December 29, 2011

Even a Concierge Needs a Vacation!

After a great Christmas season with lots of wonderful guests at the Rival Hotel (but no snow), it is time for me to take a little vacation and recharge my batteries. So... it is off to Istanbul.
I will be back on January 10th and will get right to blogging about fun events coming up in 2012 and other useful tips! Until then, if you are staying at the Rival Hotel and require assistance, contact my knowledgable colleagues at the Front Desk at
Happy New Year... see you in 2012!

December 27, 2011

New Year's Eve in Stockholm

(EDIT: This was an older post from 2011, to read updated information regarding New Year's Eve, click here!)

December 24, 2011

Christmas Church Services 2011

(EDIT: This is information from 2011, for current info... click here!) There are many churches offering services in several languages during the Christmas weekend. The main denominations are Church of Sweden (Lutheran) and Catholicism. Here are the mass times that can be of interest:

Storkyrkan (Lutheran)- located in Gamla Stan.
-December 24th: Christmas prayer at 5pm and midnight mass at 11pm. Both in Swedish. They will be playing Christmas music at 4:30pm.
-December 25th: High Mass at 11am in Swedish.
-December 26th: High Mass at 11am in Swedish.

St Jacob's Church (Lutheran)- located next to Kungsträdgården.
-December 24th: Christmas prayer in Estonian at 2pm and Worship in English at 6pm.

Katolska Domkyrkan (Catholic)- located on Södermalm.
-December 24th: Christmas service in Italian at 9pm and in Croatian at 10pm. Midnight Mass (Swedish/Latin ?).
-December 25th: Mass in Italian at 8:45am, High Mass at 11am, in Spanish at 2pm, in Polish at 5pm and in Swedish at 6:30pm.
-December 25th: Mass in Swedish at 09:45am and in Croatian at 11am.

St Eugenia (Catholic)- located next to Kungsträdgården.
-December 24th: Christmas prayer in Swedish at 8pm, mass in Swedish at 10pm and midnight mass (12am)in English.
-December 25th: High Mass in Swedish at 11am and Christmas Mass in English at 6pm.

Merry Christmas!

From little old me and the entire Rival Hotel staff... Merry Christmas! We hope you have a wonderful and safe holiday season. We look forward to welcoming you to the hotel and Stockholm in 2012!

Santa Claws says... Ho! Ho! Ho!

December 22, 2011

Swedish Candy Canes

One more blog entry to get you in the holiday spirit! Let me introduce you to Polkagris, the Swedish version of candy cane. Generally speaking it tastes and looks like candy cane... though without the hook and it can come in different flavors other than peppermint. Polkagris was first made in the town of Gränna, along the shores of Lake Vättern, in 1859. The Polkagris bakeries in Gränna are a popular tourist attraction these days. But you don't have to travel all the way to Gränna to see Polkagris being made (and to purchase it, of course). The Polkapojkarna in Gamla Stan (The Old Town) is the only polkagris bakery outside of Gränna where you can watch Polkagris being made.

So head down to the store (location) to pick up some authentic Swedish candy canes... just a 12 minute walk from the Rival Hotel. Or just stop by to watch them make the popular peppermint sticks!

December 16, 2011

Winter Solstice Celebration This Weekend

Photo: Marie Andersson, Skansen
This year the Winter Solstice (longest night of the year) falls on December 22nd, but already this weekend (Dec 17 & 18) you can celebrate at Skansen. Skansen is the best place to take part in Swedish holiday traditions and this weekend is the last weekend to visit their popular Christmas Market (Sat & Sun 10am to 4pm). Besides the market there are a couple of other events going on to celebrate the Winter Solstice: between 12 and 4pm they will be doing ice carving and sculptures at the Solliden stage area followed by the "Fire and Ice" show at 4pm... a magical show with fire, ice, music, food & drink. The fact that the nights will be getting shorter is surely a reason to celebrate!
Photo: Marie Andersson, Skansen
The easiest way to get to Skansen from the Rival Hotel is by the Djurgården boat ferry. The boats leave every 10-15 minutes from Slussen and the trip takes just 8 minutes.

