July 31, 2018

Day Trip to Vaxholm in the Archipelago

Hembygdgårds Café on the other side of bay
Four years ago, I wrote a blog article about taking a trip out to the island of Vaxholm in the Stockholm archipelago. It has been one of my most read articles. Last week I revisted the island with my family and I thought it would be good to do a new article with updated information and new pictures so that readers don't have to search through the archives for the article. Plus, a boat trip to the archipelago is a great way to spend the day in this current heatwave.
Entrance to Café...
With over 24,000 islands, there are a lot of options on what to see & do when visiting the archipelago. Time-wise, you are looking at between 4 and 8 hours... depending on how far out you want to travel, which islands you want to visit and how much time you wish to spend ashore (if any). You could even opt for a longer visit and stay a few nights on an island or two. Vaxholm is the perfect place to visit if you don't have a full day to spend (a ferry there takes about 1 hour), want to see some of the archipelago and spend some time on an island.
...outdoor seating and...
Vaxholm is the name of both a town and the island it is on and is located in the central portion of the archipelago. In fact, its central location has made it a hub for boat travel in the archipelago and its nickname is "Capital of the Archipelago". One of the main sea routes in to Stockholm passes by Vaxholm. So besides the town, you also have Vaxholm Fortress (Fästning) which was first built in 1544 to guard the city. You can visit the fortress, which houses a museum, and there are boats from Vaxholm harbor every 20 minutes which takes you across the narrow channel.
...pastry table. 
We did our annual, traditional visit to Vaxholm this time: boat to Vaxholm, walk along the water to our favorite seaside café and then a walk through town back to the dock for an ice cream before boat back to town. The café, Hembygdgårds Café, is located on a picturesque little bay, this popular café has great outdoor seating with views over the water. It also has one of best dessert/pastry buffets I have ever seen! Great lunch options as well as beer and wine.
Vaxholm town
After lunch, we made our way back through the town (with some shopping along the way) to the harbor. The town is quite cute and made up mostly of wooden buildings. In fact, wood was the only building material allowed by law up until 1912 so that it could be easily razed and kept out of the Russians' hands if they were to invade. The harbor itself can be very busy, with people getting on and off boats, but the town gets much quieter just a few blocks from the harbor. Don't miss a visit to Glass på Hörnet, for some great gelato before taking the boat back.
Main street!
You have a few options to get to Vaxholm from Stockholm. The Cinderella boats travel to the outer archipelago every day during the summer and stop at Vaxholm. They leave the city from Strandvägen around 9:30-10:00am and the trip takes just 50 minutes. They stop by Vaxholm in the afternoon (3-4:00pm) on their way back from the archipelago, depending on the day of the week. Check the website, linked above, for the schedule.
Boarding Waxholmsbolagt in Stockholm and...
Another good option is using the Waxholmsboalget boats (the commuter boats of the archipelago). These boats have more departures through the day and the trip takes between 50 minutes and 1 hour 20 minutes, depending on the boat. They depart from Strömkajen and you purchase your tickets onboard. There is a bridge connecting Vaxholm island to the mainland, so you have the additional options of bus, taxi or car. If you are staying at the Hotel Rival, contact me for help with schedules and tickets (Cinderella only). Click here for more information about visiting the archipelago.
...in Vaxholm

