March 27, 2016

Best Stockholm Restaurants in the White Guide 2016

While the Michelin Guide is very popular with travellers visiting a foreign city and searching for the best restaurants, the White Guide is another good tool for finding great restaurants in Sweden. In some ways it is even better than the Michelin Guide as it is Swedish critics that rate the restaurants in the White Guide (local knowledge in other words) and they test hundreds of restaurants throughout the country. You also get restaurants rated/awarded in several categories. The trouble is that the White Guide is published in Swedish which makes it a little difficult for non Swedish speaking visitors to access the information... but here is a break down of the Stockholm restaurants that nabbed the top awards and made the lists in this year's guide:

  • Best restaurant in the category gastronomy (Årets Bästa Mästarklass - Gastronomi): Esperanto
  • Newcomer of the year (Årets Stjärnskott): Imouto
  • Pioneering restaurant of the year (Årets Banbrytare): Omakase Köttslöjd
  • Best service experience (Årets Serviceupplevelse): Spritmuseum
  • Seafood restaurant of the year (Årets Merroir Award): Sturehof
Sturehof (Årets Merroir Award), photo by Magnus Sandberg
These are the Stockholm restaurants that made the list of Swedish restaurants with the highest rating of International Master Class (number in paranthesis is their rank on the list of restaurants from all of Sweden):
And these are the Stockholm restaurants that made the list of Swedish restaurants with the rating of Master Class (number in paranthesis is their rank on the list of restaurants from all of Sweden):
While the White Guide for Sweden is in Swedish, they have published a White Guide Nordic in English which covers all of the Nordic region. For past White Guides or other restaurant guides and awards, click here!
Chef Sayan Isaksson.
The big winner this year with several restaurants on the lists (Esperanto, Imouto, Shibumi)
Photo by David Back

March 25, 2016

Stockholm City Bike 2016

The bike stand outside of the Rival Hotel.
One of the surest signs of Spring comes on April 1st: the start of the Stockholm City Bike season (April 1st to October 31st). Stockholm is a fabulous city to bike around... lots of late evening sunlight, plenty of parks and bicycle lanes. This is all made easier (and inexpensive) with the Stockholm City Bike system. They have approximately 100 bike stands spread throughout the city, even out into the suburbs. You have the choice of buying either a 3 day card for 165 SEK or a season card for 300 SEK (250 online). Guests often comment that they only want the bikes for one day. Well, they don't sell one day cards... but the price for three days is often cheaper than renting a bike for one day at other commercial bike rental companies. If you are guests at the Rival Hotel then you can purchase a 3 day card at the hotel (we do not sell season cards). But if you are not a guest, either check with your hotel or else you can purchase your card at over 200 different 7-11's and Pressbyrån kiosks in the city or at an SL Center. Click here for a list of retailers.
Bike path around Djurgården island.
After purchasing a card, you can check out a bike at any of the bike stands by holding up your card to the computer display and following the instructions. You can check out a bike at any of the stands between 6am and 10pm daily throughout the season. If the stand is empty, the display will point you in the direction of the nearest stand with bikes. Otherwise they will be by shortly to fill up the stand with new bicycles. You then have that particular bike for 3 hours. You are welcome to check out a new bike right away, but you have to leave the bike at a stand before 3 hours is up... otherwise you receive a demerit. 3 demerits and your card will be cancelled. This system is to stop people from taking bikes home or into their offices all day long and keeps more bikes in circulation. Be aware that the bikes don't come with locks, instead use the bike stands to lock your bikes (over 100 stands in the city!). It is important to note that you have to be 18 years old to use the bikes. If you are a family with children under 18, just talk to me and I will point you in the direction of a bike rental company that rents out children's bicycles.

