As a travel lover, one of my guilty pleasures is watching Eat, Pray, Love – starring Julia Roberts. There’s a scene where the characters are in Rome, thinking of words to define different cities. For Stockholm, they choose ‘conform.’ Perhaps a little unfairly, I’d always let that steer my opinion of the city, so when I actually got the chance to visit I was incredibly surprised!
We were heading to Australia and we’d found cheap flights via Stockholm and Bangkok, so we decided to spend a few days in each city. My travel companion, Faye, had been interrailing around Europe for the last month and I’d only recently recovered from a health disaster, meaning neither of us were planning a particularly active trip. However, the sights and sounds of this beautiful Scandinavian city soon set about to changing that.
1. Get Out Of The Center
Through some last minute organizational decisions we’d ended up booking accommodation in Bredäng, a suburb to the southwest of the city. On recommendation from our host, we spent the first day wandering around the local area.
The picturesque woodland that spattered the shores provided us with a fantastic first glance of this wonderful country and shattered the belief that this was a place of gray brick conformity.
We stumbled upon a red squirrel – which had famously become extinct in the UK before I was born.
Scrambled around some rock formations – successfully ripping the trousers for the first, but unfortunately not the last, time on my trip.
Then headed up to a beautifully converted coffee shop whose traditional wooden structures gave it the illusion of being plucked straight from a fairytale. It was the perfect introduction to a beautiful place.
2. Paddle In The Archipelago
Stockholm is based on an archipelago, which is a group of small islands, earning it the nickname of ‘The Floating City’; ‘Holm’ translates loosely as island in Old Norse. Flying in late at night, over the tiny pockets of streetlights and activity, was an incredible sight, so I was excited to see this beautiful geographical feature in daytime.
Fascinatingly, fifty percent of the water in the archipelago is from the Baltic sea on the east coast, and the other half is supplied by an inland lake, causing the west side to be freshwater and the coastal side to be salty. We were situated by the former, and it was a dream to paddle in the cool September waters, looking out over the stunning panoramic views of the surrounding area.
Although it was too cold for us to swim, those visiting earlier in the year should definitely bring along a bathing suit!
3. Experience The Swedish Baroque
It’s not just Stockholm’s extraordinary geographical beauty that makes it unique; its cultural history has just as many unexpected twists and turns. Drottningholm Palace, accessible by ferry, is a true testimony to the social minded and liberal attitudes of the Swedish People.
The Baroque era, during the 15th and 16th century, was a time of revelry, joy, and the appreciation of beauty and love; where ornamental intricacy flooded music, art, and life for the whole aristocracy.
In Sweden, this period was led by Queen Hedwig Elenora, who, after her husband died, ruled as Dowager Queen until her son came of age. The strong feminist influence of this time, accompanied with the surprisingly positive relations the royal family had with China, resulted in the fantastical Drottningholm Palace.
With astounding libraries, oriental pavilions, a heavy focus on nature and flowers and a breadth of detailed and controversial art, this palace is truly weird and wonderful – and anything but conformist.
4. Visit The Vasamuseet
I’d heard about the Vasamuseet from my travel idol – Rick Steves – before I set off on my adventure, and was eager to see it. Not a usual fan of maritime museums, the strange individuality of its exhibit had intrigued me. The Museet is home to a fully preserved sunken ship, which was reclaimed from the sea and set up as an attraction.
The boat was commissioned by King Gustavus Adolphus, in the early 1600’s, and was Sweden’s slightly-less-tragic titanic. In a feat of innovation, the ship was built with two Canon decks – something that had never been seen before. However, this meant that it was top heavy, too imbalanced to float and would immediately capsize as soon as it hit the water. And so it did, a mere 800m from the harbor on its launch day. Alongside the ship, the museum showcases an entire history of the voyage and disaster. It’s fascinating and well worth checking out.
5. Play Boules Underground
There were a lot of ‘what?’ moments during our visit to Sweden; points where we had to take a second to get to grips with what we were seeing. The underground boules bar was definitely the greatest example of this. We were navigating the subway system when we stumbled across an underground pub. On closer inspection we realized the venue had been set up specifically for boules players. There was a whole room that had been converted into a court and the bar simply lined the side. Although we didn’t get a chance to stop and play, witnessing this unusual sight was the nail in the coffin of my belief that Stockholm was a place of boring conformity.
6. Meet The Locals
Our trip to Stockholm would not have been complete with our amazing host. We’d chosen to stay in an Airbnb, as we were feeling too old and haggard for a hostel, and by chance stumbled upon his apartment. His flat was a beautifully busy assortment of bookshelves, aquaponics set ups, fantastic giant tea cups and homely memorabilia. A true individual, and wonderful human being, he was more than happy to accompany us as we explored his beautiful city.
The insights he gave us into life in Stockholm transformed our trip and he is most definitely set to be a life long friend. No matter where you go, the people you meet will be what make your experience, and meeting our host was a true testimony to that!
Go to Stockholm: that’s all I can say. It’s a true European gem, and somewhere that’s seemingly slept on by the traveling community! I only got to spend a few days in this wonderful city, so it’s safe to say I barely even scratched the surface. If you know of other weird and wonderful things to do in Stockholm, then be sure to leave a comment below and share with other travelers!
if you want to know more about my trip to Stockholm, then be sure to watch the video on my YouTube channel for more Swedish fun times!