Stockholm: Sweden’s Crystal City

On a clear day in Stockholm, the air fills with light, and the city and sky glow with a crystal clarity reflected in the surrounding water. Water — it’s the main feature in Stockholm, which stands on 14 islands on Sweden’s east coast facing the Baltic Sea. The location has made it an important shipping and trade center since the 13th century.


When I go to Stockholm I relish those medieval days, walking the narrow stone streets of Gamla Stan, the Old City. Its quaint buildings now hold shops and cafes. Then I stroll the waterfront, admiring the dramatic setting and the most recognized building in Stockholm, the brick Stadshuset, City Hall, with a corner tower topped by a shiny cupola. This is where Nobel Prize banquets are held. Guided tours in English are offered here, as well as at the splendid Royal Palace.

They’re interesting, but if you can see only one thing in Stockholm, make it the Vasa Museum on Djurgården, a lovely green and wooded island. The Vasa was the mightiest warship in the world in 1628, carrying 64 guns and 300 soldiers. It sank even before it left the harbor, with all its elaborate carvings, and lay on the sea bottom for 333 years before it was pulled out. Cleaned and repaired, it now stands proudly on land, an amazing piece of the past.

Ship Model of Vasa

Also on Djurgården is Skansen, an open air museum where people in period clothing demonstrate what life was like in past centuries. For a contrast, tour the Moderna Museet, one of Stockholm’s many museums and galleries. It shows a sampling of modern artists including Kandinsky, Picasso, Dali and Magritte.

In this expensive city, you can save kronor by purchasing the Stockholm Card, good for 24, 48 or 72 hours, which provides free public transportation and free entry to 75 museums and attractions. Dozens of stores sell souvenirs, some very well made, but if you’re looking for fine Swedish crafts, seek out the high-end stores or ask for help from Smart City Shoppers, a company that helps buyers find top quality clothing, textiles, crafts, glassware, and furniture.


Stockholm’s busy streets are full of shops and malls. Orrefors Kosta Boda is probably the best place for fine glass items. Design Torget displays contemporary crafts done by skilled artisans; the gallery has several branches. The Gallerian is a modern, two-level, glass-roofed complex with a huge array of goods in individual stores.

Since 1874, travelers have enjoyed the classic tradition and luxury of the Grand Hotel. The landmark hotel faces the water, opposite the Royal Palace, and is renowned for its superb service and rooms. In the Veranda restaurant, I’ve feasted on great seafood, especially the famous crayfish. It’s known, too, for a magnificent smorgasbord. Mathias Dahlgren is the noted chef in the hotel’s more formal restaurant.

Hotel Rival, also providing fine service and amenities, has a completely different atmosphere, with 99 sleek rooms on Mariatorget Square in the trendy Södermalm District. It has two restaurants, three bars, a gym, and a young, hip reputation.

Different from both hotels is the Rica Hotel Gamla Stan. Located in a charming 17th-century building near the cathedral, the 51 rooms are small but bright and fresh, with a few antiques. The conveniently located Clas På Hornet hotel offers friendly service and a restaurant serving seafood fresh from local waters.


For traditional Swedish dishes in this high-energy, international city, try the Pelikan. In the high-ceilinged pub you can order old favorites such as pickled herring, dilled potatoes, lingonberries, and beef with mashed turnips. At little Bakficken (“Hip Pocket”), part of an upscale restaurant by the Opera House, try the tiny, delicious meatballs.

Distinctive French cuisine is on the menu at the fairly new GQ. Here customers rave about pricy entrees such as wild duck with pumpkin puree and oxtail ravioli with portobello mushrooms. Edsbacka Krog is in a 17th century building a short taxi ride from the town center. The fresh fish is always perfectly prepared and the wine list excellent, and it’s all expensive. Gyldene Freden, supposedly Stockholm’s oldest restaurant, serves food that gets rave reviews. Most unusual is Restaurangen, Oxtorgsgatan 14, Stockholm, which prepares international cuisine in offbeat combinations.

If you can find a place to cook it, you can catch your own dinner with a fishing rod. People do fish for salmon from the bridges of downtown Stockholm. You need a permit for this; check with the tourist office.

Written by Marilyn McFarlane for

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  1. Danielle DuBois says

    Sweden is indeed becoming the hip new design locale! It’s definitely moving beyond the simple-thrifty-chic H&M and Ikea ethic into more adventurous territory.

  2. The Virgin Backpacker says

    One of the most enjoyable ways to enjoy Stockholm is to hire a kayak and do a ‘lap’ of the main part of the city. You can see a great deal and even drag your kayak ashore at a gorgeous waterfront eatery (sign says: Malar Paviljongen, Norr Malarstrand). Fantastic!!!

  3. Marilyn says

    Seeing Stockholm from a kayak is a great idea. The next time I go to Sweden, I’m going to try paddling those intriguing waterways.

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