May 31, 2010

Tip #5 - Café culture

I often, at work, get asked to recommend a good place for lunch. While there are restaurants open for lunch... one can't escape the immensely popular café culture that you find in Sweden. Swedes, along with their fellow Scandinavians, are the top coffee consumers in the world. There are cafés on every corner throughout Stockholm and they are excellent places to eat lunch. Besides coffee, espresso drinks, tea and pastries they usually have good lunches... everything from salads, grilled sandwiches to regular lunch dishes. They are also excellent places to people-watch and get a feel of the city's pulse!

Stockholmers love to socialize in cafés and even have a word for it: fika (fee-ka). Both a verb and a noun, it means basically to take a break and meet casually with friends over coffee/tea and light food. Truly a Swedish social institution! So, my recommendation for lunch in Stockholm is to stop in at one of the many cafés, order a caffe latte and a grilled sandwich and watch Stockholmers doing what they like to do best.

May 29, 2010

Taxis in Sweden... be aware!

Sweden is one of the most organized, least corrupt, by-the-book countries in the world... except when it comes to taxis, where instead it resembles the Wild West. Taxis are unregulated in Sweden and companies can choose which kilometer and fixed rates they use as long as they are displayed somewhere on or in the taxi. This means getting from points A to B can vary wildly in price. The large majority of taxis belong to big companies that have approximately the same rates, but if you jump into the wrong taxi you may find yourself paying double.
You'll be alright as long as you follow 3 simple rules:
  1. Stick to using the five main taxi companies (list provided below). Personally I recommend Taxi Stockholm, the largest company and the one I use both professionally at the Rival Hotel and personally.
  2. Whenever possible, ask someone to call you a taxi... whether at a hotel, restaurant, store, museum, etc; Then you will be sure to get a "safe" taxi.
  3. If you are unsure of a taxi, ask the driver what the approximate or fixed price will be for where you are going. A taxi trip within the inner city shouldn't cost more than 200 SEK and a trip to or from the Arlanda airport shouldn't cost more than 520 SEK.
Besides my favorite Taxi Stockholm, the following taxis are safe to take: Taxi Kurir, Top Cab, Taxi 020 and Taxi Transfer.

May 27, 2010

SoFo neighborhood

Some PR genius came up with the idea of naming this area SoFo, both a play on the name Soho and an acronym of its location... South of Folkungagatan ("gatan" = street) as seen on this map. While this neighborhood doesn't have the size or scope of SoHo in NYC or London, nor the art & theater scene, it does have a bit of the bohemian feel. I especially like the streets Bondegatan and Skånegatan.

During the day you will find plenty of cafés and small, unique boutiques selling everything from music to furniture to vintage clothes to kitchy interior design trinkets. Some favorite stores are Grandpa, Beyond Retro, Pet Sounds and Coctail. There is a nice park area at Nytorget ("new square") with some great cafés nearby. In the evening there are a wide selection of restaurants to visit, though no late night bars as this is a residential area. Some favorites here are Thai Koh Phagnan, funky Pet Sounds Bar, gay-friendly Roxy and the classic Pelikan where you can get good, rustic Swedish cuisine like meatballs and Pytt-i-panna. The last Thursday of every month the neighborhood has a SoFo-Night where the stores are open extra late until 9pm.

I don't think that this is the prettiest or hippest area of the city, though it is an authentic Stockholm neighborhood and a great place to stroll around and see how Stockholmers live!

Right on the border of SoFo (on Götgatan) you have Skrapan shopping center. They boast being open a little later than other malls (8pm on weekdays, 6pm on weekends) and having stores that are not usually found in Swedish shopping malls. It is located in one of the few tall buildings in Stockholm. The name itself is a Swedish nickname for skyskraper, though it can't compete with the real ones in NYC or Chicago. At the top of the building is a restaurant & bar called Och Himlen Därtill with great views over the city!

May 26, 2010

Tip #4 - General Tourist Information

Swedes are famous for being organized to a fault... and this goes for providing tourist information as well. The Stockholm Visitors Board does a superb job of helping tourists plan their visit as well as helping them once they've arrived. Their website is full to the brim with information of where to visit, eat and shop as well as things to see and do. It is constantly being updated and is therefore a good place to see what events are going on in the city. You can also pre-order your Stockholm Card here. One can even book a private authorized guide via their website. As a concierge, I find this website indispensable.

Already in the city and need help? The Visitors Board has a great Tourist Information Centre located in Sverigehuset (The Sweden House) across the street from the NK Department Store in Kungsträdgården. Be advised though that they will be moving to a new location adjacent to the central train station in September 2010. Here you will find maps, tips, brochures for all attractions in and around the city as well as a pleasant staff that can help you book tickets, guides, places to stay and generally guide you through the city and archipelago. You can also buy the Stockholm Card here! It is open daily all summer long...

