Saturday, May 10, 2014


Stockholm's Old Town on a spring day

Sunshine makes a huge difference to cities such as Stockholm, where the dark winter days can fill one with an overwhelming desire to flee south.

Once the light comes out, the Swedish capital comes into its own, showing off its waterways and striking pastel-hued buildings. A warning for those who can't even draw a straight line: spring in Stockholm might push you to sign up for a course in oil-pastel painting.

Cityscape at sunset
The city pulses with restored energy as well, and travellers can find much to keep them occupied.

One doesn’t need to spend too much time searching for a place to stay because accommodation ranges from bright, clean youth hostels to fancy old-world establishments

In between are lodgings such as the Clarion Hotel Sign, a new architectural landmark designed by Swedish architect Gert Wingårdh. The building, dominated by granite and glass (imagine a modern Tower of Pisa), leans over the historic Norra Bantoget, a square near the Central Station. Its convenient location makes it a good base for exploring the city, as a short stroll puts one in the heart of things.

The Drottninggaten shopping street, a pedestrian thoroughfare with all the well-known Swedish brands, is less than five minutes away, for instance. The street is home to what seems like the largest H&M store in the world, but tourists shouldn’t expect the prices to be any cheaper than in their home city. A common complaint about Sweden is that everything is “so expensive”.

Royal guards, on their way to duty
Drottninggaten leads to the imposing Parliament building, the Riksdagshuset, and to the Royal Palace, one of the largest palaces in Europe. This is a huge block of a building that couldn’t by any stretch of the imagination be called beautiful, but the royal guards make up for the lack of splendour.

With their horses, bugles and colourful uniforms, they put on a memorable spectacle at the changing-of-the-guard ceremony in the palace’s courtyard. It's wise to try to get a good position early because the warm weather can mean big crowds jostling to see the show. 

Behind the royal abode, one can explore the narrow, cobblestoned streets of Gamla stan, the Old Town. This medieval area used to be called “The Town Between the Bridges” as it lies on an island. In spring, the soft-tinted buildings take on a special light, and it’s a pleasure to stop for coffee on the Stortoget, a square where the colours of the old merchant houses flow from rose to ochre.

Houses on the Stortoget
Besides the Royal Palace, Gamla stan is home to several major attractions including the Nobel Museum, the Stockholm Cathedral, Riddarholm church, and the Riddarhuset or House of Nobility – all worth seeing.

From Gamla stan, a walk along the water shows a different side of Stockholm. Water, in fact, is another reason that the city shimmers in spring, with reflected splashes of light all around as one crosses bridges such as the Centralbron or rides a bike along the Strandvägen. Sight-seeing boats also criss-cross the bay and offer some spectacular views of Stockholm’s diverse islands.

Tourists can hop off the boat on Djurgården and visit an array of museums, galleries or even an amusement park. "Abba: The Museum", devoted to Sweden's iconic pop group, is here, and another must-see is the Vasa Museum, which houses the world’s best-preserved 17th-century warship.

A section of the Vasa warship
The massive 64-gun Vasa keeled over on its maiden voyage in 1628, and sank in the middle of Stockholm harbour after sailing a mere 1,300 metres. It was salvaged in 1961 with - so we’ve been told - the skeletons of its crew still on board. 

After a day of seeing sights such as this remarkable ship, one can dine al fresco in Gamla stan at any of several good restaurants. 

Another option is to head back to the Clarion Hotel Sign, where the renowned Ethiopian-born Swedish chef Marcus Samuelsson has set up his American Table Brasserie and Bar. Here, Swedish ingredients are used for new American cuisine, making for an unusual mixture in this Nordic town. - Text and photos by Tasshon

A cookbook by Swedish chef Marcus Samuelsson.
His restaurant "American Table" can be found
at the Clarion Hotel Sign in Stockholm.