January 31, 2016

Restaurant Awards- Gulddraken 2016

This year's first restaurant awards/guide/list has been announced. It is the Gulddraken (the golden dragon) which is awarded by the newspaper Dagens Nyheter. to the best restaurants in Stockholm. What makes this award especially interesting is that they give awards in three different categories (luxury, mid-ranged and budget) as well as for best bar and others. This is great as not everyone can afford luxury restaurants. Another good point is that the jury (Krogkommissionen) is made up of Stockholmers in the know, so it is based on local expertise. The winners as well as nominees:

To see past Gulddraken winners and nominees or other lists/awards/guides... click here

January 30, 2016

Klee/Aguéli at Moderna

Last week I was invited to the press showing for Moderna Museet's (Stockholm's modern art museum) new exhibition Klee/Aguéli. The exhibition looks at the work of two artists... Swiss/German artist Paul Klee and Swedish artist Ivan Aguéli.
While they were both active at approximately the same time, they were very different artists and there is no real evidence of their paths ever crossing. Paul Klee, the more well known of the two, was a prolific artist with thousands of works of art produced over his lifetime. His style also changed significantly through his career. Ivan Aguéli, on the other hand, was much less prolific in his creation of art. In fact, only four works of art were ever exhibited (as part of a larger exhibition) during his lifetime.
So what did they have in common? Besides being active in the beginning of the 20th century, they also had travels to northern Africa (Egypt, Tunisia) in common as well as being in touch with nature during a time of mass industialization. I really enjoyed the exhibition and liked seeing both the similarities and differences in their respective works. The artwork is also smaller in scale, more intimate, which I found refreshing. The exhibition is comprised of 86 painitings and drawings and runs until April 24th.
Moderna is located on the island of Skeppsholmen. The easiest way to get there from the Rival Hotel is by taking the Djurgård ferry from nearby Slussen. When you go on to the ferry, let the staff know that you wish to disembark at Skeppsholmen (otherwise they will not make the stop). Moderna is one of the museums that has recently started with free admission.
Click here to see other current art exhibitions in Stockholm.

January 27, 2016

The Semla!

The semla in all her glory!
It is that time of the year when the windows and shelves of cafés and bakeries all through Sweden are filled with a very Scandinavian pastry: the Semla. Traditionalists get a bit upset that semlor (plural of semla) are sold this early in the year. According to tradition, they should be made, sold and eaten on Shrove Tuesday which is the last day before the fasting period of Lent. But, just like how Christmas comes earlier every year, so does the appearance of semlor in cafés and bakeries. Here at the Rival Hotel, our Café has started to serve them. So, if you are visiting Stockholm in these weeks... make sure you take the opportunity to try these delicious, traditional pastries.
"Hetvägg", but hard to see the milk on a white plate.
A semla is made out of a cardomom spiced wheat bun, filled with a mix of milk and almond paste and then topped with whipped cream. Some people like to eat their semla in a bowl of hot milk, which is called hetvägg. But whether in milk or on its' own, these pastries are consumed in the millions. Over 40 million annually in Sweden alone which is pretty good when you consider that our population is just under 10 million. They are quite filling and be careful of eating too many in one sitting. King Adolf Fredrik (a Swedish king in the 1700's) died of digestion problems after rounding off a big meal with 14 servings of hetvägg!
Semlor lined up and ready for consumption.

January 15, 2016

Stockholm's Matmarknad ("Food Market")

Food markets, indoor or outdoor, are popular places to visit when travelling to another city and many of these food markets take advantage of this popularity, along with all of the on-hand fresh produce, and offer great dining options. In Stockholm we have several great food markets, especially Östermalm's Saluhall.
The restaurant Sturehof has played with this idea and opened their own version of a food market with dining called Stockholm's Matmarknad (Food Market). It is located adjacent to the restaurant, within the upscale shopping center Sturegallerian, in the Stureplan district. Within an octagonal shaped atrium they have built a bar, surrounded by bar tables as well as a few regular tables. I stopped by with a couple of friends the other evening for a few drinks and something light to eat.
Fruit & vegetable stand.
Fish monger.
On the sides of the atrium they have put in food counters, selling a variety of fresh produce... a fish monger, butcher, bakery, cheese shop and a fruit & vegetable stand. They also have ready made meals for take-away at one of the counters. It is a great concept and a timely idea as the nearby, popular Östermalm's Saluhall will be closing soon for a 2 year long renovation starting this April.
Cheese counter with...
...assorted marmelades and jams.
For dining at Matmarknad, we did notice that at the bar they offered a variety of open faced sandwiches (Danish smørrebrød) with different toppings as well as several "dishes of the day", all made with produce taken from the surrounding food counters. As they are connected with the restaurant Sturehof, you also have the choice of ordering from their menu. We decided on this option and chose from Sturehof's appetizer menu... a beef carpaccio with bleak roe cream, Västerbotten cheese and pickled red onions as well as a classic Toast Skagen. Delicious and perfect for a light meal to accompany our wine. Click here for other restaurant recommendations.
Beef Carpaccio
Toast Skagen

