Old Town - "Gamla Stan"
Your first destination: Gamla Stan. The medieval Old Town, with its charming cobblestone streets, museums, shops and restaurants, straddles three of 14 islands that make up Stockholm. The well-preserved Old Town features the original network of streets, and some of its buildings date from the Middle Ages.
Gamla Stan is relatively small, so it’s okay to lose yourself here. The main pedestrian street is known as Vasterlangatan (“the long western street”). You can cross all of Gamla Stan on Vasterlangatan. But feel free to permit yourself to be detoured. You won’t get lost — for long.
Don’t miss the 15th-century Gothic Storkyrkan, also, thankfully for the English tongue, called the Stockholm Cathedral, or Church of St. Nicolas. No matter what you call it, the church features Scandinavia’s largest medieval monument, a wooden sculpture made of elk antlers and oak carved in 1489 representing St. George battling a fierce Dragon.
Round the corner and make your way to the 18th-century Royal Palace inner courtyard for the changing of the guard at 12:15 each day except Sundays.
Afterward, just a few steps away is Gamla Stan’s largest square, Stortorget, stunningly beautiful and bordered by tall, narrow, colorful Amsterdam-like buildings, the Nobel Museum (worth a visit) and cozy coffee shops.
Wander around Gamla Stan, then head to the adjacent island and Södermalm, where you’ll see the Katarinahissen lift, built in 1883. Take it up to the arguably the best-value and undeniably best-view lunch in town at Gondolen.
The City Hall
After lunch, head to City Hall to admire the Blue Hall, where the Nobel Prize banquet is held annually, and the Golden Hall, with its more than 18 million glass and gold mosaic pieces. Nobel prizes are awarded each December, except for the Peace prize, which is awarded in Oslo. Climb City Hall Tower for a bird’s-eye view of Stockholm.
It’s a good thing that Stockholm enjoys 20 hours of sunlight during summers, because now you’re going on a boat tour. At Stadshusbron by the City Hall, board the steam-powered SS Drottningholm, built in 1909, for a voyage through Lake Malaren to Drottningholm Palace, an hour’s chug away. Drottningholm has been home to the Swedish Royal Family since 1981.
When you return, make your way to the world’s first permanent “Ice Bar,” situated in the Nordic Sea Hotel, near Central Station. The price of admission includes use of capes, mitts, and slippers to keep you warm inside the below-freezing bar and an Absolut cocktail (or lingonberry juice) served in glasses made from 100% pure, clear ice from the Torne River in Swedish Lapland. In fact, the whole interior of the bar is built from the ice.
After your cocktail, find a special place for dinner before returning to your hotel. The favorite of Evert Taube, the famous author, artist, composer and singer who lived from 1890 – 1976, was Den Gyldene Freden, which has been a restaurant in Gamla Stan since 1722. The Nobel Laureates do lunch here during the ceremonies week.
Get out of bed and pull back the curtains. What a view! Better get going. It looks like it’s nearly noon outside. But wait. It’s only 8 a.m. The sun rose this morning at 3:30 a.m. Back to bed — for now.
Days are long in Stockholm during the summer. The sky will only dim tonight, as the summer sun leaves streaks of color strewn across the sky long after it sets at 10 p.m.
On the longest day in June, you’ll have 18 hours, 38 minutes and 26 seconds between sunrise and sunset to explore Stockholm. Enjoy the sunlight.
Vasa Museum - One of more than 70 museums
Today, you’ll head to Djurgården, the former royal hunting grounds that became the world’s first city national park. You’ll get there by walking along Strandvägen, one of Stockholm’s most exclusive streets.
Walking along Strandvägen, you can see some of Stockholm’s best-known museums, situated just across the water on Djurgården, including the Vasa Museum.
Stockholm has more than 70 museums, but the crown jewel is the Vasa. It is almost impossible to prepare yourself for what you will see inside the museum: a warship — yes, the actual ship, not a reproduction or model — that capsized after being launched on its maiden journey in 1628. The Vasa was brought up from its watery grave in 1961 and today is an amazing exhibit.
Head across the street from the Vasa Museum to spend a couple of hours walking through several centuries of Swedish history at Skansen. The world’s first outdoor museum serves up “Old Sweden” or “Sweden in Miniature,” with farms and villages reconstructed from more than 150, 18th, 19th and 20th century buildings that have been brought here from throughout Sweden. You’ll also enjoy the zoo, featuring primarily Nordic animals such as bear, lynxes, wolves and wolverines.
You might consider renting a bicycle to explore more of Djurgården. As you pedal through this vast park, you’ll find it easy to forget that you’re in a city. Your ride takes you along country roads, forest paths, past small horse pastures and gardens. There is no hint of city — anywhere. No wonder that Stockholm was named Europe’s first Green Capital.
Follow the shoreside and canals around Djurgården and, after an hour or so of leisurely riding and stopping, find your way to Rosendals Tradgård, where you’ll visit the gardens and greenhouses that belonged to the 19th-century Rosendal Palace.
For a light lunch, do as the locals do and pick up a glass of wine and a sandwich from the cafe situated in one of greenhouses. Then find a shady spot in the apple orchard to picnic. Most of the food is produced locally or comes from the gardens.
After returning the bike, head to the ferry landing at the Vasa Museum to cross the water to Nybroplan. See the beautiful building across from the ferry landing? That’s Kungliga Dramatiska Teatern, and that’s where you’re headed next.
Greta Garbo and Ingrid Bergman got their starts in acting here, and Ingmar Bergman staged productions here. Go inside for a tour if you wish or admire the theater in passing, as you walk alongside it up Nybrogatan, on the left side facing the theater, to Saluhallen, which opened as a market in 1888.
Östermalms Saluhall - Since 1888
Step inside this “Seattle’s Pike Place Market meets Your Upscale Grocery Store and Food Court” for culinary treats that are a feast of the eyes and the tummy.
After leaving the market, time to shop. Make your way to Stureplan, being sure not to miss Biblioteksgatan, an upscale shopping street. You’ll also want to visit Sweden’s largest department store, NK, at Hamngatan 18 – 20. The Orrefors shop, situated on the bottom floor, has more original glassware than anywhere else in the city.
Late afternoon. It’s time to board your ship and sail away. Don’t worry, you’ll see more of Stockholm on the three- to four-hour transit through the beautiful archipelago. True, you left much unseen in Stockholm, but there’s a fix for that. Save it for another day, another visit. You’re always welcome back.