November 29, 2013

Countdown to Christmas- Part 2!

The royal palace lit up under a wintery sky.
Last weekend I wrote about the first Christmassy happenings in Stockholm... but this weekend (Nov 29th to Dec 1st) is the official start of the holiday season in Sweden (and many other parts of the world). It is the beginning of Advent, which always starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. It is this weekend when Swedes traditionally consider it permissible (in the name of good taste) to put up holiday decorations at home 
So, what kicks off this Advent Season? Well, to start off with, two more Christmas markets open for the season. The traditional & historic market at Skansen opens on Saturday and will be open each Advent weekend (Sat & Sun). The market in Kungsträdgården opened today (Friday) for business and will be open daily until December 22nd. Two specialty markets are open this weekend and only this weekend. The Royal Mews/Stables have their traditional Christmas fair this weekend (Fri-Sun) and the students at Konstfack (College of Art, Crafts & Design) have their market on Sat & Sun. Click for more information on various Christmas markets this season.
A contestant at last year's competition.
The Swedish Center for Architecture & Design's popular gingerbread house contest has started and the "houses" competing are now on display. You have until December 14th to stop by and cast your vote (they will, however, be on display until January 5th). The theme of the competition is "future forms" and the competitors are split into three groups...1. architects, designers and professional bakers. 2. children under the age of 12. 3. everyone else! The Center is located on the island of Skeppsholmen. 
Last minute preparations of the official tree.
Finally... the official Christmas tree is going to be lit at 3pm on Sunday! This giant tree is a bit of a symbol for Stockholm during the holiday season and is located in Gamla Stan on the Skeppsbron waterfront. Right next to the tree is the restaurant Mr French which I visited a few weeks ago. Not only will they be serving julbord, the traditional Christmas smörgåsbord, but they will be putting on their own Christmas market in their lounge where you can buy traditional market items as well as sandwiches and hot chocolate while sitting around an open fire. 

November 22, 2013

Ice Skating Rink at Kungsträdgården is Open for the Season!

This weekend we are expecting subzero (Celsius) temperatures which means that it is cold enough for the popular outdoor ice skating rink in Kungsträdgården to open for business. A sure sign that winter is not far off! Stockholmers have been skating here since 1962, when the rink first opened for business. It's location in the center of the city makes it a popular activity for both locals and tourists... whether they actually take to the rink or just observe. The downtown shopping district is nearby with the NK department store located right across the street. Starting next Friday (Nov 29th) a Christmas market will open up just adjacent to the rink. This market will be open daily, 11am to 6pm, until December 22nd.
On a snowy evening last winter... no snow yet this year!
The ice skating rink is also open daily: weekdays from 10am to 9pm and weekends from 11am to 9pm. If you don't feel like packing your ice skates when you come to Stockholm... don't worry, they have skates for rent! The cost is 60 SEK for adults and 30 SEK for youth/children under 20 (prices are for one hour rental). Children are required to use a helmet and they have them to borrow- free of charge (even for adults). The rink is lit up in the winter darkness and they have fun music playing over the loudspeakers, so it is worth a visit even if it is just to have a cup of glögg and watch the skaters. It is easy to get to from the Rival Hotel... either a 30 minute walk through Gamla Stan, 3-4 stops on the subway or a 5 minute taxi ride.

November 20, 2013

Dickens "A Christmas Carol" (Theatre in English!)

