July 28, 2017

August- a Month of Festivals & Events!

Open air concert
Photo: Jeppe Wikström/mediabank.visitstockholm.com
July is generally a bad month for festivals and events in Stockholm due to the fact that most Stockholmers have vacation this month and leave the city. Instead, organizers cram in a large amount of events between the end of July and beginning of September making this a fun time to visit the city. There is pretty much something for everyone... cinema, dancing, music, culture, pride, concerts, drama, food and sporting events.
Something else positive that comes with August and September is the reopening of several cultural institutions after their summer breaks. Royal Opera House and Konserthuset both start their regular program on August 26th, Dansens Hus and Musikaliska start their regular programs on September 8th.
Stockholm Pride
Photo: Yanan Li/mediabank.visitstockholm.com

July 25, 2017

Restaurant Strömterrassen

The Royal Opera with Strömterrassen on the right.
This week I had relatives visiting me and for our last lunch, before they left, I decided we should try Strömterrassen. With its beautiful views over the Royal Palace and Parliament building, it was the perfect place to impress visiting family. Strömterrassen is located on the second floor of the Royal Opera House (Kungliga Operan) and is part of a trio of restaurants located in the building, the other two being Guldterrassen and Brasseriet. You can read about my earlier visit to Brasseriet by clicking here.
View of the Parliament building from the terrace
The name of the restaurant means "stream terrace" and refers to the water running between Gamla Stan and the city, called Strömmen, just below the restaurant. Here you can eat lunch/dinner or have a drink and enjoy the views. Some of Stockholm's most iconic buildings can be seen from the terrace! The terrace is all outdoors, but this can be quite hot on nice summer days so, thankfully, they have awnings and parasols if you want shade (as we did).
Smoked shrimp, padrones ands aioli.
The menu consists mainly of Swedish and international favorites. My family had the fish and chips, Toast Skagen (the unofficial Swedish national dish) and a smoked salmon salad. I opted for two appetizers... the smoked shrimp with aioli and padrones (small, fried Spanish peppers). It did miss having a lunch special or two, but it was all very good and I suppose you are paying for the view as well.

A large Toast Skagen
Of special note: it is almost impossible to book a table outside at a restaurant in Stockholm. This is due to both popularity and the fickle nature of weather. For example, if a restaurant is busy and all of their tables inside and outside are booked... you can imagine the chaos a summer shower would cause. That being said, Strömterrassen is one of the few restaurants in Stockholm where you can actually book a table outdoors! The fact that there are two other restaurants in the same building (same owner) solves the above mentioned weather problem. If you are staying at the Rival Hotel, contact me directly for any help in making a reservation.
The Royal Palace, Cathedral and Strömmen

Click here for other restaurant reviews.
A small Toast Skagen and Fish 'n Chips.
The bar with awnings providing some shade.

July 20, 2017

Vegetarian Restaurants in Stockholm

Some of the vegetarian dishes at Spritmuseum
I often get asked by guests if it is a problem eating at Stockholm restaurants if they are vegetarian. My short answer is that just about every restaurant in Stockholm has at least one vegetarian dish on the menu and are pretty good at adjusting other dishes to make them vegetarian. The Rival's Bistro, for example, always has 2 or 3 vegetarian dishes on the menu. But if you have specific dietary restrictions (gluten free, lactose intolerance, allergies, etc.) or wish for more vegetarian options, it is good to notify a restaurant ahead of time. I have worked in restaurants and I can say that chefs aren't very happy on a Saturday evening, when they are slammed in the kitchen, to have a waiter tell them that a seated guest wants a vegan dish with no gluten or trace of nuts due to a deadly allergy. But if they know these things ahead of time, it is much easier for them to be prepared..
Zucchini, peas and mint at restaurant Gro. 
That all being said, there are several restaurants (from fine dining to casual) that are vegetarian or concentrate a good part of their menu on fruits and vegetables. In fact, it has been a popular trend over the past couple of years for menus to focus on organic, locally grown seasonal fruits and vegetables with the protein coming as a side dish. Here is a list of recommended restaurants for vegetarians:

Higher end restaurants (as opposed to casual, see below)- keep in mind that many finer restaurants close for a few weeks during the summer.

  • Rutabaga- A couple of years ago, Chef Mathias Dahlgren closed his Michelin two star restaurant Matsalen and opened instead a vegetarian restaurant in the same locale. Closed for a few weeks during the summer. My visit
  • Spritmuseum- the Museum of Spirits has a great restaurant run by Chef Petter Nilsson. Here you have a choice of two set multiple course menus (7-8 courses), one of which is completely vegetarian. Usually takes a short summer break for a few weeks. My visit a couple of years ago.
  • Gro- great hole-in-the-wall restaurant with high-end flavors and techniques. They offer 2 four course menus, one "omnivor" and the other "vegivor". Generally closed for a few weeks during the high summer. My visit last year.  (EDIT: currently closed, reopening in a new location soon)
  • Fotografiska- located in the museum of photography. Named best restaurant in Stockholm in the mid price range category in 2015 and recently awarded as best Museum Restaurant in the world. Here the menu is basically vegetarian but you can order meat and fish as "complements" to your meal if you wish. My recent visit.
More casual restaurants
  • Herman's- probably Stockholm's most famous vegetarian restaurant. Casual restaurant which serves a vegetarian buffet. Besides the food, many come here for the great views of the city. 
  • