Stockholm A-Z: Oddities

Stockholm, like many other cities, has its fair share of oddities. Paying attention to these unusual aspects often gives us another view of a city beyond the main tourist impressions and sights.

On Skeppsbron in Gamla Stan there’s a building with an unusual symbol above the door. A vagina carved into the stone. Some say it’s a former brothel and therefore and early form of marketing. Other theories tell the story of a cuckolded man whose wife committed adultery and who carved the symbol into his home’s facade to remind them and all around of his wife’s sin. Rather odd.

Along similar lines, on a building’s facade in St Eriksplan near Karlsbergs train station there are small male figures carved ornately. These small figures have unproportionally erect members. Odd.

In Stortorget in Gamla Stan on the corner of a building, there is a cannonball stuck fast into the plaster. Tour guides tell the story of the Stockholm Bloodbath where hundreds of Swedish nobles were executed in this square. The evil King of Denmark stood in a window and watched this massacre and as the Swedish guard fired a canon to kill him, the ball stuck into the wall. Oddly, it didn’t blast away the whole wall, but it mark the beginning of a Swedish rebellion and independence.

Also in Gamla Stan you can see another oddity. In one of the narrow streets leading up to Stortorget, you can see a Viking rune stone. This stone has oddly been used to repair the corner of a building whose facade was obviously crumbling.

Outside of the National Dramatic Theatre in Östermalm, you can see a rather odd statue. The statue depicts a lone women standing. This woman is a much-loved deceased Swedish actress called Margareta Krook. The odd thing about this statue occurs when you put your hand on her heart. Go see what happens.

Another odd statue is situated behind the Finnish Church in Gamla Stan. The city’s smallest statue is a tiny little boy called the Iron Boy. In himself he’s not that odd. It’s what happens to him that is odd. For years, a secret carer has knitted scarves and hats and covered the statue with them so that he doesn’t freeze in the winter. And at Christmas time, he’s sometimes dressed as Santa.

If you’re in Stockholm around the end of June, you may experience something as odd – the light. As the sky doesn’t really get dark at night, the light reflects into the waters of the city. A petrol blue colour appears – Baltic blue – and envelopes Stockholm in a magical sweep. This is breathtaking to experience from a boat or by the water’s edge.

Stockholm A-Z: Neighbourhoods

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Inner city Stockholm is made up of several distinct neighbourhoods each with their own character and attraction.

Here are the main ones, with my tips for what’s worth seeing in each neighbourhood. Do you have any other tips? Please let me know!

Kungsholmen
The island of Kungsholmen is an expanding residential area with turn-of-the-century architecture in the eastern part, functional 40’s-60’s buildings in the centre and modern new builds in the western section. An increasingly popular area, Kungsholmen has lots of restaurants, shops and cafés to enjoy. The island has a waterfront trailing leading all around the island for about 10 km and passing through varying landscapes.

Top 5 worth seeing on Kungsholmen:
– Stockholm City Hall
– Mälarpaviljongen floating restaurant/bar
– Docklands development Hornsbergs Strand for modern architecture
– Rålomshovsparken for picnics, boule, bathing and outdoor theatre
– Fredhälls panoramic cliff top walk and bathing rocks

Vasastan
Vasastaden to the north of Stockholm is a classic part of the city. An area inhabited mostly by wealthy residents, it has wide roads, grand buildings, restaurants, cafés, shops, churches and offices. With close proximity to the city, Vasastan has several parks, the biggest being Vasaparken which is a playground for residents enjoying football in the summer and ice skating in the winter.

Top 5 worth seeing in Vasastan
– The City Library for its magnificent architecture
– Observatorielunden for the old observatory and park
– Vanadisbadet – a newly-renovated lido
– Brunnsviken – a nature area just north of Vasastan for walking and cycling
– Clas på Hörnet – traditional restaurant/hotel housed in a centuries old roadside inn.