Photo by Johan Lygrell
Foreign visitors often ask me about theatre and shows in Stockholm and they are generally disappointed (and often surprised) when I explain that the vast majority of theatre in Stockholm is in Swedish. Since 95% of potential theatre goers are Swedish, it is only logical that theatre is in the local language. The exceptions to this rule are shows where language isn't a problem (opera, dance, etc;) as well as a select few that are performed in their original language (say, Shakespeare).
Photo by Johan Lygrell
Happily, another exception is the traditional performance of "A Christmas Carol", based on the classic novella by Charles Dickens, at the Maxim Theatre in Stockholm. I say "traditional" because this has become a bit of an annual event in Stockholm. The story of the greedy miser Ebenezer Scrooge and the ghosts of Christmas past, present and yet to come is well known around the world and is a holiday family favourite... whether you prefer the novella, play, musical or film! This theatre production at the Maxim also contains several classic Christmas carols like "God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen" and "We Wish You a Merry Christmas".
Photo by Johan Lygrell
"A Christmas Carol" will be performed daily at the Maxim Theatre from the 10th through the 23rd of December with double performances on the 21st, 22nd and 23rd of December. The cast is made up of British actors and singers as well as several child actors. The Maxim Theatre is located off of Karlaplan in the Östermalm district. It is very easy to get to from the Rival Hotel on Södermalm... take the subway (red line) in the direction of Ropsten. The fifth stop is Karlaplan! Tickets can be purchased at the box office (which is open on Wednesdays between noon and 6pm as well as 2 hours before each performance), at the Stockholm Tourist Center or online at If you are staying at the Rival Hotel, contact me directly for further assistance!

November 15, 2013

Countdown to Christmas in Stockholm...

Photo by Henrik Trygg, Stockholm Visitors Board
This Sunday, November 17th, the Christmas season starts with the traditional skyltsöndag (literally "sign Sunday" though sign refers to window displays). This is the Sunday when the department store Nordiska Kompaniet, or just NK, reveals its popular, holiday inspired, window displays. The big reveal is at 10:50am and there is usually a big crowd ready to oh-and-ah. Part of the reveal is to see what theme the window displays will have. But that is not all... Santa Claus, or jultomten, will be on hand until 5pm accepting wish lists from naughty & nice children. After this Sunday, Santa will be at NK on Fridays to Sundays until the 16th of December, after which he will be in-house daily until the 23rd.
A past, non-traditional, holiday window display at NK.
Skyltsöndag is really just to whet your appetite... the holiday season officially kicks off next weekend with two large events. The first of the Christmas markets (the one in the main square of Gamla Stan) opens for business on Saturday, November 23rd at 11am. It will then be open daily, from 11am to 6pm, until December 23rd. Most of the other Christmas markets open on the following weekend. So this is your chance at getting a jump on your yuletide shopping!
Photo by henrik Trygg, Stockholms Visitor Board
November 23rd is also the date when the official holiday light displays are turned on! This is the third year in the row where Stockholm goes full out in their light displays... using over half a million LED lights to make the city all twinkley. The lighting ceremony will be held at 3pm where Bilioteksgatan meets Stureplan. Stockholm City has put together a brochure/map showing all of the streets, bridges and squares that will be lit up... letting you do a "walking path of light" when visiting Stockholm this holiday season. These maps are free and will be available at the airport, train station and tourist information centers. If you are staying at the Rival Hotel, then you are in luck... we will have them here for our guests! Just talk to me after checking in.

November 12, 2013

Pitcher's Sports Bar & Restaurant

Last week I was at the premiere of a new restaurant, called Pitcher's, which opened up next door to the Rival Hotel. Welcome to the neighbourhood! This is a combination restaurant, pub and sports bar. In fact, it is part of a Sweden-wide franchise... though this is the first one in Stockholm. It is quite a large locale with two floors and several bars. I talked to a member of the staff on opening night and he explained that they are a "soft" sports bar, which means that, while they do have TVs showing live sporting events, the sound is muted so that diners can still enjoy their meal. He did mention that if there is a big sporting event going on (playoffs, world championships, grand slam, etc;) then they will have the sound on in certain parts of the restaurant. As I mentioned, it is a large locale!
Restaurant area, with booths...
As it was the premiere evening, I didn't have a chance to try the menu, except for the hors d'oeuvres they served... but I had a look at the menu and it seems to be a mix of classic Swedish and American dishes (including several "gourmet" hamburgers). The interior of the newly renovated locale resembles an upscale British golf pub... with brass, leather, dark wood and tartan.
Bar area...
 As a concierge I am happy with the addition of a sports bar in the neighbourhood, even if it is a "soft" sports bar. We do have two sports TV channels at the hotel, but every once in awhile we do get guests who are interested in a sporting event that is not being shown on either Swedish TV or one of the sports channels. For example, a rugby game (not popular in Sweden) or maybe a more obscure Italian Serie A football match. Now our guests don't have to go too far to enjoy the game! There are, of course, many other sports bars and pubs in the city (like the newly opened Tolv Stockholm at Tele2 Arena)... just talk to me, if you are staying at the hotel, and I will give you some options. In the meantime, you can have a look at the list put together by What's Up Sthlm (in Swedish, but with Google translate option in the upper right hand corner).
Click here for more options of restaurants near the Rival Hotel!

