August 20, 2010

Even a Concierge Needs a Vacation!

The summer tourist season is winding down... it's been a great summer and I've had fun guiding visitors and giving advice about this beautiful city. The numbers are coming in and they are predicting this to be one of the best summers for Stockholm Turism. But now it is time for me to take a little break and recharge my batteries. Two weeks on a beach in Croatia should do it! So, this blog will be quiet for a couple of weeks... but feel free to check through the archives. Plenty of recommendations regarding museums, shopping, day trips, restaurants and sightseeing as well as invaluable tips! My experienced colleagues at The Rival Hotel will carry on during my absence, so keep sending questions and requests to concierge@rival.se or direct to the Reception at frontdesk@rival.se .

I'll be back in the first week of September... and anticipating a great autumn here in Stockholm. There is lots to look forward to! New museum exhibitions, especially the Terracotta Warriors at the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities and Fashion Photography at Fotografiska, festivals like The Stockholm International Film Festival in November and plenty of events like the Nobel Prize season. And as it gets darker and colder, I think I will be reporting on a few spa visits as well! A special thank you to all of our guests at The Rival Hotel for making this a wonderful summer...

August 19, 2010

Shopping- N.K. Department Store


Every major city has its main department stores... New York has Barneys and Bloomingdales, London has Harvey Nichols and Harrods, and Paris has Galleries Lafayette and Printemps Haussmann. The department store most associated with Stockholm is Nordiska Kompaniet, or just NK as it is popularly called. Founded in 1902, this department store has six floors with most of them overlooking the beautiful central atrium. High-end shopping at its best! The store itself is about as centrally located as you can be in Stockholm. In fact, its main entrance is often used by Stockholmers as a meeting point in town... "See you in front of NK!". Above the building you have the famous neon rotating clock that has become a bit of a landmark for downtown Stockholm. Of special interest for tourists is the basement floor where you will find Swedish crystal & porcelin, souveniers as well as the grocery store where you can pick up Swedish delicacies. On the other floors you have a great mix... cosmetics, accessories, mens & womens fashion, home furnishings and books. There is also a restaurant, bar and café which are perfect for when you want to take a break from shopping.
If you can't find what you are looking for at NK, then you don't have to go far to find more shopping options. Across the street you will find one of the larger Hennes & Mauritz stores and the Gallerian shopping mall is just kitty corner from the NK main entrance.
NK's regular opening hours are: Monday to Friday 10am to 8pm, Saturday 10am to 6pm and Sunday 12pm to 5pm. The closest subway station is Kungsträdgården (blue line) or T-Centralen (all lines) exit Sergelstorg.

August 16, 2010

Summer Movies in the Great Outdoors

Every August The Stockholm International Film Festival organizes an outdoor movie theater showing some all-time great movies... for free! This year the theme is power and politics and some great, Oscar-winning movies are being screened. They will be shown this week (August 18th to 22nd) in Rålambshovs Park on the island of Kungsholmen. They will all be in English, except Sunday's movie, and start at 8pm. So bring your blankets and picnic baskets and watch a great movie under a starry Stockholm sky (fingers crossed about the weather!). Here is the schedule:
  • Wednesday, August 18th- All The Presidents Men starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman.
  • Thursday, August 19th- The Hurt Locker which sweeped the Oscars this year.
  • Friday, August 20th- Milk starring Sean Penn and Josh Brolin.
  • Saturday, August 21st- The Queen starring Helen Mirren.
  • Sunday, August 22nd- Simple Simon ...world premiere for this Swedish movie!

Closest subway is Fridhemsplan (blue and green lines), otherwise the crosstown buses 1, 3 and 4 will get you there. And don't forget The Stockholm International Film Festival will take place this November 17th to 28th and is dedicated to recently passed actor Dennis Hopper. The director Gus van Sant (Milk, Good Will Hunting, etc;) will be presented the Visionary Award.

