While planning our trip to the Ice hotel we thought about spending a few days in Stockholm too and we’re so glad we did. It is a beautiful city to visit and much much more. We flew with Austrian airlines via Vienna from Cyprus, the connection was great and tickets were affordable. To begin though, let me warn you, if you are not used to the cold weather just like Mick and I (we live on an island with 9 months a year of summer) you will be shocked by the cold….so make sure you pack your beanies, scarves, gloves, snow boots and any other warm piece of clothing you can muster!! We did go in January as we were celebrating Mick’s 40th Birthday so this was a special trip as he always wanted to visit Scandinavia. When we reached Arlanda airport in Stockholm it was -17 degrees!! So cold in fact that it was a serious shock to the system. We caught the bus straight into the city and let me tell you their transport system is second to none. We stayed at the Omena hotel which was in the Centre of Stockholm and close to Central station. It was a self service hotel so there was no reception, no room service, in fact, no staff whatsoever. If you are staying there for more than 5 days your room will be cleaned if not, you will not see a soul. Entering the hotel is done using a code provided to you via email once you have paid for your room, one code for entry into the hotel and another for your room. Room prices started at around €40 per night.
Once in our room we settled down for the night as it was quite late. Rested and awoken by the beaming morning sunshine brightened further by the fresh snow that had fallen during the night, we set out to find some breakfast. We started exploring the city by foot like we always do. During the winter months, daylight is limited as they have only a few hours of it so we wasted no time. Breakfast was enjoyed at the Espresso House, they are a chain of cafes all over Stockholm and the bagels were yummy and so was the Caramel latte! Staff were friendly and in Sweden they greet you with a ”Hey Hey”….I love it. After brekkie we walked to the old town which is known as Gamla Stan, it was so beautiful, gorgeous buildings, narrow lanes and cobbled stone streets, it really felt like an old town. It is so well preserved we must of spent around 2 hours walking through every lane. There were plenty of restaurants and cafes to choose from, but Mick and I used our time exploring and taking loads of photos rather than spending time eating and drinking and we loved it. There are quaint little shops and we bought loads of souvenirs for our mantle piece.
Our next stop was the museum solely dedicated to the salvaged warship Vasa, what can I say about this place? WOW!!! The story behind this ship was both fascinating and tragic. It set sail on it’s maiden voyage and sank not very far from its departure point due to it’s unstable design, killing 30 of the 400 or so crew and soldiers on board. They raised the ship in the 50’s and so many ancient artefacts we still intact and brought to the surface along with the ship……including the skeletal remains of 15 of the 30 that had perished. You can see them all in the Vasa museum, if you are a history buff or just fascinated by real life stories and events, you must pay this museum a visit.
Of course, as usual, we went on foot to the Museum as we always have a map, it makes things so much easier and you always get to see other things along the way…..it was very easy to locate too. The opening times during the winter are between 10 am till 5 pm and the cost per adult is 130 Kroner (€14). You will need at least 3 hours to see the whole ship along with all the other bit’s and pieces within the museum.
After touring the museum we headed into the gift shop, lots of souvenirs and gifts to purchase but as usual for museum/gallery/exhibit souvenir shops expect to pay over the odds. We also decided to have a nice warm drink at the cafe overlooking the river which was really pretty, you can opt for a quick drink with a snack or a proper meal and dessert.
Food…..my favourite topic:)) Researching places to eat I found a medieval themed restaurant in Gamla Stan (old town) and what a great find?! The name of the restaurant was Aifur Krog & Bar this place takes you back in time. The whole place is designed to take you back to the medieval times. Once you enter you are greeted by the host, clothed in period garbs and totally looking the part. He asks your names and where you are from. Armed with this information, he turns to all the patrons, asks for hush and screams at the top of his lungs in a big booming voice ”WE WELCOME MICK AND ANDRIA FROM CYPRUS!” at which point everyone claps and cheers and welcomes you to Sweden….a touch embarrassing (especially for Mick who hates drawing attention to himself) but very warming and a lot of fun none the less. You are then escorted to a communal table where you enjoy your meal Viking style sitting cheek to cheek with total strangers. Mind you, if it’s a romantic dinner you’re looking for this isn’t the place. It was great though as the Swedes are so nice, you get to meet people and it was great to get tips and info about their great country. The food was yummy and everything from the menu to all the utensils and glasses are medieval style and it all makes for a very unique experience. They also had two guys playing folk music of the time and all the wait-staff were in themed uniform. We had a great time and I would highly recommend it. We paid around 700 Kroner which is €75, okay it’s not cheap but for special occasions it’s well worth the extra. Stockholm has great restaurants but can be quite expensive so do your research before you go. We chose quaint little cafes and restaurants and a meal for 2 people with no alcohol was around €40.
Another thing that impressed (and surprised) me a lot about Stockholm was the food options in their supermarkets, you can get great sandwiches and quality meals at very affordable prices, great stuff when on a budget especially as the quality was outstanding and seemed home-made with fresh produce rather than the factory/processed stuff usually on offer. We were also very impressed by a place called GOOH they are a chain of little kiosks in which you can choose a packaged meal and they will heat it up for you and they are scrummy. The name in Swedish is short for ‘good and healthy’…..and believe me, they are exactly that!!
Ostermalm Saluhall is a beautiful market that sells everything from fresh meat& seafood to fruit & vegetables, to cheese & wine. Wandering through the market and we noticed that a lot of the locals shop here and that is always a good sign. There are a few cafes and restaurants in there too.
We also visited Skansen which was really nice, it’s an open air museum located on Djorgarden island. It was opened to show life in Sweden before the industrial era. All the museums ‘residents’ live, work and dress as did their ancestors, even filling their days with the jobs, chores and activities of the era, you can see glass blowing, shoe makers, iron mongers and traditional bakers and although part of the park closes during the winter months, you can still enjoy the animals and sea life, all taken care of in the proper way, although it is called a ‘zoo’ it is more like a farm with all the animals running free in acres of land……….although I must say the seal was my favourite. This place is great for kids and I am sure during the summer months when the whole area is open it must be great.
If shopping is your thing Stockholm has an abundance of malls, loads of shops but let me warn you it is really expensive. Drottninggatan is one of the main shopping strips, it’s a pedestrian only area so you can move freely between the shops. We rarely shop during our travels so I’m afraid information on this topic is a bit thin here….the prices kind of kept us away too….
Transportation throughout the city is great and very convenient. Central station is in the heart of the city and pretty much links you to every destination throughout Sweden. We set off from there by train to take us to Kiruna when we visited the Ice Hotel and it is much cheaper than flying. As I mentioned earlier though walking through a city is so much better and you get to enjoy it so much more. Make sure to keep warm though, thermals are a must!! and always have a hat, scarf and gloves especially when you are not used to these freezing temperatures.
Overall, Sweden as a whole, it’s people and the country itself is very forward thinking, energetic, lively…….and well….organised and efficient. I know those last two aren’t really the most glamorous of comments but it really is a place where you feel that every plan you make or idea that you have can be catered for. This is a place of open mindedness, a place where ‘foreign’ ideas are taken on board and a place where everyone can express themselves and it won’t be frowned upon, in fact it will be accepted by young and old. There was a reason Mick was always attracted to Scandinavia…….having visited Sweden, I now know why…