A weekend city break can often be a whirl of sightseeing, restaurants and photo opportunities before jumping back on the plane, but if you prefer something a little (okay, a lot) more laid back, a weekend in Stockholm could be just the ticket.
Unlike some major metropolitan destinations, Sweden’s capital city is about as chilled out as you can get. For a start, its unusual layout encourages a more relaxed approach, as the city is spread out across several small islands in Lake Mälaren, looking east to the Baltic sea. It’s a stunningly beautiful city, too – the ubiquitous saffron- or terracotta-colored roofs reflected in the blue waters in summer, or brightly illuminated, snow-covered houses shimmering against the icy lake in winter, are sights you won’t easily forget.
Sadly, there are a few ugly bits too – concrete flyovers that link islands together being the main culprits. But even these monstrosities look pretty lit up by lights in the evening!
The city’s old town, Gamla Stan, is packed with the sort of narrow, twisty, cobblestone streets that make you glad you remembered to pack your walking boots. Crooked old buildings lean over the cobbles, their pale red, orange and cream colors contrasting marvelously with the blue sky. Stockholm’s old town contains many grand public buildings, some dating back to around 700 years ago, including the Royal Palace, the largest in Europe, and the cathedral just next door.
The beautifully preserved old buildings sit side-by-side with souvenir shops, bars, and the many coffee shops and cafés that are so popular with the caffeine-loving Swedes. You can’t go to Stockholm without experiencing the Swedish institution of fika – a coffee-and-cake break that the Swedes make time for every day.
A short trip over a bridge to the south of Gamla Stan takes you to another island neighborhood, Södermalm, where leafy green hills provide the backdrop for a bohemian and artistic scene – visiting the great art galleries and cool hang outs is a fine way to spend a day, and you’ll get to meet and chat to some of the city’s trendiest residents.
If you’re into the idea of some Swedish nightlife, this area has the swankiest clubs and bars. But be warned, you won’t get in anywhere unless you look smart and sober, and often you’ll need to be early too. After 10pm, you’re unlikely to get in unless you’ve telephoned the club in advance. Be prepared to hand over some serious cash, too. A night out in Stockholm is definitely going to put a strain on even a generous budget.
One big upside to Stockholm is the people. The Swedes are very friendly and polite, and almost everyone speaks excellent English. They will be only too happy to tell you about their pride and joy, the skärgård, or archipelago of 24,000 rocky islands that surround the city. A boat cruise around the archipelago, especially at sunset, is a pretty unmissable experience, and will give you something to chat about over fika the next day.
This is one city that’s best enjoyed at a laid back pace. By the end of the weekend, you’ll be enchanted, relaxed, and quite possibly wanting to stay forever.
Bio: Robbie Richardson is a lover of all things European, having travelled all of the Continent’s countries during his sabbatical. Now an intern for a sport publication, he stays in touch with his inner traveller by blogging about European destinations.