What to see and do in Stockholm
Restaurants & Bars
Here is a selection of some of my favorite places to eat and drink in Stockholm:
East has some of the best Asian food and sushi in town, as evidenced by the large numbers of good-looking Swedes that always seem to congregate there.
Erik’s Gondolen: Traditional and expensive Swedish cuisine is on the menu at this upscale restaurant, but it is worth it for a special occasion. And if you would prefer to just soak up the spectacular view over the Baltic, stop in for a drink at the bar.
GI Boden is a health food cafe in Vasastan and a good place to stop for lunch. Meals are healthy, innovative and interesting. Plus we felt like we are being good to ourselves when we eat there.
Grill The décor alone is worth checking out here – leopard print wallpaper, neon lights, cushy velvet chairs – but the food is also good. Grill has an open but still intimate floor plan with a menu featuring – you guessed it – grilled steaks and meats.
Herman’s has a great vegetarian lunch and dinner buffet, plus an amazing view over the Baltic. In the summer, there is garden seating.
Ho’s has good classic Chinese food in a town that somehow seems to have a hard time doing good Chinese. The décor is so-so.
Marie Laveau makes a pretty good jambalaya and other southern American dishes like fried chicken, plus the bar in front of the restaurant is one of my absolute favorite places to hang out. The crowd is always a cool mix and the basement nightclub stays open late.
Mamas & Tapas is a classic tapas restaurant with good sangria. Service tends to be slow in this small, jam-packed place.
Moderna (modern) Museum Cafe. This is one of those places that has an exceptionally good view, so you usually figure that you will get dull food. But the Moderna always has tasty, fresh and interesting options, in both a traditional and more modern vein. And the view over the Baltic looking toward Standvägen and Djurgården is amazing.
Patricia Restaurant: Located on the Baltic just off of Södermalm, the Patricia boat was used to evacuate people on d-day and also served as a private yacht for Queen Elizabeth. Now it serves as a party boat and restaurant. Lobster night is on Wednesday and the lobster is fantastic and not expensive either.
Restaurang Portofino: Some of the best Italian food in town, plus great service and a cool setting.
Story Hotel: This is a fantastic girlfriend’s brunch or dinner place. The watermelon salad with feta cheese, mint and onion came recommended by my friend Pingis and was particularly tasty. And while my mini beef rolls could have used a little more spice, they were tasty and looked great.
The Grand Hotel: The hotel is one of the city’s icons. If you want to treat yourself like a princess, try afternoon tea at the Cadier Bar. It is not cheap, but you are worth it every once in a while.
Swedish things to try
Fika is the Swedish word for coffee break. But the word means much more than just stopping to have a cup of coffee. It is a social institution. It means taking a break to have coffee and conversation with friends, family or co-workers. With the coffee, you might also have some sort of sweet such as a kannelbulle (cinnamon roll), what we in the US would call a Danish (wienerbröd) or my favorite – a dark chocolate ball with coconut on the outside (chokladboll). You might also take your fika with a small sandwich or smörgås.
Surströmming is fermented Baltic herring that is sold in cans. As the cans age, they often bulge thanks to the ongoing fermentation. Then when the surströmming is opened, a noxious gas is released. While I have not yet been brave enough to try this Swedish delicacy, I have smelled it. And the smell was an indescribable stench unlike any I had known before. The surströmming is an acquired taste even among the Swedes, but it is a traditional food and often served at parties with tunnbröd (thin, crispy bread), potatoes, onions and sour cream. And to wash it all down, snaps is the drink of choice. Funnily enough, many airlines ban surströmming on planes as they say it is potentially explosive. Explosive or not, you certainly would not want one of those cans popping open in the confined space of a plane.
Julmust or Påskmust. Must is a soft drink that is typically served up at Christmas (called Julmust or Christmas must then) but also at Easter (Påsk). It is extremely popular – apparently 9 million Swedes consume 45 million liters of julmust during December. The drink is made of carbonated water, sugar, hop extract, spices, etc. The malt and spices give it a beer-like taste, but without the alcohol.
Semla – This is a pastry that looks like a hamburger bun dusted with powdered sugar but with cream stuffed in the middle instead of meat. In reality, a semla is a cardamom-spiced wheat bun that’s split in half and then has the insides scooped out to make room for a mound of almond paste and whipped cream. Every bakery, grocery and convenience store carries semla around Easter and newspaper editors host regular taste tastes and give their opinions about who makes the best pastry. And on top of this, everyone seems to love them and consume them in copious quantities. Except for me. I just don’t like the cardamom/wheat bun combination. Mostly, I have to admit that I don’t like the cardamom. I do like the almond paste, but it’s not enough to carry me through eating the whole pastry.