Östermalm
Östermalm is the upscale, upmarket neighbourhood in Stockholm. Symbolic of this area are exclusive buildings, designer shops, high-end restaurants, expensive cars, elegant cafés and speciality boutiques selling the latest in classic food and design. This is the most expensive part of town to live in and the surroundings and residents reflect it. Several beautiful parks provide the wide avenues and boulevards with a verdant edging. The hustle and bustle of Stureplan gives way to the quieter residential roads to the north. Stureplan is also a centre for some famous nightclubs which let only the most desirable clientele.

Top 5 worth seeing in Östermalm
– Humlegården park for its relaxing pathways, open air cafés and immaculate lawns
– Strandvägen waterside promenade connecting the town with Djurgården
– Östermalmshallen, a fantastic historical food market from the 1800’s
– Sturebadet, a spa and baths dating from 1885
– Berwaldhallen, music hall for classic and contemporary performances and the home to Stockholm’s symphony orchestra

Södermalm
The island of Södermalm is the southern part of the main city. Initially a very poor area, and then the place for Stockholm’s working-class to live, it has in recent years been gentrified and trendified into an urban melting pot of designers, artists, musicians, the gay community, and hipsters.

Södermalm, or Söder, was recently declared by Vogue to be the third coolest neighbourhood in the world. And experiencing its artisan bakeries, bohemian cafés, on-trend shops, and experimental restaurants, it’s easy to see why. From Stockholm’s harbour you see the heights of Söder dominated by its churches and impressive hill-top buildings.

Top 5 worth seeing on Södermalm

– Fjällgatan and Monteliusvägen for the best panoramic views in Stockholm
– Mariatorget for hanging and eating
– Sofo for hipster heaven
– Hornstull for restaurants, bars and live music
– Fotografiska museum for breathtaking international photography

Norrmalm
The city centre area and the main place to find mainstream shops and chain restaurants. This neighbourhood has more and more residents as inner city rejuvenation speeds up but it is mostly the place of business and commerce. Here’s where you’ll find Stockholm’s three main department stores: NK, Åhléns City and PUB. The center of urban outdoor activity is here too – Kungsträdgården – a park dedicated to the pleasure of Stockholmers year round. In the summer, there are festivals, in the winter ice skating and in the spring the park is enveloped in the beautiful vibrant pink of cherry blossom.

Top 5 worth seeing in Norrmalm, apart from shopping

-Hötorget outdoor market and Its indoor partner Hötorgshallen
– Sergelstorg and Kulturhuset, 60’s architecture maligned by some, praised by others
– The Opera House with its adjoining bar, restaurant and nightclub
– Kungsträdgården park, all year round
– Berns restaurant, cafe and club in Berzelli park

Gamla Stan
Stockholm’s origin, founded on a small island between the lake Mälaren and the Baltic Sea was for centuries an important centre of trade in the Baltic region. The town we see today was set up in the 1300’s and most of the buildings are from the 1700’s and 1800’s. Around 3000 people live in Gamla Stan and the neighbourhood is full of colourful buildings, narrow cobbled streets, alleyways, churches, national buildings and touristy shops and restaurants.

Top 5 worth seeing in Gamla Stan

– The Royal Palace
– Storkyrkan cathedral
– Riddarholmen and its church
– The Houses of Parliament
– Stortorget, medieval city square

Stockholm A-Z: Långholmen

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Tucked away on the north west coast of Södermalm, in Lake Mälaren, is the oasis of Långholmen. This island is accessed by small bridges and is a paradise for sunbathers and swimmers. The island has a bloody history – it was originally a prison island, housing criminals up until 1975 when it was closed. Today the old prison houses schools, apartments, a hotel, a conference centre, an inn and a very interesting hostel where you can spend the night in the former prison cells. Outside the prison is a popular beach which attracts hundreds of bathers on sunny days. In fact the whole island attracts its fair share of sun-worshippers. If the crowded beach is not your scene, it’s possible to jump of the rocks or low-hanging branches all around the island. In the winter, the lake freezes and you can walk around the island in the very same place you bathed just six months earlier.

On Långholmen you will also find cafés and restaurants, ice cream stands, a spinnery, a museum, a caravan site and cutely colourful allotments.