December 14, 2011

Shops During the Holidays

(EDIT: This is a blog post from 2011, for information regarding 2013- click here!) One of the most popular questions I get from people planning their vacation in Stockholm during the holiday season is how the stores are open. Generally speaking, stores tend to be open on the 24th (though they close early) and closed on the 25th. Smaller stores will often be closed on the 24th as well and maybe even on the 26th. The really big shopping days in Sweden are between Christmas and New Years during what we call mellandagarna (literally "the middle days"). You will see signs all through the city advertising their sales (rea or mellandagsrea) and you can really get some good deals if you don't mind the crowds. Last year I wrote a little more in depth about these sales and you can read about them here.
Shopping crowds in front of NK
I can't give you the opening hours for every store, but here are the special hours for the larger stores and shopping centers in the city:
  • NK Department Store- Dec 24th 10am to 2pm, closed Dec 25th, Dec 31st 10am to 5pm and closed Jan 1st.
  • Åhlens City Department Store- Dec 24th 9am to 2pm, closed Dec 25th, Dec 31st 10am to 5pm and closed Jan 1st.
  • Gallerian Shopping Center- Dec 24th 10am to 2pm, closed Dec 25th, Dec 31st 11am to 5pm and closed Jan 1st.
  • Sturegallerian Shopping Center- Dec 24th 10am to 2pm, closed Dec 25th, Dec 31st 10am to 2pm and closed Jan 1st.
As I said, these are just the large stores and shopping centers, though the opening hours can be a guide for how other stores will be open. All are located in the downtown area... about a 25-30 minute walk from the Rival Hotel, otherwise 3-4 subway stops. Subways & buses run all through the holidays! If you are staying at the hotel and are interested in a specific store's opening hours... contact me directly by e-mail.

December 9, 2011

This Weekend- Nobel Awards & Lucia Celebration

Lucia at Skansen. Photo: Marie Andersson
(Edit: Click here for 2014 information) Quite a busy weekend in Stockholm! Tomorrow evening (Saturday Dec. 10th) the Nobel Prize ceremony will be at the Konserthuset followed by the dinner at Stadshuset. Unfortunately there is not much for the tourist to see (besides on TV) as it is all invitation only. But what is good to know is that parts of the downtown area around the two venues will be cordoned off between 2pm and 7pm due to the fact that royalty, dignitaries and prize winners will be shuttling back and forth. There will also be a political demonstration or two. So... stick to walking or subways during this time!
Next Tuesday (Dec 13th) is St Lucia Day which is often celebrated with concerts in churches and other venues. These concerts start with a candlelit procession led by a girl (Lucia) wearing a wreath of candles in her hair. However, this weekend you can jump start on the festivities... at the Seglora church in Skansen park there will be a Lucia concert at 1pm and 2:30pm on Saturday and at 2pm and 3pm on Sunday. There will be additional Lucia concerts in Skansen's Ordenshuset on Sunday at noon and 2pm. Remember that Skansen also has a great Christmas Market open on both days between 10am and 4pm!
Seglora church, photo: Marie Andersson

December 8, 2011

Museums During the Holidays- 2011/2012

Skansen! Open every day. Photo: Marie Andersson
(EDIT: this is info for 2011/12, for current info... click here!) As you can expect, museums in Stockholm are closed on certain days during the Christmas and New Year holidays... some more than others. To help you plan your holiday vacation in Stockholm, I have made a list of the top museums and which days they are closed during this period.
  • Vasa Museum- Closed 23rd, 24th and 25th of December as well as the 1st of January.
  • History Museum- Closed on Mondays and the 24th, 25th and 31st of December.
  • National Museum- Closed on Mondays and the 24th, 25th & 31st of December as well as the 1st of January.
  • Nobel Museum- Closed on Mondays and the 24th, 25th & 31st of December as well as the 1st of January.
  • Fotografiska (photography museum)-  Closed on December 24th.
  • Moderna (modern art museum)- Closed on Mondays and the 24th, 25th & 31st of December as well as the 1st of January.
  • Medieval Museum- Closed on Mondays and the 24th, 25th & 31st of December as well as the 1st of January.
  • Nordic Museum- Closed on the 24th, 25th and 31st of December.
  • Museum of Natural History- Closed on Mondays and the 23rd and 24th of December.
  • Royal Palace- Closed on Mondays, the 24th, 25th, 26th & 31st of December and 1st of January.
  • Stockholm City Museum- Closed on Mondays and the 24th, 25th & 31st of December as well as the 1st of January.
  • Drottningholm Palace- Closed December 12th through the 30th. Open daily December 30th to January 8th.