Stockholm Fashion Week


Fashionistas have descended upon the city in droves! That is because it is Stockholm Fashion Week this week (August 16th to 22nd). Although the majority of events are only open to industry members, there are a few fashion events open to the general public:
  • Carin Wester will be showing her collection at the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Pavillion, set up in Kungsträdgården, on Tuesday, August 17th at 7:30pm. Come in time... her shows are popular!
  • Cheap Monday will be showing their collection at the Evert Taube's Terrace on the island of Riddarholmen on Tuesday, August 17th at 5:45pm. Love their jeans! Make sure to RSVP on their website (linked here) before space runs out.
  • The street Biblioteksgatan is considered ground zero for Stockholm high fashion. This Thursday (August 19th) the boutiques along this street will be open late into the evening (10pm). Many Swedish designers will be there to meet their customers... expect sales and other activities.
Expect a lot of parties at different nightclubs during the week... filled with models and fashionistas. Thanks to Metro Newspaper for the tip!

August 13, 2010

Tip #14- Arlanda Airport VIP Service


Do you wish you could avoid the long lines at airports? Checking in, baggage drop, security, etc; Have you always desired to be able to travel like royalty or a celebrity? Arlanda Airport has now made this possible with their VIP Service. This past May, I was given a tour of the facilities by Roger of the VIP Service and was duly impressed (thanks!). The staff is very personable as well as being experienced and discrete.
The service is for both arriving and departing travellers. When departing, guests arrive at the special VIP entrance where you can drive, or be driven, right up to the door. There you will be met by the staff who will help you with checking in, baggage handling and travel documents as well as take you through the separate security check-point. Afterwards you can relax in their nice VIP Lounges while the staff takes care of all of the practical details. If there is time, a VIP co-ordinator will take care of your duty-free shopping for you. Light refreshments are provided and you can also order additional food and drink. The staff keeps track of when your flight leaves and when it is time you will be driven directly to the airplane in one of their private cars.
When arriving, guests are met as they disembark the plane and within minutes you are sitting in the VIP Lounges while the staff take care of passport and custom details. Relax and enjoy the light refreshments while you wait for your baggage to be delivered to the Lounges. When it is time to leave the VIP co-ordinator will make sure your pre-arranged vehicle is driven up to the door or arrange for a taxi. The Lounges are also available to book for meetings or weddings, and often are. The costs aren't as extravagant as one might expect for this luxury and the thought of avoiding the long lines and hassles is alluring. To book this service, you can either contact them directly or contact me at the hotel (concierge@rival.se) and I will make the necessary arrangements.

August 12, 2010

Day Trip - Birka (Viking Town)

Rounding out my weekend as tour guide for my friend visiting from Wales... we took a trip to Birka for the day. Birka is considered to be Sweden's first town and was active (750-960 A.D.) in the Viking Age with a population of about 700 people at its height (around 3,000 graves have been found). Birka was an important trading center as seen by grave items found originating in the Middle-East and mainland Europe. Archaeologists don't know exactly why the town was abandoned, but, at about the same time, nearby Sigtuna rose in importance. Birka is located on the island of Björkö in lake Mälaren, about an hour and 45 minute boat ride inland from Stockholm. During the Viking Age the water level was much higher and Birka was directly connected to the Baltic Sea.

Today the island and archaeological site are on UNESCO's World Heritage list. If you go to Birka expecting to see the fabulous ruins of an ancient city like Machu Pichu, you will be disappointed. Birka was built mainly of wood and all that is left are the grave mounds and black earth and it takes a little imagination to envision what the town once looked like. Fortunately visitors are helped first by visiting the on-site museum where they have miniature replicas of what the town may have looked like as well as eager and knowledgable tour guides who take you through the grave fields and the site of where the town once stood. A recent addition to the site is a life size replica of part of the town, complete with working Vikings. It is made up of 4 or 5 dwellings, gardens and boats. The Vikings go about their business doing their daily chores including smithy work. One week in July they set up a Viking market as well. In my opinion it is the tour guides who make the trip extra special. They are all archaeology students and you can feel their passion for their work. There are hour long tours in both Swedish and English as well as a later tour designed for children. Speaking of which, this is a great trip to take children on! I sent a family of four from Germany there last week and it was a big hit. Otherwise I recommend this day trip for nature and history lovers alike...