January 11, 2016

Winter Activities in Stockholm

After a slight delay (i.e. no white Christmas), winter has finally come to Stockholm with temperatures below freezing and plenty of snow and ice. Of course, this means a lot of fun winter activities to try when visiting Stockholm!
Hammarbybacken. Photo: Skistar
As Stockholm is a seaside town with no mountains in the area, people really don't equate alpine skiing with the city. But we actually have a slope, called Hammarbybacken, located in the southern suburbs of the city. In fact, from the top of the hill you have splendid views of the city. Hammarbybacken has opened for the season and it offers 4 pistes and 2 lifts as well a children's area. Ski equipment rental is available as well. Not exactly St Moritz or Aspen, but a fun activity to do when visiting Stockholm during the winter. To get there from the Rival Hotel, take the subway (green line) from nearby Slussen to Gullmarsplan. There you switch to the tvärbanan (tram) to Sickla Kaj. From there it is only a 10 minute walk to the slopes! The whole trip (hotel to slope) should just take you about 30 minutes.
Colleague & friend Camilla with daughter Aisha
in Kungsträdgården. 
Besides alpine skiing you also have ice skating. You have the choice of skating on an outdoor rink or being adventurous and take a tour on the waterways around the city. For rinks, the best bet is the one located in Kungsträdgården. Centrally located, generous opening hours and skate available. There are several other outdoor rinks throughout the city, but generally skate rental isn't always available. The countryside around Stockholm is filled with lakes, inlets, canals and other waterways... not to mention of 30,000+ islands of the archipelago. This means you can also experience skating on natural ice. In this case, it is strongly recommended that you do this with a guide who knows where to go. One great company for this is Stockholm Adventures.
Skating on natural ice. Photo: Henrik Trygg, Stockholm Visitors Bureau.
More winter activities can be found at the outdoor activity area Hellasgården. Here they have ski paths in the forests and are one of the few places in Stockholm to rent cross country ski equipment. Skate rental is also available if you want to take to the ice of the lake. Feeling particularly courageous? Try ice swimming! They do have a sauna for warming up before and after your dip (not for the faint hearted- literally). Hellasgården is located on the outskirts of the city but only requires a 15 minute bus ride from Slussen (near the Rival Hotel).
Cross country skiing with Green Trails.
Another great tour company which offers winter excursions in and around Stockholm that we like is Green Trails. For example, they offer cross country ski tours (with equipment) which is a wonderful way to get out and see the nature around the city and enjoy the outdoors. They also offer snowshoe hiking and ice skating tours. I think that it is great that these cross country ski tours are now available... only a few years ago it was hard to even find a place that rented skis for visitors. With any of these activities, keep in mind that winter is fickle and they often depend on the amount of ice/snow available. So keep an eye on the above linked websites or weather sites for up to date information.
Lots of winer activities! However, there is one that you can't find in Stockholm and that is dog sledding. Every winter I get requests from hotel guests for dog sledding tours. As I mentioned, winter is fickle in Stockholm. A dog sledding company needs months of guaranteed snow to be economically feasible. And in that vein, there is no reindeer sledding here either. For these types of activities, you have to travel north to the alpine areas of Dalarna and Jämtland or the far noth in Norrbotten. Definitely a fun, side trip when visiting Stockholm in the winter!

January 8, 2016

Free Museums in Stockholm!

Entrance to the Natural History Museum.
Some good news from the world of museums in Stockholm. All state run museums are doing away with entrance fees, starting on February 1st at the latest (they may still charge entrance for some temporary exhibitions). While this does not cover all museums and does not include many of Stockholm's most popular attractions which are privately owned (like the Vasa, Skansen, Fotografiska and ABBA), it still is an impressive list of interesting museums. This is also a fantastic opportunity to add some extra culture to your itinerary when visiting Stockholm without having to worry about breaking your budget. Perhaps a museum you would never have thought to visit before?
Interior at the Mediterranean Museum.
The list of museums in Stockholm with free entrance after February 1st, 2016:

  • Armémuseum (The Army Museum)- a look at Sweden's military past and peace keeping present.
  • Etnografiska museet (Museum of Ethnography)- dedicated to cultures and peoples of the world.
  • Hallwylska museet- art and history museum located in a palace from the late 1800's owned by von Hallwyl family.
  • Historiska museet (Swedish History Museum)- focused on the history of Sweden... including the Viking era. 
  • Kungliga myntkabinettet (The Royal Coin Cabinet)- museum of economy as well as the history of money and finance.
  • Livrustkammaren (The Royal Armoury)- a look at Swedish royal history through their clothing, costumes, armour and carriages. 
  • Medelhavsmuseet (Mediterranean Museum)- dedicated to the history and culture of the Mediterranean area (Greek, Roman, Egyptian, etc.).
  • Medeltidsmuseet (Museum of Medieval History)- how did Stockholm look in the Middle Ages? What was life like for Medieval Stockholmers? Actually not state run (run by the city), but still free entrance as of January 1st.
  • Moderna museet- Stockholm's museum of modern art. 
  • Nationalmuseum (the National Museum)- Sweden's museum of art and design. Currently closed for renovations, they have temporary exhibits at Konstakademien (Royal Academy of Fine Arts). 
  • Naturhistoriska riksmuseet (Museum of Natural History)- a look at the history of the natural world from dinosaurs to today. Entrance fee still for their IMAX theatre Cosmonova.  
  • Sjöhistoriska museet (Maritime Museum)- dedicated to naval and shipping history.
  • Centrum för Arkitektur och Design- The Stockholm center for architecture and design. 
  • Östasiatiska museet (Museum of Far East Antiquities)- houses art and sculpture from the Far East (Japan, China, Korea, etc.). 
Wintery exterior of the moderna art museum (Moderna)
Some of these museums have already started with free entrance while others are waiting until February 1st. Visiting Stockholm in January? Check the museums' websites (linked above) to see if they have started with free entrance or not. Or if you are staying at the Rival Hotel, contact me directly for further information.