November 7, 2018

Christmas Markets in Stockholm 2018

Christmas market in Gamla Stan
Photo by Jeppe Wikström/
Visiting Christmas markets when in Stockholm in December is a popular activity, whether to do some holiday shopping or just to get in the spirit of the season. The first one opens in a little over two weeks from today and there are a wide variety of markets to choose from during the weeks leading up to Christmas... from the traditional to the more modern. Some are open every day, some only on the weekends while others are just open for a couple of days. This means that you will be able to visit at least one Christmas market if you are in Stockholm any time starting on November 24th. But... the last day to visit any market is December 23rd! There are no Christmas markets open after that... like on Christmas Eve or Day for example (a disappointment for some visitors). Click here for more Christmas information!

  • Gamla Stan- Stockholm's most famous and popular Christmas market. In fact, it was named by the Telegraph as one of Europe's top 16 Christmas markets. Very traditional; I am sure it owes its popularity to its central location (15 minute walk from the Rival Hotel), historic atmposphere and generous opening hours. It is open daily between 11am and 6pm from November 24th through December 23rd. 
  • Skansen- an historic market located in this open-air museum dedicated to Swedish traditions and pastoral life. Open between 10am and 4pm on Saturdays and Sundays (Nov 24th to Dec 16th). See how Christmas was celebrated in Sweden 100+ years ago!
  • Konstfack- (College of Arts, Craft & Design)- Creative market put on by the students one weekend every year. Open between 10am and 5pm on December 1st & 2nd. Located in the southern suburbs.
    Christmas market in Gamla Stan
    Photo by Henrik Trygg/
  • Kungliga Hovstallet- (The Royal Stables)- Combine a visit to the stables with some traditional Christmas shopping. Open between November 30th and December 2nd (Fri- noon to 7pm, Sat- 10am to 6pm, Sun- 10am to 5pm). The stables are located in the downtown area.
  • Bondens Egen Julmarknad- (Farmers' Christmas Market)- in the weeks leading up to Christmas, this popular farmers' market, located in SoFo, turns into a Christmas market. Laid back and local. Open between 10am and 3pm on the four Saturdays before Christmas (with start on Dec 1st). 
  • Beckmans College of Design- An annual popular market put on by the design & fashion students. Location. Open on Saturday and Sunday, Dec 8th & 9th, between 10am and 5pm.
  • Långholmens Julmarknad- for the second year in a row, they are holding a traditional Christmas market on the island of Långholmen (in the historic, former prison!). Open between 10am and 4pm on Dec 1st and 2nd. 
Christmas decorations at Skansen's market.
Photo by: Maria Johansson/Skansen
There are also a few good Christmas markets located just outside of the city and worth a visit as well. 
  • Drottningholm- Royal palace, home of the royal family and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which has an annual Christmas market. Open Saturday Dec 8th (10am to 5pm) and Sunday Dec 9th (10am to 4pm). Location.
  • Steninge Slott- Castle located near the town of Märsta. They have a popular indoor market with design and gardening boutiques, which turns into a daily Christmas market between November 10th and December 23rd (11am to 6pm weekdays, 10am to 5pm weekends).
  • Sigtuna- the capital of Sweden before Stockholm took over in the 1200's. Location. Traditional market open on four Sundays (11am to 4pm) leading up to Christmas, with start Nov 25th.
Market at Beckmans Designhögskola

