Stockholm in spring: a walking tour of the Swedish capital

By | Category: Travel destinations, Travel tips & opinions

Stockholm, often nicknamed Venice of the North, is quite as pretty as its Italian counterpart, far less pungent and most certainly not about to sink. Anna Maria Espsäter roams the city in search of perfect places to enjoy springtime in the Swedish capital

After months of chilly weather and a decent helping of frost, snow and ice, come springtime Stockholm shakes off its winter blanket and gets ready to enjoy many a long, light evening. Spring is arguably the best time to visit this beautiful city by the sea, built on 14 islands, stretching across Saltsjön, an inlet of the Baltic Sea, and Lake Mälaren. Few fail to be charmed by the city’s many delightful spots, including Gamla Stan, the medieval old town, dating back to the 13th century.

Stockholm revisited
Stockholm’s scenic location, living history and interesting mix of museums, grand buildings and open spaces are all major draws for the visitor. I first visited Stockholm as a child of 10 and vividly remember how astoundingly pretty it appeared to me back then. Over the years I have returned regularly to discover new places, but on my most recent trip I decided to revisit several longstanding favourites instead, spending time in the old town, as well as the more modern parts. Although Sweden’s largest city, Stockholm feels non-too-big. In fact, some places have an almost village-like atmosphere and nowhere is this more apparent than in Gamla Stan, the three islands – one larger, two small – that make up the medieval core. Largely pedestrianised, this pleasant neighbourhood of narrow alleyways and exceptional historic buildings, is a good place to start a grand tour of Stockholm.

 

Stockholm Old Town

 

History – strolling the medieval old town
I opted for starting my ‘strollerthon’ at Slussen, the southern tip of Gamla Stan, walking up to admire the Baroque and Renaissance styles of Tyska Kyrkan, the German Church, dating back to Hanseatic times when German influence was strong in Sweden, particularly around the Baltic seashore. Gamla Stan is home to so many fine buildings, they’re positively impossible to avoid: the vast Royal Palace with its 608 stately rooms; Storkyrkan, Stockholm’s 700-year old cathedral; The Royal Armoury, Sweden’s oldest museum and much more, all gently crammed onto these tiny islands. Even if you’re not a history buff (which I’m not), it’s hard not to get inspired by such ancient splendour at every turn. History is all around in this part of town, but not all of it is quaint and charming – this is also the site of the 1520 Stockholm bloodbath, when the Danish king Kristian II merrily had the heads of 80 town citizens chopped off in the main square, Stortorget. Obviously the place has been cleaned up since then…

 

Gamla Stan

 

Politics and culture – from the old town to the city
Leaving behind the winding cobbled streets of the main medieval island, Stadsholmen, after a final look around the sometimes interesting, sometimes tacky, souvenir shops of Västerlånggatan, I crossed the bridge to Helgeandsholmen. The smallest of the three islands that make up the old town, it’s mostly taken over by the huge Parliament building, Riksdagshuset, worth a peek for the impressive circular architecture. If you like your politics, the debates can be ‘enjoyed’ from the public gallery – just make sure you brush up on your Swedish first. Crossing the waters of Norrström, I reached the part of the city known simply as ‘City’, an area rather busier than the old town. City, part of mainland Stockholm, is a few centuries younger than Gamla Stan and has a nice sprinkling of beautiful 18th century buildings, as well as several post-WWII monstrosities, worth a visit for their interiors – if not their outsides. The latter are mainly clustered around the hub of Sergels Torg, a square of enormous proportions completed in 1960. Huge, grey concrete slabs may leave something to be desired in terms aesthetic value, but one of the impressive hulks, Kulturhuset, manages to squeeze in large amounts of the city’s cultural life into one building. Three art galleries housing temporary and permanent exhibitions, a cinema, several concert and events spaces, a theatre and much more, can all be enjoyed here.

 

Royal gardens and wayfaring religion – exploring City further
After a hefty dose of urbanisation, it’s good to balance it out with an equal measure of greenery, I find. Only a short walk from the greys of Sergels Torg lie the greens of Kungsträdgården, a Royal kitchen garden back in the 15th century. These days it’s far more welcoming to the public, forming a green oasis within the cityscape. Fountains, flowerbeds and outdoor cafés add to its charm and make it a perfect place to stroll, chill out and catch some spring sunshine. It’s surrounded by magnificent buildings, including one of Stockholm’s most colourful churches, Jacobs Kyrka, painted a bright orange-tinged red. Having found time for history, politics and culture, all in one day, far be it from me to leave out religion. Jacob being the patron saint of wayfarers, I thought it only fitting to step inside his church. The church silver was pretty enough to warrant stealing, but that would surely have meant forfeiting my wayfarer’s protection.

 

Jacobs Kyrka

 

Sunset at Blasieholmen
Leaving said church and silver behind, there was just enough time to admire the stunning Royal Opera House by the waterfront, facing the old town, before deciding that sight-seeing was thirsty work and it was time for a break. Luckily Stockholm is full of pleasant watering holes, some of them exceedingly posh, but since alcohol in bars breaks the bank anyway, there’s little point in trying to be frugal. Settling into the Grand Hôtel bar, on Blasieholmen peninsula, I sank into the comfy seats overlooking the waters and the Stockholm sunset. In the soft glow of the evening light, I was strongly reminded of the original Venice despite a distinct lack of gondolas and, as a nod from Venice of the North, to Venice of the South, I chose to end the day with the cocktail invented at the famous Harry’s bar – a delicious bellini.

 

Stockholm at sunset

 

NEED TO KNOW

Getting there
A number of airlines fly direct from the UK to Stockholm including Norwegian, Ryanair and SAS.

Getting around
The centre of Stockholm, and in particular Gamla Stan, is best explored on foot. There is also an excellent metro system (tunnelbana), local buses, trains and taxis. Many of the islands and the mainland are connected by ferries. For more information, visit www.sl.se

Places to stay
Nordic Light Hotel is a pleasant, modern hotel not far from the railway station.
Hotel Sven Vintappare is a quirky, small hotel in Gamla Stan.
Långholmen is a converted prison, complete with private cells and in-house prison museum.

Nordic Light Hotel

Further information
www.visitstockholm.com

 

All images courtesy of Anna Maria Espsäter

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