Making my way into Sweden from Eastern Europe, the first thing that struck me about Stockholm was how expensive the city was. Of course, Scandinavia is more expensive than its Eastern European neighbors, but 13 Euros for a veg burger (without fries)? C’mon!
That’s Stockholm for you. It’s a rich city, and it shows — rather, flaunts its wealth. It’s an important economic centre for the Nordic region and one of the highest per capita GDP regions in Europe. There are in fact, flags across the streets that read “Stockholm — capital of Scandinavia”. There is no such thing as the capital of Scandinavia, of course, but it’s a little indulgence that the Swedish allow themselves — among many others.
It was here, for instance, that the concept of ‘vasking’ or ‘sinking’ took off: a trend in recent years, where rich kids would buy two bottles of champagne — one for consumption and the other, for the bartender to pour down the sink (or 'vask' as it's called in Swedish). It used to be a way of showing one’s social status. The practice no longer continues, although those who must pour their money down the drain, can do so by signing up on some app. I know, I know.
Idiosyncrasies apart, Stockholm is a very picturesque city. It is however, going through a major overhaul right now, as a result of which most of the city is dug up.
Built on a stretch of 14 islands, it offers great water views as you sail across the archipelago. If you prefer to stay on land, there are a lot of things for you to do even then. For one, there’s a range of museums you can go to — easily over two dozen — the natural history museum, Vasa museum, Nobel museum, Abba museum, Fotografiska museum, among many others.
We chose to venture into one that was rated high on the travel sites, the Vasa museum. As the name suggests, it houses Vasa, touted to be one of Sweden’s most remarkable warships of the time (mid-1600s) that ironically sank within minutes of setting sail. After staying sunken for centuries, it was located and reconstructed in the 1970s and today, stands tall (roughly as tall as a four-storey building) and proud in a museum dedicated solely to it. It is understandably, one of Stockholm’s most visited tourist sites given the sheer magnitude of shipbuilding skills that it pooled back in the day.
We chose to explore the rest of the city with a free walking tour. So this is how it works: you don’t sign up in advance, just show up at the starting point of the tour. After a couple of hours or so of walking around, you tip the guide according to your discretion. Certainly the best thing to have happened to budget travellers over the past few years in Europe, this tour offers a very well-informed and often extremely engaging and fun tour guide walking you across the city streets, as he/she talks you through the place’s little known nuggets and often, some very honest insights! How else would we have known that the Swedish king’s son-in-law (a non-royal) had to undergo a three-year course in ‘royal living’ to be able to ask for his majesty’s daughter’s hand in marriage? A Swedish Princess Diaries, if you will.
We walked through the sloping cobbled streets dotted with H&Ms (it’s a Swedish brand) and navigated our way through the ‘city tour’. The very clean streets offer no hint of the filth that once occupied the alleyways. Apparently, a portion of the city is built on the garbage dumped on the streets, but thanks to the country’s obsession with cleanliness and recycling (the locals joke about how the latter competes to be the country’s favourite sport), the streets are sparkling clean. There is however one area, where the country is obsessed with plastic — money. From the biggest stores to the smallest street stalls, Stockholm only accepts plastic money. So if you’re heading here, do not bother carrying cash, unless you want it for a keepsake.
Coming back to the city tour, it gives you a ringside view of the Norrmalmstorg bank, known to have popularised the term ‘Stockholm Syndrome’. It was here that the condition, that causes hostages to sympathise with their captors, was recognised after some of the hostages of a bank robbery at Norrmalmstorg did not testify against the robbers in court.
One more popular tourist attraction of course, is the Stockholm City Hall that hosts the Nobel Prize banquet. The city boasts of many impressive edifices that have great historical relevance. We’d recommend that you pick a tour based on your specific area of interest.
After walking around the city’s quaint cobbled paths through the day, you could hit one of the many rooftop bars here. During summer, the sun sets as late as 11 pm, so you have a long night to yourself. In fact, it never turns entirely dark, just a dark shade of blue before breaking into azure at around 5 am. Stockholm hosts a number of vegan restaurants, a rare thing in this part of the planet. Of course there is a wide variety in terms of the non-vegetarian options, with Swedish meatballs being the most popular dish.
After savouring the sights and sounds of the city, we strongly recommend that you go island hopping along the archipelago. About an hour’s sail away (we went to an island called Vaxholm), it makes for an excellent outdoorsy summer day if you’re equipped with picnic essentials. Dotted with beautiful holiday homes and ridiculously frame-worthy front yards, the islands host ideal picnic spots with lush green patches overlooking the cool waters. If you’re lucky to visit at the right time, you may even take a dip in the water.
After lots of walking and sailing, it sure is the best way to cool off. That, and a fika (or the Swedish coffee). Just as the Spanish take their siestas seriously, the Swedish make no jokes about their coffee time. Of course, we were happy to comply.
All images courtesy the writer
Updated Date: Aug 20, 2017 10:43 AM