December 25, 2014

On Vacation!

After a busy Christmas season... it is time for me to take a much needed vacation. Three weeks in Hawaii should get me refreshed and ready to tackle 2015. If you are visiting Stockholm during the last week of December and/or first week of January, here are some blog posts you may find helpful:

If you are staying at the Rival Hotel... stop by and talk to the Front Desk or Concierge Desk for extra help. Merry Christmas & Happy New Year's... see you in 2015!

December 21, 2014

Holiday Opening Hours for Stores and Shopping Centers

NK... all lit up!
(EDIT: blog from 2014, click here for updated information) Stores and boutiques all, of course, have their own individual opening hours during the holidays. But you can generally say that they close early on December 24th & 31st and are closed on December 25th and January 1st. There are always exceptions to the rule! Here are the special holiday opening hours for some of the larger department stores and shopping centers. Take a look at their websites for information about other specific dates.

  • NK department store: open from 10am to 9pm on the days leading up to Christmas. 10am to 2pm on December24th, closed on December 25th, open from 10am to 5pm on December 31st and closed on January 1st.
  • Åhlens City department store: open from 10am to 10pm on the days leading up to Christmas. 10am to 2pm on December24th, closed on December 25th, open from 10am to 6pm on December 31st and closed on January 1st.
  • Mood shopping center: 10am to 2pm on December24th, closed on December 25th, open from 10am to 5pm to December 31st and closed on January 1st.
  • Gallerian shopping center:  open from 10am to 8pm on the days leading up to Christmas. 10am to 2pm on December24th, closed on December 25th, open from 10am to 4pm to December 31st and closed on January 1st.
  • Sturegallerian shopping center: open from 10am to 8pm on the days leading up to Christmas. 10am to 2pm on December24th, closed on December 25th, open from 10am to 2pm to December 31st and closed on January 1st.
  • Skrapan shopping center: open from 10am to 8pm on the days leading up to Christmas. 10am to 2pm on December24th, closed on December 25th, open from 10am to 4pm to December 31st and closed on January 1st.
  • Barkarby Outlets: closed on December 24th, 25th, 31st and January 1st.
  • Östermalms Saluhall (indoor food market): closed on December 24th, 25th, 26th, 28th (a Sunday) and January 1st.
  • Systembolaget (state run liquor stores): They are closed on Sundays, December 24th, 25th and 26th. On December 31st they close at 2pm and are completely closed on January 1st. So... plan your shopping wisely!
The days in between Christmas and New Year's are called mellandagarna ("middle days") and are some of the biggest shopping days of the year. This is due to the sales! Keep your eyes open for signs saying rea ("sale") or mellandagsrea ("middle day sale"). Buying electronics is especially popular during these days.

December 20, 2014

Museums and Tours During the 2014-15 Holiday Season

Nordiska Museum, photo by: Ingemar Edfalk/
(EDIT: Click here for updated information about this year) It is always a little tricky with museums during the holiday season as many close for a few days here and there. However, there is always something open so you don't have to worry about wandering the streets aimlessly. Here is a handy list that will help you plan your holiday visit better. If you are staying at the Rival Hotel and can't find the museum you are interested in... contact me directly. Stockholm has 80+ museums and I am only covering the major ones here! Please note that the National Museum is closed for renovations and instead they have exhibitions at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts (listed below).

  • Skansen- open every day! Shorter hours on certain days.
  • Vasa Museum- closed on December 23rd, 24th, 25th and January 1st.
  • ABBA The Museum- closed only on December 24th!
  • Fotografiska (photography)- closed only on December 24th!
  • Moderna (modern art)- closed Mondays and December 24th, 25th, 31st and January 1st.
  • Center for Architecture & Design- closed December 23rd, 24th, 25th, 30th, 31st and January 1st.
  • Nobel Museum- closed Mondays and December 24th, 25th, 31st and January 1st.
  • Historiska (history)- closed Mondays and December 24th, 25th and 31st. Extra open on Monday, Dec 29th.
  • Nordiska (nordic traditions)- closed on December 24th, 25th and 31st. 
  • Medeltids (medieval history)- closed Mondays and December 24th, 25th, 31st and January 1st.
  • Stadshuset (city hall)- closed December 24th, 25th, 26th and January 1st. Closes a bit earlier on other days.
  • Spritmuseum (alcohol spirits)- closed December 24th, 25th and 31st. 
  • Royal Palace- closed Mondays and December 24th and 25th.
  • Livrustkammaren (royal armoury)- closed Mondays and December 24th, 25th, 26th, 31st and January 1st.
  • Konstakademien (Royal Acad. of Fine Arts)- closed December 24th, 25th and 31st.
  • Millesgården (art museum)- closed Mondays and December 24th and 25th
  • Thielska Galleriet (art museum)- closed Mondays and December 24th, 25th, 26th, 31st and January 1st.
  • Liljevalchs (art museum)- closed Mondays and December 24th, 25th, 31st and January 1st.
  • Waldemarsudde (art museum)- closed Mondays and December 24th, 25th, 26th and 31st.
  • Drottningholm Palace- closed between the 15th & 30th of December. Open daily between December 31st and January 6th (Swedish school's winter break). 
  • Naturhistoriska (natural history)- closed Mondays and December 23rd & 24th.
Sightseeing tours, provided by the company Strömma, are offered everyday during the holidays... like the Panorama bus tour and the Winter boat tour among others! The company Free Tours have walking tours everyday and, as the name suggests, they are free. So, with this list you should be able to keep yourself culturally active every day of your holiday visit in Stockholm.

