tour to do fika, a Swedish tradition of coffee, pastry, and visiting during the afternoon. The name of the tradition is thought to be a reversal of the Swedish word for coffee, “kaffi.” At various times over the centuries, coffee was illegal in Sweden, so residents changed the word to hide their purpose.

Stockholm Cathedral

And then back to our walking tour with a stop at the Stockholm Lutheran Cathedral which was covered in scaffolding. Of course, this protective covering led to many jokes about the church being “baroque” but they are fixing it. Thankfully, the interior was open, and we were able to visit the 1279 cathedral and see its famous sculpture of St. George and the Dragon that was created in 1489. (You can also see a copy of this sculpture on the walking tour of Gamla Stan.)

Nobel Museum

Many of the buildings were closed for renovation, but we had time to visit the Nobel Museum to learn about many of the awardees and their inventions. The museum also contains memorabilia from many of the past Nobel banquets including plates, silver, and dresses.

Colorful Buildings near Nobel Museum

The colorful houses around the Nobel Museum square provided great photo ops. We used the remainder of the afternoon to stroll along the main pedestrian street.

On our second full day in Stockholm, the City Hall called our name. The building is easy to find because of its 350-foot-tall tower topped by three crowns, the symbol of Sweden. We arrived early to get tickets to the tour, the only way to see the building, and to go up to the top of the tower. The tower is accessible via stairs—all 365 of them. (The tower was built to be one meter taller than the tower in Denmark.) The views over the city make the climb worth it.

Stockholm City Hall

The magnificent City Hall is impressive. The building is the seat of Stockholm government and also houses the Nobel banquet—all 1,300 diners--in the massive Blue Hall. (The room was originally intended to be covered in blue plaster to symbolize Lake Maleren, but the architect saw how beautiful the bricks were and left them unplastered; however, the name, “Blue Hall,” stuck.) The Nobel banquet is held on December 10th of each year, the date that Nobel died.

We were able to see the council room—Stockholm has 101 elected city officials--and then visit the Gold Room, named for the more than 18 million gold-tiled mosaics that decorate the room. (Yes, they really are made of gold!) The mosaic art in the room displays symbolism of Swedish history and pride.

After the City Hall tour, we headed back to the island of Djurgården to visit the Viking Museum. (It would have saved some steps to have gone to this museum at the same time as the Vasa Museum, but we weren’t certain how much time we would have.)

The Viking Museum with Alex, Our Guide

The Viking Museum was recommended by a friend who described it as “cheesy” and, yes, that might be a good description, but our docent made the visit spectacular. Remember the costumed tour guide we happened upon during our Gamla Stan self-guided walking tour? It turns out that he is also a costumed docent, for lack of a better word, for the Viking Museum. He brought the displays to life. I would love to go back and take his tour of Gamla Stan. Alex cleared up many myths surrounding the Vikings and included everyone in the presentation. He brought history to life in a way that entertained both young and old. (Don’t skip Ragnfrid’s Saga, aka the Viking ride.)

Ragnfrid’s Saga in the Viking Museum

We boarded the Viking Jupiter for our Scandinavian cruise on this afternoon, but we still had another half day to enjoy the picture-perfect summer weather of Stockholm and we spent most of it at Drottningholm Palace, located outside of Stockholm. This palace, which was built in the 1600s, is the actual home to the Swedish royal family even though the Royal Palace is located in Gamla Stan. In comparison to the 600 rooms of the Royal Palace, Drottningholm is small—only 200 rooms. The castle appears opulent, but much of the ornateness is, in fact, tromp l’oeil, a paint technique used to make details look three dimensional and, in this case, like gold and marble. Another way in which costs were kept down is the lack of furniture. Instead of furnishing every room completely, chairs were simply moved from room to room as needed.

Drottningholm Palace

The quiet countryside surrounding Drottningholm provides an idyllic setting to raise a family. In fact, this is the very reason the royal family officially moved to the site in 1981.

Drottningholm Palace Court Theatre

Drottningholm Palace also boasts the Court Theatre which was built in 1766. The theater is one of only two theaters from the 18th century that still maintain working wooden machinery under the stage to change sets. Unfortunately, we were not able to see under the stage at Drottningholm, but we had been able to see the machinery at the Castle Theatre in Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic. (For more information about the Cesky Krumlov Theatre, click here.)

Drottningholm Palace

Our final views of the palace, theatre, the Chinese Pavilion, and the park--all of which together are a UNESCO World Heritage Site—was from the boat that we boarded from the large wooden dock for a beautiful cruise winding through Lake Mälaren around small islands to take us back to the dock near the historic Stockholm City Hall and then back to our Viking ship to begin our Scandinavian cruise.

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