There is one museum that is open 365 days a year... Skansen! This is the outdoor cultural museum, the zoo as well as a park! It is also the best place to go to see traditional Swedish ways to celebrate the holidays. Museums may have shorter opening hours on certain days. Check their websites (linked above) for their hours. If you are staying at the Rival Hotel, contact me directly for the opening hours of other museums.

December 5, 2011

Gingerbread House Competition

Photo by Matti Östling
The Architecture Museum's (Arkitekturmuseet) annual, and popular, gingerbread house competition has started.Over a hundred bakers, architects, children and happy amateurs have created gingerbread houses for the competition in different categories. The theme this year is "pride and prejudice" and shines a spotlight on the problem of bullying in schools. It is the visitors to the museum who vote for the best creations! The competition/exhibition ends on January 8th... so stop on by to admire the houses and cast your vote.
Photo by Matti Östling
The museum is located on the island of Skeppsholmen just adjacent to the Modern Art Museum (Moderna).
Entrance costs 60 SEK (free for youths under 19) and you can buy a combination for both museums (architecture & modern art) for 140 SEK. Free admission for holders of the Stockholm Card. Pictures in this blog entry are from the 2010 competition.

December 1, 2011

Holiday Inspiration

 It has been an unusually warm autumn and we are still waiting for our first snowfall here in Stockholm. But that doesn't mean we don't have any Christmas spirit! Here are some pictures I took yesterday evening during a walk through the Old Town (Gamla Stan) to help you get in the mood...
40 m high gorgeous Christmas tree
Abstract Santas in storefront window

Christmas market, where you can purchase...

...hand-made Santas and...

...angels galore!

November 30, 2011

Free Walking Tour of the City

Photo by Yanan Li, Stockholm Visitors Board
I have blogged earlier about private walking tours of the city that I recommend and I would like to add another option... Free Tour Stockholm. As the name suggests, the tours are free of charge- though if you like the tour please tip your guide! The walking tour is 1½ hours long, guided in English and has gotten some great reviews recently. The guides are all passionate about Stockholm history and promise a fun & interesting tour. There is no need to make a reservation. You just show up at the appointed time to join the tour. The tours are run no matter the weather or amount of participants. The meeting place for the start of the tour is at the top of the big staircase at the square Sergels Torg. Click here for a map. Generally speaking, they offer 2-3 tours a week starting at 10am. Check their website, linked here and above, for actual dates and times.

November 25, 2011

Christmas Smörgåsbord at Sea

Photo by Magnus Rietz
I have blogged earlier about the traditional Christmas smörgåsbord, called julbord, now available in restaurants throughout Sweden. Yesterday I was invited by the sightseeing company Strömma to the season premiere of their combination julbord and boat excursion. It was delicious and a great idea for locals and visitors to Stockholm alike. Not only do you get to try traditional and seasonal Swedish cuisine, but you also get to enjoy a nice boat ride (either in the inner archipelago, Lake Mälaren or Stockholm harbor) on one one of their historic and refitted ships. Another great thing about Strömma is their flexibility... seven of their ships will be serving julbord this season of different variations. Classic, seafood, "with a twist" and Swedish/American are some of the different themes. You also have the option of enjoying the julbord for lunch, in the afternoon or in the evening... there is even a full day trip to the Christmas market on the island of Utö with julbord served on the way back to the city. As you can see, there is something for everyone!

If you are staying at the Rival Hotel, contact me directly and I can help you with making a reservation. Otherwise contact your hotel or visit Strömma's website (linked here and above) for more information and to make a reservation.

November 23, 2011

Christmas Special at the Rival Hotel

Receive a free Christmas holiday upgrade!

All guests staying between December 21st, 2011 and January 8th, 2012 have the possibility of getting a free upgrade. All you have to do, after making your reservation between these dates above, is “Like” us on Facebook and write your Christmas wish under this picture of “Santa Claws”.
This Picture can be found somewhere on our Facebook page for The Rival Hotel.

Upgrades are a subject to availability and will only be provided to reservations made directly with us or on our website for Economy, Standard, Superior or Deluxe room.

