When to go
At the height of summer, Stockholm never gets truly dark and temperatures can top 30C. But most of the city's big attractions are in indoor locations, so the winter gloom should not spoil your fun if you visit later in the year. Winter festive cheer - along with the glimmer of a chance that you might see the Northern Lights - comes in the shape of processions of children singing to commemorate St Lucia's day on 13 December. Romantically, they are led by a girl with candles in her hair.
By air, SAS Scandinavian Airlines (tel: 0845 60 727727) flies to Stockholm Arlanda from Heathrow, Stansted, Edinburgh and Manchester. British Airways (tel: 0345 222111) and Finnair (tel: 0990 997711) fly there from Manchester, Heathrow and Gatwick. Malmo Aviation (tel: 0181-597 3111) flies there from London City airport (via Malmo) and Ryanair (tel: 0541 569569) flies from Stansted to Skavsta airport, about 60 miles outside the city. If you book in advance and travel on less popular flights, you can expect to pay as little as pounds 100 return.
If you would prefer to travel by sea, Scandinavian Seaways (tel: 0171- 616 1414) sails from Newcastle to Gothenburg (via Kristiansand) in about 25 hours, on Fridays and Mondays. From 23 August, four people with a car would pay pounds 684 return. From Gothenburg the 294-mile drive to Stockholm takes around six hours.
Stockholm is compact enough to get around on foot, but if you feel it necessary to explore further afield, or to take the strain off your feet, the public transport system is, as you would expect of a country known for its efficiency, a joy to use.
Choose from the Tunnelbanen (underground) - its stations are marked with a big blue T - and the buses, or buy a Stockholm Card from one of the tourist information offices. This useful purchase costs between pounds 15 and pounds 37.50 for adults and between pounds 2.50 and pounds 7.90 for children, depending on whether you want it to last between one and three days and will get you admission to 70 museums and attractions, free travel on public transport, free sightseeing by boat and free parking.
Alternatively, ask any tourist information office about the SL Tourist Card, which gives free travel on buses, the underground and local trains for pounds 4.50 for one day or pounds 9 for three days, with reduced prices for children. Or hire a bike from one of the city's many rental companies for between about pounds 10.50 to pounds 16.50 per day.
The various chunks of the city are so lapped by water that you practically feel like you are floating. The benefit of this is that you can hop from place to place on the regular city ferries for around pounds 1.50 per leg. If you find yourself in need of a taxi (where else could you ride in a stretch- Volvo?), expect it to be an expensive trip - around pounds 4.50 to pounds 9. A specially reduced rate for women travelling alone at night is available from Taxi Kurir (tel: 00 46 8 30 0000).
Where to stay
For the ultimate splurge, book yourself in at Hasseludden Konferens and Yasuragi spa, 132 81 Saltsjo-Boo (tel: 00 46 8 747 6100), about 20 minutes' drive from the city centre. A night at this new Japanese-style spa costs pounds 124 per person, with all meals included. You then pay for treatments on top (such as shiatsu, pounds 37.50 for 50 minutes).
For a comfortable city-centre base, try the Hotel Esplanade at Strandvagen 7A (tel: 00 46 8 663 0740). Double rooms, all with shower and toilet, cost pounds 137, including breakfast in the art nouveau breakfast room. For romance, book the elegant corner room, number 14 (a bargain pounds 100 on Fridays and Saturdays).
And, if this still sounds like too much, take yourself off to Af Chapman at Vastra Brobanken, Skeppsholmen (tel: 00 46 8 463 2266), a huge ship built in 1888, enjoying a new lease of life as a youth hostel. A bed costs pounds 10 per person, per night..
What to see and do
The best exhibit at the Vasa Museum at Djurgarden-Galarvarvet (tel: 00 46 8 519 548 00 or: www.vasamuseet.se) is a huge warship that sank on its maiden voyage in 1628 before it had even left the city's harbour (thanks to a serious weight problem). Excavated in 1961, its muddy timbers have been carefully restored and the ship now stands in a regally dry dock, inside a specially constructed museum. Aside from the ship itself, your pounds 4.50 entrance price (only 75p for children) allows you access to the artefacts that were salvaged from its 300-year resting place. There is also a film about the Vasa's discovery and restoration and a children's activity area.
To get something of a sense of what the city was like at the time when this great ship was built, take a stroll through Gamla Stan. Browse through this old part of town, catching delicious smells as they waft past from restaurants and peering into churches or, deeper into the lanes and squares, the windows of shops and cafes, packed with tourists.