Strömma is the company that runs the tours. They leave daily (mid May to mid September) from City Hall at 9:30am and you are back in town at 5pm (this gives you almost 4 hours on the island- enough time to take the tour, visit the museum and have lunch). There is a cafe on board the boat as well as a restaurant on the island. The cost of the tour is 295 SEK, half off for children between 6 and 11. Included in the price is the boat trips (with on board guide), museum entrance and guided tour of the island.

August 10, 2010

Restaurant- Sturehof



After taking my visiting friend to the Vasa Museum, I took her to Sturehof for a nice dinner. She was in the mood for good seafood in a trendy setting and that is exactly what Sturehof offers. The restaurant is located in the fashionable Stureplan area which is crawling with high-end boutiques during the day and restaurants and nightlife in the evening. The cuisine offered is a mix of Swedish and French favorites, concentrating on seafood... though there are items on the menu for meat-lovers and vegetarians alike. I had the Kalix bleak roe (löjrom- if you like caviar then you have to try this Swedish variant!) as an appetizer and the Moules-frites as the main course. My friend opted for the Dublin Bay Prawns followed by the creamy Lobster bisque. All were delicious! The outdoor bar area is hopping with trendy Swedes and there is lots to look at with the pulsing life of Stureplan passing by outside. The bar area indoors is busy during the colder months of the year with many locals taking pre-party cocktails here before heading to nearby nightclubs. Another reason I like Sturehof, from a professional standpoint, is its generous opening hours... open every day of the year except Chrsitmas Eve (though open for lunch) and New Years Day for lunch. The closest subway is Östermalmstorg(red line).

Festival: Culture Festival




Just a little heads up! Today (August 10th) is the first day of the Stockholm Culture Festival, which will be going on until Sunday, August 15th. There is plenty to do and see and the best thing of all is that it is free admission to 99% of the scheduled events! A theme of this year's festival is Denmark... with many of the artists, music, theater and movies coming from our neighbours to the south. All types of "culture" will be represented and there is something for everyone (whatever your age). Take a look at their website (linked above) and check out the program. The performances and events are happening throughout the city though all of them are centrally located and close together... Skeppsbron in the Old Town, Gustav Adolfs Square, Brunkenbergs Square and Sergels Square. There is also a special area just for children at Strömsparterren in front of The Parliament Building.
I will be there tomorrow evening and come back with a more detailed report!
EDIT: And I'm back... took a stroll through the festival area. I didn't see any of the main performances as it was in the afternoon and they take place mainly in the evening. But they had plenty of bar/restaurant tents... and I visited Sergels Square where they have set up booths selling various items. Tonight I'm planning on revisiting the festival with friends to first see the 100-man gospel choir at Sergel Square and then samba queen Simone Moreno at Gustav Adolf Square. Be aware that there is another festival for youths going on simutaneously at nearby Kungsträdgården called Ung08.

August 9, 2010

The Vasa Museum

This weekend I played tour guide to a friend visiting from Wales. As it was her first time in Stockholm, I had to take her to the Vasa Museum. There is a good reason why this is the top tourist draw in the city... not only is the ship impressive to see, the museum built around the ship is manificent as well.

The Vasa was a Swedish warship built at a time when Sweden, under Gustav II Adolf, was growing in power and taking her place on the world stage. Sweden was at war with Poland and was on the brink of being dragged into the Thirty Years War. A strong navy was important and the grand and ornate Vasa was to be its centerpiece. Unfortunately, she was too grand and ornate... top-heavy and unstable she sank minutes after setting sail in 1628 on her maiden voyage. She was found again in Stockholm harbour in the 1950's. The cold brackish water of the Baltic meant that shipworm hadn't destroyed her and she was nearly perfectly preserved. The ship was raised and the museum built around her, opening for the public in 1990 and quickly becoming the most visited museum in Scandinavia.

I really think that they have done a remarkable job with the museum. It is made up of several floors, all looking on to the immense ship. On each floor you learn about how the sailors lived on board, how the ship was constructed, what the ornamation meant symbolically, how the ship was found and raised, and more. There are loads of artifacts found with the ship on display as well. Whenever a guest tells me that they have one day in Stockholm and ask what they shouldn't miss... I always say the Vasa Museum.