Långholmen is easily accessible by bike and connects to the other side of lake Mälaren via the imposing bridge Västerbron. From this high vantage point, you can look down over the city hall, the old town, the city, into the harbour and out into the Baltic Sea.

Close to the island of Långholmen is the residential island of Reimersholme. This smaller island was once the place for a wool factory where the prisoners of Långholmen were put to work. The factory is long gone but the island is worth the walk around to take in the beautiful panoramas over the lake.

Just close to Långholmen and to Reimersholme is a favourite historical Stockholm cafe. Set in a pleasant garden, the cafe Lasse i Parken was, in the 1700’s, a worker’s cottage. Nowadays the only people working there are the catering staff, as Stockholmers enjoy their coffee and cakes listening to live music or stand-up comedy.

Stockholm A-Z: LGBT living

Sweden is internationally known for its tolerance and openness and this means Stockholm is a great city to live in for members of the lesbian and gay community. However, visitors to the Swedish capital might be disappointed in the size of the gay scene. Where many other capital cities have gay neighbourhoods, or lots of gay and lesbian restaurants, cafés and bars to choose from, Stockholm's choices are limited.

One of the reasons for this is that the very tolerance and acceptance that exists in the city has led to a a general integration into the mainstream. Where other places around the world have needed to develop a strong and powerful subculture, it seems to have been less important in Sweden. This means that in Stockholm most places are mixed.

However, there are today a couple of bars, Torget in the Old Town is aimed and a young twinky fashionable crowd and Side Track on Södermalm aimed generally at the older and bear crowd and SLM for the fetish crowd. If you want to strut your stuff, a few clubs nights exist such as Patricia, Candy and Wonk. For a nice cup of coffee or a bite to eat head towards gay cafe restaurant Adams Bistro in the Odenplan area.

Other than occasional parties and club nights, there's very little just for lesbians and unfortunately nothing apart from interest groups exclusively for the transgender community.

In the summer half of the year, the very popular outdoor bar/restaurant Mälarpaviljongen opens its doors and is well worth a visit to take in beautiful Stockholm views and beautiful Stockholmers.

For more information on venues grab the gay rag QX or visit http://www.qx.se. Also check here for gay beaches, gay-friendly beaches and cruising areas such as Långholmen, Frescati and Kårsön.

Once a year, Stockholm organises the biggest Pride festival in Northern Europe. Usually on the first weekend in August, Stockholm Pride is a real carnival and succeeds in balancing the playful, the sexual and the political. The festival attracts up to 60000 participants who take to the streets in pride. Pride week is usually packed with club nights and parties and definitely worth a visit.

But LGBT living isn't only about parties and festivals. In Stockholm's community there is a plethora of things to occupy yourself with. If you enjoy singing, you can listen to Stockholms Gay Choir, the oldest gay men's choir in Europe. They give concerts twice yearly at Christmas and in the spring and are well worth the modest entrance fee. If exercise is your thing, then Stockholm's gay rugby team Stockholm Beserkers are a good option. On frequent Sundays they compete, and they practice on Monday and Wednesday evenings on Årstafältet if you want to go along.

If swimming is your thing, Stockholm Dolphins practice at Eriksdalsbadet on Södermalm. For more info: http://www.qx.se

And for dancing outside of the clubs, why not give Queer Salsa a go? Check out Queer Salsa Stockholm on Facebook for more information

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Stockholm A-Z: Kayak life

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If you’re up for a bit of adventure, then renting a kayak and heading off into Stockholm’s many waterways might be the thing for you. Kayaking has become a very popular part of urban life in the Swedish capital and seeing those little colourful plastic vessels bobbing around is an integral part of Stockholm’s water views.

As the city is built on many small islands, a kayak is a perfect way to experience it. There are many places around Stockholm to rent, the most popular being in Rålamshovsparken on Kungsholmen, on Långholmen and in Pampas Marina in Solna. You don’t to have kayaked before to rent, although since you’re heading out into water, it’s a good idea to have lessons or a little previous experience under your belt. Life belts are provided.

