June 18, 2019

Day Trip to Birka

Are you interested in history? Or perhaps you are a Viking buff? Looking for a nice day trip with a boat in Stockholm? Well, then a trip to Birka is probably a good choice for you. The company Strömma offers a fully packaged excursion which includes boat trip each way, entrance to museum on the island as well as a guided tour on the site (English or Swedish). The boat trip out is also guided and they point out many interesting Viking Age and earlier sites, both factual and mythological.
Part of the town mock-up
Birka is one of three UNESCO World Heritage sites in greater Stockholm. Birka was an important trading center during the Viking Age and is considered the first town in what is Sweden today. It was active from around 750 AD until it was mysteriously abandoned around 975 AD, around the same time nearby Sigtuna rose to prominence. Many interesting artifacts (from as far away as Egypt, Ireland and Bagdad) have been found in the graves at Birka, showing how extensive the Viking trade network was.
Leaving Stockholm on the boat...
My parents are visiting right now so I took them to Birka yesterday. The boat trip itself quite nice itself. The trip takes 2 hours and the boat travels inland, through Lake Mälaren, first through the suburbs before getting more into the countryside. The boat is large and you can sit inside, outside or move around. There is also a café onboard, so you can have a fika, drink or lunch. As I mentioned, the boat trip is guided so learn a bit about the area and Stockholm history.
Cruising through the lake and suburbs
Once at the island (Björkö, where Birka was located), you have 3½ hours until the boat departs back to Stockholm. There are two set guided tours of the site at different times, one in English and the other in Swedish. These tours take you through the burial mounds (there are thousands of them here) and up to where the hilltop fortress was located. From this vantage point, you have a view over where Birka was once located and you can also see remnants of the city wall. The guides, usually archaeologists or archaeology students, are very knowledgeable and fun. Watch where you walk! Much of the area is a functioning farm and the sheep graze around the mounds.
Guided tour of the burial mounds
Besides the tour, you also have a great museum which explains about life in Birka and show, through wonderful dioramas, how the town looked during its heyday. There is also a life-size mock-up of what a town block would have looked like, which you can wander around in. Finally, there is a restaurant called Särimner which serves Viking inspired dishes and is great for lunch. The 3½ hours you have on the island are just about perfect for the tour, lunch and visits to the museum and town. I should point out that Birka is very child-friendly! Vikings, sheep and boats... enough to keep any child entertained.
Entrance to the museum
You can book your package through Strömma's website or, if you are staying at the Hotel Rival, stop by and talk to me for more information and help with making reservations. The boats depart from Klara Mälarstrand, near the Stockholm City Hall. If you want to see many of the artifacts and treasurers found at Birka, visit the Swedish History Museum in Stockholm (free admission). Want more Vikings? Click here!
The trip starts and ends next to the City Hall

Indoor seating on the boat with big windows

One of the dioramas at the museum
Cute houses and...

Sheep!


June 14, 2019

Watching Movies in Stockholm... in Style!

Sometimes, when traveling, it is nice to take a break from doing touristy things for an evening and do an activity that you would do at home... like go to the movies. Thankfully, visiting a cinema in Stockholm as a visitor is easy, as we don't generally dub movies here. That means movies are all shown in their original language with Swedish subtitles. In other words, French movies will be in French, American & British movies will be in English and so on. This is one of the reasons that Swedes are so good at English. The exception to this are movies geared for children, though even these will often have scheduled showings in their original language.
A new trend in cinemas has come to Stockholm, making movie watching even more enjoyable. As more and more people are enjoying movies in the comfort of their home through Netflix, HBO and more, the obvious way for cinemas to attract guests is to bring the comforts of home to the cinema. There are now a few new cinemas in the city with couches, plush armchairs and tables, along with a restaurant & bar on the premises. This means that you can enjoy a glass of wine and bite to eat while sitting comfortably and watching a movie... not just popcorn and a soda pop.
Last night I visited one of these cinemas, Bio Capitol, with family and friends to watch Rocketman. We had a great time. I had ordered a tapas plate, with cold cuts and cheeses, in advance and it was waiting at our seats when we arrived. We then ordered some wine at the bar and settled in to watch a great movie. Another unique feature at Capitol is that they show other movies besides the latest from Hollywood. They have "Musical Mondays", "Classic Thursdays" and "Genre Sundays". The latter is where they pick different genres to focus on that day, like horror or science fiction.
There are a couple of other similar cinemas in Stockholm. The larger theatre Rigoletto has a "VIP balcony" area that has a similar set up as Bio Capitol and the multiplex at Mall of Scandinavia has four VIP theatres connected to the restaurant Drama, so you can bring in food and drink to enjoy. But, I think Bio Capitol is smaller and therefore more intimate, with perhaps 60 seats, adding to the atmosphere. The websites for these cinemas are generally in Swedish, but, if you are staying at the Hotel Rival, contact me directly for help in booking your tickets!




