Stockholm – The City That Surprised Me

Stockholm – The City That Surprised Me

Making it to Sweden had been towards the top of my bucket list for quite some time. My closest European ancestor, my great grandmother, was born there so I have family ties. I mostly wanted to go there to see what it was like overall. There wasn’t some historical monument, museum or natural scenery that drew me there. Sweden doesn’t have Rome’s ancient ruins nor does it have the beautiful fjords of Norway. In researching what to do in Sweden, and more specifically Stockholm, there were times were I became underwhelmed and worried I wouldn’t find enough enjoyable activities to occupy my time there. However before I landed in Stockholm I was able to create a list to at least give me several options.

I landed in Stockholm mid-afternoon after an early morning flight out of Norway. The Stockholm Arlanda airport was packed full of travelers as it was July which is the busiest travel season in the area. The airport itself is located a long ways from the city center so I opted to take the nonstop train to get me to where I needed to go. The express train wasn’t the cheapest way to get to Stockholm from the airport, but it was certainly the easiest and fastest. There were signs and ticket stands all over the place. The train itself wasn’t very busy compared to the rest of the airport and I was easily able to find a seat in a row by myself and a spot for my luggage.

The train let me out at the Stockholm central station which was quite a maze of place to go.  I found an exit and took a minute to get my bearings as to where I was.  My hotel was about half a mile away.  There were options to take the light rail to get closer to my hotel but I didn’t want figure that out and hold all of my luggage at the time.

My first impressions of Stockholm were that it was, like many large European cities, a mix of modern and old buildings.  There was plenty of construction happening to the roads and buildings.  Multiple light rail trains passed by packed with passengers.  It was a nice summer day so the streets were filled with people out enjoying the weather.  As I walked further away from the central station the busyness of the city subsided somewhat and I found myself on some nearly empty sidewalks the closer I got my hotel, the Kungstradgarden.  I had purposely picked this hotel as it was close enough to many things in Stockholm but wasn’t in a busy area.  I also picked it since it had AC, which is not common in Sweden with its short summers.

It took me a minute to find the hotel entrance since my GPS gave me an address that wasn’t quite right.  I walked down a couple of roads before I finally found it.  The entrance was not very well marked, but that was where the negatives about my stay at the Kungstragarden ended.  I walked into the hotel and was greeted by the friendly hotel staff.  They checked me in andshowed me where my room was located.   My room was perfect size for me and was nice and cool as opposed to the warm summer air outside.  This ended up being my favorite hotel of the 9 I stayed in throughout my Scandinavian trip.

Gamla Stan, Stockholm

After I got settled into my room I decided to venture out. I had picked the location of my hotel in close walking distance to a lot of parts of Stockholm including the old part of town known as Gamla Stan. My first stop in the Gamla Stan area was the Nobel Museum. The museum itself wasn’t too large, it was all on one floor. It contained the history of Alfred Nobel, both his personal life and his scientific discoveries. There were the usual relics you would find in any museum from winners of the Nobel Prize. Some of the items were the actual tools used in their experiments, while others were a simple as a clothing item that was worn. The audio tour was innovative as I was able to do it through my phone and headphones rather than one of those devices you have to hold up to your ear and push the number at each station. I found the museum very interesting and would say is a must go to if you are in Stockholm and are interested inscience and history.

It was late afternoon when I left the museum, which gave me some time to explore the Gamla Stan area before dinner.  The street were narrow and mostly filled with people.  This area reminded me of walking through the streets of Rome, which I was not expecting.  There were restaurants, souvenir shops and art galleries in this area.  It was certainly a mixture of tourism and culture.

Before I got dinner I wanted to check out one of the many local breweries in Stockholm. I had been able to find OmnipollosHatt that was not too far of a walk from Gamla Stan so I made my way there. The streets, bars and restaurants with outdoors seating had become more crowded now that the working population was out and about. I found the brewery about a block off of one of the main roads. It was quite full inside and there wasn’t an empty seat anywhere. There was a small area outside with some open space. I ordered my beer, a stout, at the bar and headed outside. I enjoyed this beer quite a bit that I went back in for another one. By this time the indoor area had slightly cleared out so I sat at the bar. I would have stayed at this place and tried a few more brews but I was getting hungry. There was a place I had walked by on my way to the brewery that looked good so I decided to check it out. They had a large outdoor seating area along the sidewalk, a great selection of local beers and the first of several good meals I would have in Sweden.