July 28, 2018

Changing of the Guards

Photo by Joel Thungren/Försvarsmakten
Watching the changing of the guards at the Royal Palace in Stockholm is a popular activity for visitors... and it happens daily, year-round! I haven't written about this event in years, but saw them marching the other day and realized that it would be a good idea to write a new article. The Royal Guard has been around since the 1500's and is made up of units from around all of Sweden. They are part of the Swedish Armed Forces and, besides guarding the palace, they perform ceremonial duties at many events like official state visits, opening of Parliament and other occasions.
Photo by Joel Thungren/Försvarsmakten
The changing of the guards takes place in the outer courtyard of the palace, located in Gamla Stan, however the guards march to and from the Royal Stables, located in downtown Stockholm. This means that if you are out and about downtown during the day, you might see them march past (like I did the other day- see pictures below). It is always fun to stop and watch them go by in their beautiful uniforms. But to see them perform the ceremony of changing guards, the outer palace courtyard is the place to be!
The ceremony takes place every day at 12:15pm, except on Sundays when the ceremony happens at 1:15pm, and lasts approximately 40 minutes. Come a little early if you want a good spot to watch the ceremony as a crowd usually gathers. They start marching from the Royal Stables at around 11:40am (Sundays at 12:40pm) and march down Strandvägen, past Kungsträdgården, over the bridge to Gamla Stan and then up Slottsbacken to the palace. During the summer months they do a full parade with military band! If you are here during the cooler months, then the parade with music is only on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays.
If you are staying at the Hotel Rival, stop by and talk to me for more information and directions. To get to the palace, it is about a 20-25 minute walk from the hotel. Otherwise the closest subway stop is Gamla Stan (red and green lines). After the ceremony, make sure you visit the palace itself... like the Royal Apartments, Treasury or Armoury.

July 25, 2018

Kayaking in Stockholm

Kayak on the Baltic side or...
It has been a very hot and dry summer here in Stockholm... in fact, the hottest in at least 260 years. Thankfully, Stockholm is located on 14 islands which means that there is water all over the place and you have the opportunity of many water activities to keep cool! We have beaches all throughout the city, but if you want to do something a bit more active, then perhaps renting a kayak is a good activity for you? You can even combine that with a dip in the water at a more secluded swimming spot! Kayaking is fun and you don't need to be an Olympian to do it... good as a family outing. There are several places to rent kayaks by the hour/day and it is generally quite inexpensive. Depending on the place, you are looking at about 100 to 150 SEK an hour though it is sometimes cheaper if you take the kayak for half or full day.
...the lake side of Stockholm.
When choosing a kayak rental place think about where you want to paddle! Stockholm actually strides the borderline between a lake and the ocean with the Old Town being the borderline. Everything to the east is the Baltic Sea and everything to the west is Lake Mälaren. If you want to paddle in the lake then I recommend Rålis Kajak located in Rålambshovs Park on the island of Kungsholmen. Or else you can head across the bridge to the island of Långholmen where you will find Långholmen Kajak. They even offer guided tours for beginners. Not too far from the Hotel Rival! Here you will be able to paddle by a lot of parklands and beaches as well as cliffs where Stockholmers enjoy diving and sunbathing.
Rålis Kajak
If you want to paddle in the Baltic Sea area, then I recommend Djurgårdens Sjöcafé located near the bridge leading from Östermalm over to the island of Djurgården. Be careful though and stay close to the island of Djurgården so you don't stray too far out into the shipping lanes! Lots to see here... beuatiful parks as well as great architecture on Strandvägen and the villas on the southside of the island. Another option is to paddle in the lake called Brunnsviken on the northern outskirts of Stockholm. Haga Park surrounds the lake with lots of interesting things to see like Haga Castle and Stockholm University... you also don't have to worry about larger boats! The place to rent kayaks here is Brunnsvikens Kanotcentral.
Djurgårdens Sjöcaféet
If you are feeling more adventurous then you can do a full day of kayaking out in the beautiful archipelago. Stockholm Adventures offers tours all summer, Fridays through Mondays. The price is approximately 1,790 SEK and includes transport and lunch. You leave Stockholm at about 8:50am and head to the town of Stavsnäs where you will be met by the guide. The experience, all in all, lasts about 11 hours. They also have other options like kayaking with camping or kayaking tours in Stockholm. Another company that offers kayaking day trips in the archipelago during the summer months is Green Trails. Another option is to visit one of the islands in the archipelago and rent a kayak there. Two good islands for this are Grinda and Sandhamn.
Långholmen Kajak
If you are staying at the Hotel Rival, contact me directly for more information and for help in renting a kayak. Happy paddling!

Or maybe visit a beach for some swimming?

