Despite some downpours, summer is still a prime time to visit the Swedish capital. The city starts to blossom after months of cold weather and short hours of sunlight. It is almost like a festival as green spaces become bustling, waterways turn crowded, and locals are energized by the sun-filled days.
My memory of summer in Stockholm is a mix of sunshine and rain showers. At one moment the sky was bright and clear. Five minutes later, thunder rumbled and it started raining cats and dogs. Fortunately, this all usually cleared out in a while, allowing me to explore the capital’s cultural richness as well as its natural beauty.
Spreading on fourteen islands, it is no surprise that Stockholmers called their home “Beauty on Water”. The city somehow reminds me of Venice but is greener and boasts a more gentle charm. Take Gamla Stan as an example. There is neither opulent palaces nor fancy gondola in Stockholm’s historic core. Yet this area is the stuff of storybooks.
1. Gamla Stan (Stockholm’s Old Town)
Dating back to the 13th century, Gamla Stan is Stockholm’s oldest district. This island is positioned right at the heart of the city and is best known for its cobblestone streets and medieval architecture. The area had been considered a slum for nearly a century before it started attracting tourists in the 1970s. These days, numerous cozy cafes and bakeries lined these atmospheric alleys and squares. They are housed in yellow and orange gabled buildings which bear the marks of North German architecture.
Gamla Stan is also home to several attractions, including the Nobel Museum, the Stockholm Cathedral, and the majestic Kungliga Slot (Royal Palace). The Baroque palace, claimed to be Europe’s largest still used for its original purpose, is the official residence of the Swedish monarchs. However, like the Royal Palace of Madrid, it is not currently occupied. Instead, the royal family is living in Drottningholm Palace located 12 kilometers from the city center.
1.1 Stadshus (City Hall)
Though it doesn’t actually belong to the Gamla Stan, Stockholm City Hall offers visitors a great view over the historic core. Completed in 1923, this unique structure is home to the City Council. It features offices, conference rooms, as well as a spectacular hall that fits for the annual Nobel Prize Awarding banquet.
In terms of architecture, the building surprisingly blends classic brick construction of Northern Europe with elements reminiscent of Venice such as arches, adorned columns, and inner courtyards. There is also a monumental tower in the southeast corner overlooking the Old Town. It is topped with three golden crowns, a symbol of Sweden.
Crossing the stone bridges of Gamla Stan, I headed east to Djurgården – one of Stockholm’s most popular recreation areas. Officially known as Kungliga Djurgården (Royal Game Park), this island is a tranquil oasis in the heart of the city, with forest and meadow covering most of its area. Several remarkable attractions are also located in this park, including the Nordic Museum, the open-air museum Skansen, and the ill-fated yet stunning Vasa Warship.
En route to Djurgården, I passed by Strandvägen – one of the most handsome, if not the most handsome street in town. Finished just in time for the Stockholm World’s Fair 1897, this boulevard runs along the waterfront. It is aligned with splendid Renaissance-era houses, featuring elaborate brick façades, iron-wrought balconies, and towers. Some buildings look just like the castles in the Loire Valley, but with a Swedish touch. The only exception is probably the beautiful Royal Dramatic Theater – Sweden’s national theater – which follows the Art Noveau style.
3. Södermalm and beyond
To soak up some modern city vibe, I wandered south to Södermalm. Like Gamla Stan, this large island used to be home to the working class. However today, it is Stockholm’s center of bohemian and alternative culture, with an abundance of trendy shops, restaurants, and cultural establishments. Additionally, the hilly topography of Södermalm provides excellent views of the city’s skyline, especially in summer.
The area beyond Södermalm is just an urban district. Yet there is one thing that got my attention, the Avicii Dome. Named after the late Swedish musician Avicii, this peculiar structure is the world’s largest hemispherical architecture. It resembles a gigantic golf ball, measuring 110 meters in diameter and 85 meters in height. Since its inauguration in 1989, the dome has been the venue for shows, concerts, and ice hockey.
Tips for visiting Stockholm
- Despite being expanded on fourteen islands, Stockholm is relatively compact and explorable by foot. Visitors can easily find most attractions in and around Gamla Stan, as well as in Djurgården.
- If you don’t want to walk, the city’s excellent public transport system would be your best friend.
- Please note that the interior of Stockholm City Hall is open only for guided tours. More information regarding this tour is available at their website.
- When visiting the Avicii Dome, you will notice two spherical gondolas on the exterior of the building. They function like elevators, bringing visitors to the top of the arena. And from there, you can enjoy a nearly unobstructed view of the Swedish capital. However, the view is less impressive than those from the City Hall or Södermalm.