The museum is located on the island of Djurgården and is a quick ferry ride from Slussen, or else you can take bus 47 from Norrmalmstorg. Entrance costs 110 SEK, 80 for students and free for children under 19. Entrance is free with the Stockholm Card. During the summer the museum is open daily from 8:30am to 6pm, otherwise it is open daily from 10am to 5pm (until 8pm on Wednesdays).

August 5, 2010

The Terracotta Army to Stockholm



Do you dream about one day travelling to China to see the famous Terrcotta Warriors from the X'ian province? Now you don't have to... they are coming to Stockholm this Fall! Well, not all of them but 10 warriors and plenty of other goodies (concentrating on the Qin and Han Dynasties) on loan from 11 museums in China. Today I was invited by the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities (Östasiatiska Museet) for an information meeting as well as a viewing of where the exhibition will be shown. You see, the exhibition will not be taking place in the museum proper but under it... in a fabulous 4,800 sq meter tunnel system dug directly in the hill (Bergrummet). These caverns were first excavated during the beginning of World War II to house the Naval Command in case of attack. This is the first time the tunnels will be open to the public and are the perfect subterranean stage to show off the Warriors!

This is not a wandering exhibition, but a unique showing coming only to Stockholm. The exhibition will be open every day, 10am to 8pm, from August 28th to January 16th. Tickets will cost 150 SEK (includes entrance to the museum proper as well) and children under 19 go in for free. They are expecting a lot of public interest and tickets may be purchased in advance at their website (linked above). The museum is located on the island of Skeppsholmen in central Stockholm. The nearest subway is Kungsträdgården (blue line).

Sweden Trivia



Did you know that Sweden is one of the world's largest exporter of... music? By some accounts, Sweden is third after the USA and UK. Of course, everyone has heard of ABBA whose name and music is synonymous with Sweden. This group is one of the world's most successful music acts and, though they've been disbanded since 1983, their music is still played/sold worldwide thanks to the recent success of the musical and film "Mamma Mia". But Swedish music is much more than ABBA... several groups had immense popularity on the international scene in the '80's and '90's like Roxette, Ace of Base, Europe and The Cardigans. These days there are many Swedish acts enjoying success in the pop, alternative music and indie-rock lists. Keep your eyes (and ears) open for Robyn, Kent, Agnes, The Hives, The Ark, Infinite Mass among others...
If it is not a Swedish artist singing, then chances are there is a Swede who has either written and/or produced the song. Two of the more famous "behind the scenes" Swedes are Max Martin and the late Denniz Pop, who have written some of the biggest hits for acts like The Backstreet Boys, Celine Dion, Kelly Clarkson, Pink, N'Sync and Britney Spears (Martin was responsible for her debut hit "Baby One More Time" among others). So there is a chance that you are listening to Swedish music as you read this!

August 4, 2010

Event: DN-Galan


This friday (August 6th) some of the world's best track & field athletes will be competing in Stockholm at the DN Galan. If you haven't bought tickets for the big event then you are out of luck... the only tickets left are for the "Exclusive Bolt Package" which will set you back about 3,000 SEK, but you just might be able to rub shoulders with some of the star athletes.

The DN Galan, sponsored by the newspaper Dagens Nyheter, is part of the prestigious Samsung Diamond League athletic series. It is the largest annual sporting event in Sweden, taking place at the old Olympic stadium (Stadion) where Stockholm hosted the games in 1912. The stadium is located on northern outskirts of the city. The big event this year will be the mens 100 meters with a showdown between Usain Bolt, Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell. My money is on Bolt!

Besides the races, there will be other events in the city this week taking place mainly at Kungsträdgården. On August 4th, from 11am to 6pm, kids can come down and try different athletic events with some of the big stars including Carolina Klüft and Usain Bolt. On August 5th there will be a shot put competition (Big Shot) with the shot put elite competing. The women will compete at 4pm and the men at 6pm. Besides that, there will also be entertainment and no entrance fee! Click here for a full list of this summer's festivals and events.

Trivia: Sweden has a rich sporting history which we are very proud of. In the past 10 years, in athletics alone, Sweden has won multiple medals in the Olympics as well as World and European Championships with star athletes like Carolina Klüft, Kajsa Bergqvist, Stefan Holm and Christian Olsson. Last week Emma Green won the silver medal in the women's high jump at the European Championships.