December 17, 2014

White Guide Nordic- Best Restaurants in the North!

White Guide Nordic 2015, cover.
The White Guide has been around for many years... annually listing the 600, or so, best restaurants in Sweden. It comes out every year in March and I have reported on it over the past 4 years. In fact, it was one of the reasons why I started writing this blog... I thought that it was great information for visitors but, unfortunately, was only available in Swedish. That has all changed! Yesterday they announced the publication of a new White Guide Nordic, covering all the Nordic countries, which is in English! If you were wondering... the Nordic countries are Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Iceland.
The reason given for this new Nordic guide and the fact that it is in English is the continuing high interest internationally in Nordic cuisine. If you are interested in haute cuisine at all, then you know that Noma in Copenhagen has been ranked as the best restaurant in the world for several years in a row. The White Guide looks at several factors when assessing a restaurant and divides them up in different categories... High Class, Very High Class, Masterclass and International Masterclass. Here are the Stockholm restaurants that made the Nordic Top 30 and are considered International Masterclass. Sweden is well represented with 12 of the top 30 restaurants and 6 of them from Stockholm. Several restaurants shared the same amount of points, which is why they share placement on the ranking list. For the rest of the list as well as the top 225 restaurants in the Nordic countires... click here.

Click here to see other restaurant guides and rankings, both current and over the past 5 years. Congratulations to all of the restaurants that made the list!

December 16, 2014

Starbucks in Stockholm

Entrance to Södermalm Starbucks.
Ok. Now I know many readers will think "why are you writing about Starbucks? You usually write about museums, festivals and local restaurants". True. And this subject (the coffee giant's expansion in Sweden) is also not without controversy... with Stockholmers divided on the subject. As you may know, Swedes are very particular about their coffee (second largest consumers of coffee per capita in the world) and Stockholmers can especially be a bit pretentious about their java. For some, Starbucks is a multinational corporation squeezing out small cafés from the market, while others are happy that they no longer have to travel abroad to get their "pumpkin spice latté" fix.
So why write about it? Well, as a Concierge, I have been asked quite a few times by hotel guests where the closest Starbucks is located. I would usually just recommend one of the many great local cafés in the neighborhood (including the Café Rival), as the only Starbucks, until recently, has been located in the Central Train Station... a bit far away from the hotel just to grab a coffee. However, I was recently informed by a guest that the reason she wanted to find a Starbucks is to buy the Stockholm Starbucks coffee mug. Apparently people collect them in every city they visit much like Hard Rock Café merchandize. I learn something new everyday...
Starbucks' merchandize...
So I am writing this blog article as a public service announcement to inform visitors that Starbucks opened today on Södermalm (location), just a 10 minute walk from the Rival Hotel. And they do have Stockholm merchandize! Otherwise, there are Starbucks located on Stureplan and, as I mentioned earlier, in the train station. More are planned as part of their Swedish expansion. It remains to be seen if they can find their place in the finicky Swedish coffee market.

December 12, 2014

Lucia Celebrations in Stockholm- 2014

Photo by Henrik Trygg, Stockholm Visitors Board
Lucia, the festival/celebration of St Lucia, happens on December 13th and is, along with Midsummer, the most Swedish of holidays and many of you have probably seen a picture of a young girl wearing a wreath of candles (Lucia). Basically, the celebration consists of a procession led by a candle wreathed young woman and followed by other young women (& men called stjärngossar) holding candles. Click here for video ("Lucia for Dummies"). They sing Lucia songs as well as other Christmas carols. The traditional places where this procession takes place is in Swedish homes on the morning of the 13th, where the procession is made up of the family's children, and during the evening in various churches. These days, however, you will find Lucia processions also at different businesses, shopping malls and retirement centers throughout the country. Because of the popularity of Lucia, you need to purchase tickets to see the procession in most churches. If you are staying at the Rival Hotel, stop by and I will help you with tickets.
Lucia at Skansen 
These church services, while traditional and beautiful, might be a little problematic for foreign visitors as there is often a church sermon included in the celebration which is in Swedish. Another option, and a good one at that, is to visit Skansen, the open-air museum dedicated to Swedish culture and traditions. Here they will be celebrating Lucia for two days (Dec 13th & 14th) with processions, historical reenactments and concerts. The main Lucia concert at Skansen will be on the Solliden stage at 5:00pm (Saturday). Skansen also has a great Christmas market on Saturday and Sunday which you can combine with a Lucia concert during weekend. Skansen is located on the island of Djurgården and easy to get to from the Rival Hotel... with regular ferries (10 min trip) going from nearby Slussen.

