My family is from Stockholm on my mother’s side. Her grandfather’s family, who emigrated to Sydney, had a home that sat below the Captain Cook’s Bridge on the George’s River that they called ‘Stockholm’ in memory of their place of birth. He was a maker of Swedish furniture until a boating accident devastatingly crushed one of his arms. His two brothers went off and married the family maids, much to the chagrin of the rest of the family.
If I could transport back in time, I would love to be around in this house and see how these stories of my family all played out. To see how much of the Swedish culture was woven into their everyday lives. Did they break for fika? Did they speak a mix of English and Swedish and did the brothers whisper Jag älskar dig to the maids while they worked? Was there some pieces of furniture made by my great great grandfather that really should be in my lounge room right now? Probably, but I’m not sure I’ll ever know…
Needless to say, I have wanted to visit Stockholm for a long time. And while a whirlwind visit (we stayed 3 nights, plus a night camping in the Stockholm Archipelago), we managed to eat well, sleep in one of the most stylish hotels (Miss Clara – see below) of my hotel-staying career (I like to think it’s that – I’m at the beginning and hope it will be a long one), wander through neighbourhoods from the Old Town to Södermalm, and indulge my inner book nerd with a stunning library and new fave bookstore.
STAY: HTL Kungsgatan
We checked in to this stylish and central hotel once at the start of our trip, and again when we returned from the archipelago (more on that below). It’s a good option for a centrally located place to stay (just down from a Monki store where I got a very Scandi long white button up shirt which had me looking the part), with a stylish bar and back courtyard. OK, it wasn’t just a good location for shopping, it was good because to the north there is the area of Vasastan (where the incredible Stockholm Library is – more on that below), to the East is Östermalm (also worth a visit for fancy Swedish design stores and where you go to get ferries into the archipelago), with the old town Gamla Stan close by to the south. It’s also more reasonably priced than (the incredible but expensive) Miss Clara that we stayed for our third night in Stockholm.
Gamla Stan (Old Town)
Each day in Stockholm, we found ourselves wandering into Gamla Stan for one reason or other, usually to get to the other side, for the ferry to Djurgården or to wander over in to Södermalm, which we’d been told was the hipster heart of the city. Gamla Stan is a weaving network of charming, cobblestone streets (quite surprising given in the 19th Century it was considered a slum!), lined with traditional bistros and inns, souvenir stores and ice-cream shops. It leads you down to the sunny Kornhamnorg Square, from where you can can cross the bridge into said hipster heart or jump on the ferry. I recommend you do both.
If you missed my post on Oaxen Slip, one of the coolest restaurant’s in Stockholm, jump over now and take a peek, then you will see why we chose to visit Djurgården in the first place. Here you can also find the ABBA Museum, an amusement park Gröna Lund, and our reason for visiting a second time – the Vasa Museum, which houses the world’s only in-tact 17th Century ship, a royal commission built to be Sweden’s greatest war ship, that awkwardly sank about 30 minutes into its maiden voyage. If you see the heavy top and light bottom of the structure you’ll be like ‘duh, but it’s an incredible sight and an echo or an earlier time.
TASTE: Gro Restaurang
Often when I travel, I line up interviews for my Bondi Beach Radio show before I go. When I heard Aussie chef, food stylist and photographer Simon Bajada, who had recently released the book Nordic Light, was living in Stockholm, I set about lining up a chat. When I interviewed him in the lobby of Nobis Hotel, I couldn’t help but ask: what restaurant was he loving in Stockholm right now and he didn’t hesitate: Gro. To paraphrase, he said what they were doing to raise the flavours of everyday vegetables was blowing his mind. So I thanked him and made a reservation.
This is one of my fondest dining memories ever. Somehow the team here deconstruct simple vegetables, have methods to heighten the flavours – while still staying true to the way that vegetable should taste – and then present them back as something simple, but suddenly magnificent. You really need to experience it for yourself! True Nordic food.
