Top 10 things to do in Stockholm - from an ABBA Museum to archipelago tours and amazing meatballs
Swede dreams are made of this, says Tom Sweeney who marks your card for a long weekend in Europe’s coolest capital…
On August 10, 1628, the magnificent but top-heavy wooden warship Vasa (below) was launched in Stockholm Harbour. Twenty minutes later, Sweden’s Titanic turned turtle and sank with the loss of 50 of its 100 crew.
1. Vasa Museum
Thanks to the brackish water, the ship’s timbers remained intact on the seabed for 333 years. The wreck was raised in August 1961 and, after three decades of drying-out, reconstruction and ‘embalming’, unveiled in showroom condition in a museum built around it. At the opening ceremony in 1990, King Carl Gustaf cut a ribbon, much to the relief of the curators, who had feared he might break a bottle of bubbly against the bow and undo 29 years of painstaking preservation.
Details: Galarvarvsvagen 14, Djurgarden, vasamuseet.se; SEK130/€12.50
2. ABBA Museum
You can dance, you can jive, and you’ll definitely have the time of your life here. In a recording booth, choose an ABBA hit and sing along, then download your effort with a computer-generated score (the average is around 2,500 points — I got 744). Become the fifth member of the band by performing on stage with holograms of Agnetha, Bjorn, Benny and Anni-Frid — the free video is a unique souvenir. There’s a red phone on a table (above), and when it rings once a day, whoever answers it can chat with one of the four superstars. Fans will love the original memorabilia including costumes, instruments and album covers in umpteen languages. The sign at the entrance reads “Walk in. Dance out”, but you might have to be dragged out as it’s such a fun-filled experience.
Details: Djurgardsvagen 68, abbathemuseum.com; SEK250/€24
3. Subway Art
Stockholm has 100 Metro stations, and 90 of them have been decorated in spectacular style by 150 painters, sculptors and mosaic artists. The half-million commuters who pass through every weekday hardly notice the remarkable renderings, but visitors will be bowled over — especially if they stand taking photos during rush hours. Free guided tours in English are available on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from June to August; they start at 3pm from the SL customer centre in T-Centralen station (enter from Sergels Torg square) and last around an hour, and all you need to tag along is a valid Metro ticket.
Details: Citywide. visitstockholm.com/art-in-the-subway
The world’s oldest open-air museum, founded in 1891, depicts five centuries of how Swedes once lived and worked. The 100-odd historical homes, farmhouses, shops and workshops are originals, brought from all over the country and rebuilt on site. Staff wear period costumes, and there’s a Little House on the Prairie look to the place, though no nasty Nellie Olson running around sticking her tongue out. Popular attractions include the glassblower’s cottage, where visitors can watch craftsmen at work; and Seglora Church, which dates from the early 18th century and is a venue for posh weddings. When kids have had their fill of giggling at long johns hanging on washing lines, there’s a great petting zoo.
Details: Djugardsslatten 49-51, skansen.se; adult tickets SEK195/€19
5. Millennium Tour
Join a guided walk in the footsteps of journalist Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Girl With the Dragon Tattoo Salander. Saturday morning tours (plus Thursday evening, July to September) of the trendy Sodermalm district begin at Bellmansgatan 1, where Blomkvist lives, and end at Fiskargatan 9, where hacker Lisbeth has her €3m penthouse. There are stops at several of the characters’ hangouts, including the fictional Millennium magazine’s offices (above the real Greenpeace HQ) and the 7-Eleven where Lisbeth stocks up on frozen pizzas and cigarettes; Melqvist Kaffebar, where Blomkvist gets his caffeine kicks; and Kvarnen, the beer hall and restaurant where Lisbeth meets her rock chick pals and the Millennium journos wind down (go there for lunch post-tour). Tickets cost SEK 150 (€14.50).
