The latest installment of Winter in the City highlights another of Europe’s great northern cities: Stockholm.
Winter in Stockholm can at first seem unwelcoming. January and February are typically the coldest months, with average temperatures between 24 and 33 degrees Fahrenheit (-4 to 1 degree Celsius). Located in the far north, daylight hours are limited in the winter. Days are shortest in late December near the solstice, when the sun rises around 8:45am and sets around 2:45pm, providing only about 6 hours of daylight. By mid-February, however, the sun is up about an hour earlier, and sets almost two hours later, providing more than 9 hours of daylight. Snowfalls can be heavy, and can occur well into April.
But don’t let the snow and low light keep you away. Stockholm has so much to offer that a little darkness shouldn’t stop you from experiencing the warmth and coziness of the city.
Stockholm is a cradle of warmth, at least figuratively so in the winter. One of my favorite things about Stockholm is the warm and smiling greeting of “hej hej” every time you walk into a store, cafe, museum, or anywhere. Pronounced like the word “hey,” the first time I heard it I was so shocked to hear a word that I thought I recognized, albeit oddly repeated, that all I could do was mumble back “hi hi.” Apparently, “hej” alone is a traditional Swedish greeting, with “hej hej” signifying that you are in a great mood, but I never heard anyone just say “hej.” This fact illustrates my point that Sweden is a happy and friendly country, even during the cold and bleak winters, because everyone I met greeted me with a happy “hej hej” and a smile. In doing some research I’ve learned that the use of “hej” as a welcoming greeting may have intentional roots in the tourism industry, dating back to the 1960s when apparently foreign tourists complained that Swedes lacked proper etiquette when it came to greetings and social interactions. See this Swedish language blog. Regardless of its origins, today the greeting is ubiquitous throughout the country and is a pleasing tradition indeed!
Before your visit, take a look at the Stockholm Pass to see if its discounts might make your trip even more budget-friendly.
Ice Skating in Kungsträdgården
Ice skating in Stockholm. It is one of the quintessential pictures of Stockholm in the winter, so how can you not? Plus, it is really fun. This rink in the center of the city at Kungsträdgården allows you to skate in the open air while taking in wonderful views of the city and the people around you. Rental prices are reasonable, and you can skate until your heart’s content.
Free Tour Stockholm
Free Tour Stockholm offers just that, free tours of Stockholm. Three tours are offered, the City Tour, the Old Town Tour, and the Soder Tour. Visit their website for more information about each tour and to sign up for a time (yes, you sign up for a tour but that doesn’t mean you have to pay anything it is simply because the tours don’t run if no one signs up). That said, if you enjoy the tour, tips are appreciated. We did the City Tour and it was great. Our guide was very knowledgeable, and we got to see many sights around the city that we would not have otherwise seen (the bank where hostages were held for several days and eventually came to care about their captors causing such a phenomenon to be dubbed “Stockholm Syndrome;” the blue Concert Hall, which hosts the annual Nobel Prize Award Ceremony; and Kungsträdgården, where we went ice skating after our tour).
Royal Palace of Stockholm
The Royal Palace of Stockholm is an impressive sight to behold. Built in the Italian Baroque style in the 18th century, the palace stands on the site of the previous palace that burned down in 1697. The palace is currently the official royal residence and the daily place of work for the King, Queen, and the departments of the Royal Court. This interesting mix of simultaneous functions makes the palace quite. With over 600 rooms, there is no shortage of sights to see. In the winter, the palace is closed on Mondays, and may be closed at other times due to royal events. Entrance is free with the Stockholm Pass.
Vasamuseet (Vasa Museum)
The Vasa Museum is a must-see in Stockholm! It is home to the Vasa, a 17th century ship that sank in Stockholm Harbor in 1628 only 20 minutes into its maiden voyage. It lay on the bottom of the harbor for 333 years before being excavated in 1961. It is the only ship of its age and size in existence today. Due to the nature of the water in the harbor the ship is extremely well preserved, and is about 98% original. The dark bottom of the harbor protected the ship from damaging ultraviolet light. The cold water slowed down chemical processes. And the high levels of pollution in the 17th century water prevented an infestation of “shipworm,” a wood-eating parasite.
The Vasa was meant to be one of the most powerful warships in the world. Unfortunately, the desire to make the Vasa a powerful gunship was also her downfall. The Vasa was extremely narrow, and the upper workings of the hull were too tall and heavily built for the relatively small amount of hull below the waterline. In addition, the original design for the Vasa followed traditional designs and included a single gun deck with 32 canons. However, the King ordered that the ship be fitted 64 canons and several smaller guns, so a second deck was added. No such ship had ever previously been built so there were no standards against which to judge its seaworthiness. Modern mathematical principles could have easily calculated the Vasa’s demise, but unfortunately these were not available at the time.
Visit the museum’s website for more in depth information about the history of the Vasa. Entrance is free with the Stockholm Pass.
Nothing calms the winter blues more than a trip to a traditional Nordic style spa. Saunas, steam rooms, and hot baths will melt your troubles away. And there is always a cold plunge pool nearby just in case you get too relaxed and need a wake up call! Centralbadet is one of Stockholm’s most well-known spas. Established in 1904, Centralbadet will not only wash your cares away, but it will transport you to another century. Built and decorated in the art-nouveau style, the spa offers patrons a unique window into the past. Visit their website for hours and pricing.
For more information about Centralbadet and other amazing water-focused spas around the globe, check out my previous post: Unique Spas Around the World.
Try Swedish Cuisine at a Traditional Food Hall
Indoor food halls are all the rage in Stockholm, and they are the perfect addition to a winter itinerary. Inside these warm valhallas of cuisine you can browse and sample various treats, or choose a restaurant and sit down for a meal. These halls emerged from the Swedes’ desire for organic and fresh foods. The halls are a combination of an indoor farmer’s market and a food court. Such halls are present in various forms throughout the city, but the three of the largest are Östermalms Saluhall located in the Östermalm district, Hötorgshallen located in the Norrmalm district, and Söderhallarna located on the island of Södermalm.
We stopped at Kungshallen, which is just down the street from Hötorgshallen next to the concert hall. We ate at Pyttirian, which can easily be found just inside the door at the top of the stairs to the left. Given the immediate location inside the doors its possible we may have chosen our location out of hunger, but nevertheless it did not disappoint. We were able to try two traditional Swedish dishes.
Left: Halloumisallad; Right: Swedish meatballs with mashed potatoes and lingonberry jam.
Halloumi is a semi-soft, artisanal cheese (meaning it is produced by hand) from Cyprus, but it seems to be taking the rest of Europe by storm, with Sweden as the second largest importer after the UK. The texture of Halloumi is similar to that of mozzarella, but it has a stronger, saltier flavor due to the brine. The cheese has a very high melting point so it can easily be fried or grilled. As a cheese-lover myself, I have to say that the cheese in this Halloumisallad was some of the most delicious cheese I have had. It was either fried or grilled, and the crispy edge added a flavor making it taste quite like a little grilled cheese all on its own.
Are your bags packed yet? Which Swedish activity would you look forward to the most? Let me know in the comments below!
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