July 19, 2018

Taking a Taxi at Arlanda Airport

New taxi station (with queues) at terminal 5
Photo by Roger Malmgren
There are many ways to get from the Arlanda International Airport to Stockholm. You have public transportation such as busses and commuter trains, as well as a high speed train called the Arlanda Express. These are great options, depending on your budget and time constraints. But, by far, the most convenient way to get to the city is by taxi... mainly because this is a door to door service while the other types of transportation take you only as far as a train or bus stop.
There are, however, some things to consider when taking a taxi. Taxis aren't regulated in Sweden which means that the prices for taxis can vary quite a bit. The vast majority of taxis have similar fares, but a few small taxi companies charge up to double as much as the larger companies. Fortunately, you really don't have to worry about this when taking a taxi from the taxi queues at Arlanda. In order for their cars to use the queues at the aiport, the taxi companies need to sign a contract which states that the maximum price they can charge to downtown Stockholm is 675 SEK. But be aware- this is for taxis in the queues. Some unscrupulous taxi drivers will try and stop you before you get outside and ask if you need a taxi. They are not standing in the queues and are therefore not contractually obliged to take a maximum of 675 SEK and can legally charge what they want as long as they have their prices on a sticker (I have heard horror stories of people having to pay up to 3,000 SEK). So stick to the ones in the queues! This price is for a car that seats up to 4 persons and within a special zone (that includes central Stockholm). Each of the larger taxi companies has their own marked queue at the airport. These include Taxi StockholmTaxi Kurir and Sverige Taxi. These all take approximately 500-600 SEK (fixed rate) give or take, just double check with the driver before getting into the taxi to get the exact price. Then there is another queue marked "all other companies". Here you will find the smaller companies which will take a variety of prices. You can pay for taxis with your credit card. Just remember that they are not allowed to take more than 675 SEK if they were in the marked queues. Click here for more information about taxis at Arlanda.
Photo by Daniel Asplund
Another option is to book a taxi where the driver meets you in the Arrival Hall holding a sign with your name on it. There is an additional fee of 27 SEK (certain terminals) added for this service. If you are staying at the Hotel Rival, contact me to book this type of taxi service.

July 17, 2018

August- a Month of Festivals in Stockholm

Stockholm Pride
Photo by Yanan Li/mediabank.visitstockholm.com
July is always a quiet month in Stockholm when it comes to major events and festivals. This is because many Swedes have their vacation in July and leave the city/country, so organizers avoid placing festivals in this month. However, this just means there are that many more in August! And quite a few of them have free admission. Here is a quick calendar of the major events going on in the city. If you are staying at the Hotel Rival, contact me directly for more information about these or other smaller events. Keep in mind that even if you aren't interested in a certain event, it can still impact your visit (traffic, road closures, full restaurants, crowds).
Open air Concert
Photo by Jeppe Wikström/mediabank.visitstockholm.com

  • July 27th to August 5th- EuroPride (Europe's gay pride week). Each year a city in Europe hosts EuroPride and this year it is Stockholm's turn! Lots of fun concerts and events. Stockholm Pride is usually a huge event, but EuroPride will be even bigger!
  • July 31st- Justin Timberlake concert at Friends Arena
  • August 4th- The Pride Parade! They estimate over 60,000 participants and 600,000 bystanders lining the streets in this year's parade. Many streets in the downtown area will be closed to traffic in the afternoon.
  • August 4th- Football match between Arsenal and FC Sevilla at Friends Arena
  • August 11th & 12th- Let's Make Love Great Again. Two day free music festival in Gärdet in the theme of love and respect. 
  • August 12th- The Royal Philharmonic's annual free outdoor concert outside the Maritime Museum (Sjöhistoriska). 
  • Aug 14th to 19th- The Culture Festival (Kulturfestivalen) in the downtown area. Everything cultural... art, music, dance, circus, food, literature, show... all free! This year's theme is Canada (a different country each year). Click on "Meny" and then the globe for an English version.
  • 14th to 18th- We Are Sthlm. Youth festival in Kungsträdgården park, with music and shows. Free entrance.  
  • 15th to 18th- Stockholm Oktoberfest at Gärdet. Oktoberfest i August? I guess drinking German beer shouldn't be defined by the month! 
  • 15th to 19th- Outdoor Cinema, put on by the Stockholm Film Festival, in Rålambshovs Park. One movie each evening all from the 1990's (Piano, Wild at Heart, Terminator 2, etc.). Free admission, bring a picnic basket. 
  • 17th to 19th- Nytorgsfesten. Live music, theatre, carnival and a flea market in the square Nytorget in the SoFo neighborhood. 
  • 18th- Midnight Race (Midnattsloppet). One of Europe's biggest 10k races, run in the evening around the island of Södermalm. Festival atmosphere. 
  • 21st to 24th- Formex, the largest fair for Scandinavian design, held at the Stockholm International Fairgrounds
  • Aug 22nd to Sept 1st- Baltic Sea Festival. Classic music festival at Berwaldshallen
  • Aug 31st and Sept 1st- Popaganda. Popular pop music festival at Eriksdalsbadet
  • September 1st- Tjejmilen. Women's 10k race, with over 30,000 participants, around the island of Djurgården
    Stockholm Culture festival
    Photo by Emma Grann/ Studio Emma Svensson

