We spent 5 days in Stockholm, Sweden’s beautiful capital, built on 14 islands. Stockholm is certainly not lacking in reasons to visit: a stunning waterfront facade, one of the cleanest and most efficient transit systems, a much-admired sense of style, a vibrant food culture, a slew of pop music exports, and the list goes on…
The praise might have gone to Stockholm’s head a bit, given the number of signs proclaiming Stockholm the “Capital of Scandinavia.” Not sure how fellow Scandinavian rivals Oslo and Copenhagen feel about that, but here are some of our takeaways and impressions.
The “capital of cool”
We stayed in a lovely Airbnb in Södermalm (“Söder” for short) a central island known for its hipster culture and named one of the “coolest neighborhoods in the world” by Vogue in 2014. True, there is a massive hipster movement in Söder in particular: everyone has a bicycle, a beard, and takes their coffee habit too seriously. Having lived in New York, it did feel a bit Brooklyn-esque, but Söder still pulls it off and owns it.
If you take a peek at my Pinterest boards, you’ll see that I have a longstanding obsession with the functional, minimalist home and fashion designs hailing from Sweden. In Stockholm, I could have spent our whole trip stocking up on well-designed basics from Acne Studios, Filippa K and Cheap Monday, and filling my home with minimalistic armchairs found in the hundreds of home decor boutiques calling my name. However, since we are currently homeless and have a mere 55 liters to work with luggage-wise, I resorted to simply window shopping and admiring the street style from afar.
Instead, we embraced the city lifestyle by wandering the neighborhood, enjoying fika at one of the hip cafes, peeking into stylish boutiques, and people-watching well into the white nights while sipping strong cocktails. Here are some of our favorite spots:
- Fotografiska. An amazing museum/center for contemporary photography. There aren’t any permanent collections here, just a rotating list of special exhibitions. Made me want to ditch my iPhone and get a DSLR for the rest of the trip. Definitely a highlight.
- Byredo. For those interested in the insanely amazing scents of cult-favorite perfumier, Byredo, their flagship Stockholm location in Östermalm is a must. They have scents not even found at Barney’s, and at 50% off whatever you’d pay in the US.
- Grandpa. A super trendy store filled with a Stockholm-ish mix of apparel, shoes, accessories, home goods, and gifts. They have several locations, but the one we went to was in the SoFo area of Södermalm. On the last Thursday of every month, Grandpa and other stores in the area do “SoFo nights.” This is when many of the shops in SoFo stay open until 9PM and treat customers to drinks, DJs and discounts.
- Linje To. Cocktail bar in Södermalm. It’s actually a three-faceted venue: a cocktail bar, a wine bar and a barber shop. Beautiful interior, inventive cocktails, and best of all, great people watching.
- Svenkst Tenn. A mecca for all things textiles and home design. Svenkst Tenn is Sweden’s most exclusive interiors store, and walking around the showroom made me feel a new appreciation for Scandinavian design (hint: it’s not all about white and grey simplicity).
Nordic and nutritious
If you didn’t get this from the section above, Stockholm is like your infinitely cooler friend who dresses better, and knows about all of the hip spots before anyone else. Not only that, she’s also way hotter because she is on an all-vegan diet and runs 10 miles a day.
While Scandinavia is certainly well-known for its massive gastronomic movement (and has no shortage of Michelin stars) what we noticed the most is the quality of food people tend to eat. Most places are organic, and it’s very easy to find places that specialize in gluten free, lactose free, vegetarian/vegan cuisine. This is in line with the city’s seemingly maniacal obsession with health and fitness. Wherever we looked (and at all hours) we saw people jogging or going to/coming back from their workouts. Since we stayed right off of the beautiful waterfront running path, we got on the fitness train and did the same!
Stockholm was also the first time we would have a kitchen to ourselves, so I loved the the freedom of grocery shopping and cooking our own meals. When we weren’t doing that, we tried quite a few delicious and healthy spots:
- Urban Deli. A very trendy market/restaurant/bar concept right next to the lovely Nytroget park and great place to enjoy the rare rays of sunlight. It’s a bit of an Eataly concept, and they serve up amazing seafood dishes which are best enjoyed with a glass of rose on their outdoor patio looking over the park.
- Meatballs for the People. Swedish meatballs are inherently unhealthy, but this place was great. They have all different types of balls, and you can go as healthy or rich as you want. Definitely pays to come early, as this place always has a wait.
- Kalf & Hansen. A super fast and casual lunch spot focused on “new-Nordic” cuisine. It’s all organic and centered on beef, fish and vegetarian meatballs served with salad and tasty sauces.
- Folkbaren. A delicious French restaurant we found one night when they ran out of food at Barobao. We’re glad we did, since Folkbaren had a great scene, and served up delicious French and Swedish food, and had an awesome bar scene. A great pre-game spot.
- Östermalms Saluhall. Scandinavia is all about food halls, and this one was voted 7th best in the world. We sampled a few of the restaurants here, and can confidently say that it’s better than anything we’ve had in the states.
A mecca for the musically-inclined
It probably comes as no surprise that Gaetan was most excited about the electronic music scene in Stockholm. Being such a small country, Sweden churns out an impressive number of pop musicians: everyone from Avicii to Robyn, to old favorites like ABBA and Ace of Base, and of course everyone’s music app of choice: Spotify.
My initial theory on this trend was that the Swedish government allocates part of their annual budget to sponsor the production of pop music as a way to curb the overwhelming number of SAD (seasonal affective disorder) cases. Though this was later debunked, we did discover that music school is free for everyone. This explains why there are so many young musical virtuosos coming out of Sweden, they all get an early start!
Despite the sheer amount of talent in the town, we found it rather difficult to just stumble into a bar and hear some amazing musicians (Swedes tend to avoid the spotlight). While we managed to hear some music, we can’t say that we discovered the next Avicii. Here are some of the spots we went to (the best nights to go out are Wednesday, Friday and Saturday):
- Brooklyn Bar. This was a bar/club near our house that has DJ sets nightly. We made the mistake of coming on a Thursday night (no one out) but enjoyed some mediocre DJ’ing, a game of shuffleboard and a few cocktails.
- Tradgarden. Really cool outdoor club in Södermalm. Known for beautiful canal views & a lineup of well-known and up in coming Swedish acts.
- Södra Teatern. A gorgeous 5-story theater located on top of a hill for great views. It had several rooms with different types of music, as well as a few patios great for taking a break and enjoying the view.
- ABBA museum. I had to put this on here since the ABBA Museum was such a highlight of our time in Stockholm…and we probably heard more music there than anywhere else. Totally worth the trip, and I’ve been humming ABBA’s greatest hits pretty much every since.
That’s it for our time in Stockholm. It was a big beautiful city, with a totally approachable vibe. Kind of like a Chicago meets Portland. The city does a great job of marketing itself and we found a lot via their own travel site: https://www.visitstockholm.com.
Now follow the next leg of our journey as we make our way to Norway!