March 16, 2016

Restaurant Paradiso

Once upon a time there was a restaurant called Sjögräs just a stone's throw from the Rival Hotel. It was a Bib Gourmand rated restaurant and a great addition to our neighbourhood. We were sad when they decided to close a couple of years ago. A completely different type of restaurant occupied the locale after that ("Angry Diner")... one that wasn't really here nor there when it came to cuisine and concept. We were therefore pretty excited when it was announced that they were closing and a new restaurant, Paradiso, was moving in... especially when we heard that the guys behind Paradiso had their background both at the former Sjögräs and at Linje 10 (another favorite restaurant of ours).
They have been open a few months now and last night I finally had the chance to visit Paradiso with a friend. The restaurant is located just a couple of blocks from the hotel here on Södermalm. This is a small, intimate restaurant with much of the space dominated by a large open kitchen and a smaller bar. They also have another bar with separate entrance from the street.
Lamb with yellow carrots and ramsons.
The description of each dish on the menu is minimalistic... just the three main ingredients are named. But the menu isn't extensive and the waitstaff is only too happy to explain each dish in more detail. I would describe the cuisine as modern Scandinavian using a lot of seasonal produce. I had the reindeer with salsify and shiitake mushrooms while my friend ordered the lamb with ramsons and yellow carrots. All delicious. One thing not found on any of the main course dishes was a carbohydrate element (potatoes, rice, etc.). Instead the dish focuses on the meat/fish/vegetables which is definitely on trend here in Stockholm.
Reindeer with salsify and shiitake mushrooms.
We ended the evening with some dessert ("pineapple, rum and lime" for me and assorted cheeses for my friend). Paradiso has a large assortment of aged rums from the Caribbean so we, of course, had to try some as well. You can book your table on their website or, if you are staying at the Rival Hotel, contact me for any assistance. Click here for more restaurant recommendations and reviews.
Open kitchen with seating at the bar.

March 13, 2016

Stockholm Ports and Docks for Cruise Ships

Ferries and cruise ships travelling through the archipelago to Stockholm.
Photo: Stockholms Hamnar
Summer is around the corner and soon the cruise ship season will start. Cruises in the Baltic Sea have become increasingly popular with such interesting stops like Copenhagen, Tallinn, Helsinki, St Petersburg and, of course, Stockholm. Copenhagen and Stockholm are the two ports where most Baltic cruises either start or end... which is great for us as it means more visitors and hotel nights. I get a lot of questions regarding the distance between the harbour and the Rival Hotel. It is actually not an easy question to answer. What many people don't understand is that there are four main ports servicing cruise ships in the Stockholm area, some closer than others. So the answer depends on which port the cruise ship will be docking at.
Stadsgården port with Skeppsbron in the background.
Photo: Stockholms Hamnar
Here are the four ports and their distance from the hotel:
  • Stadsgården- One of the two main cruise ship ports. It is located on the north-east coast of the island of Södermalm (where the hotel is located as well), just a 10-15 minute taxi ride from the Rival Hotel. This is also the docks where the Birka and Viking Line ferries to Finland and Åland depart from.
  • Frihamnen & Värtahamnen- The other main cruise ship port. These two docks are right next to each other and are located in the northern outskirts of the city, about a 20-30 minute taxi ride from the Rival Hotel. There are also special buses that can take you to the City Terminal next to the Central Train Station.This is also where the Silja Tallink Line ferries to Finland, Latvia and Estonia depart from.
  • Nynäshamn- Cruise ships get bigger and bigger each year and some are so huge that they cannot make it through the narrow straits in the archipelago to get to Stockholm. These ships dock, therefore, in the port of Nynäshamn located just south of Stockholm. Some other cruise ships may dock there if it is especially busy at the other Stockholm ports that day. It is about a 50 minute taxi ride to the hotel, otherwise there is also a commuter train and the cruise ships often have their own buses. This is also where the Destination Gotland ferries to the island of Gotland depart from.
  • Skeppsbron or Strömmen- The smaller, and often fancier, cruise ships (like Silver Seas & Seabourn) sometimes dock right at the Old Town, either at the Skeppsbron dock or moored at a buoy in Strömmen. This is about as central as you can get... just a 15 minute walk or 5 minute taxi ride to the Rival Hotel.
Map from showing
location of Värtahamnen, Frihamnen, Skeppsbron &Stadsgården.
If you don't know which dock your cruise ship will be using, you can check the Ports of Stockholm's website. For more cruise port information, check Visit Stockholm's cruise page. And the Stockholm Cruise Blog has recently made a similar list which can be seen by clicking here. There are taxi queues at the different ports. Just stick with the main taxi companies (Taxi Stockholm, Taxi Kurir) to get the best prices. Prebooking a taxi transfer can sometimes be problematic as taxi companies want an exact pick-up time (more or less) and cruise ship guests often don't know exactly when they will be disembarking, just when the ship is due to dock.

