To see Scandinavia at its best, go directly to Stockholm, Sweden, for Stockholm is not just the loveliest Scandinavian city, but is regarded as one of the most beautiful and cleanest capitals in the world. Situated between Lake Malaren and the Baltic Sea and built on 14 islands, it is, in equal parts, a third each, water, parks and green spaces, and urban city. To add to that, the urban part of the city is more than 750 years old, filled with well-preserved historic buildings in equally delightful neighborhoods.
So, what should one see when one visits Stockholm, you might ask. Well, here are the city’s ‘Top 10’ attractions.
1. Gamla Stan
Gamla Stan, or Old Town, ought to be at the top of your list. This is a place of Old World charm, with brightly painted buildings and medieval streets, which in the mid-13th century constituted the entire city of Stockholm. And since Gamla Stan is all about atmosphere, walking around is the best way to soak it up. The main street of interest here is Vasterlanggatan, liberally punctuated with shops and restaurants. Besides which, several ‘must-see’ attractions of the city are also to be found here, including the Royal Palace, the Parliament building, and Stortorget, the main square in the old town center, where all those picturesque, colorful houses are located.
2. Kungliga Slottet (Royal Palace)
Kungliga Slottet, one of Stockholm’s two royal palaces, is situated at the northeastern end of Gamla Stan, the Old Town. The more-or-less square palace, built in 1754, boasts no fewer than 608 rooms! Yet, this is not where the Swedish royalty resides: this is the palace set aside for the king and queen’s offices and used primarily for royal meetings. But still, since it’s open to the public, include this on your itinerary, especially if you’re partial to lavish interiors.
3. Riksdag (Parliament)
The Sveriges Riksdag, Sweden’s parliament, where its 349-member legislative body deliberates, is also worth seeing. Located on Helgeandsholmen island, between Gamla Stan and Norrmalm, the Riksdag complex consists of a series of architecturally interesting buildings, among them Rosebad – where the government is housed – Mercurius, Neptunus, Cephalus, the Members’ Building, and the East and West wings of the Riksdag. The oldest of these, Neptunus and Cephalus, have portions dating from the 17th century; and in the main legislative chamber, the regal Grand Stairway holds particular interest. There is a 500-seat public viewing gallery at the Riksdag, and scheduled, guided tours are offered year-round. There is no admission charge.
4. Storkyrkan (Cathedral)
Storkyrkan, or the cathedral, or great church, is located next to Kungliga Slottet, the Royal Palace in Gamla Stan. This is where monarchs were crowned. In the interior of this 14th-century building, you can view a Gothic sculpture of St. George slaying the mythical dragon. The cathedral is open daily, and is a freebee to boot.
5. Marten Trotzigs Grand
Here is one of the city’s more unusual attractions. To get there, take any of the streets heading to the southern end of Stadsholmen, such as Prastgatan, which runs parallel to the shopping street Vasterlanggatan, and look for Marten Trotzigs Grand on your right. This is the narrowest street in the city, in some places no more than 90 cm (3 feet) wide! The alley emerges on Jarntorget, or Iron Square, which got its name during the Middle Ages, when iron trading was the dominant business in Stockholm.
6. Sergels Torg
Sergels Torg, or Sergels Square, lies at the very heart of modern Stockholm, on Sodermalm island. This is the new city center, a rectangular black-and-white plaza dominated by the glass cultural center, Kulturhuset, where scores of works of art draw the public’s attention from behind a see-through facade. The prominent fountain at the center of the plaza, a 37-meter-high glass obelisk, is the ‘Kristall’, completed in 1974.
7. Stadshuset (City Hall)
Stadshuset, Stockholm’s City Hall, is an architectural delight with a stately bell tower, 106 meters (300 feet) high, situated on the eastern point of Kungsholmen, the island to the west of the city center. It is perhaps Stockholm’s most prominent landmark, with one of the best views of the city. It is also, equally famously, the home of the Nobel Prize where, in the impressive Bia Hallen, the awards ceremonies are held every year in December. Guided tours are offered year-round, two daily during winter, and hourly during summer.
8. Vasa Museum
The Vasa Museum is built around a 17th-century warship, the ‘Vasa’, which sank off the southern tip of Djurgarden on its maiden voyage in 1628. The ship broke surface 333 years later, in 1961, remarkably well preserved. The ‘Vasa’ is 69 meters long and 11.7 meters wide, with a 19-meter mast and 64 guns on board. Two other ships at the museum are the icebreaker ‘Sankt Erik’ and a lightship ‘Finngrundet’, dating from 1915 and 1903, respectively. The museum is open to the public daily.
For a taste of upper-crust Stockholm, wander over to Ostermalm, the district to the east of Norrmalm and northeast of Sodermalm, where the streets are lined with expensive apartments, shops and restaurants. The ‘crustiest’ or most expensive of them all are on Strandvagen, singularly Stockholm’s most expensive residential neighborhood, at the southern end of Ostermalm.
10. Drottningholm (Royal Palace)
Drottningholm is the other Royal Palace, the actual residence of the royal family. It is located on Lovon island, some 10 km outside the city, reached either by land – car or tour bus – or by ferry, which leaves from the bridge by Stadshuset every hour. Built in the French Baroque style, around the same time as France’s Versailles, and frequently referred to as the ‘Nordic Versailles’, the palace displays a 17th-century opulence that you’re unlikely to find elsewhere in Northern Europe. Guided and self-guided tours of the palace and its grounds take in Queen Hedwig Eleonora’s decadent bedroom which took 15 years to complete, and the 18th-century Slottsteater, or court theater, which is believed to be the world’s oldest theater in its original state.