City Life: Stunning Stockholm

Surrounded by water and crammed full of divine eateries, exceptional museums and a wonderful LGBTQ+ scene, the Swedish capital has it all. Lottie Gross reports

A city sprawled across an archipelago of 14 distinctive and exciting islands, connected by 50 bridges and myriad ferry routes, the Swedish capital is a stunning city break destination.

It’s the water that surrounds its island neighbourhoods that gives Stockholm much of its appeal: not only is some of the city’s best fish plucked right from the glassy seas and served upon plates in fine-dining restaurants and at food halls, but the city’s most popular attraction – a gargantuan shipwreck dating back to 1628 – was also salvaged from the seabed and now sits proudly within a museum right by the water’s edge.

On land, there’s lots to love, too: an impossibly quaint, wonkily cobbled old town that looks like a living movie set; a royal palace; world-renowned museums on photography and music; and, of course, countless shops and boutiques packed with much-loved Swedish design pieces, from furniture to fashion.

One weekend could never be enough to experience it all, but that just means there’s always a good excuse to come back.

Why sell it?

Stockholm’s most famous residents – Benny, Björn, Anni-Frid and Agnetha, also known as Abba – had the ears of the world on their newest release in late 2021 and this May, the group are going to be reappearing on stage (by way of hologram) in a world-first concert series in London.

That means there’s never been a better time to take a pop music pilgrimage to the Swedish capital where Abba The Museum offers an immersive history of the band.

There are interviews with members, changing exhibitions and a vast collection of their glitzy 1970s costumes. There’s lots of appeal beyond Abba, though.

Not least that Stockholm, and the whole of Sweden, has been one of the most welcoming places throughout this tricky, travel-stifling pandemic. While lockdowns spread across Europe, Stockholm has remained relatively open with no strict stay-at-home legislation and few travel restrictions.

This city is a safe bet for anyone a little anxious about the changing nature of travel during coronavirus.

What’s new?

One of Stockholm’s coolest new hotspots is actually one of its oldest: the Östermalms Saluhall (foodhall) dates back to 1888 but was closed for five years prior to the pandemic for refurbishment.

It opened to smaller, socially distanced crowds in March 2020, but it’s now in full swing with divine bakeries, cheesemongers and Swedish fish specialists – don’t miss a light lunch at Lisa Elmqvist – filling up hungry travellers.

In more music history, Space Stockholm – a mammoth tech hub for gamers and e-sports competitors that opened in November – will host the Avicii Experience, a captivating exhibition about the late, great DJ’s life and work.

If gaming is your thing, you’ll want to book in for a session at the centre’s incredible, vast sci-fi-esque gaming rooms where hundreds of PCs whirr away as visitors play everything from Fortnite to Fifa.

When to go

One of the world’s northernmost capitals, Stockholm enjoys seasonal extremes. Summer brings near endless daylight and weather warm enough for swimming among the islands, while winter is by far the most enchanting time to visit.

Pack your thermals and you’ll forget about the icy-cold air and 3pm sunsets, as Stockholm is simply magical at this time of year. Think romantic night-time cruises on Strömma Group’s fleet to see the city lights twinkle on the water, outdoor markets selling glšgg (mulled wine) and gingerbread cookies, and cosy nights out in swish bars and restaurants.

Plus, you don’t need to get up early to enjoy the sun rise when you visit in winter.

Where to stay

The well-heeled will want to beeline for Stockholm’s Östermalm district, where high fashion, Scandi design and that historic food hall come together to create a brilliant base for a weekend of retail therapy. Villa Dagmar is the newest kid on the block – a vast hotel hidden behind a townhouse frontage next door to the Saluhall – and at weekends it’s the place to be for Stockholm’s swishest residents, who come for drinks and divine Mediterranean food in its covered courtyard bar. Its sister hotel, The Diplomat, is a 10-minute walk away and provides an equally elegant place to stay, with a tiny, speakeasy-style cocktail bar on the first floor, ideal for a creative nightcap before heading to bed. About 15 minutes to the west lies Miss Clara, a contemporary

city-centre hotel with a fantastic restaurant on the ground floor, while within the archipelago, Hotel Skeppsholmen is a stunning property where minimalist, modern design meets historic architecture in a 300-year-old building.

What to do

Stockholm’s must-visit attraction is the VASA Museum, where a once-wrecked 17th-century warship is propped up in a dry dock surrounded by viewing galleries at varying heights.

From here, it’s a short walk to Abba The Museum, located inside the Pop House Hotel, which does a brilliant brunch at weekends. The historic Cirkus theatre, meanwhile, sits just over the road.

Hipsters will want to head over to Södermalm (South Side), the city’s trendy neighbourhood where street art graces the walls of apartment blocks and cool concept stores line the streets.

If it’s a winter break, festive vibes are best found at Polkagriskokeri, one of Stockholm’s largest makers of candy canes, where you can watch a demonstration or take part in a class before breaking your teeth on Sweden’s sweetest treat.

A 20-minute drive from downtown Stockholm but well worth the trip, Millesgården is the idyllic home and garden of sculptor Carl Milles and his painter wife, Olga.

A collection of his artworks now graces the terraced grounds, which offer views over the water back towards the city.

Where to dine

The Östermalms Saluhall could dominate an entire weekend’s eating in Stockholm, but branching out to the likes of Taverna Brillo for casual Italian or hip Hotel Rival in cool Södermalm are equally rewarding – enjoy dinner and a show at the latter, which has its own theatre.

No trip to the city would be complete without trying a hasselback potato, and there’s no better place than at Hotel Hasselbacken.

Sitting directly opposite Abba The Museum, this vast hotel is said to be where the ridge-backed potato was invented, and you can try it with classic smoked herring, smoked salmon or truffle mayonnaise and parmesan.

One of the city’s culinary highlights, brasserie The Hills in Södermalm, opened last year. Start with champagne and oysters before moving on to sublimely cooked steaks, fish with lingonberries or Swedish wallenbergare (veal).

Pair it with

Gothenburg is just a three-hour train ride away from Stockholm, giving visitors to southern Sweden the chance to enjoy a twin-centre city break.

Head west from the capital to find a vibrant seaside city with a strong craft beer scene and endless opportunities to fika (the Swedish tradition of chatting with friends over coffee and cinnamon buns).

There’s history at the 17th-century Skansen Kronan hill fort and cutting-edge pieces at the Gothenburg Museum of Art, and from here you can venture out into nature in the southern archipelago.

The world’s most open city

In 1944, Stockholm was one of the first countries in Europe to legalise homosexuality, and today it bills itself as the most open city in the world.

Indeed, the Swedish capital is welcoming to all, but its strong and thriving LGBTQ+ scene is proof in the proverbial pudding, with LGBT-owned hotels and restaurants such as Villa Dagmar and The Hills providing welcoming spaces for all, while after dark offers some thrilling nights out.

Evenings should begin at Tuck o Hej, 2022’s hottest drag show in Stockholm, which takes place inside the historic Nalen concert venue and was created by charismatic queens Ceviche de Chocho and Brenda Mandlar.

The after party for lesbian, queer and bi women is at Klubb MOXY, just across the river from the central train station, while men can drink and dance all night long at Sidetrack and Backdoor.

The Secret Garden, in the heart of the old town, is one of the most popular post-dinner hotspots, with DJs spinning tracks until the early hours.

The city’s LGBTQ+ association has more inspiration for welcoming breaks in Stockholm. Stockholmlgbt.com

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