November 29, 2017

Museums and Sightseeing During the Holiday Season 2017

Dancing around the tree (at Skansen)
Photo by Pernille Tofte/Skansen
(EDIT: Click here for updated information about this year!) I have been getting quite a few questions already about what guests can do when they are in Stockholm during the Christmas and New Year season, so I thought that I would go ahead and post this... a list of the main museums and attractions in Stockholm and which days they will be closed. Lots of closures, but there is always at least two museums open each day as well as a sightseeing tour, so you won't have to just aimlessly wander the streets without anything to do! Each museum is linked to their website so you can check exact hours and get more information. Stockholm does have around 80 museums and attractions. I obviously can't list them all so, if you are staying at the Rival Hotel, contact me directly for information about other museums. You will find some information about sightseeing after the list.
The Vasa Ship
Photo by Yanan Li/ 

  • Skansen (open air museum and zoo)- open every day, free entrance on Dec 24th.
  • Vasa Museum (17th century preserved warship)- closed on Dec 23rd to 25th and Jan 1st. Closes early (3pm) on Dec 31st. 
  • ABBA the Museum (self explanatory, no?)- closed only on Dec 24th! 
  • Fotografiska (photography)- closed only on Dec 24th! 
  • Moderna (modern art)- closed on Dec 24th, 25th, 31st & Jan 1st, otherwise closed on Mondays. 
  • Center for Architecture and Design- closed on Dec 24th, 25th, 31st & Jan 1st, otherwise closed on Mondays. 
  • Nobel Museum (Alfred Nobel and the Nobel Prizes)- closed on Dec 24th, 25th, 31st & Jan 1st, otherwise closed on Mondays. 
  • Historiska (Swedish history/Vikings)- closed on Dec 24th, 25th and 31st. Closed on Mondays, but open on Jan 1st. 
  • Nordiska (cultural history)- open every day! 
  • Medeltidsmuseet (medieval history of Stockholm)- closed on Dec 24th, 25th, 31st and Jan 1st. Otherwise closed on Mondays. 
  • Stadshuset (city hall)- closed on Dec 24th, 25th, 26th and Jan 1st. Shorter hours on other days during this period. 
  • Vikingaliv (Vikings)- closed on Dec 23rd, 24th and 25th. Closes early (3pm) on Dec 31st. 
  • Spritmuseum (spirits, as in adult beverages)- closed Dec 24th, 25th, 31st and Jan 1st. 
  • The Royal Palace- closed Dec 24th and 25th. Closed on Mondays except Jan 1st when the Royal Apartments will be open. Check the website for the different museums within the palace (i.e. The Treasury). 
  • Livrustkammaren (Royal Armoury)- closed on Dec 24th, 25th, 26th, 31st and Jan 1st. Otherwise closed on Mondays. 
  • Millesgården (sculpture & art)- closed on Dec 24th and 25th and closes early (3pm) on Dec 31st. Closed on Mondays but will be open on Jan 1st. 
  • Thielska Galleriet (art)- closed on Dec 24th, 25th, 26th, 31st and Jan 1st. Closed otherwise on Mondays.
  • Prins Eugens Waldermarsudde (art)- closed on Dec 24th, 25th, 31st and Jan 1st. Otherwise closed on Mondays.
  • Sven-Harrys Konstmuseum (art)- closed on Dec 24th, 25th, 26th, 31st, Jan 1st and 2nd. 
  • Naturhistoriska (natural history)- closed on Dec 23rd and 24th. Closed on Mondays but will be open on Dec 25th and Jan 1st!
  • Drottningholm Palace- closed between Dec11th and 30th. Will be open daily between Dec 31st and Jan 7th during the Swedish winter school break). After that just on Saturdays and Sundays until April.
  • Junibacken (the world of Astrid Lindgren, for children)- closed on Dec 24th and 25th. 
At ABBA the Museum!
In regards to sightseeing... Strömma will be offering different sightseeing tours during this period, like their Panorama bus tour (daily), Archipelago boat tour (most days, though not Dec 24th), Winter boat tour (daily from Dec 18th) as well as the Hop-On/Off bus (daily). Free Tour Stockholm will have daily tours... check website for tours and times. If you are interested in a private tour, check OURWAY Tours or book your own authorized guide
Christmas at Skeppsbron
Photo by Henrik Trygg/ 