My evening was not complete with dinner.  I still had some more exploring to do.  That meant a stop at the world’s first permanent ice bar.  I had never been to one before and they had always intrigued me.  I made a quick stop at my hotel room to grab some warmer clothes, which I found weren’t necessary, and walked through the still busy evening streets to the centrally located ice bar.  The ice bar resided in a hotel lobby.  I found the register where I paid the entrance fee that included a drink and the use of a parka with gloves and then opened the door to the refreshing winter environment.

I had read that there were themes that the bar changed periodically but did not know what the current one was until I was actually inside the bar. The theme at the time was “Welcome to the Promised Land” detailing the journey Swedes made to the Americas in the late 19th and early 20th century. It really hit home for me considering the reason I was in Sweden was to see where my ancestors were from. The drinks were named after several US states, I of course, got the Minnesota. The walls were filled with information about where the Swedish immigrants moved to in the US, including a lot about Minneapolis and St Paul. All of this information really enhanced my experience at the ice bar that I don’t think I would have gotten otherwise.

The bar itself was pretty small.  There was maybe room for about 50 people at full capacity.  It had only a few different benches to sit on with ice sculpting’s around the outside.  The drinks were served in an ice glass, which was a unique experience.  I had to hold it with my gloves to keep my hands warm.  I didn’t spend a lot of time here.  I finished my drink and then returned my parka and gloves.   The Ice Bar was a nice place for a quick visit and I’m definitely glad I went.  By this time I was exhausted from my travel adventures of the day and decided to call it a night.  I needed to conserve some energy for my remaining days in Sweden.

I spent most of the next day in Orebro, a two hour train ride from Stockholm, visiting where my great grandmother was born.  I did get back to Stockholm in the early evening to grab some dinner at a wood fire pizza place near my hotel.  It was very similar to the wood fire pizza places that are popping up in the US were you order at the counter, find a place to sit and they bring out your pizza 5 minutes later.  Like many of the Stockholm restaurants this one had seating on the sidewalk.  It was another beautiful summer evening to sit outside surrounded by the Stockholm city buildings and enjoy a beer and some pizza.

By the time I was done eating the sky was nearing night time.  I had wanted to get a bird’s eye view of the city.  There was a rooftop bar nearby that I had found.  There was a short line on the street outside of the building to get in where a bouncer would periodically let people in.  I waited my turn and went up a packed elevator about 15 floors where it opened to the top of the building.  There were actually two different bars there.  For a Wednesday night the places were packed with young Swedes.  The music was loud and there were crowds of people around tables and lining the bar.  I felt a little out of place here as it seemed like most of the crowd was in their early twenties.  The atmosphere was much like the college bars I used to go to.

I grabbed a drink from the bar, which took forever and unfortunately only included options from large macro breweries like Brooklyn Brewing and Corona.  I found a spot in a quieter area of the rooftop and took in the view from above Stockholm.  The lights all around the city had begun to illuminate the skyline.  I could really only see well on two sides of the building but I had a nice view of the Gamla Stan area I had been at yesterday.

I finished up my beer and decided to head back to my hotel.  It would have been nice to stay up there for a little longer but I wasn’t about to wait another 20 minutes just to get a light beer I could get at home.  If I would have had the time I might have stopped back there during the day to get a glimpse of what the city looked like then but I ended up not finding another opportunity to make it.

The next day was my last full day in Sweden, and actually my last full day of my 14 day trek across Scandinavia.  I started my day with Swedish pancakes at my hotel, which I had found they served on most days.  Surprisingly most restaurants in Stockholm did not serve Swedish pancakes and I found theincluded hotel breakfast was the best place to get them.

Once I had finished my pancakes I walked out of the hotel to another beautiful summer day.  I walked about two blocks to the light rail station so I could take it to the Vasa Ship Museum.  The light rail system, and the overall public transportation in Stockholm was fairly easy to use.  Stockholm has a very comprehensive public transportation system that included subways, light rail, buses and ferries, making getting around very easy.  I had bought a 3 day traveler pass that allowed me to use any of the local public transportation options with unlimited use for my time there.

The light rail that morning took me to the museum area of Stockholm, which included the Viking Museum, ABBA museum and the Vasa Ship Museum among many others.  I had chosen the Vasa Ship Museum over the other because of the historical significance and the fact that the actual ship was in the museum.  As I walked off the light rail towards the Museum there were crowds of people around going to the different museums.  Multiple signs were placed along the walkways to point in the direction of each of the museums.  I followed thoseto the Vasa Ship Museum, along with several other people, until I made it to the entrance.

