Sandwiched between convoluted Lake Malaren and an extensive archipelago that stretches to the Baltic Sea, Stockholm provides beautiful harbour vistas at every turn, is rich in history and has an enviable standard of living. Renaissance towers and medieval spires are backed by slender glass office towers and surrounded by forest. The old town is a delight and museums excellent, while the modern city showcases cool Nordic style in everything from fashion to bars, local cuisine to architecture.
Traditional sightseeing focuses on Gamla Stan, Stockholm's water-girt old town with its orange and red-painted medieval buildings. Stortoget square is home to the Swedish Academy and Nobel Museum (nobelmuseum.se). Important churches include the 13th-century cathedral Storkyrkan, royal burial place Riddarholmen Church (kungahuset.se), and the German Church with its attractive stained glass. The vast Royal Palace (kungahuset.se) has baroque opulence and crown jewels, and is most entertaining for its lively changing of the guard ceremony.
The city's renowned Den Gyldene Freden (gyldenefreden.se) dates from 1722 but serves contemporary Nordic cuisine such as pigeon breast, poached cod and perhaps Sweden's best chocolate cake. Trendy Bakfickan (operakallaren.se) serves specialities such as reindeer and elk at an informal bar counter. Rosendals Tradgard (rosendalstradgard.se) offers salads, sandwiches and cakes, grows its fruit and vegetables in an adjacent greenhouse, and sources ingredients locally. Leftovers are composted and staff run courses on organic cultivation and cooking.
Shopping in Stockholm provides fine souvenirs or just a stickybeak at classy Scandinavian design. Distinctive, high-quality Swedish crafts include glassware, wooden items in pine and birch, knitwear in Nordic patterns and stainless-steel kitchen utensils. You'll also find painted, provincial handicrafts such as wooden Dalarna horses. Department and chain stores congregate in Norrmalm, while Ostermalm has antique and interior-decoration stores and trendy boutiques. Gamla Stan is a good place to bag antiques, old maps and souvenirs.
Just beyond the city centre, the mostly forested island of Djurgarden has numerous excellent museums, including royal-villa-turned-art-gallery Waldemarsudde (waldemarsudde.se), sprawling Skansen Open-air Museum (skansen.se) with its relocated historic buildings and kids' petting zoo, and the kitschy, glitter-filled and amusing ABBA Museum (abbathemuseum.com). Pick of the lot is Vasa Museum (vasamuseet.se), featuring an astonishingly intact 1628 warship, plus its accompanying contents and treasures, that is rightly Sweden's most-visited attraction.
Clarion Hotel Sign (nordicchoicehotels.se) is a centrally located, design-conscious hotel with friendly staff, a buzzing atmosphere and great buffet breakfast. It has a summer rooftop bar and heated outdoor pool with a view. Eco-warriors should check into Scandic Anglais (scandichotels.com), which features organic breakfasts, airy rooms, earth-friendly housekeeping and a recycling and energy conservation program. For a dose of historical romance, Lady Hamilton Hotel (thecollectorshotels.se) occupies a 1470 building and has charming, feminine decor.
Stockholm is a happening city after dark. Mainstream, upmarket nightclubs are concentrated around city-centre square Stureplan, while southern district Sodermalm has a more bohemian and indie nightlife. What's On magazine, usually available in hotel lobbies, lists live acts and concerts.
Brian Johnston travelled courtesy Visit Stockholm and Celebrity Cruises.