Normal people don’t fly to Stockholm to play tourist in the winter. For a weekend. But I did, and I had a full day in what was actually my first trip to any Nordic city. I highly recommend that you check out the website VisitStockholm.com to learn more about what to do before your trip.
Fortunately, the weather was on my side. It was cold and partly cloudy but not snowing or overcast. Stockholm gets even less light than Seattle, where it regularly gets dark an hour before sunset simply because there are so many clouds. I was able to enjoy the sunshine from about 8 AM until 4 PM, though even at noon it was still barely above the rooftops.
I started out by visiting the City Hall, just a couple blocks from the hotel. Despite the very different climate it reminded me of the Palazzo Ducale in Venice thanks to the open courtyard and the arcade. There are tours you can reserve in advance (weirdly, in English and Russian only as far as I could tell), but you don’t need one just to walk around.
Getting around Stockholm was fairly easy. Most everything I wanted to visit was within walking distance, though the various islands and peninsulas meant that sometimes what was clearly a short distance was actually a long, roundabout trip. If you need it, there are lots of buses, a light rail, and water taxis. What looks like a river is probably better described as a thin strip of ocean. Stockholm actually sits in the middle of a large archipelago. Most boats seemed to be on hiatus for the winter, but there is supposed to be a big business in the summer months ferrying people to the islands further out to sea.
After leaving City Hall I crossed the bridge to see the Royal Palace, or at least walk by. It was difficult to distinguish it from other large buildings in the old town area. Unlike Buckingham Palace, for example, there are no surrounding grounds — just the building itself. It also seemed to be the least secure palace ever. Just one guard by each entrance and one entrance on each side.
Crossing back, I continued walking along the waterfront. Many boats were moored for the winter, and it looked like at least one museum was closed during renovations. My destination was Skeppsholmen, a small island where the Moderna Museet and adjacent architecture museum are located. I promised Megan I’d check them out.
The Moderna Museet is Sweden’s most popular museum, and it did seem to have some cool exhibits — though I’m not really a fan of the stuff. My favorite was a temporary exhibit on sculpture, including this giant dog by Jeff Koons. It was a surprisingly accurate recreation of a balloon animal.
A few other pieces caught my eye in the main galleries.
Next door was the architecture museum, which was free while they installed a new exhibit. The main exhibit that was still open filled only one room and was a little underwhelming. However, they had an interesting overview of the history of architecture with models and videos of examples spanning thousands of years. One of my favorites were an example of infill, when a pharmaceutical company expanded its campus by constructing new buildings between the existing ones (rather than picking up and moving elsewhere).
There was also a representative model, showing how different styles of architecture had influenced the development of housing in Gothenburg. At different times there were focuses on maximizing light, increasing ventilation, or breaking up rigid grids.
A little after 1 PM I left to head further east toward the Vasa Museum. This was my main destination as I’d heard so much about the 17th century battleship that immediately sunk on the day it was launched. Apparently the residents of Stockholm managed to forget where it sank in their own harbor, and it wasn’t discovered until the mid-20th century by some divers who began a meticulous search.
They eventually dug out some tunnels underneath and slowly lifted it. Much of the ship was still intact, and the few parts that were replaced, like the mast were relatively uninteresting anyway. (Carvings and other detailed features on the rest of the ship are largely original.) It now sits inside its own building with a carefully controlled climate.
Walking around several floors you can peer in at every part of the ship. There are still tables, ladders, and other features that make it look like it could set sail tomorrow if they really wanted to!
Across from the Vasa is the Nordiska Museet. While an impressive building, I wanted to explore more of the city. This area is actually just a small portion of a very large park that has dozens of attractions. Most of which are probably more enjoyable in the summer, but there were still many tourists out and about by mid-afternoon.
I walked all the way back, past my hotel, and through the old town to Södermalm. The old town did not impress me much. Like the area near Notre Dame, the streets were lined with cheap shops and restaurants catering to tourists. But a reader alerted me to a chocolate shop in Södermalm, Chokladfabriken, where I was able to get an afternoon coffee, pastry, and a present for Megan.
Finishing my treat, it was nearly dark, but I still had lots of time before dinner. I made one last stop at Fotografiska, a museum of contemporary photography. No pictures were permitted, but it was definitely worth the longer walk to the other side of the water from where I started. There’s also a cool restaurant on the top floor with water views. I probably would have eaten there except I was still full from lunch.
I recouped from the cold in my room for a couple hours before heading out to get some dinner. I heard about a place called K25, which is one of several food courts in Stockholm along Kungsgaten. The hotel receptionist told me this is where all the cool kids like to hang out.
Though I was hoping for something more interesting to eat, several of the restaurants were actually parts of a chain. Still, I had some decent bibimbap and did some people watching. There were a lot of young people at K25, and the back wall has stadium-style seating that only adds to the sense of see-and-be-seen. Other food courts I passed on the way back to the hotel had much older clientele.
I wasn’t able to stay up very late on this trip. My flight left early in the morning, and I needed to allow time for the train and finding my way through an unfamiliar airport. But I think I saw a lot considering I had just one full day in Stockholm. I’m looking forward to going back, hopefully when the weather is more pleasant.