From all of us to all of you... have a very merry Christmas!

November 18, 2011

The Holidays at NK Department Store

Photo by Jeppe Wikström, Stockholm Visitors Board
I have written earlier about the NK Department Store... Stockholm's answer to Harvey Nichols or Bloomingdale's. Now that the holidays are approaching, the store is even more popular with visitors and Stockholmers alike.
The store kicks off the holiday season this Sunday (November 20th) at 11:50am with the traditional unveiling of the Christmas store window decorations. A very popular tradition with the locals. Father Christmas will arrive at the store in a horse drawn carriage (the reindeer are apparently resting up) and after the unveiling will be seated in the main atrium listening to the Christmas wishes of children. Plenty of other fun events all during the afternoon... concerts, storytelling and decorating. Not in Stockholm this Sunday? Don't worry... Father Christmas, or a special hand-picked representative, will be there daily on the fourth floor until December 23rd.

Not only is NK a great place to do some Christmas shopping, the store is located at the end of Kungsträdgården square where you will find a Christmas market (see times below) and an outdoor ice-skating rink. So plenty to do to get you in the holiday spirit! To get to NK from the Rival Hotel, it is either a 20-25 minute walk through the Old Town or else 3 subway stops (red line) to T-Centralen.
One of this year's windows... Santa in drag!

November 16, 2011

Christmas Markets 2011

(EDIT: info from 2011, for updated 2013 info, click here!) This weekend (Nov 19th & 20th) kicks off the Christmas season in Stockholm! Besides the unveiling of this year's Christmas light decorations on Sunday at 4pm throughout the downtown area, it is also the premiere for the first Christmas markets. These markets are the perfect places to get into the holiday spirit and to purchase Swedish holiday goodies... ornaments, handicrafts, winter accessories, candies and local delicacies. I did write about the different markets in detail last year, but I thought it would be a good idea to update the dates and times for the different markets throughout the city for 2011.
  • Old Town (Gamla Stan)- located in the main square Stortorget, this market has its premiere on Nov 19th at 1pm and will then run daily (11am to 6pm) until December 23rd.
  • Skansen- located on the island of Djurgården, the open-air museum (and zoo!) will hold its Christmas market each Saturday & Sunday (10am to 4pm) on the four weekends leading up to Christmas starting on November 26th.
  • Kungsträdgården- This market kicks off already on November 19th. It starts off being open on the last two weekends of November before being open daily between the 2nd and 22nd of December (11am to 6pm). Located in the middle of the city, this park is also where you find the outdoor ice-skating rink!
  • Sergels Torg- this market, located right around the corner from Kungsträdgården, opens on November 25th and runs daily until December 23rd (no opening hours posted yet).
These are the four main Christmas markets. There will be some smaller or unique markets open for one weekend or one day only and I will be sure to list them as well a little later on.

November 11, 2011

A Christmas Carol

Photo: Johan Lygrell
(EDIT: this is information for the 2011 season, for more current information click here!) Bah Humbug! With the exception of opera, the vast majority of shows and musicals playing in Stockholm are in Swedish for obvious reasons. However, this December Charles Dicken's A Christmas Carol will be performed in English at the Maxim Theater- located in the Östermalm district. There are shows daily between the 8th and 23rd of December (except the 12th, 13th and 19th) with matinee showings on certain days. Click here for show dates & times and ticket information. Otherwise tickets can also be purchased at the Tourist Information Center on Vasagatan. There will be several shows at the theater at the Rival Hotel in December including Astrid Lindgren's Ronja Rövardotter (Ronia Robber's Daughter) for children. While this show is in Swedish, there are several Christmas concerts playing as well where knowledge of Swedish isn't really necessary. Click here for more information.