November 24, 2017

Christmas boat cruises with Swedish julbord

One sure sign that the Christmas season has started here in Sweden is when restaurants start serving the traditional "julbord". Julbord is basically a Christmas version of the Swedish smörgåsbord... a buffet filled with Swedish holiday delicacies like different flavored pickled herring, cured & smoked salmon, cold cuts, sausages, Swedish meatballs, ham, salads, shrimp, stewed cabbages, cheeses and much more. Each julbord starts with a mug of glögg (hot mulled wine) and ends with a visit to the dessert table which is filled with delicious local favorites.
Many restaurants serve julbord in the four weeks leading up to Christmas and Swedes will eat at, on average, at least two of these meals during this time (with friends, office parties, visiting relatives, etc.), not counting the actual Christmas dinner on the 24th. As Swedes can end up getting a bit tired of these dishes, year after year, several of these restaurants will do julbord with a twist. For example, Italian at Trattorian (ate there last night- yum!), an Asian fusion at Berns or East, vegetarian at Herman's or even julbord with more wild game dishes like at Tyrol
If you are visiting Stockholm during these weeks, one great option is to try one of Strömma's boat cruises with julbord. This is a nice way of combining Swedish holiday cuisine with some sightseeing in the majestic Stockholm archipelago. The cruises take place on one of Strömma's fleet of modernized, turn of the century steamer boats and the cruises take you through the inner archipelago. Generally speaking, these julbord are of the traditional variety. I was invited to the season's first julbord cruise yesterday on the boat M/S Enköping.
They have cruises daily for lunch, in the afternoon and for dinner so you have a few options. Keep in mind that it gets dark a bit early here during the winter (around 3-4pm). This means that the scenery from the boat is very different depending on which cruise you take. You see more of the islands and nature during the day while the Christmas lights can be seen better in the evening. The archipelago is especially beautiful if there is some snow covering the islands. Unfortunately, it was a little grey and rainy yesterday but it was still a beautiful ride. The last day these julbord cruises are available is December 23rd!
A variety of herring
Sometimes I get asked if the boat goes through rough seas. The answer is no... you are never in open water. The archipelago is made up of more than 24,000 islands and the water is pretty flat and sheltered. You can book these julbord cruises directly on their website or, if you are staying at the Rival Hotel, you can contact me directly for any help. These cruises are popular so I would recommend advance booking to be sure.
Strömma is the main sightseeing company in Stockholm so, besides the julbord cruises, they offer other boat tours as well as bus tours and more. Winter is the low season here, but you still have options like the Panorama bus tour, the Archipelago boat tour or Winter boat tour (among others) this time of year. 
Leave room for dessert.
...sailing... the archipelago. 