6. Meatballs for the People
It sounds like a revolutionary rallying call, but it’s a corner diner, bar and shop in Sodermalm that’s busy morgon, middag och natt serving a dozen varieties of meatballs including reindeer, wild boar, rooster, salmon, bear and vegan. They all come with boiled potatoes and a choice of sour cream, tomato sauce or oxtail gravy, and a dollop of lingonberry jam is de rigueur. The restaurant re-opens this weekend after the summer break, but meanwhile, the same moreish menu was being served from its food truck, the Meatball Mobile, from noon to 7pm on sunny days next to Restaurant Djurgardsbrunn (Djurgardsbrunnvagen 68; check Instagram for details). If your only experience of Swedish meatballs is those bland little musket shots from Ikea, you’re in for an awakening.
Details: Nytorgsgatan 30, Sodermalm, meatball.se; instagram.com/meatballsforthepeople
7. Grand Hotel Smorgasbord
The Veranda Restaurant at the Grand Hotel lays on the smorgasbord by which all others are judged. At 565 kronor (€55pp) it’s not cheap, but the views of the harbour, Royal Palace and Old Town help take the sting out of the bill. This is a five-course affair, so pace yourself. Start with the herring dishes with boiled potatoes and tangy cheese. Next comes the gravlax — dry-cured and spiced salmon with dill and mustard sauces —plus several types of smoked salmon. This is followed by egg dishes, salads, pates and charcuterie. Then come the hot dishes,including meatballs. Finally, the decadent desserts. Wine is expensive in Sweden, so drink shots of the hotel’s homemade aquavit (schnapps) and beer chasers.
Details: Sodra Blasieholmshalmnen 8, grandhotel.se
This city centre hotel is so hip it should have a beard and tattoos. HTL has cut out everything deemed unnecessary to keep accommodation costs down, including apparently the vowels O and E from its name. This great-value, good-vibe place to stay is a five-minute walk from Central Station and staffed by the cool kids who graduated top of the class from the school of Scandinavian charm but without the smarm. Pay and check-in online before you arrive and receive your room key direct to your smartphone, meaning no reception desk queues on the way in or out. The HTL app includes a frequently updated Stockholm guide with top tips from local journalists, bloggers and bar and restaurant reviewers who know their capital city inside out.
Details: Kungsgaten 53, htlhotels.com; rooms from €120 B&B
9. Gamla Stan (Old Town)
The best bar in town, Wirstroms, is also home to the Stockholm branch of the Oxford Utd fan club, who are two very nice fellas. Wirstroms (founded 1998), which does great pub grub, is in the heart of Gamla Stan (founded 1252), which does great Instagram — it’s one of the best-preserved and most beautiful medieval old towns in Europe and is a joy to wander around. The cathedral is worth a quick look inside, and the changing of the guard at the Royal Palace is a top photo opp, but a visit to Gamla Stan is really for chilling and watching the world go by from a terrace table in Stortorget, the city’s oldest square. For a laugh, try getting up or down the 36 stairs at Marten Trotzigs Grand without meeting someone halfway and having to turn back — at only 90cm wide, it’s Stockholm’s narrowest alley.
Details: Wirstroms, Stora Nygaten 13, wirstromspub.se
10. Archipelago Tour
Stockholm is built on 14 islands, but there are 30,000 of them in the archipelago, where the River Malaren meets the Baltic Sea. Baltic might be a byword for hypothermia, but throughout the summer, when Stockholm swelters in temperatures of up to 25°C, you can join outdoors-loving Swedes for a dip — or a skinny dip — a stone’s throw from the city centre. Water buses and tour boats take sightseers out into the archipelago from dawn to dusk, dropping off and picking up at the bigger islands that offer visitors beautiful sandy beaches, great cafes and bars and fine restaurants.
SAS (flysas.com) flies from Dublin to Stockholm, with one-way fares from €49 (hand baggage only). The Arlanda Express train takes 20 minutes to the city centre (arlandaexpress.com; departures every 15 mins).
The Stockholm Pass offers free admission to 60 top attractions plus free bus, waterbus and canal and archipelago tours and discounts in shops and restaurants (stockholmpass.com).
See also visitstockholm.com