Seven hundred and fifty years ago Birger-Jarl, the far-sighted governor credited with founding the city of Stockholm in 1252, was determined to develop the city into an important harbor. This great 750th Anniversary Year is full of celebration with many activities for residents and tourists and a perfect time to visit. You should begin your stay with a city tour. There are several companies offering excellent tours in any language you need. We were fortunate enough to find Hakan Jacobsson for our personal driver.(call 46 0 831 9400). A Stockholm native, Jacobsson is known as one of the best guides in the business, and we certainly agree! He seemed to delight in showing us his beautiful city, telling its interesting history, and pointing out the best sites.
Stockholm encompasses seventeen islands, some of which run together today, having been filled in for more building space. If you are on your own, you will want to purchase the Stockholm Card to gain free entrance to seventy museums and attractions and travel on all Stockholm Transport buses, commuter trains, subways, boat sightseeing tours, free street parking at city parking meters. You can purchase these from Stockholm tourism offices and at the transport stations upon arrival. Be aware that museums are closed on Mondays. On other days the closing hours are early: at three, four, or five P.M., so set your sightseeing to start early. Most are open at 9 AM.
You’ll find city guides and brochures readily available in many languages, so youcan plan your days to fit your interests, but there are several MUSTS for all visitors. One is the magnificent Storkyrkan Cathedral (Nicolai Kirka) founded as a Catholic Cathedral in the thirteenth century but has, since the Reformation, been Lutheran. You’ll see the official pews of the King and Queen and other royalty and the amazing sculpture of St. George and the Dragon.
Leaving the Cathedral, you can enter Old Town off of Slotts Backen, where you’ll find narrow, cobbled streets with many souvenir shops. Nearby is the Royal Palace, Kung Liga Slots built in 1760, where you can walk into the huge courtyard and even talk with the guards! Within the Royal Palace you can find the Treasure Chamber with the regalia of royalty, as well as other wonderful museums.
As you traverse the streets of Stockholm, you’ll notice one of the most prominent buildings is the City Hall. Built between 1911 and 1923 out of red brick that gives it the look and feeling of antiquity, the building has The Blue Hall, which is nearly as large as a football field. This is where the King hosts the annual banquet for Nobel Prize winners. Go up into the tower for an excellent view of the city.
As you investigate and enjoy the many wonderful places in Stockholm, you’ll want to see the Locks that move small craft from Lake Malaren down to the Baltic Sea. Also venture to the quiet Sodermalm, the Southern district which was Workers’ Island, where many artists work and live now. You’ll find another excellent view of the city and photo opportunity at the point called Fjallgatan.
But the wonderful sites in Stockholm are not all old. You’ll want to include some time to shop in the ultra modern Sergels Torg Glass Mall, which has a large portion underground in a unique inside-outside design, completed by a huge fountain. It is a short walk south of the City Center where you’ll cross the stately bridge to see the impressive Parliament Buildings.
Djurgarden, a forested island with a lake around it, was once the Royal Hunting grounds. There you’ll want to visit the Zoo. You’ll also enjoy sight-seeing in Deer Park, a MUST for residents and visitors each weekend. There is always something fun going on, and each week attractions are different, always fun, always fascinating. The Island is closed to cars on the weekend and is a great family place to stroll with children or lovers and watch the crowds, eat in wonderful places, and enjoy life.
Nearby you can take a drive through Ostermalm to see the posh neighborhoods of fine houses, apartments, and Embassy Row mansions. Unfortunately, the only ugly one is the American Embassy with its barbed wire and forbidding appearance.
Also on Djurgarden, you MUST visit the Vasa Ship Museum, Stockholm’s treasure of a museum.The Ship Vasa was built in 1628 by King Gustavus Adolphus II. Not being a ship-builder but an egotistical king, he designed it with too shallow ballast, too tall mast, and too narrow hull. On her virgin voyage, while hundreds of celebrants watched and waved good-bye, she capsized only 300 meters from shore. A few years later, in 1664, the cannons were retrieved, but the ship remained submerged and covered over by sand and silt until the 1950’s, when a Swedish Naval history expert, Anders Fransen, decided to recover it. The tedious and expensive work took nearly a decade and was accomplished in 1961and proved vastly worth the effort, as the ship’s contents had been so perfectly preserved by the sand, mud, and brackish waters, which had been her tomb for 333 years. In 1990 King Karl XVI Gustaf celebrated the opening of the museum, and visitors today can literally walk through the incredible naval history.