November 22, 2017

New Year's in Stockholm - 2017

(EDIT: Click here for an updated post for this year) Let us take a little break from Christmas and concentrate on New Year's Eve. It is just around the corner! If you are visiting the city during this holiday, then I hope you have started finalizing your New Year's Eve plans because some restaurants are almost fully booked already. This is not an evening when you want to "wing it" when it comes to dining & dancing! Here are some things you should be aware of when making your plans.
  • Restaurants- Many restaurants are closed on the 31st. The ones that are open generally serve a traditional multiple course menu called nyårssupé and nothing else. It can be anywhere between 3 and 9 courses and cost anywhere between 500 and 1200 SEK, depending on the restaurant. This means that going out for a simple dinner or quick bite will probably be problematic unless you are looking at pubs or fast food establishments. These nyårssupé dinners are quite popular and the restaurants tend to fill up, so don't leave it to the last minute! Most of these restaurants have two seatings during the evening... an early (5-8:30pm) and a late (8:30pm-12am). There are actually a select few that serve a regular menu and it seems that there are more of these every year. If you are staying at the Rival Hotel, contact us as soon as possible for help in making arrangements! Every year we have guests that stop by around 7pm on New Year's Eve looking for help in making restaurant reservations and are surprised that almost every restaurant is fully booked. Don't make the same mistake! Our Bistro is open for hotel guests and we will be serving our popular seafood smorgasbord. If you are staying at the hotel, you need to book this in advance as we have limited seating!
  • Nightclubs- Here it is important to plan ahead as well. Tickets to the parties at the nightclubs can be pre-purchased in advance. If you don't pre-purchase a ticket, you can end up standing in long lines in subzero temperatures! Here are some of the larger nightclub parties this year: Stureplansgruppen (an umbrella group that runs several nightclubs), Café Opera and Södra Teatern. These are the more posh nightclub venues... there are, of course, many smaller parties going on at different venues. Click here for a list and more information about gay & lesbian parties on New Year's Eve.
  • Taxis- These are notoriously hard to catch on New Year's Eve... especially after 11pm. This is because of the huge demand. Most taxi companies don't accept prebookings because they don't want their cars tied up waiting for people who don't show up. You don't have to worry about being stranded though... the subways will be running all night long. If nighttime subways aren't your thing, just make sure that you are within walking distance of your hotel. Stockholm isn't that big so this isn't that hard to accomplish. And remember... be careful when catching taxis in Sweden!
  • Fireworks- Locals will be setting off their own fireworks throughout the city, especially in the parks & squares and at midnight. The official fireworks will be shot off above the harbor (eastern side of Gamla Stan). The best places to see the fireworks are along the waterfront, by the City Hall, on Fjällgatan or Monteliusvägen. Some places will be quite crowded but you will still be able to see the fireworks!
  • Skansen- Once again, this is the center of Swedish holiday tradition. This is the spectacle that is televised and shown around all of Sweden... kind of like the Swedish version of the ball dropping at Times Square. There will be music and speeches and the official countdown. Skansen is also a great place to see the official fireworks! To be honest, I'm not sure how much someone who doesn't speak Swedish will get out of the event as most of the program is in Swedish... but it is an option. The program starts at 11:10pm and ends at 00:10am. Be aware that it is outdoors (see below)! 
  • Weather- Remember that it is winter in Sweden. Temperatures can vary between 5 and -10 degrees Celsius around this time. There might be snow or not. Dress accordingly when you are out. You can always keep your eye on the weather site a couple of days ahead of your arrival to get a better idea of what the weather will be like. 
The Rival Hotel- as I mentioned, our restaurant is open for hotel guests. However, our bars are open for the general public and will be open until 2am and... there is no entrance fee (rare on this evening). There will be a DJ playing and the square in front of the hotel is a popular place for the locals to light their fireworks.

November 18, 2017

Best Restaurants in White Guide Nordic 2017-18

White Guide is a great guide system when it comes to restaurants and cafés in the Nordic countries . In many ways the White Guide is better than other guides, like the Michelin Guide, as it is determined by local experts as opposed to outsiders. They also offer several annual gastronomy guides... including a White Guide Sweden and White Guide Nordic. The White Guide Nordic is especially good for visitors as it is in English (which is also good if you are travelling around the area and not just visiting one city/country). In this article I will be concentrating on the Stockholm restaurants in the list as this is a Stockholm blog. After each restaurant I will add their placement in the Nordic guide (within the top 30) in parenthesis. There has been a few small changes from last year's list. You can buy your own White Guide Nordic by clicking here. Here is the ranking of Stockholm based restaurants on the list:

Global Masters Level

1. Esperanto (2)
2. Gastrologik (6)
3. Oaxen Krog (8)
4. Ekstedt (25)

Masters Level

5. Operakällaren
6. Aloë
7. Omakase Köttslöjd/Flickan
8. Imouto
9. Adam/Albin
10. Fotografiska (tied)
- Mathias Dahlgren Matbaren (tied)
- Spritmuseum (tied)
11. Volt
12. Shibumi

The next level is called "Very Fine Level" and here you will find a lot of great Stockholm restaurants like Wedholms Fisk, Portal, Sturehof, Rutabaga, Pubologi and many more. Click here for the full Nordic and Sweden lists.
Photo credit: David Back
Please keep in mind that if you would like to dine at one of these popular restaurants... booking a table in advance is recommended if not required! If you are staying at the Rival Hotel, drop me a line ahead of your visit for any assistance. Do you wish to see other guides... past and present? Then click here! You can also read about my restaurant visits and recommendations, including some of the above listed restaurants, by clicking here.

