Thursday, August 9, 2012

Stockholm -- City That I Love

Stockholm -- one of my favorite cities

This is my submission for the '3 Things in the City' I Love contest by Velvet Escape, Traveldudes and

 Ask people to name their favorite city -- or the city they would most like to visit -- and many likely will say New York, London, Paris or Rome. After all, the world's capitals have much to offer, and I agree that visits to those places are wonderful.

But after living as an expat American in Finland for almost a year, I have had the opportunity to visit lesser-known cities -- cities that are just as beautiful, historic and fun -- but maybe not on everyone's list of "must-sees." Places like Helsinki, Finland; Tallinn, Estonia; Stockholm, Sweden; Copenhagen, Denmark; Brussels, Belgium, and St. Petersburg, Russia.

One of my favorite places is Stockholm, a city I certainly never would have visited if I wasn't living in Finland. It's probably best-known as the setting for the late author Stieg Larsson's "Millennium" trilogy and the home of IKEA and the pop group ABBA, but Stockholm is much more. Stockholm is exotic, yet accessible. It has a rich history, but it also has developed into a 21st-century leader in culture, technology and environmental issues.

The city known as the "Venice of the North" lies on a range of islands connected by bridges and canals. The city's origins date at least to 1252, and it has survived sieges, famine, plague and recession. Today, Sweden is ruled by a democratic parliament headed by the prime minister and a ceremonial king, Gustav XIV.

While a trip to Stockholm deserves at least a week, there are three things every visitor should see:
Gamla Stan

1. Gamla Stan -- Narrow cobblestone streets and colorful medieval buildings are a photographer's dream in Stockholm's Old Town. Set on an island, Gamla Stan is home to the Royal Palace, the Alfred Nobel Museum, a pretty town square with a bloody history, and a 700-year-old cathedral. Wander along the streets, stopping for a rest at one of the many cafes and restaurants. Shop in stores specializing in Scandinavian crafts or any of the myriad of tacky souvenir stalls.

Walking tours are a good way to enjoy Gamla Stan; the tourist office at Vasagatan 14 or at Arlanda Airport can help. Also check the official tourist website at

The Nobel Museum looks fairly mundane on first glance, but take the free guided tour (tours are offered throughout the day in different languages), and it becomes an intriguing history lesson of the greatest achievements of our time. For more information, visit

Don't miss a visit to the Royal Palace, especially the State Apartments and Royal Treasury. There is also the always-popular Changing of the Guard ceremony. Check for times and information.

The Vasa

2. Vasa Museum -- I'll be honest -- if a friend hadn't told me to visit this 17th century warship, I probably would have skipped it. Thank goodness I listened to my friend, because the Vasa is one of the most fascinating sights I've ever encountered in years of travel!

The Vasa sank 20 minutes into its maiden voyage in 1628. It sat at the bottom of Stockholm's harbor until it was rediscovered in 1956. Raised in 1961, a museum was built around the remarkably-preserved wooden behemoth and has become one of Sweden's top tourist attractions.

There is an interesting free film (shown throughout the day in different languages) that helps the visitor appreciate the massive undertaking to salvage the ship and the exhaustive restoration work. The museum also offers guided tours in different languages that are included in the admission fee.

It is remarkable that 95 percent of the Vasa's wood is original. The intricate carvings along the ship are works of art. The ship was so well-preserved, because the water in which it sank does not contain the wood-destroying saltwater clam that is prevalent in the oceans.

The Vasa has an excellent website. Even if you don't get to visit this marvel, you can read all about it at


3. Skansen -- I was really torn between selecting Skansen, a boat tour of the harbor or the Nordic Museum for my third choice. If you have more time, I recommend all of them! But a trip to Skansen, Europe's first open-air museum, is a trip back in time and fun for the entire family.

Opened in 1891, Skansen is a huge park filled with 150 original buildings -- farmhouses, schools, windmills, homes, village halls, mills, etc. -- that have been transported there from all over Sweden. It is a wonderful mix of architectural styles and culture that truly embraces the term "living history." The best part of the park is the costumed employees who will tell you everything you want to know. I particularly enjoyed talking with the "school marms" in the 1910-era schoolhouse. One room of the house was devoted to the school, while the other half was set aside for the teacher's living quarters.

Besides the buildings, Skansen offers a variety of events, such as the opportunity to help out with farm chores, learn traditional dances, or watch glassblowers at work.
The lemurs at Skansen's Zoo

The other major component of Skansen is the zoo. There are bears, moose, elk, spiders (yuck!), snakes (double yuck!), boar, seals, you name it, in both indoor and outdoor enclosures. My absolute favorite animals were the lemurs, who hung out on the walkways, the little ones piled on top of their mothers, while a zoo employee stood nearby to make sure visitors didn't get too close. 

I spent over two hours at Skansen, and you could easily enjoy an entire day there. For information, visit the website at

Of course, there is much more to see and do in Stockholm. There are great restaurants, shops, food halls, museums, parks and more. Just writing this makes me want to go back (and fortunately, I am returning very soon!). I hope you get to visit soon, too!

Modern Stockholm



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