It was a cold winter day, with temperature of about 0 degrees Celsius. And we found it comfortable, and my I dare to say – ‘warm’. We had landed in Stockholm after spending five days in the Arctic – exploring the Ice Hotel and witnessing the mystical Northern Lights. The temperature in the Arctic was at least -20 degrees Celsius. Obviously, Stockholm seemed to have good weather!
In the true sense, Stockholm is fairly cold in February. The temperature stays within -5 degrees Celsius to +5 degree Celsius – cold for us mortals from the Tropics. Snow and rain are common, and you really cannot enjoy anything in the city if you do not have a good jacket and comfortable boots. We had approximately 48 hours to enjoy Stockholm, regardless of the weather. It was cold and snowy, and outdoor activities were fairly limited. Even in winters, we felt that the city deserved at least 3 days. I am sure in summers, there will be a lot more to do and you may want to spend a longer while here.
In the little time that we had, we explored parts of the Old Town and other islands that form part of the Stockholm archipelago. Here is our list of must do things when you are in Stockholm…in winters.
Explore the museums
Museum trips are perfect for winters – its great to be in the warm indoors rather than potter around in the ice and snow for hours everyday. Stockholm has over 80 museums. There is something for everyone… music, dance, history, geography, science, photography… they have it all covered… a museum for the Swedish music group ABBA as well! You can take your pick on subjects of your choice.
Most museums are fairly extensive and even if you rush through various artifacts, you need to budget at least 2 hours for each museum. The larger ones, like Skansen Open Air Museum take much longer. We spent approximately 4 hours here, with Ankur enjoying the first ever snowfall of his life. However, our favourite museum was the Vasa Museum…a smaller museum that highlights the Swedes’ strength at ship building.
Half a day trip to Hella’s Garden was our highlight in the Stockholm trip! Even in winters, there is so much to do here – skiing, snowboarding, sauna, making a snowman, sledding, ice skating…loads of outdoor winter activities, all in one place and at reasonable prices. There is straight bus from Stockholm to Hella’s Garden and it takes 15 minutes only.
We were here only for one specific activity …the ‘Viking Sauna’. The way the ‘Vikings’ take their sauna is interesting – you sit in the sauna at almost 90 degrees, until you break into a sweat… then you run out to the lake (which is frozen and has a hole cut in the ice) and then dunk yourself in the chilled water to cool off. You then run back to the sauna and warm up again. It sounds crazy… but it is so much of fun! While we did use the run of the mill sauna in Abisko, alternating the sauna experience with the dip in the frozen lake was an experience beyond words! Highly recommend it – amongst our best experiences till date!
Nightlife in Gamlastan
Walking the cobbled streets in the Old Town of Gamlastan is an experience that takes you back at least a couple of centuries. Little souvenir shops, warm cafe, romantic lounges make you want to stop and experience every little nook and corner. However, our memorable time here was on Saturday night, people out on the streets (partying at it’s best) in spite of the chill on a cold February night. Every other weeknight is relatively low key. It was Saturday night that took us back to our teenage days, when we wanted to sneak out of home and party till wee hours for the morning. Our choice to spend Saturday evening was a Spanish cafe called Cafe Tabac. Great music and candle lights… coupled with some sizzling hot tapas… what more could one ask for on a cold winter evening. They had plenty of vegetarian appetizers and serve an orange based Sangria (we preferred the one with white wine) – delightful, unlike any that we have had till date.
Stockholm is really not famous for shopping. I haven’t been recommended ‘Shop in Stockholm’ by anyone till date. Alas! All those who have visited Stockholm and not shopped have been at a loss! I had a great time buying branded stuff here. If you happen to hit the sale season, it’s a jackpot for you! If you have an extra evening to spare, suggest to keep it aside for shopping.For me (and I say me as Ankur isn’t too much of a shopper), the best place to shop in Stockholm was Drottninggatan. There are lots of brands that have huge outlets here, including the largest H&M outlet. On the rear side, there are smaller shops that are the perfect destination to pick up a souvenir or two to get back home. H&M, the Swedish fashion brand had such a lot of variety in the local stores. When we were there, winter was coming to an end and a lot of winter wear was on sale. I picked up some really fancy woolen scarves at USD 2 each!