November 1, 2018

This Halloween Weekend in Stockholm

While this is generally a bit of a slower period in Stockholm, between the busy summer and Christmas periods, this coming weekend is filled with events. This is because of Halloween, All Saint's Day and "höstlov" (the autumn school break for children) all fall on this week/weekend. Besides the events listed below, keep in mind that many museums in Stockholm will have special activities set up for children.
Halloween is a relatively new concept to Sweden, at least the Americanized version with ghosts, goblins and trick & treating. But Swedes have taken a liking to this holiday and it is growing in popularity, so don't be surprised to see people dressed up in costumes this week. While Halloween is always on October 31st in the U.S., it is more vague here in Sweden with people generally celebrating on the closest weekend (but not even that is set in stone).
Press image from Shockholm
A large annual Halloween event is Shockholm (see the play on words?), Scandinavia's biggest Halloween parade. This happens on Saturday, November 3rd, starting with opening ceremonies, costume competition and live performances in Kungsträdgården park from 3:30pm to 5pm. The parade then starts and snakes its way through Gamla Stan for about an hour before arriving back at Kungsträdgården for the award ceremonies.
Press image from Shockholm
Some more spooky stuff... our big amusement park Gröna Lund, which is usually just open in the summer months, is open this week for the children on their autumn break. For Halloween they have some scary attractions, including several haunted houses! Gröna Lund is located on Djurgården, near many of the other main attractions like the Vasa and ABBA museums and Skansen, so you can easily combine them.
Halloween at Gröna Lund
Photo by Johan Gramén 
Besides the spooky stuff, this is also a season of reflection and darkness. All Saint's Day is on Saturday, November 3rd. A popular activity this weekend for Swedes is to visit the graves of departed loved ones and light candles. The best place to experience this hauntingly beautiful tradition is the Woodland Cemetery (Skogskyrkogården), which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. More information. Be respectful of people visiting graves!
All Saints' Day at Skogskyrkogården
Photo by Susanne Hallman
November is a dark month... the days get shorter and neither snow nor Christmas lights have come yet. It is important for Swedes to get some light in their lives this time of year, so perhaps it isn't strange that we have a Light Festival! The festival takes place around the shores of the lake Brunnsviken, just on the northern outskirts of the city, on Sunday, November 4th. There will be six torchlight processions, live music from choirs, string quartets and more... all starting at 3:40pm. It is very beautiful with the torches lit all around the lake! See link above for more detailed information.
Light Festival at Brunnsviken (2017)
Photo by Ronny Fors

October 29, 2018

Julbord at Fjäderholmarnas Krog

Christmas is around the corner and one of the biggest Swedish Christmas traditions is eating "julbord" during the weeks leading up to the main holiday. Julbord is basically the famed Swedish smörgåsbord, which we usually eat on Midsummer and Easter, with some traditional Christmas dishes added. Many restaurants serve julbord in the 4-6 weeks before Christmas. While Swedes love julbord, we are pretty tired of it by the time December 24th rolls around after all the office parties, family dinners and nights out with friends during this time. If you are visiting this time of the year, this is a great way to try just about every traditional Swedish dish in one fell swoop... plus experience a Swedish holiday tradition.
Snowy path to the restaurant
There are good julbords and others that are best avoided, so it is important to choose correctly. One of the best places to eat julbord is Fjäderholmarnas Krog, both for the high quality of food and the wonderful atmosphere, and I try to make a visit every December. The restaurant, located on an island in Stockholm harbor, is one of my favorite summer restaurants and I recently wrote a blog article about my last visit. It is this island location which really adds to the wonderful atmosphere... especially if it is snowing. The pictures in this article are from my visit there last year.
Herring and salmon dishes
Eating julbord correctly is a fine art! There is a lot of food and you don't want to fill up too quickly. Proper etiquette says that you should make 7 trips up to the julbord to get food. After a glass of glögg (spiced hot wine), which is usually served when you arrive, you go up to get your pickled herring with sides. Then you go for your salmon and other fish: smoked, cooked and cured. Cold meats, like Christmas ham, sausages and patés, make up the third round and then it is on to the warm dishes... Swedish meatballs, prince sausages, "Jansson's temptation", venison, cabbage, omeletes and more.
First plate/trip!
Finally you have the last three servings... cheeses, dessert and coffee & candy. To be honest, I usually have a little trouble walking comfortably at this point and tend to combine all three of these servings in one. As I said, a lot of food! I didn't even mention all the sides, suaces, potatoes, eggs and salads. "Professor of Gastronomy", Gert Klötzke, is the chef behind Fjäderholmarnas Krog's julbord and he really raises the bar. One thing that I especially like with their version is that much of the warm dishes are laid out on small plates so it doesn't get messy as other ones.
Coldcuts and sausages
The reason I am writing about this in the end of October? Well... the first day is November 22nd (last day is December 21st) and it is very popular and a good idea to book in advance! They offer three seatings: 12pm, 4pm and 8pm and you can book your table on their website or, if you are staying at the Hotel Rival, contact me directly for help. To get there from the hotel, you need to take 25 minute ferry from Strandvägen in the downtown area. Boats depart 30 minutes ahead of each seating (11:30am, 3:30pm and 7:30pm) and you have a choice of returning around 2 or 3 hours after your seating time. More information.
Christmas candies to end with
Boat dock at Strandvägen

