Sightseeing in the Stockholm archipelago

Beyond Norway


Photo: Benoît Derrier / Wikimedia Commons
Riddarholmen on Stockholm’s Gamla Stan as seen from the top of the City Hall tower.

David Nikel
Trondheim, Norway

After so many monthly columns about destinations in Norway, I feel it’s time to spread my wings. Because of the excellent transportation links, many people visiting Norway look to combine their trip to Oslo with the other Scandinavian capitals, so what better place to start than the self-proclaimed capital of Scandinavia?

Welcome to Stockholm

Ah, the capital of Scandinavia! The giant sign that greets you upon arrival at Stockholm’s Arlanda airport always makes me cringe a little. Swedes are often seen by Norwegians as an “arrogant big brother” and this is a classic example of why!

Of course, Scandinavia has no capital because it already has three! Copenhagen, Oslo, and Stockholm all work together to boost the region as a whole. There’s no need for competition.

The second annoyance before even arriving in Stockholm proper is the eye-watering price of the airport express train. Norway is supposed to be the expensive country, but at 280 SEK (approx. $31) just to get into the city, Sweden makes you think twice about that.

A Scandinavian mini-metropolis

Anyway, I don’t want to give you the wrong idea; I love Stockholm! Perhaps the most modern and international of the Nordic capitals, the city still manages to retain an authentic Scandinavian flavor. Its geography is fascinating. It almost feels as if the land was ripped apart deliberately to create the waterside city, spread over 14 islands. You’re never far from water in Stockholm.

Each of the districts has a distinctive feel and you’ll soon discover your favorites. The modern downtown commercial district, the historic and colorful Gamla Stan, the leafy Djurgården, and the creative heartland of Södermalm are just four possibilities. Whichever your preference, there’s lovely architecture, idyllic islands, and hiking opportunities within easy reach of the walkable center, and a handful of truly unique museums.

Stockholm - Abba Museum

Photo: Cynthia Elyce Rubin
Many costumes are on display in the ABBA Museum.

Thank you for the music

You’ll either love or hate the ABBA Museum. Fans from all over the world flock here to pay homage to their heroes and have a lot of fun in the process.

Exhibits include a replica of the cottage where the pop super group wrote many of its songs, a dressing room where you can play dress up with many of ABBA’s most famous costumes, and an opportunity to (virtually) appear on stage alongside your heroes!

The ship that failed

Were it not for the fact that so many people lost their lives, the story of the Vasa could almost be comical. Set to be the pride of the Swedish naval fleet, the wooden warship sank on its first voyage before it even left the harbor. Many of the crew lost their lives in full view of the crowds gathered on the harborside.

The story behind the salvage and restoration is the real highlight. The ship has gone on to become one of the top tourist attractions not just in Stockholm but in all of Scandinavia.

Stockholm - Vasa Museum

Photo: David Nikel
The Vasa sank right away, but lives on in a popular museum.

The darker side of Södermalm

The large island of Södermalm is home to many cafes, restaurants, and independent shops, and the best place to grab a bite to eat. At Pelikan on Blekingegatan you can enjoy traditional Swedish meatballs and rhubarb pie in a historic setting as locals have been doing for more than 100 years.

The island is also the setting for many scenes in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series, of which The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is the most famous. If you’re a fan, taking a guided or self-guided walking tour is a unique way to experience the area and see Stockholm through the eyes of fictional investigator Lisbeth Salander.

Living the island life

Stockholm’s vast archipelago of 30,000 islands stretches over 35 miles to the east. Ask a local which is their favorite island and you’ll get a different response from each one!

Ranging from large residential communities to tiny rocky outcrops, the archipelago’s islands can be explored slowly, over a week or more, or with just a couple of hours on one of the many express ferries and boat trips that operate around the islands.

The underground art gallery

The Stockholm metro serves dual purpose as an efficient transit network and one of the city’s most intriguing art galleries. Said to be the world’s longest art exhibit, more than 90 percent of the stations contain sculptures, mosaics, paintings, installations, engravings, and reliefs from more than 150 artists.

Check out artifacts from the old Stockholm Makalös palace at Kungsträdgården station and Siri Derkert’s work highlighting women’s rights, peace, and environmental issues at Östermalmstorg station.

Sweden’s capital has a lot to offer. But if this city hasn’t captured your imagination, how about Copenhagen? I’ll take you there next time.

David Nikel is a freelance writer based in Norway. He runs the popular website and podcast and is the author of the Moon Norway guidebook, available now in all good bookstores.

This article originally appeared in the October 19, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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David Nikel

David Nikel is a freelance writer based in Norway. He runs the popular website and podcast and is the author of the Moon Norway guidebook, available now in all good bookstores.