June 8, 2019

Restaurant Tranan

I was invited with my colleagues from Les Clefs d'Or Sweden to try the restaurant Tranan earlier this week. Tranan is one of those classic Stockholm restaurants and has been located at the same address for 90 years, serving traditional Swedish cuisine with a French twist. Due to its history, most Stockholmers have heard of Tranan even if they haven't dined here. They also have a wine bar next door to the restaurant called Grus Grus which is very nice. At Grus Grus you can enjoy some great wines, and the food is served family-style (sharing plates).
Swedish meatballs
Tranan's menu is filled with a mix of classic Swedish and French favorites. This is a great place to try fried Baltic herring, Toast Skagen, Beef Rydberg and pickled herring. Another famous dish which isn't listed on the menu (a well-known secret) but can always be ordered at Tranan is Swedish meatballs with all the trimmings (potato purée, lingon berries and pickles) ! They also have French classic dishes like Escargot Provencale, Chevre Chaud and steak tartare if that tickles your fancy.
Herring served "housewife" style.
I opted for Husmorssill ("housewife herring") for an appetizer and then the fried green asparagus from the island of Gotland. Very delicious! Tranan is located on the square Odenplan. The easiest way to get here from the Hotel Rival is by subway, take the green line north from nearby Slussen to Odenplan (5 stations). Otherwise, it is about a 10 minute taxi ride. Click here for a list of other restaurants serving classic Swedish cuisine... and click here for other restaurant recommendations/reviews.
Fried green asparagus from Gotland


June 3, 2019

Restaurants Closing for a Few Weeks During the Summer 2019

This post may come as bad news, at least for "foodies" visiting Stockholm during the summer. Many top tier restaurants (Michelin star, gourmet) close for a few weeks during the summer. This is mainly due to the generous Swedish vacation rules leading many top restaurants to feel that they can't offer excellent food & service with summer replacement staff. Another reason is that many Stockholmers leave the city during this period and there aren't enough visiting "foodies" to fill these types of restaurants to make it profitable to remain open. No businessmen in town either, wining & dining clients. At any rate, the good news is that there are a few which will be open all summer and several other top restaurants have some other options during these weeks... and you always have a plethora of other great restaurants (not listed here) in the city to choose from! If you look at the list below, you will see that the closing dates are quite spread out so that there is always a few top tier restaurants to choose from. Most of these restaurants are also closed during the big Midsummer holiday weekend (June 21st to 23rd). Click here for more information about the Midsummer weekend.

Michelin star and Bib Gourmand restaurants:
Other top rated restaurants:
  • Fotografiska- open all summer!
  • Svartengrens- closed July 14th through August 12th. 
  • AG- closed July 7th through August 5th. 
  • Lux Day to Day- closed July 14th through August 12th.
  • Farang- only the bar is open from July 7th through August 7th.
  • Adam/Albin- closed July 15th through August 5th.  
  • Punk Royale- closed July 28th through August 13th. Their more casual sister restaurant Punk Royal Café is closed July 13th through July 30th. 
  • Djuret- closed June 20th through August 19th. Instead they open up a TexMex outdoor barbecue restaurant, in their inner courtyard, called Svinet.
  • Flickan- closed June 16th through July 31st. 
  • SMAK- closed July 7th through August 15th. 
  • Teatergrillen- closed July 6th through August 7th.
  • Wedholms Fisk- open all summer. 
  • Tako- closed July 7th through August 12th. 
  • Ichi- closed July 7th through August 1st.
What this all means is that you need to plan a little ahead if you wish to dine at a top tier Stockholm restaurant during your summer visit and be aware that your favorite (or the one you read about) might not be open. However there are still many great restaurants open during these weeks as well as some restaurants that are open only during the summer months that are definitely worth a visit... so you won't go hungry! If you are staying at the Hotel Rival, contact me directly for help in booking any tables ahead of your visit. Our restaurant Bistro Rival is open all summer.