Besides the main tourist information centre in the city, they also have one located in Arlanda Airport at terminal 5 arrival hall and smaller information counters at terminals 2 and 4.
General tip: Be informed and prepared before travelling to Stockholm (or any city for that matter). Your hotel concierge and the tourist centre staff will be able to give you better information and recommendations if you have a general idea of what the city has to offer or what you are interested in seeing/doing. Doing a little online research and viewing a map goes a long way...!

May 22, 2010

Tip #3 - Ferries to Djurgården

Stockholm is made up of 14+ islands and sometimes, looking at a map, it can seem hard to get from point A to point B without a long journey around half the city. Fortunately there are a few ferries that make travelling much easier. Of special note is the Djurgårds Ferry (Djurgårdsfärjan) which transports people between Slussen, on the south-end of the Old Town (a 10 minute walk from the Rival Hotel), and the islands of Djurgården and Skeppsholmen. This is especially useful as many of the main tourist attractions are located on these islands. On Djurgården you will find Skansen, the Vasa Museum, Nordic Museum among other attractions. On Skeppsholmen you have both the Modern Art Museum and Museum of East Asian Antiquities.
The boats leave approximately every 15 minutes year round and the trip takes approximately 8 minutes. During the summer the boats operate all day late into the evening. Tickets can be bought at the booth before you board (40 SEK adults, 25 SEK children/seniors); some SL bus/subway cards do work though not the strips or one-time tickets. Remember to get off on the right island!

Fotografiska- new photography museum!

Stockholm has a new museum! Yesterday I went to the premiere of Fotografiska, Stockholm's museum of photography. It's located in a beautiful old brick building on the waterfront (Stadsgårdskajen). It's great that the city has a new prestigious museum and I really enjoyed the exhibitions... but then again, I'm a sucker for amazing photography. The museum is starting out with four exhibitions lasting through the summer. Vee Speer's portraits of children dressed up for a party, Joel-Peter Witkin's provocative and often disturbing pictures focusing on the human body, Lennart Nilsson's ground breaking photos (from the 60's) of a baby in the womb... from conception to birth, and the great Annie Leibowitz. The last named exhibition is an ecclectic mix of the photographer's work over the past 20 years. A mix of celebrity portraits and family snapshots. I think the museum did a good job in chosing four such different photographers for their opening season.
The gift shop looks really good as well... filled to the brim with all types of photography books. I couldn't peruse as much as I wanted to as Lennart Nilsson was having a book signing when I was there, but I'll be back!
On the top floor there is a café. They didn't have much to offer food & drink-wise, but I think that is just temporary and that they have grander plans for the future. At any rate... some of the best views this city has to offer!
Open every day from 10am to 9pm. 95 SEK entrance fee for adults, 70 SEK for seniors and students and children 12 and younger get in for free.

To get there: from Slussen (subway/bus station) it is an easy 10-15 minute walk along the waterfront heading east past the Birka Cruise terminal.

May 21, 2010

Tip #2 - Stockholm City Bikes

(Edit: This is a blog entry from 2010- for updated information about City Bikes for 2011, click here!)
A great way of getting around Stockholm during the warmer months (April 1st to October 31st) is by renting a bike provided by Stockholm City Bikes. One can't visit the city at this time of year without seeing people buzzing around on these characteristically blue & white bicycles.

It's cheap and easy! You can either buy a 3 day card (125 SEK) or a season card (only 250 SEK). The cards are sold at both the Stockholm Tourist Center in Kungsträdgården or at any SL Center. The most centrally located SL Centers are in the train station (basement floor), the Sergelstorg exit of the T-Centralen subway station and under the Slussen subway station. You have to be 18 yrs old and have a valid i.d. with you!

There are around 80 bike stands spread throughout the city and you can pick up and leave your bikes between 6am and 10pm daily. You may only borrow a bike for 3 hours at a time. If you need a bike for a longer period just switch bikes at any of the stands... happy biking!

May 20, 2010

Calendar: Festivals & Events Summer 2010

ATTENTION: This is the calendar for Summer 2010, to see the calendar of events for 2014... click here!

Planning on coming to Stockholm this summer? Here are some festivals and events going on in the city... a little something for everyone!

  • June 2nd to 6th: Taste Stockholm "Smaka På Stockholm" Festival where Stockholm restaurants gather and showcase their menus. Beer tents and live music as well. Takes place in the park Kungsträdgården in the downtown area.
  • June 5th: The Stockholm Marathon Take part and run... or have a beer at an outdoor bar and watch the crazies run by.
  • June 6th: Sweden's National Holiday! The best place to experience the festivities is at Skansen, Stockholm's outdoor cultural museum, park and zoo.
  • June 6th to 19th: Love Festival 2010 In celebration of the Crown Princess' wedding on the 19th, Stockholm is throwing a 2 week long festival throughout the city with food, drink, music and fireworks all in the theme of love.
  • June 9th to 13th: Early Music Festival Featuring baroque, renaissance and medeaval music. Takes place in the Finnish Church, German Church and Stockholm Cathedral in the Old Town.
  • June 10th to 12th: Stockholm Jazz Festival Yearly jazz/soul/funk festival on the island of Skeppsholmen. Featuring both Swedish and international performers, including Missy Elliott and Kool & the Gang!
  • June 19th: Wedding of Crown Princess Victoria and Daniel Westling. Festivities going on all day long. Don't miss the parade by horse drawn carriage and boat through the city.
  • June 25th and 26th: Midsummer weekend. Very traditional Swedish holiday. Stockholm becomes a bit of a ghost town as Swedes head to the countryside to spend the holiday with friends and family drinking snapps, eating pickled herring and dancing around the maypole. If you are in town... the best place, once again, to experience the tradition is Skansen.
  • July 9th to 11th: Stockholm Street Festival. For the first time Stockholm is throwing a festival with street performers... jugglers, magicians, acrobats and comedians. They are planning on this being an annual festival. Takes place in Kungsträdgården.
  • July 26th to 31st: Stockholm's Gay Pride Festival Popular festival with thousands of revelers of all persuasions... great music and atmosphere! Half of Stockholm comes out to watch the parade on the last Saturday.
  • August 6th: DN Galan- yearly track and field competition that attracts the world's best athletes. Takes place in Stadion, the old olympic stadium.
  • August 7th: Sonisphere Heavy metal music festival taking place in Gärdet. Iron Maiden, Motley Crue, Iggy Pop, Alice Cooper among others...
  • August 10th to 14th: Youth ("Ung08") Festival in Kungsträdgården with teens in focus... runs in conjunction with the culture festival.
  • August 10th to 15th: Cultural Festival Music, performances, books, food, etc; at venues spread out through central Stockholm... for all ages!
  • August 14th: Midnight Run ("Midnattsloppet") Late night 10k run (& party) around the island of Södermalm. Suitable for all levels of runners.

Tip #1 - The Arlanda Express

The Arlanda Express is the quickest, easiest and most environmentally smart way to get from Arlanda International Airport to central Stockholm. The trip only takes 20 minutes and there are two stops at the airport... one (South) under terminals 3 & 4 and one (North) under terminal 5. The train takes you to the Central Train Station located in downtown Stockholm. From there it is easy to get to any hotel in central Stockholm, whether by walking, subway or taxi. The present cost for the trip is 240 SEK for adults, 120 SEK if you are over 65 and up to 4 children (0-17yrs) may accompany a full paying adult for free. They do offer a special deal on weekends, holidays and the summer where 2 adults can travel for 280 SEK. Another tip... make sure you buy your ticket at the booth or in one of their ticket machines before boarding(all major credit cards accepted). Buying tickets on board costs 50 SEK extra!

While it is quick and easy, some people find it a bit expensive. There are buses that travel the same route and tickets cost 119 SEK for adults and the trip takes approximately 45 minutes. If you are several adults travelling together then a taxi is also more economical. The main taxi companies have fixed rates to central Stockholm around 520 SEK. Make sure you ask what their fixed rate is before getting in the taxi!

Haga Park

Last week I took a wonderful walk through Haga Park ("Hagaparken"), which is a vast nature area located on the northern outskirts of Stockholm. This English inspired park was founded through the initiative of Gustav III in the late 1700's and is the location of many interesting monuments, castles, ruins and museums. Haga Park has received a lot of interest of late since Haga Castle located in the park, will become the residence of the Crown Princess and her husband after their wedding on June 19th, 2010. Gustav III's presence is strongly felt through the many temples, pavilions and gazebos erected by the king in the park. This includes The Copper Tents, The Echo Temple, The Turkish Kiosk and Gustav III's Pavillion. Also located in the park grounds are the ruins of a grander palace planned by the king and then abandoned after his assassination in 1792.

I really enjoyed the Butterfly House, a 800 sq meter greenhouse where you can wander through a tropical rain forest filled with hundreds of butterflies as well as frogs, fish, birds and other animals. Keep your eyes open for the Dwarf Partridges wandering on the paths. It is open daily (10-17:00 are their summer hours), year round, and costs 90 SEK for adults and half off for children between the ages of 4 and 15.

Feel like some excercise? It is a 12 kilometer jog/walk around the lake Brunnsviken on well marked paths!

To get to the park, take the commuter train from the Central Train Station going in the direction of Märsta and get off at the first stop (Solna). From there it is a 1,200 meter walk to the northern gate of Haga Park. Another option is to take bus #515 from Odenplan and get off after about 10 minutes at the Haga Norra (northern gate) stop.

May 19, 2010

My Favorite City!

I have lived in Stockholm for over 20 years now. And though I have lived in other places around the world as well as visited countless cities and countries... Stockholm has always remained my favorite city. It has a metropolitan feeling without being a mega-city. A gorgeous place in all seasons, full of history yet surrounded by fantastic nature. Clean and populated (for the most part) with enviromentally friendly denizens. Welcome to Stockholm...