November 10, 2017

Vegetarian Fine Dining at Rutabaga

Grand entrance...
I am not sure how it is in other cities, but these days vegetarians are pretty spoiled for choice when it comes to restaurants in Stockholm (especially compared to 10 years ago)... with everything from vegan cafés up to fine dining restaurants. This is mainly due to a few-years-old vegetarian trend in Swedish gastronomy; a trend which meshes well with modern Nordic cuisine where the focus is on local, seasonal, often organic produce. Especially fruits and vegetables. Some of these restaurants are purely vegetarian, while others have the option of adding a protein (meat/fish) as a side dish. I recently had the opportunity to try the crown jewel of Swedish vegetarian fine dining: Mathias Dahlgren's Rutabaga.
Star chef Mathias Dahlgren has had a very successful career filled with Bocuse d'Or and Swedish chef of the year gold medals, Michelin stars and other awards. In 2007, he opened Matsalen, which was quickly awarded 1 and then 2 Michelin stars and named one of the top 50 restaurants in the world. So it came as quite a shock to many when he announced last summer that he was closing Matsalen and reopening in the beginning of 2017 with a new concept... a fine dining vegetarian restaurant. It is important to note that Dahlgren's Michelin 1 star restaurant Matbaren ("the Food Bar") is still open, and located right next door to Rutabaga.
Delicious carrot dish (never thought I would say those words)
First of all, the name. As many know, Rutabaga is a root vegetable. However, I learned recently that this vegetable is called "Swede" or "Swedish turnip" in the UK and other countries which makes me wonder if the name is a clever nod to this fact. Who knows? The interior resembles Matsalen with clean lines, muted earth tones and Scandinavian minimalism. However, there are more long tables while tablecloths and other trappings are gone, all which give the restaurant a more laid back feel than before.
Some great beverages as well, like this homemade ginger ale
When it comes to the meal, you have the choice of the whole table going all-in with the 6 course "Taste of Rutabaga" menu or diners choosing a la carte dishes. The dishes are meant to be shared family style and each dish suitable for 2 persons. I like this set-up... choose a few dishes and then add a couple more if you are still hungry. There are around 13 dishes on the a la carte menu so you have quite a variety to choose from. The plates are beautifully presented and creatively done. Quite colorful dishes too, which is a nice contrast to the muted colors of the restaurant. For Vegans: I did ask and many of the dishes are already vegan and it is not a problem to tweak others to make them also vegan. They do ask that you notify them in advance regarding any other dietary restrictions or allergies.
General Tso's deep fried cauliflower with tofu
Full disclosure... I am a carnivore. I love a nice bloody steak! That being said, I found the dinner to be interesting, great tasting and I left satisfied (even without any meat). Plus, it's a bit of an adventure as a carnivore to try a completely vegetarian meal for a change. Rutabaga is located on the waterfront of the downtown area. The easiest way to get there from the Rival Hotel is either by taxi (5-6 minutes) or a 15 minute bus ride. Otherwise, it would take you about 30 minutes to walk (through the old town) and the closest subway station is Kungsträdgården (blue line).
Tartar of beets...
It is a popular restaurant so booking in advance is recommended though they do have drop-in places available. You can either book on their website or, if you are staying at the Rival Hotel, contact me directly for help. Click here for more vegetarian options in the city and click here for more restaurant reviews/recommendations.
Beautiful Scandinavian minimalism
Dessert: their version of carrot cake with cardamom ice cream
Photo by Magnus Mårding.
I generally don't like to take pictures of other guests,
so this time I have to rely on an official photo. 