May 31, 2019

Midsummer Weekend 2019

Picture I took two years ago at the pole raising ceremony at Skansen on Midsummer's Eve. 
Well, it is almost that time of the year again: Midsummer (June 21st to 23rd)! With the exception of perhaps Christmas, Midsummer is the biggest holiday in the Swedish calendar. It is also the weekend when confused tourists and visitors wander the streets of Stockholm and wonder why many parts resemble a ghost town. Generally, they either have no clue it is Midsummer (or even what it is) or they expected a more festive holiday atmosphere with parades and block parties, like a Catholic festival. But this is a sacred holiday, much like Christmas, which Swedes spend with family and friends, preferably in a summer home outside of the city. It is a very old holiday, celebrating the summer solstice, dating back to Sweden's pagan past. But as long as you are aware of the holiday and what it entails, you should be fine. Most places geared for tourists tend to be open or partially open. Here are some tips on what is open/closed, what to expect and where to celebrate:

Museums-

  • Skansen- open every day, all weekend.
  • Vasa Museum- open every day, all weekend.
  • Fotografiska (photography)- open all weekend.
  • ABBA the Museum- open every day, all weekend.
  • Royal Palace- open every day, all weekend.
  • Drottningholm Palace- open every day, all weekend.
  • Moderna (modern art)- closed Friday, open Saturday & Sunday.
  • Nobel (Alfred Nobel and the Nobel Prizes)- closed Friday, open Saturday & Sunday.
  • Nordiska (nordic culture)- open every day, all weekend.
  • Historiska (history)- closed Friday & Saturday, open Sunday.
  • Medeltidsmuseet (medieval)- closed Friday through Monday.
  • Spritmuseum (drinkable spirits)- open all weekend, shorter hours.
  • Vikingaliv (Vikings)- open all weekend, shorter hours.

If you are travelling with children (or are young at heart) both the amusement park Gröna Lund and Junibacken, the home of Pippi Longstocking and her friends, are open all weekend.
Pippi Longstocking moves into Junibacken
Photo by Ulf Huett - Junibacken

Restaurants-

Here is where you can get into a little trouble. Many restaurants are closed for the whole weekend, while others will be closed at least on Friday. Higher-end, Michelin star restaurants are almost all closed Friday through Monday. Most hotel restaurants are open to the general public (like the Rival Bistro) all weekend. There are also some other restaurants that are open during Midsummer... your best luck will be with hotel restaurants, places in Gamla Stan as well as restaurants like Hard Rock Café. If you are staying at the Hotel Rival, contact me as soon as possible for help booking a table, as they will probably fill up and last minute reservations might be tough! 

Shopping-

Also a little tough. Many smaller boutiques will be closed for the whole weekend. Even large shopping centers, like Mood and Sturegallerian, will close on both Friday and Saturday (Sturegallerian is closed on Sunday as well). The two largest department stores, NK and Åhlens City, will close early on Friday (NK at 2pm and Åhlens at 5pm) and stay closed on Saturday. The Mall of Scandinavia will close on Friday at 4pm and be mostly closed on Saturday. Officially, it is only Saturday which is a bank holiday... but Friday is about as close as you can come "unofficially", so expect many pharmacies, banks and liquor stores to be closed that day as well.

Sightseeing-

Large sightseeing companies like Strömma run as normal with bus, boat and combination tours available all weekend. Smaller, independant sightseeing companies may be closed. If you are planning on visiting the archipelago this weekend, expect long lines at the ferries with people heading to and from their summer homes for the holiday, especially going out on Friday and coming back on Sunday. Public transportation runs as normal, though on a more limited "holiday" schedule, all weekend.
Midsummer
Photo by Clive Tompsett/imagebank.sweden.se

Experience Midsummer-

After all of this negativity, you may be wondering "but where do we experience the Midsummer celebrations?". Well, the best place to see how Swedes traditionally celebrate this holiday is at Skansen. Raising of the maypole, dancing the little frog dance, etc. Check their calendar for a program of what is going on all weekend long! You can also check this funny video to get a crash course in how to celebrate like a Swede, While many Swedes do leave the city, the few that are left will celebrate with picnics and games in the different parks throughout the city. So, when in doubt, just head outdoors to celebrate. If you are staying at the Hotel Rival and need further information... contact us directly at the hotel!
Midnight sun... 

