WHAT TO SEE
Located at the junction where Lake Mälaren meets the Baltic Sea, the 14 lush, green islands that make up Stockholm are interconnected by a network of historic and modern bridges. In fact, one of the first things every visitor should do is the Under the Bridge boat tour. There are over 75 museums and historic and cultural monuments generously spread across the islands. There is, of course, the highbrow Nobel Museum, devoted to the Nobel Prize, and also a museum that is dedicated to Sweden’s complicated relationship with alcohol, with a particularly inviting section on Absolut Vodka. Another offbeat place is the ABBA Museum, a tribute to the legendary group. The most popular museum is the Vasa, a concrete museum wrapped around a 69m-long wooden warship, with its original 100m-tall masts jutting out of the building’s rooftop. Like the Titanic, the unfortunate Vasa also sank on her maiden voyage, but much earlier, in 1628. More than three centuries later, the Swedes salvaged it in 1966 and spent the next 50 years painstakingly restoring it to its original glory, including the hundreds of sculptures that decorated it.
The imposing official Royal Palace is also a sight to behold. Its 1430 rooms and 660 windows mean it is among the largest palaces in the world. Other big attractions in the city include three World Heritage sites — the 17th-century Drottningholm Palace complex, the Woodland Cemetery, and Birka, a reconstructed Viking village.
WHAT ELSE TO DO
The Parliament House
It’s a Friday morning in June, with hesitant summer sunshine, the promise of clear blue skies, and Gamla Stan, Stockholm’s Old Town, is throbbing with life. On the pedestrian-only streets, hundreds of languages exclaim and exult over the sights, attractions, handicrafts, curios and souvenirs in this medieval inner city, built circa 12th century. In the last 900 years, Stockholm has grown, expanded and added modernistic architecture around it, but Gamla Stan remains unique.
Its narrow, winding cobblestone streets, with buildings painted in shimmering colours, reflect the sun’s rays in golden hues. Behind corners are cellars and frescoes. The world’s narrowest alley is located here — called Mårten Trotzigs Gränd, it is named after a German merchant who owned property in this area in the late 1500s. The alley contains 36 steps, is 90 cm at its narrowest point and connects the streets Västerlånggatan and Prästgatan. It is very easy to walk right by the entrance, so keep your eyes open. The place is also home to the Stockholm Cathedral, Nobel Museum, and The Parliament House, which proclaim their presence with impressive sizes and facades.
WHAT TO EAT
Besides drinking, Swedes love to eat, so the city is filled with restaurants of every stripe and size. I would suggest visitors stick to those serving New Nordic cuisine. More than just food, New Nordic cuisine is the name given to a new movement in Scandinavian cooking, inspired by the work and philosophy of Danish food activist Claus Meyer, who called for a return to a traditional style of cooking, simple local dishes and an emphasis on local produce.
I first tasted this at chef Niklas Ekstedt’s eponymous restaurant. He had rejected electricity in favour of wood-fired ovens and stoves, which imbue his creations with authentic smokiness. His embrace of 18th-century traditional styles earned Ekstedt his first Michelin star. We dined on a six-course set dinner — cold smoked mackerel, kohlrabi and pine, dried deer, vendace roe and charcoal cream, juniper-baked pike-perch, green peas and horseradish, hay-flamed dairy cow, cabbage and salsify, birch-fired pork, turnip and lovage and wood-fired, oven baked almond cake, rhubarb and herbs. My 21-year old nephew later described it as very forest, very elemental, very path-breaking. I remember walking out of Ekstedt feeling somewhat Swedish and heavier by a few kilos.
The other chef I was taken to meet was Fredrik Eriksson, winner of two Swedish Masterchef awards, the White Guide Award and chairman of the committee that organises the annual Nobel Prize banquets. He also owns an award-winning restaurant, Langbro Vardshus, located in a century-old building ensconced in a beautiful English park on the city’s outskirts. Here, we dined on a smorgasbord of dishes — herring, cod, char (salmon) in beurre blanc, hake fish on a bed of red and yellow beetroots and veal accompanied by new potatoes and white asparagus cooked like a light fricassee. Eriksson’s cooking is focussed on non-fussy, non-pretentious lines, emphasising the outstanding fresh produce amply available in Sweden.
WHERE TO PARTY
Most of Stockholm’s Nightclubs are on Sodermalm Island
Gorgeous hotel bars, cozy pubs, trendy clubs, stages both large and small — Stockholm has an impressive and diverse night life. On the Södermalm island, bohemian, rockabilly, reggae, fashionista, electro, gay clubs and cafes invite you in. I’d recommend Debaser, Under Bron and the gay classic Side Track. Popular bars include Morfar Ginko, Tjoget, Marie Laveau and Folkbaren. EDM fans know that Stockholm is home to house DJs such as Avicii, Alesso and Steve Angello, and that many of them often play here when they are not travelling the globe. The best ones are located in the Stureplan quarter, where they party till 3 am. Highly recommended is Sturecompagniet, with three floors and five dance floors.