Popular routes are around the island of Kungsholmen, where, from the glistening water, you can take in the Old Town, the City Hall, the coastal stretch of Norrmälarstrand and the architecturally interesting dockland development of Lindholmen.

Another route is around Långholmen, skimming through the narrow boating canal, skirting the island of Södermalm and propelling along the grandiose lake Mälaren to see the woodlands and bathing areas along the water’s edge.

If you’re interested in less of an urban experience and would like to convene with nature, there are plenty of opportunities to kayak outside of the city. In the archipelago, you can kayak from island to island, through narrow inlets and open water, round skerries and cobs, rocky outcrops and sandy beaches. Take a boat out to the lush island of Grindö for example and spend the day kayaking in some of the world’s most beautiful natural environments. More information: http://www.horisontkajak.se

One of Stockholm’s brand names is ‘beauty on water’. From a kayak, it’s hard to disagree.

Stockholm A-Z: Junibacken

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In the hustle and bustle of urban city life there is still room for fairy tales. Out on the museum island of Djurgården, you’ll find a place dedicated to them. A perfect destination for kids and families, Junibacken celebrates the fantastical stories of various Swedish writers, especially the writer Astrid Lindgren. Astrid Lindgren is today still very popular in Sweden and she is the third most translated children’s author after Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm. She’s estimated to have sold a staggering 144 million books worldwide and has a whole army of fictional characters to her name.

Here at Junibacken you can meet all of her most well-known characters such as the airborne Karlsson on the roof, the naughty Emil of Lönnerberga, the feisty Ronja the robber’s daughter and the internationally renowned Pippi Longstocking. After traveling the museum train, children arrive at the home of the world’s strongest girl where they can play as wildly as they like.

A visit to Junibacken is a thoroughly Swedish experience, seen through the eyes of children. It is also a testament to a beloved national treasure that ensures her stories will never be forgotten.

Stockholm A-Z: Ice

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Nothing sums up Stockholm in the winter months than the word ice. As temperatures plummet, sheets of ice start covering the waterways, icicles form on the guttering and pavements turn into treacherous rinks. There are few places in the world that are as beautiful as Stockholm in the winter and the city is well worth a visit December to March. Imagine this – a crisp blue winter sky and a hazy cool sun hanging low. The trees twinkling with the fresh white of snow and the city’s orange and red buildings glistening with ice and smoky plumes of steam. It’s really a sight to behold. It’s so achingly beautiful you almost forget it’s minus 20 degrees and your nose turned to an ice cube long ago.

Stockholmers really know how to make the most of the unfavourable climate. In Kungsträdgården, an outdoor ice rink is built and you can skate around listening to music and enjoying the afternoon sun. If more adventurous skating is your cup of tea then open water skating is made possible on the many frozen lakes outside of town. On these frozen lakes, you can also go pimple fishing. This entails drilling a hole through the ice, dropping the line into the water and sitting on a stool waiting for a passing fish to bite. What might seem to some like savage amusement is actually a very meditative way to spend a few hours. A morning walk on the frozen Mälaren is another popular pastime. Wrapped warmly in think coats, woollen hats and scarves, Stockholmers walk on the water and finish with brunch or a cup of hot chocolate at a nearby restaurant. Outside of the city, in the forests, tracks are made for cross-country skiing, and even parks such as Tantolunden and Gärdet plough shorter tracks for the urbanites to practice on.

As the ice descends on the city, a sense of cosiness develops. In Stockholm’s Old Town, the narrowed cobbled streets seem to be transformed back into previous centuries. There’s nothing more romantic on a winter’s evening than to stroll here, chunky snow flakes pouring down from the sky, the crunch of the ice and snow underfoot.

Stockholm’s smart embracing of ice has even manifested in an Ice Bar, located in the Nordic Sea Hotel. Indoors, wrapped in thermal clothes, you can partake of a vodka drink out of a glass made of ice. This place is an offshoot from the Ice Hotel in the arctic north of Sweden, which is well worth a visit.

It would be an error of judgement to think Stockholm is only a summer city. There is a great deal to do even in the frozen months.