May 29, 2019

New! Baltic Sea Science Center

The other day, the Djurgården Society invited Stockholm hotel staff (including me) on a tour of some of the many attractions located on Djurgården ahead of the busy summer season. Djurgården is a big park complex (the world's first national city park) and the location of many of Stockholm's main tourist attractions, like museums, art galleries, restaurants, theatres and amusement parks. Because of this, it quite unique and attracts over 15 million visitors annually. Chances are, if you visiting Stockholm for leisure, you will spend some time in Djurgården.
While I have visited almost all of these attractions (and written about them), we were lucky enough to be given a tour of a brand new attraction here... The Baltic Sea Science Center. This is an aquarium and science center, dedicated to the creatures that make the Baltic Sea their home and the environmental preservation of this interesting sea. The Center is located within the larger Skansen park and is included with the entrance ticket to Skansen.
Skansen, in general, is an interesting place to visit. Not only is it the zoo, filled with Scandinavian animals like bears, moose, wolves and reindeer, it is also an open-air museum where you can see what pastoral and town life looked like in different parts of Sweden during the 1800's. In fact, created in 1891, it is the world's first open-air museum.
The Baltic Sea Science Center is the latest addition to the park and it was nice to see the sea life of Sweden highlighted. The Baltic Sea is quite unique as it is a large brackish sea (a mix of fresh and salt water). The only connection it has to the ocean is through a very narrow straight that separates Sweden from Denmark in the south.
The various tanks in the aquarium take you through the different habitats of the Baltic, from the shallows to the open ocean, and the creatures that live there. They have salmon, cod, herring, mussels, jellyfish, sturgeon, flounders and much more. One of the tanks has a tunnel, so you can walk through and see the fish swimming above you. The Baltic Sea has a fragile ecosystem and part of the Center is dedicated to the preservation of the sea, the different factors that affect the ecosystem and how countries around the Baltic are working to make sure this sea can be enjoyed by future generations.
Skansen and the Center, as I have mentioned, are located on Djurgården. The easiest way to get there from the Hotel Rival is to take the Djurgård Ferry from nearby Gamla Stan. The ferries depart every 15 minutes and it is just a 10 minute trip. You can also get there from the downtown area, using the Djurgård tram. Both the ferry and the tram are part of the Stockholm public transportation system.

May 25, 2019

Summer Exhibitions at Fotografiska!

This past week I was invited to the unveiling of the museum Fotografiska's two new exhibitions for the summer: Vincent Peter's "Light Within" and Scarlett Hooft Graafland's "Vanishing Traces". Both exhibitions will be showing until September 8th. As usual, the museum manages to show very different exhibitions (motives, styles, subjects) at the same time, which always makes a visit to the museum more interesting.
The first exhibition we visited was "Light Within" by Vincent Peters. Peters is a German born fashion and portrait photographer and the exhibition features around 50 of his black and white portraits of well known people like Cindy Crawford, Jon Hamm, Christian Bale, Adriana Lima and Charlize Theron. While the subjects of his portraits are beautiful models and actors, the photographs are even more gorgeous as Peters plays expertly with light and shadows.
The other exhibition, "Vanishing Traces" by Scarlett Hooft Graafland, is about as different from "Light Within" as you can get. In this exhibition, you have beautiful, crisp and colorful photographs taken by Graafland in some of the most isolated places in the world... Iceland, the salt deserts of Bolivia, Yemen, the Canadian Arctic and more. Born in the Netherlands and trained as a sculptor, Graafland has painstakingly staged these photographs using local inhabitants with beautiful vistas she comes across in her travels.
Fotografiska is located on the northern waterfront of Södermalm, just a 15-20 minute walk from the Hotel Rival. The closest subway/bus station is Slussen (10 minute walk from the museum). One extra special aspect of Fotografiska is their generous opening hours, closing at 11pm on Sun-Wed and 1am on Thurs-Sat. They also have a café and award-winning restaurant on the top floor with views of the harbor... well worth a visit. Click here to read about my recent visit to the restaurant.
If you are interested in other art exhibitions in Stockholm this summer... click here for the list!

