Stockholm, Sweden

This is the third instalment in my late noughties Nordic tour. Last year I went to Denmark; in late 2006 I went to Iceland; and in April 2009 it was the turn of self-proclaimed capital of Scandinavia, Stockholm.

Stockholm is known with some justification as the Venice of the north. The city is spread out over a number of islands. Logically in the middle is Gamla Stan, the old town. To the south is Södermalm which is described in the guide book as the capitals hippest island. To the east of Gamla Stan is Skeppsholmen — home to a bunch of museums and gardens — and Djurgården — a large park. To the north is the modern part of town, Norrmalm. To the west is Kungsholmen and to the north east is Östermalm, a wealthy residential area with the shops and restaurants you might expect with such locals.

All the various districts have their own character and feel. The number, perhaps, makes it sound much bigger than it actually is. I spend most of the weekend on foot with only a couple of journeys on the seemingly extensive and efficient public transport system.

The last time I was here, back in 2002, I didn’t have time to do much more than Gamla Stan. This time I managed to branch out a little further.

I want to let the pictures tell most of the story but there are a couple of things that I want to mention that you can’t tell from those alone.

Firstly there was the changing of the guard. As you can see in the picture above, it was all pomp and ceremony. Lots of guards in silly uniforms and shiny hats marching around with the intention of swapping places ((One thing that I’ve never been able to figure out is whether guarding a royal palace is the job they give to successful soldiers as an easy reward for all their good work, or a job they give to soldiers that wouldn’t be any good at anything else.)). The usual. Where it veered from the normal was when the guards had swapped over and the band continued playing for the benefit of the tourists. I wasn’t, for example, expecting the Indiana Jones theme music. Seemed out of place in the cold, April air of the Swedish capital city.

Something else that all the Nordic countries seem to get right is that warm, cosy feeling in the cafes, bars and restaurants. Stockholm has managed to fend off the worst of the international coffee franchises and instead has a good number of local, independent alternatives.

Overall it was a great weekend in a lovely city. In fact the only complaint that I can really come up with about Sweden is, predictably, the cost. And coming from someone living in London that’s quite an achievement! Still, once my credit card has recovered it’s all positive.