Stockholm A-Z: Hipsters

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When you understand the definition of hipster as middle-class young bohemians residing in gentrifying areas with an interest in alternative music, vintage, progressive politics, organic, artisanal foods and alternative lifestyles, there’s one neighbourhood in Stockholm that stands out. Recently voted in Vogue magazine as one of the coolest city areas in the world, the island of Södermalm lives up to its reputation as a hipster heaven. Divided into distinct areas, the island offers lots to see and do. On the western side of the island, is Hornstull. Here you will find groovy restaurants, shops, a vibrant music scene, a craft market, an independent cinema, bathing areas and Tantolunden – a popular green area for hanging out in. In the centre of the island, you will find Medborgarplatsen – or ‘Citizen square’. Hipster life is non-existent in this area but the square offers lots of mainstream cafés and restaurants and late night bars. Political rallies are often held here. On the eastern side, you will find an area known as Sofo, the birthplace of the hipster movement in Sweden, which has become such an identifiable brand it has even been ridiculed in a TV comedy based in the area. Sofo is packed with bars, restaurants, cafés, butique shops, vintage places and artisan fooderies. It’s well worth a visit and a stroll about on a sunny day. Much of the life circulates around the few streets between Nytorget, Götgatan and Folkungagatan. On some Saturdays, there is a farmer’s market lining one of the main arteries. For an alternative music and theatre scene, it’s worth visiting the venue Mosebacke with its outside terrace and view over Stockholm.

Stockholm A-Z: Gondolen

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If you want to experience a breathtaking view of Stockholm, while enjoying a fantastic cocktail or meal, very little beats Gondolen. Perched 33 meters above Slussen in a glass tongue, the restaurant serves critically acclaimed food and offers sweeping vistas of the lake Mälaren to the left, the city and the Baltic Sea to the right. Gondolen is a perfect location in the winter months, when the cold winds and icy temperatures envelop Stockholm. From inside, you can look out over the glittering winterscape while sipping on an elegant Rasperritini and tucking into a bleak roe toast.

The restaurant has historical merit, as it was inaugurated in 1935 as part of an inner city generation project. And history tends to repeat itself. The area where Gondolen is positioned is being heavily renovated again with a lot of demolition and remodelling. However, I believe this Stockholm classic will remain a jewel in the city’s crown for many many years to come.

Stockholm A-Z: Ferries

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Considering Stockholm is a city built on many small islands, it’s not surprising that a favorite mode of transport is the ferry. In the city, there are several ferries used both by commuters and by pleasure trippers. The Djurgårds ferry takes people from Slussen on Södermalm to the museum and activity island of Djurgården. It’s a cute little boat that looks like a toy that a giant has flicked with his finger and thumb as it catapults over the waterway to the other side. This ferry also carries visitors to Östermalm and to Skeppsholmen, an Island located in the middle of the harbour, and is very well patronized by the city’s inhabitants.

Three other ferries in Stockholm are the ones taking well-heeled dwellers from the docklands development of Hammarby Sjöstad to Södermalm, and from Hammarby Sjöstad into the city, and the ferry that shuttles passengers from the Old Town to the suburb of Nacka and the islands of Fjäderholmarna.

But perhaps the most noticeable ferries are the giant liners positioned in Stockholm’s harbour that take passengers and vehicles to the Baltic Island of Åland and to Finland. These ferries satisfy various needs for Stockholmers. Some use them as a mode of transportation between Sweden’s capital and the Finnish cities of Helsinki and Åbo, maybe to work or to deliver goods or visit family. Others use the ferries as pleasure cruises, an opportunity for a trip out to sea, to eat well and maybe watch a show. Others use them as a way of buying cheaper duty free alcohol as the ferry bobs around in international waters. And other Swedes use them in a way that has gained these ferries notoriety – as a booze cruise. A popular weekend pastime is to embark the ferry on a Friday, drink, dance and party, and disembark, somewhat frazzled, when it returns to Stockholm 48 hours later.

Whatever the reason for taking one of Stockholm’s many ferries, this mode of transport is an undeniable part of the waterscape of this city and it certainly does contribute to Stockholm’s description as ‘the Venice of the North’.