Stockholm Cathedral – Storkyrkan
The side entrance to the cathedral is small (through the lanes of Gamlastan) and you would not be able to imagine the wealth of Gothic and Baroque architecture that theStorkyrkan. The fact that royalty has been married here, however, should be inspiration enough to visit the cathedral.
Storkyrkan was a parish church way back in the 13th century. However, with the palace being situated in the Gamlastan area, the parish church underwent renovations form the 15th (interiors) to the 17th century (exteriors to match the Palace) to take it’s current shape. Besides being a place to talk to God and experience peace and quiet, the cathedral is an abode of some notable art and architecture. The star attraction is an 11 feet tall sculpture of St George and the Dragon, commemorates the victory of the Swedish army over the Danes. And then, there is the crown over the seat of the King. Actually, you can find hidden art gems across the church and plenty of photo opportunities as well. For those who want to experience a slightly spiritual side of life, sit down, say your prayers and light a candle… worth sitting here and introspecting for a while to find some peace of mind!
We were at the Stockholm Palace on a cold winter morning, when everyone was tucked in their blankets. We still had company – the Palace guards, who possibly thought that we were loonies walking around in in snow! We really didn’t care – the Stockholm Palace deserved the effort that we took to get there. After all, we were as close to ‘His Majesty’ as we could get …in the same compound!
The King and Queen of Sweden continue to live in the Stockholm Palace till date. The palace has more than 600 rooms divided between seven floors with a state apartment facing the city and smaller living rooms facing the inner courtyard. It is one of the largest royal palaces in the world, with the King and Queen being the occupants till date. There is plenty to see at the Palace…so budget more than a couple of hours. You can see the royal apartments, the treasury (with a few crowns!), coin collection, the royal chapel and Gustav III’s Antiquities – to name a few. If history is what interest you, this is a place for you!
Two cents from my end… Some tips…
- If you intend to explore a lot of museums, we would highly recommend the Stockholm card that gets you discounts and free entry to a lot of these attractions. Click here to be directed to the Stockholm Card website.
- We strongly recommend taking the audio guide at most museums and joining the guided tour at the Vasa Museum.
- Some museums, especially the ones in Gamlastan, are closed on Mondays. Check the open days when you plan your itinerary.
Night Life in GamlaStan:
- Plenty of options to choose from….take your pick – lounge, dance or a fancy dinner.
- The Swedes are suave and dressy. Suggest carrying a nice dinner outfit…the backpackers jeans will make you feel out of place (You may choose not to care about it!) at a ‘happening’ night club.
- Suggest buying gifts and souvenirs from Stockholm, unless you want to pick up something specific from a particular region (eg: Ice Hotel, Aurora photographs etc). They are most affordable here. While there is a lot of variety to choose from, it is evident that most of them are not locally manufactured.
- Call at least a day in advance to check if the facilities that you want to use are available. There are school picnics that are organised here. Recommend shifting your visit to a day when the place is not too crowded.
- Towels and padlocks van be rented here for the sauna.
Stockholm Cathedral – Storkyrkan:
- This is a paid attraction. Suggest joining the tour to get a glimpse of the history that lies behind the walls of the cathedral.
- Have your camera set for low light settings, do not use flash and click away to glory.
- The palace is closed on Mondays. Plan your visit accordingly.
- Winter and summer opening and closing timings are different. Check the Palace website when you build it into you itinerary.
- The entrance fee of SEK 150 includes entrance to the museums. The tickets can be bought online to save you from queuing up in the long line, especially during the touristy summer months.
- The Palace authorities conduct guided tours to various sections in the palace. The latest schedule for summer/winter is shared on the Palace website.
- If changing of guards fancies you, you have an opportunity to witness it at the Palace.
As always… send me an e-mail if you need any further details. Glad to help!
Let the travellers’ tribe grow!