48 Hours In: Stockholm
Take a musical break in Sweden’s handsome capital, where a new museum devoted to its most famous foursome is about to open, says Simon Calder
Simon Calder’s career in travel started at Gatwick Airport, where he cleaned aircraft for Laker Airways and later worked as a security officer. He became The Independent’s Travel Correspondent in 1994, and is known as “the Man Who Pays His Way” because he does not accept free travel facilities. He writes across the Independent titles, as well as for the Evening Standard.
Saturday 04 May 2013
Why go now?
Maximise your enjoyment in the capital of Minimalism. Sweden's happy, handsome capital makes an ideal escape in early summer. The long days make it easier to appreciate the glorious setting. And: can you hear the drums? Opening next week, ABBA The Museum (1).
The main airport, Arlanda, is served from London City by British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com); from Heathrow by BA and SAS (0870 60 727 727; flysas.com); from Gatwick by Norwegian (00 47 21 49 00 15; norwegian.com); from Manchester and Edinburgh by SAS and Norwegian; and from Birmingham by SAS.
The fastest and most expensive public transport into town is the Arlanda Express (arlandaexpress.com), which whizzes to Central Station (2) in 20 minutes for 490 krona (SEK409/£49) return – though if you book online in advance, you can get a weekend return for SEK325 (£32.50).
More economically, take an express bus. Flygbussarna (flygbussarna.se) and Swebus (swebus.se) compete on the 40-minute run to City Terminal, adjacent to Central Station (2), for SEK99 (£10) each way.
Get your bearings
Stockholm comprises a jigsaw of 14 islands where the Baltic Sea meets Lake Malaren. Gamla Stan, the Old City, consists of the three islands at the heart of things. The main commercial and shopping districts – Norrmalm, Vasastaden and Ostermalm – are north of here. South is Sodermalm, home to off-beat boutiques, bars and restaurants. East is the "museum island" of Skeppsholmen. Beyond it, Djurgarden was once the royal hunting ground but is now Stockholm's outdoor playground.
The tourist office (3) at Vasagatan 14 (00 46 8 50 82 85 08; visitstockholm.com) started its summer hours this week; until 15 September, it opens 9am-4pm on Saturday, 10am-4pm on Sunday and 9am-7pm on other days. You can buy a Stockholm Card here, giving unlimited use of buses, underground and trams as well as admission to 80 museums and attractions: SEK495 (£50) for 24 hours, SEK650 (£65) for 48 hours and SEK795 (£80) for 72 hours. It does not include the Arlanda Express.
On Skeppsholmen, a handsome 17th- century barracks has been converted into the chic and comfortable Hotel Skeppsholmen (4) at 1 Grona Gangen (00 46 8 407 23 00; hotelskeppsholmen.com) – with the adjacent former stables housing the studio of Abba's Benny and Bjorn. A typical advance-booking rate for a double is SEK2,155 (£215), including a breakfast that is a real home-grown treat.
The official hotel partner for the new Abba museum is the modern Clarion Sign (5) at Ostra Jarnvagsgatan 35 (00 46 8 676 98 00; clarionsign.se). It is the biggest hotel in town and features a rooftop swimming pool. An Abba Weekend package costs SEK1,785 (£178) per night, double, including breakfast amd entrance to ABBA The Museum (1) .
True Abba fans will want to stay at the Melody Hotel (6) at Djurgardsvagen 68 (00 46 8 502 541 40; melodyhotel.se). It adjoins the museum. Rates for a double room with floor-to-ceiling windows are typically around SEK2,000 (£200), including breakfast.
Take a view
Located on Kungsholmen island, Stockholm's City Hall, the Stadshuset (7), is where municipal architecture meets early Hollywood – and its tower provides a perfect platform for a panorama. Arrive by 9am, when tickets (SEK40/£4) go on sale.
When you descend, join another tour (SEK100/£10) of the city hall's interior.
The sumptuous Golden Hall, decorated in eight million pieces of mosaic, is counterbalanced by the beautiful Blue Hall (in austere red brick). On official occasions, such as the Nobel Banquet, the city hall is closed; check at bit.ly/IsItOpen.
Take a hike
... beside the water to the 13th-century Riddarholmskyrkan (8) (00 46 8 402 60 00; royalcourt.se), the burial place of Swedish monarchs; open 10am-5pm daily from 15 May to 15 September (SEK40/£4). Move east to the heart of the city and thread your way through to the Stortorget (9), the oldest square in the city. It is flanked by merchants' houses and the former stock exchange, now the Nobel Museum – which celebrates the global prizes for excellence (00 46 8 534 818 00; nobelmuseet.se; 11am-5pm daily except Monday, from 3 June 11am-8pm daily; SEK100/£10).
