As I mentioned last week, we recently visited Sweden. We “sandwhiched” our trip with visits to Stockholm at the beginning and the end with a trip across the country to Trollhattan in the middle. Last week, I shared our trip to Trollhattan and this week, I share our visit to Stockholm.
We left early Friday morning on a 6:30 am flight from Geneva to Stockholm. This was our first trip with Easy Jet and it wasn’t too bad at all, but they really are bare bones because you only get one carry on and drinks (even water) aren’t included. But they are so much cheaper than many other airlines. The flight was about three and a half hours so we landed in Arlanda Airport around 9:30 am.
Our first order of business after retrieving our bags was to purchase a Stockholm Card, which gave us free use of the public transit and free admission to all the sights we wanted to see. We then headed over to pick up our rental car and drove to our hotel. One thing I hadn’t realized about Stockholm was that even though Arlanda is the “main” airport, it is also the farthest from the city. Driving, it’s about 45 minutes to downtown and taking the express train will get you there in 30. Initially, we were just going to park the car at the hotel or train station and take public transit to Gamla Stan. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find the parking lot that our hotel described and after 15 minutes of searching, we gave up and just drove into the city.
Parking was actually far easier and cheaper than we had expected. We parked just below Gamla Stan on Soldermalm Island and it was only about a 10-15 minute walk to Gamla Stan. We started our tour of the old town with Rick Steves’ walking tour (see the stops and sights of the tour on the map below). We started at the Slussen area where the locks are and walked up to Järntorget, an old customs square. We then wound our way through some of the old narrow streets of Gamla Stan. We passed the German Church and an old viking rune stone. At the tops of the old houses, we could see the hoists merchants used to lift goods into their attics and medallions telling firefighters that the occupants had paid their tax and the house was allowed to be rescued from fire.
View Gamla Stan Walk in a larger map
Our next stop was the Cathedral (Storkyrkan). The floor of the church is almost entirely old tombstones. Near the front of the Cathedral were the royal boxes: elaborately decorated boxes where the royal family would sit. There was also a really amazing statue of Saint George and the Dragon from 1489 and a painting from the 1500’s of what the city used to look like. The cathedral is where the crown princess of Stockholm was married in 2010 and where the other Swedish princess was married just a few days after we left.
After visiting the Cathedral, we continued our walking tour of Gamla Stan by heading to Stortorget, Stockholm’s, Oldest Square. The Nobel Museum is in this square so we stopped in for a visit. It was really neat to see the history of the Nobel prize and artifacts from many of the winners. On the ceiling, there were portraits of every prize winner rotating kind of like clothing at the dry cleaners.
Following our visit to the Nobel Museum, we headed over to the Royal Palace. There is so much to see at the palace and we didn’t have time to see it all. We were lucky to arrive about 10 minutes before the changing of the guard at the outer courtyard. While we didn’t get to see the really big, famous changing of the guard ceremony with the parade and band at noon, we still got to see a smaller version and it was pretty neat to see the choreography.
Once the guard had changed, we headed into the palace. Unfortunately, photography was not permitted inside (but I’ve included some of the official photos from the palace website). My first impression of the inside of the palace was that it was a lot different from I was expecting. There was a lot of really dark brown and green stone and marble We first visited the Royal Apartments. Since the palace is still the official residence of the royal family (even though they don’t live there all the time), the apartments are still used for official state functions like receptions and state visits by visiting diplomats. Most of the rooms were massive and still had many of the old/original furnishings from the 17th and 18th century!
After visiting the apartments, we headed to the royal armory. The armory was more of a museum now, showcasing armor and weapons that royals and their horses wore for battle. It also had items like the cape worn by a previous king for his coronation and a previous queen’s wedding dress. We also visited the treasury, which is where they keep the crown jewels. They had all the crowns of monarchs dating back to the 1500’s and even some of the ceremonial swords and sceptres. The workmanship on the crowns was amazing to see.
At this point, we were pretty tired of walking but luckily we had planned to take a canal boat tour. So, we headed on over to the canal boat office over on Normalm to reserve our tickets. We had about an hour and a half till our departure time so we headed into the city to get a bite to eat and take a break before heading to the canal boat. The canal boat was covered and had plenty of seating so it ended up being very relaxing. The tour itself was in several languages, you just had to put on your headphones and select the language you wanted. The information the tour shared about everything we were seeing was very interesting. We departed between Gamla Stan and Normalm islands and circled clockwise around Stockholm’s garden island, Djurgarden (see map below for our route). Djurgarden was really beautiful and it was really neat to see the city from the water.
View Stockholm Royal Canal Boat Tour in a larger map
After about an hour, the tour was over and we headed back through Gamla Stan along the water. Just after crossing the bridge from Gamla Stan to Soldermalm, there is a really tall tower with a bridge connecting it to a building. The tower is a viewpoint over the city, but unfortunately the elevator is broken. Luckily, we realized that at the top of the building is a restaurant so we headed up to the restaurant to grab dinner and enjoy the view of the city. Often restaurants like that with a view don’t have great food, but this one did. I wasn’t very hungry so I only had an appetizer as my meal, but it was really good. I asked our waitress for a typical Swedish dish from the menu and what I got was a piece of buttery toast with fish roe, onions, and sour cream. The flavors were amazing together and perfectly balanced and it just melted in my mouth. For dessert I also asked for something typically Swedish and ended up with braised rhubarb with vanilla cream, which was also good.
Before leaving the restaurant we spent some time enjoying the view at the end of the bridge near the viewpoint tower. The view was amazing and it was that time right before the sun sets when everything looks kind of golden. When we’d finished enjoying the view, we headed back to our car and out to our hotel.
As I mentioned earlier, we started our trip with Stockholm, then headed to Trollhattan for Saturday and Sunday and then returned to Stockholm Sunday evening. Sunday evening we stayed in a different part of the city called Nacka. Our hotel was along the waterfront and had an amazing view of Gamla Stan and Djurgarden. On Monday morning, we grabbed the water taxi from in front of our hotel and headed over to Djurgarden. There’s so much to see on Djurgarden and we only had a few hours in the morning to visit so we chose to see the Vasa Museum.
The Vasa Museum is really unique and interesting. Back in the 1600’s, the Swedish King commissioned a warship to be built. It was supposed to be the best one in his fleet with three rows of cannons instead of the usual two. On the ship’s maiden voyage in 1628 after sailing only about 1420 yards, the ship leaned too far to one side and water rushed in through the lower cannon doors and sank. In 1956, Anders Franzén found the Vasa and preparations were soon made to salvage the ship. In 1961 the final lift was made and the Vasa rose out of the water. Now, the vasa sits in the Vasa museum. It was really quite impressive to see it indoors in the museum. The museum is several stories all wrapping around the ship so we were able to see the Vasa from all sides and at all levels. There were also plenty of exhibits about the ship, the building, the sinking, the salvage, and life on board. Some of the salvaged pieces of the boat like the sails and ropes and pots, pans, and clothing from inside were on display. You could watch a film and take a free guided tour of the museum if you wanted.
After visiting the Vasa museum, it was time for us to head back to our hotel and then off to the airport. We really enjoyed our visit to Stockholm and to Sweden. Sweden is one of my favorite countries that we’ve visited in Europe so far. The people were all incredibly friendly and helpful and were more than happy to speak English to us. Often times in places like France and Italy, not everyone speaks English and even if they do, they don’t always want to speak English to you, but in Sweden we had no problems with the language. Sweden is also a very beautiful country and Stockholm was very clean and safe feeling. We definitely want to go back for another visit!