November 9, 2011

Stockholm Christmas 2011
(Edit: This is a post from 2011, for updated information about Christmas in Stockholm- click here!) Some new information as well as a repeat of some old information...
Stockholm is celebrating Christmas this year in a big way with a new light/decoration project called StockholmsJul. Starting on November 20th, thirty streets and squares in the center of the city will be lit up with 671,647 energy-saving & environmentally friendly LED lights. It is all part of Stockholm's goal to become the #1 Christmas destination in Scandinavia. They are busy setting up & hanging the decorations and you can follow their progress on their Facebook page. Here, at the Rival Hotel, we are waiting in anticipation to see how the Christmas tree in the square in front of the hotel will look like this year!
Photo: Henrik Trygg, Stockholm Visitors Board
I wrote quite a lot about Christmas in the city in my blog last year. I will be writing more this year, of course, but it feels a little silly to repeat most of the information. Here are some posts from last year that you may find of interest in making plans for you holiday trip:
  1. Restaurants during the holiday season.
  2. Christmas Markets.
  3. Holiday traditions in Sweden.
  4. Winter activities in Stockholm.
  5. St Lucia celebrations. (Dec. 13th)
  6. Julbord- the Christmas smörgåsbord.
  7. Christmas Mass.
  8. Museum opening hours during the holidays.
Just keep in mind that these blog entries (linked above) were written in 2010 so some of the information (dates, times, prices, etc;) may be incorrect. But it will give you a good idea of what to expect this year. I will also be posting updated information for 2011 as it comes in...

November 7, 2011

Restaurant: Fem Små Hus

Entrance to the restaurant...
My colleagues and I paid a visit yesterday evening to a classic Stockholm restaurant: Fem Små Hus. This restaurant, located in Gamla Stan- just a stone's throw from the Royal Palace, has been around for over 40 years and is a great place to try some Swedish cuisine. The menu is filled with great local Swedish produce, such as chantarelles, herring, salmon, cloudberries, reindeer and elk. We had the gravad lax (marinated salmon) for the first course, followed by a fillet of veal with a morel sauce... all were delicious.
Besides the wonderful food, the historic atmosphere makes this restaurant worth a visit. The restaurant is spread out through 5 connected houses (the name literally means "five small houses") and is comprised of 9 vaulted cellar rooms. There are stairs and passageways connecting the rooms and the walls are covered with paintings, tapestries and candles... all of which add to the historic atmosphere. Parts of the restaurant actually date back to 1651.
Stairs leading down to the restaurant
The restaurant, an easy 15 minute walk from the Rival Hotel, is open 7 days a week.
Click here for some other restaurant recommendations!

November 5, 2011

Stockholm International Film Festival 2011

It's November which means that it is time for Stockholm's Film Festival! The festival starts on November 9th and runs through to the 20th. During this time there will be many great films shown in different theaters throughout the city. Click here to see the film schedule. Besides the movies, there will be parties, events, seminars as well as red carpet screenings. There is, of course, a festival competition as well as two special awards being presented. The first is the Lifetime Achievement award to French actress Isabelle Huppert and the other is the Visionary Award to Mexican director/writer/producer Alejandro González Iñárritu. Visit the festival's website (linked above) for tickets and more information.

November 4, 2011

All Hallow's Eve

Photo: Alexander Dokukin @SVB
The first Saturday in November is All Hallow's Eve in Sweden... which is this weekend (Nov. 5th). I have a couple of activities that can help you celebrate the holiday while visiting Stockholm.
Stockholm will have its first ever Halloween parade this Saturday called "Shockholm"! The pre-parade party starts at 2pm at Slussen (10 minute walk from the Rival Hotel) and the parade starts at 4pm. The parade route goes through Gamla Stan, ending up at the park Kungsträdgården where there will be a post-parade party until 8pm. Everyone and anyone is welcome to take part in the parade and parties (no entrance fee)... though you should dress up if you are walking in the parade!

Skogskyrkogård, photo: Susanne Hallmann
For a more somber and thought provoking All Hallows experience... head out to Skogskyrkogården, Stockholm's largest cemetery and on the UNESCO World Heritage list. I have reported on this beautiful cemetery before, which was designed by architect Gunnar Asplund. Many Swedes light candles and place them on the graves of family and friends this day & evening... adding to the beauty of the surroundings. After 2pm there will be music in the Chapel of the Holy Cross and the Visitors Center will be open from 10am to 8pm. To get there from the hotel, take the subway (green line) south in the direction Farsta Strand, exit at the Skogskyrkogård station and then follow the signs.

October 28, 2011

Shopping: Souvenirs!