May 22, 2019

Summer Pedestrian Streets 2019

Dryck wine bar on the left
For several summers in a row now, the city of Stockholm turns certain streets into pedestrian streets during the summer months. They are pretty evenly distributed around the city and each year they add a couple of more streets and squares. This is a great idea as restaurants and bars on the streets can put out larger outdoor seating areas, letting people take advantage of the long summer evenings. It makes the neighborhoods more alive. In fact, the project is called "Levande Stockholm" which means an alive Stockholm or a vibrant Stockholm.
The pub Half Way Inn
Luckily for the Hotel Rival, one of these streets, Swedenborgsgatan, is literally around the corner from the hotel. Here you will find a wide range of restaurants, bars and cafés, including...

A great street to stroll down, soak up the local life and grab a bite to eat or drink. It gets dark quite late during the summer months in Sweden (if at all), so Swedes love being outside as late as they can.
The restauramnt Morfar Ginko
As I mentioned, there are several summer pedestrian streets spread throughout the city. The other streets in central Stockholm are: Rörstrandsgatan, Skånegatan, Nybrogatan, Norra Agnegatan, Norrtullsgatan, Hornsbergs Strand, Gamla Brogatan, Strömgatan and Drottninggatan. Click on the name to get a map showing the street's location. Drottninggatan is actually a pedestrian street year-round, but they have pimped out the northern portion of the street this year to make it more summery
Bistro Süd
The pictures in this article were taken at around 6:30-7:00pm to give you an idea of how light and sunny the evenings are.


May 20, 2019

Summer Art Exhibitions 2019

National Museumn
Summer is almost upon us! This means that the high season for tourism is starting and many museums open great exhibitions, geared for the influx of visitors to the city. And Stockholm has one of the highest rates of museums per capita, so... something for everyone. If history is your cup of tea, then we have many museums and attractions that concentrate on history, Swedish culture and the royal family. If you are more interested in art and design, here are the planned summer exhibitions at Stockholm's main art museums and galleries. If you are coming in the next couple of weeks (May), click here for the spring exhibitions.

  • Fotografiska (photography)- their two main summer exhibitions are Scarlett Hooft Graafland's "Vanishing Traces" (May 24th to Sept 8th) and Vincent Peters "Light Within" (May 24th to Sept 8th). Open late into the evening, great opportunity to squeeze in some more culture in your day.  
    Wilhelm Bendz, Familjen Waagepetersen, 1830 @Nationalmuseum
    Photo by 
    SMK, Statens Museum for Kunst
  • National (classic art and design)- besides their extensive permanent collection of classic art and design, they do have temporary ongoing exhibitions, like "The Danish Golden Age" (until July 21st) and "Finn Juhl: Architectural Furniture Designer" (until September 22nd). 
  • Moderna (modern art)- several ongoing exhibitions, including Sharon Hayes "Echo", and Palmsteirna-Weiss "Vivid Scenes 1964-1984". They have one upcoming summer exhibition: Arthur Jafa "A Series of Utterly Improbable yet Extraordinary Renditions" (June 26th to Sept 8th). 
  • ArkDes (architecture & design)- besides their permanent exhibit on architecture in Sweden, this season they will also have "The Future Starts Here" (until August 4th) and you still have a few more weeks to see "Architecture Projects: Skeppsbron" (until June 9th). 
  • Millesgården (sculpture & art)- most people come to visit the beautiful sculpture gardens featuring the work of Carl Milles, but they also have a gallery with temporary exhibitions.The upcoming exhibition is "Lena Anderson's World" (June 19th to September 22nd).
    Lena Anderson, 2004©Lena Anderson, Mollan och mormor på altanen.
    @Millesgården
  • Kulturhuset (mixed art)- in celebration of the 100th anniversary when women receievd the right to vote in Sweden they have an exhibition called "The Women in the Neighborhood" (until August 11th) looking at the women who lived in the area 100 years ago. 
  • Thielska Galleriet (Scandinavian fine art)- Their main summer exhibition is a celebration of the 150th anniversary of the birth of Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland (June 15th to September 29th). One of the highlights of this museum is their permanent collection of the works of Scandinavian artists like Eugene Jansson, Carl Larsson, Edvard Munch and more. 
  • Prins Eugen's Waldemarsudde (Scandinavian fine art)- there are quite a few ongoing & upcoming exhibitions, like the work of photographer Yanan Li, highlights from their art collection and an exhibition looking at the artist colony Grez-sur-Loing (featuring 80 pieces of art from a variety of artists. See link above for more info and dates. 
    Sculpture in Nature @Artipelag
    Photo by Samuel Lind. Jaume Plensa, "Ainsa IV" (2018)
  • Artipelag (art in archipelago setting)- a little bit outside of the city, but in a beautiful setting in the archipelago. Their ongoing summer exhibition is "Sculpture in Nature" (until Nov 3rd). 
  • Liljevalchs (contemporary art)- their summer exhibition, "Anders Petersen - Stockholm" just opened and will be running until September 1st. 
  • Bonniers Konsthall (contemporary art)- closed for the summer, last day is June 16th. 
  • Sven-Harry's Konstmuseum (mixed art)- their summer exhibition will be Gösta-Adrian Nilsson "Sjömanskompositioner" (May 30th to Sept 29th). Don't miss visiting the replica of Sven-Harry's home on the rooftop of the museum with his art collection, as well as the rooftop terrace
    Skapelsen by Gösta Adrain-Nilsson @Sven-Harry's Konstmuseum
    Photo by Per Myrehed