November 7, 2017

Christmas Markets 2017

I recently wrote about the upcoming Christmas season and soon the Christmas markets will start opening for business. The first one opens in less than two weeks from today. There are a wide variety of markets to choose from... from the traditional to the more modern. Some are open every day, some only on the weekends while others are just open for a couple of days. This means that you will be able to visit at least one Christmas market if you are visiting Stockholm any time starting on November 18th. But... the last day to visit any market is December 23rd! There are no Christmas markets open after that... like on Christmas Eve or Day for example (a disappointment for some visitors).

  • Gamla Stan- Stockholm's most famous and popular Christmas market. In fact it was recently named by the Telegraph as one of Europe's top 16 Christmas markets. Very traditional; I am sure it owes its popularity to its central location (15 minute walk from the Rival Hotel) and generous opening hours. It is open daily between 11am and 6pm from December 2nd through the 23rd. 
  • Skansen- an historic market located in this open-air museum dedicated to Swedish traditions and pastoral life. Open between 10am and 4pm on Saturdays and Sundays (Nov 25th to Dec 17th). See how Christmas was celebrated in Sweden 100+ years ago!
  • Konstfack (College of Arts, Craft & Design)- Creative market put on by the students one weekend every year. Open between 10am and 5pm on December 2nd & 3rd. Located in the southern suburbs.
  • Kungliga Hovstallet (The Royal Stables)- Combine a visit to the stables with some traditional Christmas shopping. Open between December 1st and 3rd (Fri- noon to 7pm, Sat- 10am to 6pm, Sun- 10am to 5pm). The stables are located in the downtown area.
  • Bondens Egen Julmarknad (Farmers' Christmas Market)- in the weeks leading up to Christmas, this popular farmers' market, located in SoFo, turns into a Christmas market. Laid back and local. Open between 10am and 3pm on the four Saturdays before Christmas (with start on Nov 25th). 
  • Beckmans College of Design- An annual popular market put on by the design & fashion students. Location. Open on Saturday and Sunday, Dec 9th & 10th, between 10am and 5pm.
There are also a few good Christmas markets located just outside of the city and worth a visit as well. 
  • Sigtuna- the capital of Sweden before Stockholm took over in the 1200's. Location. Traditional market open on the four Sundays (11am to 4pm) leading up to Christmas, with start Nov 26th. 
  • Drottningholm- Royal palace, home of the royal family and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which has an annual Christmas market. Open Saturday Dec 9th (10am to 5pm) and Sunday Dec 10th (10am to 4pm). Location.
  • Steninge Slott- Castle located near the town of Märsta. They have a popular indoor market with design and gardening boutiques, which turns into a daily Christmas market between November 18th and December 23rd (11am to 6pm weekdays, 10am to 5pm weekends).
These are the major annual Christmas markets. If I find any new Christmas markets, I will be sure to add them to the list!