One of the questions I get asked the most is where do we go to buy souvenirs & postcards? The answer is pretty simple: The Old Town (Gamla Stan) and more specifially... the pedestrian street Västerlånggatan. This street runs the length of the western side of the island, starting in the south at Slussen and then running north to the Parliament (Riksdagen). Most of the shops are pretty cheesy, selling a variety of Stockholm themed trinkets and other souvenirs. But if you are looking for a Pippi Longstocking doll for your daughter, a horned Viking helmet for your son, a t-shirt portraying two moose mating for your funny uncle or a commemorative plate of the crown princess and prince for your grandmother... then this is the place to go! Many of the shops also sell postcards, guide books as well as film & memory cards for cameras. There are some more classy souvenirs to be purchased here, like Swedish glass, crystal and ceramics. Or else you can head over to the other side of the island where you will find the pedestrian street Österlånggatan. This street is quieter than Västerlånggatan and you can find a better grade of souvenir... handicrafts, crystal and art. Both streets are just a 10 minute walk from the Rival Hotel!
Click here for more Stockholm shopping tips!

October 25, 2011

The Strindberg Museum

August Strindberg is one of Sweden's most famous artists throughout history; a playwright, essayist, novelist and painter... he was also one of Sweden's most prolific artists. The apartment in central Stockholm, where he spent the last four years of his life (1908-1912), has been turned into the Strindberg Museum. The apartment's interior has been reconstructed as it looked when Strindberg died. Most of the furniture is the original pieces while other details (wallpaper, textiles, etc;) are copies. The building is also quite interesting... when it was completed in 1907 it was one of the first buildings in Stockholm with telephone lines, electricity, indoor plumbing, an elevator and central heating. Besides the apartment itself, the museum also has exhibitions showing different aspects of Strindbergs life and work as well as a library which holds an extensive collection of books by and about the author/playwright. Of special note- next year (2012) will be the 100th anniversary of Strindberg's death, expect special events both at the museum and in the city!

As I mentioned, the museum is located in central Stockholm and is easy to get to from the Rival Hotel... just take the subway (green line) at nearby Slussen, heading north, and exit at Rådmansgatan (4 stations). The museum has shorter than normal opening hours- 12am to 4pm, Tuesday through Sunday. Entrance is 50 SEK for adults and free for children under 19. Free with the Stockholm Card. A special thanks to my roving reporter Matte B for the tip and pictures!

October 20, 2011

Art Exhibitions This Fall

There are some great art exhibitions showing at different museums and art galleries in Stockholm this Fall and early Winter. A little something for every type of art lover!
  • "Turner, Monet, Twombly" at Moderna (modern art museum)- an exhibition featuring three of the great painters from the last 150 years. Showing until January 15th, 2012. Another current exhibition is their collection of photography featuring the likes of Newton, Penn, Arbus and Mapplethorpe (until February, 2012).
  • "The Peredvizhniki" at the Nationalmuseum (national art museum)- Social realism and folktales... Pioneers in Russian painting (until January 22, 2012). Another current exhibition is "Four Seasons", a look at the changing seasons through the eyes of Swedish painters from the late 1800's (until May, 2012).
  • "On This Earth, a Shadow Falls" at Fotografiska (photography museum)- black and white photography of African wildlife taken by photographer Nick Brandt.
  • "Carl Fredrik Hill" at Waldemarsudde- an exhibition of the work of Carl Fredrik Hill in the celebration of the 100th anniversary of his death (until January 29th, 2012).
  • "Hell" at Liljevalchs- an appropriately titled exhibition looking at "the dark to which art constantly returns". A mix of 19th century and modern art. Showing until January 8th, 2012.
Here are some other good art galleries and exhibition venues worth checking out: Sven-Harry's Gallery, Bonnier's Konsthall, Hallwylska MuseumThielska Gallery and Millesgården. If I stumble upon any other interesting art exhibition this Fall, I'll be sure to post it here!

October 19, 2011

Trivia: Fall Flowers

I reported earlier about the planting of flowers throughout Stockholm for the Spring & Summer months... well, now there are new flowers for Fall. In flower beds and pots throughout the city, they have planted purple and white heather. I'm not sure what the theme for the flowers are this season, but they are pretty! The pictures here are taken in the square Mariatorget just in front of the Rival Hotel. So head out and enjoy the Fall flowers as well as the changing colors of the leaves!