May 17, 2019

The Art Museum Thielska Galleriet (Thiel Gallery)

I visited Thielska Galleriet (Thiel Gallery) yesterday with my Concierge colleagues from Les Clefs d'Or Sweden. Thielska Galleriet is one of Stockholm's most beautiful museums and they house one of the best collections of late 1800's and early 1900's Scandinavian masters... like Carl Larsson, Edvard Munch, Bruno Liljefors and Eugène Jansson to name a few. During our visit we were given a great guided tour of the building and collection. Very interesting!
By Carl Larsson
The building was originally the private residence of the banker Ernest Thiel which he built mainly for the purpose of housing his growing art collection (his apartment in town was getting too small for this purpose). Designed by the architect Ferdinand Boberg, who also designed the famous NK department store, the building was completed in 1907. The Depression in the early 1920's unfortunately ruined Thiel and he ended up selling both the house and his extensive art collection to the Swedish government.
By Eugène Jansson
Thiel was quite the active art collector and was, in fact, friends with many of the Scandinavian masters of his day. As the building was specifically designed to house and show an art collection, the space is pretty perfect with lots of wall space and natural light from skylights. Of special note is the "Munch room" which contains many works by the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch (best known for his painting "The Scream") among others. Beautiful room!
The "Munch room"!
An interesting side note, Thiel was a great admirer of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and in one of the tower rooms you can view Nietzsche's death mask. From this room you also have beautiful views of the Stockholm archipelago. Besides the collection, Thielska usually has a temporary exhibition or two. Currently the exhibition is "The Jobs Sisters - ceramics and textiles" (until June 2nd), and this summer they will take advantage of their beautiful grounds and be exhibiting the work of Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland with "The power and feeling of sculpture" (June 15th to September 29th). This is part of the celebration of 150th anniversary of Gustav Vigeland.
Gorgeous views of the archipelago
Thielska Galleriet is located out at the end of Djurgården island, near the mouth of Stockholm harbor. The easiest way to get there is by bus from Nybroplan in the downtown area (Bus 69 - a 20 minute journey). This means that it takes a little effort to visit the museum. But it well worth it! Especially during the summer when the location is extremely idyllic.
By Edvard Munch
The island Djurgården is a long park island filled with acres of woodlands and meadows. Almost every summer, I take the bus out to Thielska, visit the museum, eat lunch and then take a nice walk back along the water. The walk is beautiful (click here for an earlier article about the walk) and takes about an hour, depending on if you make any stops along the way.