Not for nothing is this Nordic beauty the unofficial capital of Scandinavia: Stockholm is a growing center of great food, cutting-edge design and postcard scenes of storybook bridges, canals and architecture.
Author CHANEY KWAK
PHOTOGRAPHS BY NICHOLAS PITT
LEGEND HAS IT that Vikings founded Stockholm after filling a hollowed-out log with gold, laying it in the water and letting it guide them ashore. The tale is dubious, but the mes sage is clear: This city is golden. The 14 islands that make up Stockholm were once known to the rest of the world as the Venice of the North. And although classic Swedish humility prevents locals from saying so, Stockholm gives that other canal city a run for its money in many regards, especially in the culinary department. Forget frozen meatballs and bland potatoes; as Nordic cuisine finally receives the attention it deserves, Stockholm’s foodie scene is coming of age. Today, visitors to Stockholm will find a cool capital filled with rich history, cosmopolitan glamour and stunning beauty. With an unparalleled standard of living and cutting-edge style, this Nordic archipelago has proven itself worthy of its uncharacteristically immodest self-applied title: “The Capital of Scandinavia.”
DAY ONE | You wake up to the sound of birdsong at Hotel Skeppsholmen, an understated boutique inn appointed with a collection of recognizably Scandinavian furniture and offering sweeping views of the shimmering Lake Mälaren. Skeppsholmen, a small, verdant islet located at the gateway to the Baltic Sea, was once mainly used for military purposes, but has since become a little oasis away from the bustle of the museum-dotted city. After a Swedish breakfast of yogurt, cheese and bread on the hotel’s waterfront terrace, you go for a stroll. Långa Raden leads from the sparkling waterfront to Le Paradis Fantastique, a whimsical sculpture garden where bright, corpulent figures by Niki de Saint Phalle frolic among Jean Tinguely’s Dadaist kinetic machines. A walk around the outdoor exhibition whets your appetite for more modern art.
Ascend the hill to Moderna Museet, an expansive space of light and air, where you pass the time browsing paint ings in a world-class collection including works by Picasso, Matisse and Dalí. You take a seat at the café, a platform of hardwood and glass, for a light lunch of baked salmon and spring salad. The view across the bay is rich in more ways than one: The promenade of Strandvägen boasts some of the most expensive addresses in all of Scandinavia.
Cross a couple of bridges over to Gamla Stan, Stock holm’s medieval old town, located on a neighboring island. The orange- and vanilla-colored 17th-century buildings harken back to Stockholm’s heyday, when the Baltic Sea was effectively a Swedish pond. From the harbor, a statue of “King Charming,” Gustav III, faces the steep boulevard of Slottsbacken. You walk up the hill, following the same path that Princess Victoria’s wedding procession took in 2010, passing the Baroque Royal Palace, which crowns the old city, and head to Stortorget, with its postcard-pretty shops and cafés.
Exploring the rolling cobblestone lanes that crisscross the island, you stumble upon Mårten Trotzigs Gränd, a trompe l’oeil of an alley that tapers down to 3 feet wide, playing with your perception of distance. When you emerge on the other side, you’re a bit disoriented. A glance up at the brick-and-copper clock tower of the iconic Storkyrkan, the 700-year-old cathedral where the Swedish Reformation began, in 1520, helps you get your bearings.
The old name for Stockholm, “Staden mellan broarna,” means “City Between Bridges.” You cross one footbridge, then another, then another, working your way east until you arrive at the Grand Hôtel on Blasieholmshamnen, which has accommodated every Nobel Prize winner since 1901. Sink into a plush velvet armchair at the Cadier Bar, and order a cocktail from Henrik Jensen, who clinched the 2011 Swedish Bartender of the Year trophy with his “Raspberry Lemonade,” made with elderflower liquor and lemon vodka. Sipping the drink, you scope the place for any stray Nobel laureates. They prove elusive.
For dinner, try the on-site Michelin-starred Matbaren, a casual “food bar.” Walk up in jeans (the dress code is casual, reservations are optional) and secure a seat at the horseshoe shaped counter in a modest wood-paneled room. Chef Mathias Dahlgren creates small-plate interpretations of Swedish cooking, like sashimi of salmon and reindeer. It says a lot about the eatery that your neighbor is a restaurateur himself. You take his recommendation and order the perch steeped in an emulsion of forest mushrooms.
After all that, you’ll need a drink. Head to Riche, an old-school bar that has withstood the caprice of trend-conscious Stockholmers. It has two sections: one elegant and mellow, peopled by 40-something patrons, and the other full of slick-haired bright young things who wear aviator sunglasses at night. You opt for the latter, and watch the locals shed their cool reserve as champagne mist fills the air. You stay well into the night. This is, after all, the land of the Midnight Sun.
(1) Hotel Skeppsholmen Gröna gången 1; Tel: 8-407-23-00
(2) Le Paradis Fantastique Långa Raden
(3) Moderna Museet Skeppsholmen; Tel: 8-5195-5200
(4) Gamla Stan Västerlånggatan and Österlånggatan
(5) Royal Palace Slottsbacken 1; Tel: 8-402-61-23
(6) Mårten Trotzigs Gränd Västerlånggatan
(7) Storkyrkan Trangsund 1; Tel: 8-723-30-16
(8) Grand Hôtel South Blasieholmshamnen 8;
(9) Riche Birger Jarlsgatan 4; Tel: 8-545-035-60