November 6, 2013

Stockholm International Film Festival (2013)

Today (November 6th) is the first day of the 24th annual Stockholm International Film Festival... 12 days of cinematic delights, awards and red carpet events. It really is too much to list out here in the blog, so I will just write an overview and you can click on the link above (or links below) for more information about the festival, movies, tickets and events.
Skandia. Photo by Emmanuel Castro Skött
"Freedom" is the theme of this year's festival and this will loosely tie in different aspects of the festival. Breaking it down in numbers, the festival is 12 days long and features 180 movies (from over 50 countries) being shown at 9 different venues throughout the city. More numbers? There will be 5 parties/events with themes as varied as LGBT, Horror and Bollywood. 18 prizes and scholarships will be awarded during the festival, including the Bronze Horse and Stockholm Visionary and Lifetime Achievement Awards.
The coveted Bronze Horse. Photo by Isa Olsson
Festival visitors have several options when it comes to tickets... whether purchasing a membership card or single tickets (in advance or at the theatre). Choosing between 180 movies to see might sound daunting. Luckily, the festival organizers have sorted the movies into different sections to make it easier for you to search for a favorite. Some sections are based on themes like Twilight Zone (horror) and American Independents (self explanatory?), others by competition/award while others by type, like documentaries. Movies are all in their original languages with, for the most part, subtitles in English. Click on the movie you are interested in (on the festival website) for more information about the movie including language and subtitle. If you are staying at the Rival Hotel and are interested in seeing a movie during your stay... come talk to me directly and I can help you navigate through the choices and tickets.

November 5, 2013

Christmas Markets in Stockholm 2013

Yup... it's that time of the year! Well, almost. It is less than three weeks until the first Christmas market opens for business, so I thought it would be appropriate to post a guide of the different Christmas markets in Stockholm this year.
Gamla Stan (old town)- this does feel like the "official" Christmas market of Stockholm in many ways. Located in the main square (Stortorget), this market definitely has the most central location and best opening hours/days. It is open daily (11am to 6pm) from November 23rd through December 23rd. Shop for delicacies like smoked sausages, jams, reindeer jerky and sweets or handcrafted presents like traditional holiday decorations, arts & crafts or knitwear. Otherwise you can buy a glass of glögg (hot, spiced wine) and walk around the market enjoying the atmosphere. Only a 15 minute walk from the Rival Hotel!
Kungsträdgården- also centrally located, this market is found in the square/park Kungsträdgården. While this market can sometimes feel a little less traditional, it really wins on its location as the market is adjacent to the outdoor ice skating rink and across the street from the NK department store with its popular holiday window displays. Open daily (11am to 6pm) from November 29th through December 22nd.
Skansen- historic and very traditional, see how a Christmas market looked in Sweden during the 1800's. Skansen is an outdoor cultural museum (as well as zoo) and has, in fact, had a Christmas market since 1903. Plenty of homemade mustards, jams, sausages, marzipan, breads and cakes as well as traditional handicrafts (leather, embroidery, holiday decorations and more). Very family-friendly with song & dance and activities for children. Skansen is located on the island of Djurgården with regular ferries from Slussen (10 minute walk from Rival Hotel). Open 10am to 4pm on the four weekends before Christmas (starting on November 30th).
While these three are the main Christmas markets, there are many other smaller, specialty markets throughout the city. One such is put on every year by the students at Beckman's College of Design, where the students sell their own designs (decorations, art, jewellery, etc;). Very popular! One weekend only: 11am to 5pm on December 7th & 8th. Location. Another such market is to be found at the Royal Stables/Mews (Hovstallet). Shop for quality handicrafts and delicacies in a unique setting and visit the stables at the same time. One weekend only: November 29th to December 1st (see link for opening hours). Location. If you are staying at the Rival Hotel, contact me directly for more Christmas markets in and around the city!