Nicknamed the “Venice of Scandinavia,” the Swedish capital is a major hub for all things political, economic, and cultural in northern Europe. It is also the most-populous capital among the Nordic countries, with over two million in the metropolitan area. Stockholm has come a long way since its Viking days, as it has become notable for hosting the annual Nobel Prize and headquartering H&M today. Certainly, it has no plans of stopping soon.
Similar to Copenhagen, the city of Stockholm comprises of several islands, 14 in total. They are linked by various bridges, along with public transport like the metro. Interestingly, I was told that part of the metro itself goes underwater, before resurfacing at one of the archipelagos south of the city. In addition, the Stockholm metro system is claimed to be the “longest art gallery in the world,” with plenty of quirky and extravagant art works decorating the walls underground. Definitely makes the commute to work somewhat colorful!
Stockholm would be the only Swedish city I would be visiting while cruising the Baltic Sea with my family. Never mind the fact that my knowledge of the capital, let alone Sweden in general, was limited to Vikings, ABBA, and IKEA (especially with their signature meatballs). You could say that I really didn’t know what to expect upon stepping foot on Swedish soil, but I ventured into it with an open mind and learned a few tidbits along the way.
Once disembarking our cruise ship, we had a half-day of touring Stockholm. Our guide brought us to our first stop of the day, which was the Vasa Museum. It’s considered the most-visited, non-art museum in Scandinavia with nearly 1.5 million people having visited in 2017. The museum houses the eponymous, 17th-century ship, which was considered one of the strongest, naval vessels in the world. It had originally been built for war-time use, as the then-King of Sweden was fighting against Poland and Lithuania. Massive and ornate in design, the Vasa embarrassingly sank during its maiden voyage due to being top-heavy, and it wasn’t until the 1950’s that it was rediscovered and salvaged. It was then placed into the Vasa Museum, which opened in 1990, and it has been its home ever since.
It is no joke that the Vasa is huge– in fact, it’s ENORMOUS. The ship is large enough for a tour group (and several more) to climb aboard and explore its nooks and crannies. It was impressive to see the Vasa really well-preserved since its recovery, all the while to admire the remnants of intricate bronze designs on the ship’s exterior. I had never been one for ships or boats, but considering Sweden’s long history along the Baltic Sea, it was actually fascinating to learn more about the engineering techniques (and failures) of ship design at the museum.
We next headed to the Stockholm City Hall. Although one might wonder what’s so special about a municipal building, it is important to note that Stockholm’s is known for hosting the Nobel Prize banquet that’s held every year on December 10th. It’s a highly-regarded event, as it’s published in the press and televised around the world to honor those who contribute to the advancement in the sciences and literature. Due to its fame, the city hall has since become a tourist draw for nearly a century.
Our tour group visited two halls inside the Stockholm City Hall. The Blue Hall was the first one we saw, right upon entering the building. It appears as a stony courtyard, but in fact, it transforms into a bustling and crowded venue for the Nobel Prize banquet, with plenty of food, speeches, and awards to be given each year. Funny enough, the Blue Hall isn’t actually blue, but rather brick-red– it was originally intended to be painted blue as means of representing the city’s geographical waters, but the architect changed his mind and left the red brick as it was. The name “Blue Hall” stuck, however, and it’s still known as that today.
The Golden Hall was located on the second floor. Unlike the misnomer of the Blue Hall, this one was actually golden, and brilliantly so. The walls are covered in gilded mosaics that depict Swedish history in a Byzantium flair. In general, the city hall’s architecture was heavily inspired by Venetian and Ottoman works, as much of its interior is meant to show the importance of opulence in the face of Nobel Prize winners. The Golden Hall definitely dispelled my notion of municipal buildings as lacking in grandeur, and since then I’ve been keen on visiting city halls for that very reason.
We ventured on to Gamla Stan, the Old Town of Stockholm. The place dates back to the 13th century, and it was originally a hub for the community and merchants. Compared to the more-modern buildings of the city, Gamla Stan is the opposite with cobblestone streets and colorful, Baroque-style buildings in the main square. Despite the massive modernization of Stockholm throughout the 20th century, the Old Town was spared from being torn down, and today it’s a major tourist spot for a glimpse of what Sweden used to be prior to the modern era.
Unfortunately, we were running a bit behind time by that point, so we didn’t have any free time to wander around, or even get souvenirs. Our tour guide took us to a part of the Old Town for sweeping views of the harbor, and that effectively ended our tour of Stockholm. Granted, it was a bit rushed towards the end, but the harbor views were a pleasant way to round off our short time in the Swedish capital.
I found Stockholm to be somewhat underwhelming, even if it is a bigger capital and more industrialized than its Scandinavian neighbors’. While I did appreciate the Golden Hall and Gamla Stan, I found that there wasn’t so much to see or do there. Perhaps I would’ve needed an extra night in town to experience more, but in any case, I liked the short, half-day tour and I’m glad to have gotten a taste of Sweden.
That concludes my Scandinavian adventures! I’ll be updating you about my more-recent travels soon. Thanks for reading!