Gravlax or raw salmon cured in salt, dill and sugar has become a favorite for me. And of course, you can’t talk Swedish cuisine without mentioning kotbullare or meatballs, the ultimate home cooking. These are served with mashed potatoes and sides of lingon berries and cucumbers if you take the traditional route.
Grill stands selling hot dogs are everywhere. The stands tend to do a particularly bustling trade late at night as the bars are closing. But one of the most fascinating concoctions at a grill is something called a tunnbrodsrulle. Basically, this is a flat bread folded into a pocket and stuffed with mashed potatoes, a hot dog and what is called a shrimp salad. The thing is huge and is most often seen being eaten late at night with a fork.
Getting away from it all in Stockholm is easy. You just go to the archipelago. From the city, you can be at one of the inner archipelago islands such as Fjäderholmarna in about 15 minutes.
One of my many favorite destinations in the archipelago is the island of Sandön (Swedish for sand harbor) or Sandhamn. Most of the islands don’t have an infrastructure, instead having either nothing at all or just one or two houses. They are uninhabitated, rocky, wooded islands. But some of the larger islands such as Sandhamn have a small village of sorts with a grocery, a few restaurants and hotels. And there you will also find an amazingly beautiful array of sailboats in the harbor in summer. There is no better place to be than at the harbor, enjoying a beer or glass of wine directly on the dock next to the boats.
Utö is one of the farther out islands and if you travel directly from the city, it’s a three-hour boat ride. Once there, it is good to rent a bike to check out the island and go to one of the many beaches. On Utö, there’s a grocery, a couple of cafe/restaurants, a hotel or two and a few small shops. But that’s about it. Otherwise, there are beautiful forests, rocks and beaches to explore.
Grinda is another island favorite for a quick overnight or dinner. There is a bar directly on the water as well as a nicer dinner spot with the Wärdshus.
I did the Stieg Larsson Millennium walking tour on Södermalm and it is fun for fans of the books. Larsson was a Swedish writer whose trilogy of books was released just before he died. Since then, the books have been hugely popular not only in Sweden and Scandinavia, but also around the globe. The first book in the series is The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and it has sold more than 10 million copies so far.
Swedish film and music
Let the Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in) is a cool and quirky Swedish film from 2008. It is a combination of love story meets vampire horror film. And it’s surprisingly good.
Män som hatar kvinnor (Men who Hate Women). This Swedish film is based on the Stieg Larsson novel of the same name – the English translation of which is The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – and it has sold millions around the world. This book is also the first in a trilogy of books called the Millenium series. Robert and I loved the books, so we were eager to see the movie. And while it is sometimes hard to like a movie based on a book you love, we were not disappointed overall.
I do like ABBA. There’s nothing like putting on Dancing Queen at a party to get everyone dancing, no matter where in the world you may be. But there’s a lot more to Swedish music than just ABBA. Believe it or not, little old Sweden (population 9 million) is one of the largest exporters of pop and rock music in the world, behind only the US and the UK. Surprised?
While there is quite a lot of really bad pop that’s classified as Schlager music, there is also a variety of other options. Names of bands you may have heard of but not realized they were Swedish include: Roxette, Ace of Base, the Cardigans, Eagle Eye Cherry, the Knife, the Concretes, Robyn, the Soundtrack of our Lives, José González, Caesars, Kent, I’m From Barcelona, the Hellacopters and the Hives. Some of these bands are good in my estimation, some not so.
Peter, Bjorn and John have been a favorite for years now. Young Folks is their big hit, but the entire album Writer’s Block from which it comes is actually very good as well. From there, the Shout Out Louds, Lykke Li and Those Dancing Days all have some catchy tunes.
Swedish Customs & Culture
Taking your shoes off when you enter into someone’s home is customary. I even have to take my shoes off when I enter the gym, when I go to the dentist or the gyno. Some offices will also have you take your shoes off. There’s typically a rack for you to put your shoes on by the door and depending on the place (the gyno and the dentist, for instance), there may also be a pair of slippers for you to put on. If you are going to a dinner party, it is customary to bring a pair of indoor shoes along with you to change into.