March 11, 2016

Easter in Stockholm 2016

Easter Lunch!
Photo by Marie Andersson/Skansen
(EDIT: article from 2016, for this year's information... click here!) To start off with... the Swedish word for Easter is Påsk (good to know when visiting the city on Easter weekend). While Sweden is one of the least religious countries in the world, it has loads of bank holidays that are religious in origin. On Easter weekend (last weekend in March this year) we have two bank holidays, besides the obvious Easter Sunday, or Påskdagen: Good Friday (Långfredag) and the Monday following Easter Sunday (Annandag Påsk). Even Thursday (Skärtorsdag) is somewhat special as many office workers take a half day off ahead of their 4 day holiday. Once upon a time this meant that the city came to a standstill for 4 days... but these days it isn't that bad. Banks, liquor stores, cafés and smaller shops will be closed or have changed opening hours. Many restaurants, most larger department stores and shopping centers will be open as normal. Though perhaps with shortened opening hours. The Rival BistroBar and Café are all open all weekend long!
Children dressed up as Easter witches (påskkärringar)
Photo by Marie Andersson/Skansen
As for the museums, the big ones (VasaFotografiskaABBASkansen and Moderna) are open as normal. Some others are closed on Friday (March 25th) like the Maritime (Sjöhistoriska) museums. The History Museum (Historiska) is closed on both Friday and Saturday. While these closures can be bad news, there is some good news as well. Monday is a day in Sweden when many museums are closed, however some of these museums are staying open on Monday, March 28th, as it is a holiday. They include the Royal PalaceHistoryMedievalMillesgårdenNatural History and Drottningholm Palace (this palace is actually open extra for the easter holidays- March 25th to April 3rd).  Keep in mind that I haven't checked ALL the museums in Stockholm... just the top 20 or so of the 85 museums in the city. Talk to me directly, if you are staying at the Rival Hotel, or check the individual websites if you are interested in other, smaller museums. Sightseeing tours operate as normal.

Scene from Skansen. Photo by me!

If you want to experience Swedish Easter traditions then you should definitely visit Skansen (open-air museum, park and zoo). Don't be surprised if you see little children dressed up as cute witches (påskkärringar)! Here you can learn about, watch, listen to or partake in traditional Easter activities. These are all of special interest if you have children with you. They also have an Easter Market, open (11am to 4pm) from Thursday to Monday, where you can purchase traditional Easter handicraft, decorations, toys and food. For a full calendar of activities at Skansen... click here. I did mention that Sweden isn't a very religious country, but that doesn't mean that it is devoid of religion! There are, of course, many churches (mainly Lutheran and Catholic) that have special Easter services and masses. Contact me directly, if you are staying at the Rival Hotel, for service/mass times at different churches. Several churches offer services in languages other than Swedish.

March 7, 2016

Goût de France / Good France

I wrote last year about a worldwide gastronomical event celebrating French cuisine called Goût de France ("Good France"). It turned to out to be very popular so this year they are going bigger and better with even more restaurants involved.
Goût de France is a celebration of French cuisine,  a globally recognized cuisine which was added to the UNESCO World Hertiage List in 2010. This year 1500 restaurants on 5 continents will be taking part and the event will take place on March 21st, 2016. Each restaurant/chef will offer their own French style menu: a French appetizer, a starter, main course(s), a selection of French cheeses and dessert(s). All served with French wines and champagnes. A wide range of restaurants are taking part... everything from neighbourhood bistros to classic brasseries to gourmet restaurants. If you won't be in Stockholm, check their website to see if a restaurant in your area is participating this year.
Chef Charlie Biasi at Bistro Süd.
Each restaurant applied to participate and their menu has been approved by an international committee of chefs. 16 restaurants in Sweden are taking part and here are the 8 that are located in the greater Stockholm area:

So if you are in Stockholm on March 21st, book a table at one of these restaurants and celebrate French cuisine! If you will be staying at the Rival Hotel, contact me in advance for help in reserving a table. It is worth mentioning that Bistro Süd (one of the participating restaurants) is located just around the corner from the hotel. Check the Goût de France's website to see each restaurant's menu. 
Boeuf Bourguignon at Grodan.

March 3, 2016

21 Gun Salute

The Crown Princess and family leave Karolinska Hospital.
Photo Copyright The Royal Court,
Some quick information in case you are in the city today (March 3rd). Our Crown Princess Victoria gave birth to a little prince last night. Today at 11:25am they will announce the name (edit: Oscar Carl Olof) and title of the new prince (edit: Duke of Skåne). Following that at 12noon they will fire off a 21 gun salute from the island of Skeppsholmen just opposite the Royal Palace. Good to know as a visitor why they are shooting cannons in Stockholm! During this time there will be a lot of activity around the palace with people gathering to hear the announcement. So, by all means, head down to Gamla Stan and take part of the historic festivities. Click here for more information about the Royal Family.