Stockholm, Sweden is comprised of the original old town, Gamla Stan, and several other islands offering a variety of museum, restaurants and cultural attractions. An excellent public transportation system connects it all with trains, busses, trams and ferries.
Stockholm occupies 14 islands which are connected by over 50 bridges. It’s no wonder Stockholm is often called the “Venice of the North”.
We spent 2 days in Stockholm and explored the city on our own, without any shore excursions booked through the ship. We had a good guidebook, a Stockholm Card and legs trained for walking after the past several days!
Our Stockholm Cards were very handy. We ordered them through the city tourism board before out trip. The card provided free admission to all the major sites and museums, plus unlimited use of the city’s subway, buses, trams and ferries.
The first day started with a good walk into the city’s Old Town area called Gamla Stan. The cruise ship was docked about a mile away, so not too bad. And Gamla Stan, very much like Tallin, is an old town with narrow, cobble stoned streets and fantastic architecture. We’d have plenty to see!
It took a little effort for Kenn and I to get oriented in Gamla Stan. For one thing, our daily port maps from the ship don’t point out where we are docked, so we first had to figure that out on the map. Once in Gamla Stan, we had to maneuver through the tiny streets with Swedish names containing so many letters, our maps often abbreviated them. It could be quite confusing at times. We had to be careful to know we were on Svartmangatan and not Skomakargatan, or where Skomakargatan changes names to become Trangsundgatan. I pity the Swede who overheard us in frustration calling the names to each other with bastardized pronunciation as we worked together to figure out our location. Kenn joked a few times that it was like being on The Amazing Race.
We visited Storkyrkan Cathedral, where all Royal baptisms, coronations and weddings take place. It is a medieval Cathedral built in 1279 with amazing medieval design and a great statue of St. George slaying the dragon. Although it felt like our umpteenth church to visit, we were impressed. I think the cathedral and the somewhat medieval feel of Gamla Stan reminded us both of Tallin’s medieval past, something we both really enjoyed.
We also visited Riddarholmskyrkan, the Riddarholm Church. This church was built in the late 1200s and is the final resting place of many Swedish monarchy and aristocrats. It has been the Royal mausoleum for over 400 years and has a distinctive open-work metal spire. We weren’t able to go inside at the time because of a mass in progress.
Another impressive site in Gamla Stan was Kungliga Slotett, the Royal Palace. We were there just in time to see the changing of the guard and caught a few photos and videos. This is the official residence of His Majesty the King and was constructed in the 18th century.
The highlight of the Palace visit was a trip to Skattikammaren, the treasury. This exhibit is in a dark, dungeon-like setting with very low light and no camera/video allowed. The exhibit contains crowns, orbs, sceptres and more, once owned by former royalty. The artistry involved in the creation of the items was amazing to see.
A museum dedicated to the Nobel Prize gave us a great overview of the origins of the prize and various winners over the years. Alfred Nobel was the inventor of dynamite and left instructions in his will to have the majority of his vast estate set aside for the establishment of a prize which honored those who accomplished great things for humanity.
Day 1 also had us venturing out beyond the more touristy areas which ended up not being a great choice as that day was a Holiday in Stockholm devoted to “mid-summer” so many stores were closed. Only the stores in Gamla Stan were open and we went beyond to City Centre (a much newer section) to do a 90 minute walking tour and there were very few people on the streets. We stopped into an Italian cafe for lunch and had our first experience with a real language barrier so we did a lot of pointing for what we wanted. Luckily Diet Coke or (Coca-Cola Light here) was universal. We also had another run in with a Northern Europe “rainstorm” where it came down with heavy wind for 10 minutes and then the sun came out and then an hour later it happened again. We went everywhere with our waterproof gear so we were fine. It was interesting to see all around this trip that it seems that very few Europeans use umbrellas. I guess they know that the storms are quick usually so they just duck under awnings or into a building and wait it out.
Day 2 in Stockholm was a gorgeous day with not a cloud in the sky so we got out early and took a bus to the subway station and transfered to a few different train lines. Their train system is VERY clean with cloth covered seats (we commented that those would not work in Chicago). We took the longest escalator I’ve ever seen to get out to the street level. It had to be at least 6 stories of incline. We got onto our free ferry to go out to Djurgarden which is an island in the middle of Stockholm. There we went to the Vasamuseet (the Vasa Museum) where a royal warship called the Vasa was built and put out for its maiden voyage in 1628 where it almost immediately sunk due to poor design. In 1956, it was discovered and then many years later it was raised in a complex operation. It was discovered that the ship was almost 95% preserved since the salt level in the Stockholm water is so low. They refurbished the ship and put new pieces where needed and built the museum around the ship. It was very interesting to see since it was almost completely original.
We then went to the beautiful Nordiskamuseet (the Nordic Museum). The individual exhibits were probably very interesting to the typical Swedish person (and they had English translations on every exhibit) but the one exhibit that really struck both of us was the Sampi (the Sami) exhibit. The Sami are the indigenous people of Sweden similar to the Native Americans of the United States. The Sami were formerly known as Laplanders. Their history is as reindeer herders who lived in small huts and lived off the land. It appears that they have met with much racism and political battles over the years to be able to remain as a recognized people even to this day. I had not heard anything of this prior to this trip and the exhibit was very educational.
We then proceeded to Skansen which is the “world’s first open air museum”. It was huge and included many exhibits on former home styles and farmsteads of Sweden going back hundreds of years. It had many food stands with cotton candy, ice cream (the Europeans LOVE their ice cream!!) and also stands with unique, maybe more traditional things like reindeer meat in flatbread that obviously were good as it was crowded. We had popcorn. Skansen also had many traditional items for sale. There was also a Maypole in the middle of the site. A maypole is a tall pole that traditional Swedish dances are done around during the summer solstice. It is a symbol of fertility to help Mother Earth provide good harvests and health. There were many people in traditional costumes leading the dances and then bringing in the somewhat clueless tourists to join in. Skansen also had many zoo exhibits and petting areas and rides for the kids. The comical part to me was that Skansen was built on a huge hill. We walked in the entrance and had to walk up a huge incline for about 15 minutes with many families with strollers who didn’t make a peep about the difficult hill….this set-up would never would fly in the U.S.
After Skansen we needed to start planning our return to the ship as we were leaving at 4:30. We did walk to the ferry boat dock and passed Grona Lund (Sweden’s oldest amusement park - built in 1883) which gets about 10,000 visitors a day and is only open for 130 days a year. We both commented how it was funny to hear that screaming on roller coasters is the same in any language.
We made it back to the ship in plenty of time and both sat out on our stateroom deck for the sail out. Let me say that the sailing into and out of Stockholm is one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve ever had. There are over 24,000 islands in the Stockholm archipelago from the huge ones that the city is based on to some that are so small that only one house can fit on it. And many of those little islands do have summer homes on them. Many of them are painted a deep red with white trim which we heard is a traditional color. The Swedes are a very proud people obviously as almost every one of those summer homes were flying the Swedish flag as were all the boats we saw as we sailed out and there were hundreds of them. We took many pictures of the sail in and out that I hope will do the beauty justice. The sail in and out took 4 hours each way as we were sailing very slow through very narrow areas. There were times we seemed to be no further than two hundred feet or so from the land. The canal floor is obviously very extensively mapped for ships our size to sail in without incident.
- Al & Kenn