Now, tell me the truth: when you think about Sweden, what comes first to your mind: the super trooper Abba? H&M fashion? Volvo cars? Good looking, tall, blonde people? Squeaky clean cities?
Well, whatever comes to your mind, there’s much more to the country than the above…
Visiting the Swedish capital has always been on my list, knowing it is considered one of the most beautiful cities in the world. But it took me long – maybe too long, in fact – until this trip materialised, and I still ask myself why I waited so long.
I arrived in Stockholm in a cold late summer morning, after taking a 6am flight from London, to find I was booked out from the hotel I originally booked. Once in my new hotel, and a couple of lost hours later, I had to rethink the list of things I wanted to do and see in the Swedish capital in the short time I had, and went straight to its famous historical district of Gamla Stan, which occupies its own island. It is arguably one of the world’s best preserved medieval towns, and even if you have not seen many medieval cities, you will have to agree.
With lots of alleyways with low arched passages, it was a delight to allow myself to get lost on those narrow streets, just to sometimes end up in a small, beautiful square with houses that seemed right out of a fairytale set… or to be found by a loud ginger guy in full Viking custom, inviting me to pose for a picture for a few kronas.
In the same area, you will also find the colossal building that is the Royal Palace. With more than 600 rooms, it is the biggest palace in the world still used by a head of state, and is open to visitors. The entrance costs 100SEK (free with Stockholm card), and you will see the reception rooms with their magnificent interiors from the 18th and 19th centuries, the Hall of States with Queen Kristina’s original silver throne, Gustav III’s Museum of Antiquities, and many royal customs and armour.
To wrap up the royal palace visit, do not miss the change of guard, which happens at 12:00 daily in summer and only Wednesday, Saturdays and Sundays in winter.
After a long stroll around Gamla Stan and the Palace visit, I needed a break, and I stopped at a small, old café, with very low ceiling and a cosy atmosphere, to enjoy a nice coffee and one of their tasty looking cakes. I tried a very divine blackberry cake with custard that probably made my sugar levels sky-high, but any risk of having a sugar rush, is well worth taking!
When done with my cake and strong, heart-racing-making coffee, it was time to see Stockholm from a different perspective. The city is surrounded by water, and one of the best ways to enjoy it is on a boat tour. And there I went.
It was late afternoon, and the sunset light intensified the beige, red and brown of the buildings and towers, making them even more picture perfect. And it’s from the water that you will be mesmerised by the beautiful architecture of this city formed by several small islands, and connected by hundreds of bridges. You can choose from several different types of tours availalable, but a good option is the hop on hop off service, which gives you unlimited travel for 24 hours and can even be combined with bus service.
At the end of my first day, I came to the conclusion that the clichés are only clichés (but the city is very clean and the locals do look great) and that Stockholm’s old town should be called Gamla Stunning!
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