Earlier this fall, I was fortunate enough to spend a long weekend in what is often referred to as the capital of Scandinavia: Stockholm. Prior to my visit, my knowledge of the city was extremely limited — much of it might have been colored, unwillingly, by Stieg Larsson novels — but using a host of online resources and Roadless, a brilliant web app for travel planning, I meticulously planned activities for my three-and-a-half day visit.
Stockholm doesn’t boast a singular iconic structure or image that people around the world can recognize instantly, but what it doesn’t have in grandeur it makes up for in its remarkable and attractive layout of islands and waterways. Despite its unusual geographical setup, Stockholm is also fairly convenient: most places I ventured to were just a quick subway or bike ride away. For me, Stockholm represents that perfect balance between a bustling metropolis and a smaller city, much like my native Montreal.
During my exploration in Stockholm, five activities resonated quite deeply with me and are described below.
My visit to Stockholm coincided with the last phase of my training before the NYC Marathon and the appearance of some stunning fall colors. My favorite place for a run while in Stockholm was Djurgarden, which hosts some of the city’s museums (including #4, Vasa Museet) and has beautiful walking trails and magnificent trees. You can use public transit or walk from central Stockholm in about half an hour. It would be easy to spend an entire day wandering around this island.
2. The Stockholm Subway
On my first afternoon in Stockholm, I took a fascinating tour of the underground, Stockholms tunnelbana. The subway system, sometimes regarded as the world’s largest art exhibition (it spans 110 kilometers!) displays artwork in its stations that dates back as far as the 1950s. Many of the stations are uniquely photogenic. At a couple of stops, the bedrock has been left exposed and has been colored. Two beautiful subway stations that will stop you dead in your tracks are Radhuset and T-Centralen. Don’t stop there, though — there is plenty of other great art to be discovered. Check out this link for more details.
3. Gamla Stan
Stockholm’s Old Town (Gamla Stan) is well worth a visit. Dating back to the 13th century, its stunning cobblestone streets and narrow alleyways harken back to the city’s earlier days. Its building facades of beige, yellow, orange, and red will capture your heart and have you snapping away. If you need a break, check out the appealing cafes, bars and shops nearby.
Within the island of Gamla Stan, you can visit the Royal Palace (Kungliga slottet) as well as the Stockholm Cathedral and the Nobel Museum. If you don’t have time for any of these sites, be sure to at least go for a wander through some of Gamla Stan’s beautiful streets and alleys.
4. Vasa Museum
This was my favorite museum in Stockholm. It tells the story of the 69-meter-long warship, Vasa, which sank on her maiden voyage back in 1628. 333 years later, after being located outside of a Stockholm harbour, the ship was retrieved. Through great photos, informational displays and videos, Vasa’s story (including its incredible recovery in 1961) is told succinctly and beautifully.
Fotographiska is a marvelous center devoted to contemporary photography that opened in 2010. Each year, four major exhibitions and twenty minor exhibitions are presented. While I was there, a jaw-dropping set of images by Pieter Hugo were being featured (including work from his acclaimed Permanent Error).
Although its location is a bit of a trek, it is a must-visit for any photography enthusiast and getting there offers a glimpse of everyday Stockholm off the tourist circuit. Fotographiska is located on Södermalm (a southern island in Stockholm) and as a result, the museum’s top floor has some of the best views of the city. Be sure to pop up for a coffee or a bite to eat after checking out some of the exhibits.