Now, on to what we ate in our ‘Vegivor set menu’. Simple soft and crusty bread, followed by our first dish of carrot, sunflower and marigold. Summer cabbage, beans and pumpkin seeds was next, followed by broccoli, almond and chard. Dessert was to finish, with strawberries, sour cream and chamomile. The four courses were 500 SEK, which came to around $78AUD each, plus wine.
STAY: Miss Clara
Our stay at one of Stockholm’s best hotels was thanks to an engagement present from my Swedish Grandmother Joan. She’s always had great taste – I like to think it’s the Swedish style coming through her veins – so it makes sense she indulged us in such a classy way on our Stockholm trip. A full post on Miss Clara is coming soon!
TASTE: Urban Deli
On the same block as Miss Clara is the wonderful mini market Urban Deli, which caters to all your deli-style food needs and has cute outdoor seating as well. There is fresh produce, cheeses, condiments for daysss, and a bread bar that makes some insane (as in good madness) sandwiches. In fact, the sandwich concoction here of feta, chili, lime, mint spread, coriander, green leaves, avocado, and pickled radishes was probably just about the most delicious sandwich I’ve ever eaten. Big call. But we really ate well in Stockholm.
Head a little north of the city into Vasastan to behold one of the world’s most beautiful libraries! The Stockholms Stadsbibiotek, or Stockholm Public library has a magnificent dome central reading room, with a large and impressive English section (I think Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh was one of the first books I stumbled on, always a good sign). Take the winding stairs up to the circular balcony to browse, sit quietly with a book down below, or scout out the dedicated poetry corner and marvel that such a wondrous place exists. We could have stayed all day. Hey, why didn’t we stay all day?!
…perhaps because we got hungry and also had to pick up our washing from the laundromat. Luckily, nearby is one of the really hip Stockholm cafes, which I discovered in the very essential Scandinavia Standard. In fact, I interviewed the lovely Freya McOmish from Scandinavia Standard when I bumped into her at Roskilde Festival, which you can listen to on the Scandinavia Special of Wanderlust here.
TASTE: Cafe Pascal
The croissant that I had here with scrambled egg and cured ham was everything. Delicious as the coffee was, too. Loved the understated interiors of exposed brick, hanging bulb lights and teal counters. We happily took a break and aimlessly flicked through Swedish magazines.
As if a beautiful library is not enough, Stockholm also has to pull out an inspired little bookstore as well? City after my own heart! Paper Cut is a must visit for anyone who loves the art of print. It is stocked with well-curated magazines and journals, including Kinfolk, Frankie and Lucky Peach. It also has an excellent travel guide section with the CITIx60 guides (the Stockholm guide is a must), and Monocle City Guides as well (I’m about to try out their Honolulu Guide). I could browse here for days, and loved it so much I had to pick up a cute Paper Cut tote bag.
In Södermalm you will stumble upon lots of great stores and restaurants. Another worth a visit if you love homewares is the leafy Herr Judit with more curiosities for the home than you could ask for.
TASTE: Falafel Baron
This is a Skymie fave! We left lunch a little late one day as we wandered from Gamla Stan into Södermalm, and after walking for a while without finding something suitable (especially for a vegetarian), we were getting a little hangry. Then like a beacon, Falafel Baron appears before us, and holy s*&t it was pita pockets full of chickpea deliciousness! Afternoon saved!
When our time in Stockholm came to a close, I was feeling a calm content about this place that had always been a thread of my family history, but one I had only just scratched the surface of. I felt pride about my connection to there, and a definite wish to return. But alas, we were off to Norway. More on that soon…
The other, perhaps the best in fact, thing about Stockholm is that it sits in the Swedish archipelago and all you need to is jump on a ferry to access one of thousands of islands. We chose Svartso, and either we lucked upon the coolest island of all (and there are 30,000 of them, so this is highly unlikely), or there is a whole sea of delightful islands to be discovered in the area. That prospect alone would have me revisit Sweden. Read about our Svartso free-camping experience here.
Want more? Listen to my Scandinavia Special of my Wanderlust on Bondi Beach Radio show…
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