December 11, 2014

Pharmarium Cocktail Bar

Photo: ©Erik Nissen Johansen, Pharmarium
I was out last week with my cousin who was in town on a business trip. He had heard of Pharmarium and was eager to try it... and, as it was on my list of (relatively) new places to visit, so was I! In fact, it has been high up on the lists over best cocktail bars in Stockholm since they opened a little over a year ago.
First round of cocktails...
We were actually planning on eating dinner and we both had assumed that Pharmarium was both a regular restaurant as well as cocktail bar. But after showing us to our table, the waiter explained to us what to expect for our evening in regards to food & drink. They are first and foremost a cocktail bar. When it comes to food, instead of your regular menu of starters and main dishes, they offer a series of medium-sized dishes... each designed to be paired with one of their signature cocktails. He explained that if we were interested in dinner, 2 or 3 of these dishes would satisfy our hunger. We were intrigued!
Scallop dish.
Pharmarium is located on the main square (Stortorget) in the old town (Gamla Stan), in the building that once housed Stockholm's first apothecary/pharmacy back in the 1500's. Not only does this explain their name, it explains the inspiration for their concept and interior design. The interior of the locale has elements that resemble an old apothecary... small wooden drawers along the wall, herbs growing at the bar and the black & white checkered floor.
Next round...
Many of the ingredients in both the cocktails and accompanying dishes follow the "pharmaceutical" concept... spices, plants, berries and herbs with medicinal value (or, like gold, were once thought to contain such properties). We started with a cocktail-dish pairing each and then we got a little wild and chose both cocktails and dishes randomly. Everything was delicious and the flavors were very seasonal. My absolute favorite dish was the sweetbreads with puré, cauliflower crisp and apricot & raisin chutney. Favorite cocktail? Hmmm... perhaps the Philosopher's Stone (Wild Turkey, Cynar & bitters, foam of smoked maple syrup, apple and gold powder).
Sweetbread dish.
As I mentioned, Pharmarium is in Gamla Stan and it is just a 15 minute walk from the Rival Hotel. Currently, the square houses the Gamla Stan Christmas market. But the historic square is popular year round and buildings lining the square are some of the most photographed in the city. The entrance is a little hard to spot, but it is on the south side of the square... just opposite the Nobel Museum.

December 9, 2014

New Year's Eve in Stockholm - 2014!

(EDIT: this is an old article, click here for the latest information) New Years is just around the corner! If you are visiting the city during this holiday, then I hope you have already finalized your New Year's Eve plans because it's getting down to the wire. 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 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 a select few that serve both the nyårssupé alongside a regular menu. If you are staying at the Rival Hotel, contact us as soon as possible to make arrangements!
  • 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 OperaSödra Teatern and Berns. These are the more posh nightclub venues... there are, of course, many smaller parties going on at different venues.
  • 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, especially the Slussen area which will be cordoned off from car traffic, 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.
The Rival Hotel- our restaurant is already fully booked on this evening! However... our bars are 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.

December 2, 2014

Christmas at the NK Department Store

Like Harrods in London, Bergdorf Goodman in NYC or Galeries Lafayette in Paris... NK, or Nordiska Kompaniet, is the most famous luxury department store in Sweden. There are, however, several reasons, other than shopping, to visit NK during the holiday season.
To start off with, you have the holiday window displays and decorations throughout the store... especially the giant, hanging Christmas tree in the center atrium. The holiday window displays are eagerly anticipated by Swedes each holiday season and they are really geared towards children... very traditional with lots of moving parts.
Speaking of children, this is where you will find Santa Claus (or jultomten as he is called in Swedish) in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Children, either terrified or excited, line up with their parents for their chance to sit on jultomten's lap and give him their wish lists. Up until December 14th, he will be there on Friday, Saturday & Sunday afternoons, after which he will be found there daily, in the afternoon, until December 23rd. Click here for exact times (in Swedish).
NK is located in the downtown area. To get there from the Rival Hotel, it is a 30 minute walk through Gamla Stan, 3 subway stops (red line to T-Centralen) or a 7-8 minute taxi ride. The department store will have extra long opening hours on the 19th through 23rd of December. They are open on Christmas Eve from 10am to 2pm for desperate last minute shoppers and closed on Christmas Day.