Cross the square and head down Kopmangatan, the "merchant's street" that brings you to Kopmantorget (10), a small square with a statue of St George and the Dragon. Bear left on to Osterlanggatan up to the Royal Palace (11). Arrive by 12.15pm (Sundays, 1pm) for the changing of the guard.
Lunch on the run
On Stortorget (9) Grillska Husets Konditori is a café run by a homeless charity, dispensing excellent soups, salads and sandwiches (11am-6pm weekends, 9am-6pm weekdays).
Or try Ostermalms Hall (12), a historic market where cafés flourish amid the busy stalls (ostermalmshallen.se; 9.30am-4pm Saturdays, 9.30am-6pm weekdays).
Whatever grows, swims or walks in the far north of Europe is on sale at the Ostermalms Hall (12), including meats such as elk, bear and reindeer. Stockholm's version of Liberty is Svenskt Tenn (13) – which has demonstrated form, function, flair and formidable good taste on the waterfront at Strandvagen 5 since 1927 (00 46 8 670 1600; svenskttenn.se). Refuel in the opulent Tea Salon.
The century-old customs hall has been reinvented for the 21st century as Sweden's photography museum: Fotografiska (14) (00 46 8 50 900 500; fotografiska.se; 9am-9pm daily, to 11pm Thursday to Saturday; SEK120/£12). Besides changing exhibitions, a strong attraction is the bar-restaurant on the top floor with superb views across the harbour – and, at weekends, live music.
Dining with the locals
"I want you to feel you're in my house," says Gustav Otterberg, the chef who fuses flame and fine food at the Ekstedt Restaurant (15) at Humlegardsgatan 17 (00 46 8 611 12 10; ekstedt.nu; Tue-Sat evenings). The three-course menu (SEK650/£65) features baked avocado, king crab and juniper smoked pike-perch.
Sunday morning: go to church
At the heart of Gamla Stan stands the Storkyrkan (16), the 13th-century mother church of the Church of Sweden, where monarchs are crowned (9am-4pm; entry SEK40/£4, free to "those looking to take part in a service or to pray"). The elaborate royal pews count among the interior attractions, along with another statue of St George and the Dragon.
Out to brunch
The best brunch in town is at the American Table buffet in the Clarion Sign (5). Separate sittings on Sundays at noon and 2.30pm, 1-3pm on Saturdays, priced SEK305 (£30).
Take a ride
A network of harbour ferries provides superb views at bargain fares. Most of them start or end at the Slussen terminal (17). From here, you can pick up a boat to Djurgarden – a more successful trip than the pride of the Swedish fleet, the warship Vasa, made on her maiden voyage.
The ship's remains are housed in the Vasa Museum (18), which reopened this week after refurbishment (00 46 8 519 548 00; www.vasamuseet.se; 10am-5pm daily, Wednesday to 8pm, SEK130/£13). It tells of how, on 10 August 1628, the Vasa set sail but sank after 15 minutes. For the next 333 years she lay in the harbour's mud until she was resurrected and rehoused.
A walk in the park
Close by is the main entrance to Skansen (19), a Scandinavian theme park aimed at rescuing Sweden's heritage from the march of progress (00 46 8 442 8000; skansen.se; open daily at 10am; closing times vary seasonally; SEK110 /£11).
Like Alfred Nobel, Artur Hazelius was wealthy, enlightened and altruistic. In 1891, as Sweden raced towards an industrial future, he decided to preserve the traditional way of life and dozens of buildings from across the country have been relocated here. Costumed guides reveal how simple, and tough, Nordic life was.
Icing on the cake
Emerge from the main gate of Skansen (19) and cross the road to ABBA The Museum (1), which opens on 5 May at Djurgardsvagen 68 (00 46 8 12 13 28 60; abbathemuseum.com; 10am to 8pm daily; SEK195/£19.50).
There was something in the air that night in Brighton in 1974, when the four unknowns won the Eurovision Song Contest. Abba went on to dominate the charts for a decade. The museum reveals how Agnetha, Bjorn, Benny and Frida formed and later fell apart. "Walk in and dance out," says the publicity. "It feels like we've come home," says Bjorn.
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