Plunge back into the 20th century with a visit to the Centralbadet at Drottninggatan 88 (tel: 00 46 8 24 24 02). Built in the art nouveau style in 1904, its walls are a dark green mass of curling foliage and graceful flowers. Sit in the quiet courtyard cafe or make the most of your ticket (pounds 6, except for Saturday afternoons when the popularity of the elegant pool forces the price up to pounds 7.50), with a jacuzzi, a workout in the gym, all manner of saunas (dry, wet and steam), a handy shop, oh, and a 25- metre pool.
Finally, bring yourself up to date with a visit to the Moderna Museet (Museum of Modern Art) on the island of Skeppsholmen (tel: 00 46 8 519 55200 or: www.modernamuseet.se). It is the ideal place for a crash course in artistic genres, from Henri Matisse to Salvador Dali and surrealism, plus Roy Lichtenstein and pop art. This museum houses all the not-so-old favourites, right through to today's cream of the creative crop: Nan Goldin's photographs, Anthony Gormley's floor-full of glass sperm and, finally, Brontosaurus by Sam Taylor-Wood.
Where to shop
The Gotgatan area in Sodermalm is the trendy district of town for design- conscious Stockholm dwellers. Face Stockholm cosmetics at Gotgatan 31 (tel: 00 46 8 694 9171), started by Swede Gun Nowak in 1980, is now a global booming business.
For stylish stationery, Ordning and Reda, Sturegallerian 47, (tel: 00 46 8 611 1200) has Swedish-designed paper products, made at the O&R bookbindery in Stockholm (eco- friendly but very chic, too).
Ahlens department store caters for just about everything but, if you are really here to shop, Europe's third largest country is a consumer goods paradise; the home of Electrolux, Saab, Volvo, Hennes & Mauritz and, of course, Ikea.
Food and drink
The world's funkiest McDonald's, at Kungsgatan 4, is the oldest in Sweden but was recently redecorated (by architects Claesson, Koivisto and Rune) to celebrate its 25th anniversary.
Nearby, the best healthy fast-food alternative is Meaning Green. A slice of carrot cake and a coffee will cost you pounds 1.10, a teriyaki wrap and an orange juice pounds 3.40, and then there are all manner of muffins for 75p, smoothies at pounds 1.80, salads from pounds 2.50 and "exotic nuts" for 90p.
For something less hasty but more elegant, try the Opera Dining Room, a glitzy smorgasbord of style with an amazing painted ceiling and lots of massive mirrors. The Opera itself first opened in 1787 but today there are four restaurants around the building. The dining room was the place to hang out and there is still a certain feel to it. The executive chef, Werner Vogeli, doubles as Traiteur of the Royal Swedish Court, so is reponsible for all official banquets at the Royal Palace.
Den Gyldene Freden (The Golden Peace), Osterlanggatan 17 Gamia Stan, is Stockholm's oldest restaurant with an atmosphere and home-style specialities that are unbeatable. The quotation on the rest-room tiles is from Carl- Michael Bellman, one of Sweden's national poets, who used to drink here. But it's not cheap, charging around pounds 30 for two courses.
Gondolen, Stadsgarden 6, (tel: 00 46 8 641 7090) is great for schmoozing around in the evening at sunset. Who cares what the food is like when you are up here with this view? Make straight for the bar and ask for an Akvavit, a shot of pure vodka. Even if you are teetotal, the ride up and the view from the Katarina Elevator is worth the trip.
Jazz nights make the Lydmar Hotel, Sturegatan 10, (tel: 00 46 8 566 11300) the grooviest place to be in Stockholm at the moment. It is a restaurant in smouldering decor, with beautiful bar staff and swish Swiss food. Try the seared fillet of char for pounds 9.50 and a citrus risotto with green asparagus at pounds 2.50 on the side.
Prohibitively high alcohol prices, the scourge of Swedish nightlife, are gradually coming down due to increased competition. Expect to pay between pounds 2 and pounds 4 for a beer. There is no shortage of live music venues in Stockholm, from pubs to clubs, concert halls to bars. Queues are common on a Wednesday evening as this is the chosen time to party for city dwellers.
Stockholm Information Service (tel: 00 46 8 789 24 90 or: www.stoinfo.se) has a good shop and library and you can pick up a pocket-sized, English- language Stockholm Guide (pounds 2.20, but sometimes given away free), with maps, lists of shops, museums, restaurants, and all sorts of useful little facts. The main office is on Hamnagatan in Norrmaln, on the ground floor of the Sverigehuset (Swedish House). Also, look out for Stockholm This Week, the city's free entertainment listings magazine, available from tourist offices and hotels.