October 25, 2018

Salon Skönhetsvård Södermalm

Now and again, hotel guests ask me for recommendations for a spa or salon in the neighborhood… sometimes for a massage, sometimes for a manicure or a beauty treatment. It can be a guest who has been traveling for several weeks and needs to fix their nails, a guest in town to attend an event or wedding and needs some beauty help or it can just be a guest who wants to pamper themselves. Thankfully, there is a salon just around the corner from the Hotel Rival that we can recommend for these requests: Skönhetsvård Södermalm
Press image from Skönhetsvård Södermalm
Skönhetsvård Södermalm is located just a couple of blocks away from the Hotel Rival on the street Hornsgatan. In their newly renovated locale, they offer a wide variety of beauty treatments. Some treatments, like Botox, waxing and advanced skin treatments, are probably not of interest for a hotel guest in town for a few days (though they do have these services!). But Skönhetsvård Södermalm does offer manicures, pedicures, eyebrow shaping/threading, facials and massage treatments which are probably more of an interest to our hotel guests. 

I was there last week to try a facial. I have to, of course, try everything I recommend. Tough job! It was really nice and relaxing. Dare I say that I looked ten years younger afterwards?  At any rate, I was well taken care of and can definitely recommend them. You can book their treatment via their website or telephone. If you are staying at the Rival, contact me directly for help in making a booking. Keep in mind that it is a good idea to book in advance as their therapists can be fully booked on the same day. 
Press image from Skönhetsvård Södermalm
Skönhetsvård Södermalm is a salon/clinic. If you are more interested in a full “spa day” with pool, Jacuzzi, sauna, gym and relax, then I would recommend one of the larger spas in the downtown area, like Sturebadet or Centralbadet. Once again, booking treatments at these spas need to be done in advance. Contact me directly, if you are a hotel guest, for more information about Skönhetsvård Södermalm or any of these spas.
Press image from Skönhetsvård Södermalm

October 23, 2018

Café & Bakery Vete-Katten

Crowds gathering in the morning, waiting for the café to open.
As Sweden is one of the top 10 coffee consuming nations per capita in the world and "fika" (to socialize over coffee and pastries) is a national pastime, you can correctly assume that there are cafés all over Stockholm. Södermalm, the area where the Hotel Rival is located, is especially rich in cafés with one on almost every corner... including our own Café Rival.
Some cafés are well-known because of the quality of their coffee (roasting their own beans) or because their atmosphere is especially conducive to meeting friends for a fika. Other cafés have just  become famous through time and tradition; meeting places for generations of Swedes. One of Stockholm's most famous cafés is Vete-Katten. It is famous enough that I get asked by hotel guests about it, even though it is located in the downtown area and not in our neighborhood.
Freshly baked cinamon buns
In fact, this past weekend I was there to pick up a cake that a guest had specially ordered for a birthday celebration, which made me think that the café would make a good blog article.  They do indeed have a wide variety of cakes as well as cinnamon and cardamom buns (Swedish delicacies), biscuits, bread, cookies and much more, all baked on the premises. They do have gluten/lactose free and diabetes-friendly options as well! If you want something more substantial than a fika, then they also have simpler lunch options (salads, soups, baked potatoes, etc.).
The name "Vete-Katten" has a fun background story. Back in 1928, someone asked the proprietress, Ester Nordhammar, what she was going to call her soon-to-be-opened café and she answered "det vete katten". This is old-timey Swedish that translates to "only the cat knows", similar to the English saying "God only knows". As vete also mean wheat in Swedish, it became a play on words and stuck as a good name for a café/bakery.
Its popularity has allowed Vete-Katten to open cafés (with the same name) in several new locations, including the Central Train Station, Åhlens department store and Östermalms Saluhall (food market). But the original Vete-Katten, on Kungsgatan, remains the most popular... especially for visitors and traditionalists. The easiest way to get there from the Hotel Rival is by subway, three stations away to the Hötorget on the green line from nearby Slussen. Otherwise, it is just a 10 minute taxi ride.

October 18, 2018

The National Museum Reopens!