It was still early in the morning and the museum had just opened so the line to get in wasn’t too long but there were people waiting outside. I entered the museum which consisted of a large room that was overtaken by the Vasa ship. I downloaded the app on my phone for the audio tour guide, similar to the one at the Nobel Museum, so I could learn all about the massive sea vessel standing in front of me.  The Vasa Ship itself was largely intact from its original form when it sank in the Stockholm harbor on its maiden voyage in 1628.  It had been discovered and recovered in the 1960s and now stands in the museum.  It was fascinating how much of the ship was still in good condition.  There were artifacts that had been found within the ruins along with the bones of people that perished when the ship sank displayed throughout the museum.  The fact that the ship and many of the artifacts found were in good condition have given historians a lot of information as to what life was like 400 years ago.   One of the really amazing things they were able to do was to determine the colors used on the artwork throughout the ship.  While visitors weren’t able to actually board the ship we could get close enough to get a good view of the interior.  In all I spent a couple of hours at the Museum that I thought was well worth my time and I found to be one of the most interesting museums I had ever been to.

I left the museum and hopped back on the light rail to my hotel room. I was happy it was such a nice day because one of the things I had wanted to do was to get out on the water on a paddleboard. If you don’t know about Stockholm, it is actually a city that sits on several islands and some of the waterways and canals between those islands were ideal for paddle boarding. I found a place that rented paddleboards by the hour and took the subway, called the tunnelbanna, from my hotel to get there. When I got to the rental shop I was able to lock up my belongings and just take myself on the water. I made my way thought the canals where other paddle boarders, kayakers and boaters traveled. I passed by a couple of beaches/parks that were packed with young people out enjoying the day. Before I knew it my rental time of 2 hours was over. It was late afternoon by this time and I was ready to get cleaned up for the evening.

Considering it was my last evening in Stockholm I wanted to get to at least one, if not more, breweries.  I had found one that was actually in an old church that looked like it had good options.  It was about a 15 minute ride on the tunnelbanna to an area of town I had not yet been to.  Unfortunately I got there only to find out they were closed for the month for summer vacation.  A strange concept to be closed in the middle of summer during peak tourist season, but one I had found in a few places in Norway and Sweden.

At this point I was hungry and wanted to find somewhere to eat.  I didn’t find many good options in the area I was in so I took the tunnelbanna back to the Gamla Stan area.  While on the tunnellbanna I had found a good burger place in the area, however after I got off the train and started to walk down the street I came across a place called the Hairy Pig.  It had tables set outside and a restaurant menu posted that I decided to check out.  The menu was filled with locally raised meat and local beer choices, I was sold.

There were multiple sausages to choose from. I ordered one sausage along with the pork belly. Once I was finished with those two items I decided to order another sausage because of how good the first one was. It had been a long time since I had a meal that good. This was a hidden gem that I had found within Stockholm. It was a restaurant that hadn’t come up as a top option on any of my searches when looking for places to eat and it should have been. Anyone that gets to Stockholm and wants some excellent local food needs to get to the Hairy Pig.

After my meal I walked around the Gamla Stan area a little bit more, did some last minute souvenir shopping before the end of my trip and stopped at another bar with multiple local beer options.  I also stopped at this bar as it was near the ferry I wanted to take across the waterway since I hadn’t been on the ferry yet.  The ferry wasn’t departing for another half an hour so I had some extra time.  The bar I had found didn’t have any outdoor seating and was a bit quieter than some of the streets outside.  It was a nice reprieve from the busy summer crowds.

I walked towards the ferry once I finished my beer and got aboard.  The sun was setting as the ferry took off from its port and I got a very good view of Stockholm all around.   The ferry took me back to the Museum area that I had been at earlier in the day.  I didn’t have a reason to be here other than to have taken the ferry.  I walked past the ABBA Museum that I considered going to but it was too late in the day, maybe when I get back to Stockholm I’ll get there.

From this area I took the light rail to the last couple of breweries I would get to. There were two breweries I had found close to each other. They were in a quieter part of Stockholm. The first brewery only had one other person in it so I got server very quickly. The beer here was probably my least favorite of any I’d had so far in Sweden. It made sense to me why this place wasn’t very busy. The next brewery actually ended up being a tap room with beers from multiple local breweries which was great. This place wasn’t very busy either but the beers I had here were very good. I found a small table on the sidewalk where I people watched for a bit before I decided to call it a night so I could pack to get on a plane back home the next day.

My time in Sweden was coming to a close and even though I hadn’t been home in two weeks I was not ready to leave yet. I certainly could have stayed and explored Stockholm for at least another few days if not longer. Stockholm was a city that I had come to with little expectations. It rose above those expectations, the food, the beer, the people, the history. I enjoyed pretty much everything about Stockholm and it became one of my favorite cities. It is very close to the top of my list to get back to. It was a city that certainly surprised me.


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