In July of 2018 we took a trip to Stockholm, Sweden to play tourist and visit our good friends Lasse and Marina. They are friends we met in Italy who have a vacation home there. First, my great thanks to both of them. They were the most gracious and generous hosts, taking days off to sightsee with us, hosting a party at their home outside of Stockholm with their family, and joining us for diner most every night in the city where we went to some great restaurants.
First impressions of Stockholm: clean, modern and full of life and activity. We were quite fortunate, we were told, as the weather was unusually nice for Stockholm. Our entire week was sunshine and temperatures around 25C (Mid 70’s F). Stockholm is far enough north that you get the midnight sun during the mid June through mid July period. Technically, it sets about 11PM, but it stays light enough to read by until it pops back up about 2AM.
We stayed at an AirBnB in the center of the Gamla Stan (map link) district, which is in the old town. Galma Stan (tourist info link) is a beautifully preserved medieval city center. The streets are cobblestone and the buildings are from the 16th and 17th Century. It is a tourist magnet of course, and all the streets are lined with stores and restaurants, but the charm is genuine. You will find plenty of Viking themes and its fun to visit one of the Viking themed restaurants such as Aifur.
First day we went to the Royal Palace, which is on the Gamla Stan island. If you get there the right time of day (we did not unfortunately, its around lunchtime) you can watch a very impressive changing of the guard.
After the Royal Palace, we went to an equally important Swedish museum. The Abba Museum! Its a fun visit, packed with Abba memorabilia displayed in a timeline history format. If you are brave enough, try the interactive exhibits like the karaoke stage where you can sing with Abba and get a video souvenir of your visit.
The next day Lasse and Marina arranged a tour with lunch on a boat in the archipelago of islands that make up the greater Stockholm area. I highly recommend these tours of the archipelago as it allows you see Stockholm from another vantage, and really, the views are worth it. We had an excellent lunch with our friends and learned some more of the history of Stockholm. After your harbor tour, be sure to stop by the Gröna Lund amusement park
We still had some energy left after the cruise, so we paid a visit to the Vasa Museum. Many of the city museums are on the island of Djurgården, which adjacent to Gamla Stan. You can take a tram or bus, or depending on where you are staying, it may be an easy walk.
Another fun touristy thing we did was go on a Stockholm Ghost tour. Lasse and Marina joined us as our guide took us around the Gamla Stan neighborhood and entertained us with stories mostly about how the Dane’s were really really poor visitors back in the middle ages. The Swedes got the some payback when Sten Sture the elder kicked Danish butt in 1471 and his victory is commemorated by the statue of St George and the Dragon. Sten was a modest fellow and ordered this statue instead of one depicting himself. We also were guided up the ‘narrowest street in Stockholm’, which led from the lower dock area to the houses of prostitution at the top. They had to close the street for many years as drunken sailors would get conked over the head, pushed down the stairs and their remaining money taken when they reached the bottom.
On the weekend we were invited out to Lasse and Marina’s house on the outskirts of Stockholm for a picnic with them and their family. We had met many of them before when Lasse and Marina got married in Italy the year before, so it was like getting together with friends again. It was a beautiful sunny day and everyone enjoyed an afternoon barbecue and picnic. Lasse and Marina also surprised my wife Heidi with a traditional Swedish birthday cake as her birthday was just the week earlier. By the time the second bottle of wine was empty, everyone felt it was a good time to teach us a traditional Swedish drinking song. The party was quite the success, good food and good friends.
I have to give a very positive recommendation for Stockholm as a travel destination. Americans will be pleased because absolutely everyone speaks English. It is often difficult to pick out American tourists as the Swedes speak English with a perfect American accent. The city is a bit expensive, but then most large cites you will visit are. One nice thing is that many of the stores are set up to let you avoid the VAT (Sales Tax) if you have your travel documents. (This would be for Americans. If you are an EU resident, you of course pay the VAT.) Those who enjoy shopping will find the city a paradise. Long pedestrian malls lined with endless shops. Clothes, electronics, restaurants and everything else. Basically a giant outdoor mall that goes on for probably a mile or more. One thing I might advise to skip is the hop on, hop off bus tours. They are rather expensive, and really are just going to take you past the places you already knew about anyway and can get to faster and far cheaper just by walking or using the amazingly clean and efficient public transport. It is called the SL, and you can get travel cards for various lengths, or get the SL (Highly Recommended) app for your phone which lets you get tickets quickly and easily. This is the better value if you are only taking one or two trips a day which will likely be the case as things are grouped together. Finally, unlike many other locations in Europe, Stockholm may more cashless than even the US. So don’t rush to a bank machine. Europeans use full Chip and Pin credit cards, unlike American cards which usually still require a signature even though they have a chip. Your American cards will work but a good travel alternative is a Transferwise Borderless account. You can get them in other currencies as well. Transferwise is a highly recommended way to transfer money from the US to Euro. They have perhaps the lowest fees and the exchange rate is honest. The addition of their borderless account is useful for travel.