Big news! In February of 2013, The National Museum in Stockholm closed for renovations and last week (on October 13th), after 5½ years, they finally opened again for the public. Not only is the National Museum Sweden's premiere museum for classic art and design, it is also one of Europe's oldest art museums... so it has been sorely missed in Stockholm while it was closed. The beautiful staircase in the center of the building is worth a visit itself. I, of course, made sure to stop by the museum on its opening weekend!
Besides cosmetic touch-ups, the renovations have included a large modernization of the museum, an addition of a sculpture garden and new restaurant as well as being expanded to allow it to take twice as many visitors and display three times the amount of art than previously. The king and queen were present to cut the ribbon at the grand opening on Saturday.
The museum was founded in 1794 as "the Royal Museum" and got its start as art collections of members of the royal family, before being taken over by the Swedish state. It moved to its current location, a beautiful building designed by Friedrich August Stüler, in 1866. The building contains three floors and is dominated by the aforementioned grand staircase in the middle.
While not as huge as The Louvre, Metropolitan Museum of Art or the British Museum... the National Museum is still large enough that it is hard to see everything properly in one visit, unless you just stroll through certain exhibitions. Luckily, the majority of the museum has free admission, so it is not a problem to visit the museum on multiple days if you wish. The museum may charge admission to certain temporary exhibitions.
The collections are exhibitied chronologically, from the 1500's to today and both art and design objects are shown together. This allows you to move through the museum in a logical order, getting a better feel of the different eras or, if you wish, just to concentrate your visit on the art and design of a certain time period. Besides classical and fine art, parts of the museum do focus primarily on design and design history.
Currently, they have two temporary exhibitions. A&E Design, showing the designs, some quite famous) of the Swedish company A&E Design and an exhibition of the work of John Singer Sargent, an American artist who spent much of his life in Europe. Considered by many to be one of the most influential artists from the turn of the last century, Sargent's works include many beautiful portraits and landscapes. Both exhibitions run until January 13th and cost 150 SEK (one ticket for both exhibitions).
I did enjoy their new sculpture courtyard on the ground floor, where the restaurant was once located, for those of you who have visited the museum before the renovations. This is a nice place to sit and reflect under the gaze of the Norse gods Odin, Thor and Baldur. I have heard good things about their new restaurant, but didn't have time to try it on this visit. They do also have a special exhibition for children called Villa Curiosa.
The National Museum is located on the waterfront of the downtown area. About a 30 minute walk through the old town (Gamla Stan) from the Hotel Rival, you can also take the bus or subway (closest subway stop is Kungsträdgården on the blue line). The National Museum is closed on Mondays and is open extra late (9pm) on Thursdays.

October 16, 2018

Feather Exhibition at Etnografiska

This past weekend I visited the Museum of Ethnography (Etnografiska museet) to see their exhibition Feathers. Ethnography is "the study and systematic recording of human cultures", so this is a museum dedicated to different cultures from around the world. The museum is part of the Swedish state run Museums for Wolrd Culture which is a group of four museums, including the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities (Östasiatiska museet) and Museum of Mediterranean Antiquities (Medelhavsmuseet) in Stockholm and Museum of World Culture (Världskulturmuseet) in Gothenburg. All four museums have free admission!
This was, I am embarrassed to say, my first visit to Etnografiska. But it won't be my last! The museum has several exhibitions looking at interesting cultures from around the world, with around 200,000 objects from places like the Amazon, Pacific Islands, Africa and the Far East. I took time to see the exhibit on Swedish explorer Sven Hedin, and his contact with different cultures on his travels, which was very interesting.
But on to the reason for my visit... Feathers! I found the exhibition to be very interesting and well done. It is a look at how cultures around the world have used feathers through history, from costumes to art to religion, showing how feathers were often used to denote wealth or power. On the first floor of the exhibition, you have the historical aspect of the exhibit with pieces from Hawaii, the Amazons, Papua New Guinea, Native Americans and much more. The exhibition contains some great pieces!
On the second floor, the exhibition focuses on modern usage of feathers, mainly in fashion and theatre. Of special note is the work of Tim Mårtensson, the only plume maker in Scandinavia today. Several of his works are on display as well as an interesting video where you follow Tim as he explains how he makes one of his creations from which feathers to choose, to dyeing & shaping them and finally the application.
The museum is located in the "museum park" in Gärdet. This park contains a group of family-friendly museums like the Museum of Technology (Tekniska museet), the Police Museum (Polismuseet), Museum of Naval History (Sjöhistoriskamuseet) and Museum of Sports (Riksidrottsmuseet). A great place to visit if you are traveling with children. The easiest way to get to the museum is to take bus 69 (direction of Kaknästornet) from Nybroplan. get off the bus at the stop "Museiparken". Admission is free and the exhibition runs until March 3rd, 2019.
Nearby, you have the Museum of Sports...
...Museum of Technology...
...and Police Museum