July 13, 2018

Favorite Summer Bar: Mälarpaviljongen!

I have posted several times over the years about this floating bar but, as this weekend is supposed to be sunny and warm, I thought a friendly reminder would be good. Plus, I just visited Mälarpaviljongen last week and took new pictures!
You never know what type of boat will drift by... 
Mälarpaviljongen is located on the waterfront on the island of Kungsholmen. In fact, most of it is floating on the water. This, along with the fantastic views, makes it an idyllic place to have lunch or an evening cocktail. Very popular with Stockholmers and a bit off the beaten path, so visitors really don't stumble on to it unless they know where to go. Lots of boats and kayakers passing by on the lake...
Mälarpaviljongen is gay owned and operated and does attract a large LGBT crowd, especially later in the evenings. But, generally speaking, the clientele is very mixed with everything from gay couples to young families to grannies with their lap dogs, all enjoying a drink and the views. All are welcome. This is, after all, Sweden where a big deal isn't made about a person's sexuality. If you are in Stockholm on a warm and sunny day, Mälarpaviljongen is definitely worth a visit!

July 11, 2018

Best Places to Eat Swedish Meatballs

Meatballs at the restaurant Tradition
Is there anything more Swedish than the Swedish meatball? It is up there with ABBA, Volvo and IKEA. Speaking of IKEA, this is probably where most people have tried Swedish meatballs outside of Sweden. Not to discredit IKEA meatballs which are quite tasty, but this is really a "fast food" (mass produced) variant of the Swedish culinary favorite. If you are visiting Stockholm then there are many great restaurants that serve meatballs with all of the traditional fixings so you can try and compare. I have done a similar article about restaurants serving traditional Swedish cuisine (often includes meatballs) but so many guests ask specifically for meatballs I thought it deserved its own article.
Classic accoutrements: lingonberries and pickled cucumbers
The first time "köttbulle" (Swedish for meatball) was used in text was 1755 in a cookbook written by Cajsa Warg, but they are obviously older than that. Classic Swedish meatballs are handmade with ground beef/veal, milk, egg, breadcrumbs, diced/fried yellow onion and salt & pepper... but certain variations of the recipe are often found (like adding allspice, nutmeg or other spices). One popular variation found on some menus is "wild meatballs" with ground moose. Click here for recipe.
Meatballs at Den Gyldene Freden
But what truly makes this meatball Swedish is the accoutrements (or fixings) that are served with the meatballs. Potatoes are a must, either mashed/puréed or cooked, as well as a cream sauce, lingonberries and pickled cucumbers (not pickles). The tartness/sweetness of the cucumbers and  lingonberriesis is great to offset the heaviness of the dish (cream, potatoes, etc.). Here are some Stockholm restaurants, in no particular order, that I recommend which have meatballs on the menu...

There are, of course, other good restaurants in the city with meatballs on the menu. And, hey, we also have the world's largest IKEA in Stockholm if you prefer their meatballs! If you are staying at the Hotel Rival, contact me directly if you want more information or help in booking a table. 
Meatballs for the People
Photo by Tina Stafrén/imagebank.sweden.se