November 4, 2017

Restaurant Tak

The view from the rooftop bar
A friend of mine turned 60 last week and a group of us decided to go out to dinner to celebrate the milestone... so I booked us a table at Restaurant Tak. Tak is relatively new and, before this dinner, I had only had a chance to visit their rooftop bar a couple of times in the summer. The bar was a lot of fun, with great views of the city, so I was curious to visit the restaurant as well.
Street entrance to the elevator which takes you up to... 
"Tak" is Swedish for roof, which is very apropos considering the restaurant's location on the top floor of the building. The restaurant itself is on the top floor, while the bar, lounge and raw bar are located upstairs on the actual rooftop. This restaurant is part of a larger urban renewal project in the middle of the city called Urban Escape, which is a full city block completely renovated & rebuilt, containing new hotels, restaurants, shops and office space. This block, while very central, has always been a bit of a no-man's land, in-between shopping districts, so this revamp is very welcome.
...the subtle entrance.
When you enter the building from the square Brunkenbergstorg, you will see Tak's own marked elevator there to take you up to the restaurant. When you exit the elevator, it is easy to miss the restaurant's subtle entrance and continue up the stairs to the rooftop bar. Nothing wrong with that! You can enjoy great views of the city while sipping your pre dinner cocktail. During the cooler half of the year, they have closed down part of the outdoor area (for obvious reasons), but during the warmer months they have quite a large set-up covering two rooftops with bars, lounges and sun chairs.
Another view
The subtle entrance is quite a contrast to the large and lively restaurant within, decked out in earth tones with gold touches, all surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over Stockholm. The restaurant is divided up using a type of sporadic-latticework walls that makes Tak seem both intimate and open at the same time. As you find in most new restaurants these days, there is an open kitchen in the center of the restaurant.
The restaurant's diningroom
The cuisine is a fusion of Swedish and Japanese flavors and dishes. Each dish, in fact, has a pairing recommendation of both a wine and a sake. I chose the roll-it-yourself Temaki sushi for dinner. I have eaten hundreds of sushi dishes in my lifetime, so this deconstructed variety was a fun version to try. The ingredients (rice, deep fried pollock, marinated trout roe, pickled cauliflower, cucumber, curry emulsion and more) came to the table along with seaweed to wrap the sushi with and a handy "how to eat me" booklet. Very delicious.
My "make your own" Temaki sushi
We had our dessert and coffee in their comfortable lounge. For dessert I took the almond ice cream with hazelnut Dulce de Leche and topped with rowanberries and apple granité. Sweet & sour... a nice way to finish the evening. Tak, as I mentioned, is located in the downtown area. To get there from the Rival Hotel, you can either walk 30 minutes through the old town, take a subway three stations to T-Centralen (all lines, exit to Sergelstorg) or a 6-7 minute taxi ride. Tak is quite new and therefore popular with Stockholmers wanting to try a new restaurant... so make sure you book in advance! Contact me directly, if you are staying at the hotel, for help. Click here for more restaurant reviews/recommendations.
My friend ordered the Donburi

November 1, 2017

100 Point Challenge: an Adventurous Way to See Stockholm!

It is always fun to see a new city in a different way than just from the window of a sightseeing tour bus. Perhaps even paired together with a little adventure? Earlier this spring I wrote an article about unusual sightseeing tours... everything from ghost and food tours to sightseeing from rooftops and by bicycle and vespa. This past weekend I had the opportunity to try one of these companies, the 100 Point Challenge, with a group of other Stockholm Concierge.
100 Point Challenge isn't a sightseeing tour per se, instead it is a race/quiz/game based on beautiful Stockholm. You can either take part in a public challenge if you are between 2 and 6 persons or, if you are a larger group, book one of their private challenges. After meeting up with the challenge master, the group is split into smaller teams of around 4 persons. The race will take you around the historical center of the city and you have two hours to solve a series of clues, answer questions and perform creative tasks. Each team is provided with a Polaroid camera and some of the tasks require your team to bring back photographic evidence! The challenges are currently available in Swedish or English. It is almost like being on the Amazing Race!
End of the race... back with or Poloroid pictures. 
Thankfully, there are three different challenges available based on your knowledge of Stockholm. Novices can take "Astrid's Adventure"... perfect for first time visitors to the city. If you have been to Stockholm a few times, you might want to try your hand at the intermediate challenge "Björn's Battle". As our group was made up of Stockholm experts, we took the hardest challenge "Gustav's Glory". It was fun! The difficulty level along with the amount of clues to solve and tasks to perform under a 2 hour time limit was enough to make it a race... though we did manage to make it back with 15 minutes to spare. Needless to say, my team was triumphant. But really... did you have any doubt?
So if you are coming to Stockholm, whether for the first time or as a return visitor, like solving puzzles and want a little adventure and fun while learning about Stockholm and seeing the sites... book your challenge! Dan, the friendly and enterprising Aussie who runs 100 Point Challenge, told us that they won't be doing any challenges in the hardest winter months (it all takes place outside after all) but they are doing a special version on the first three Saturdays in December with a Stockholm Christmas theme (one geared for visitors and one for locals). Sounds like a fun idea... click here for more information! If you are staying at the Rival Hotel, contact me directly if you need any help booking or more advice.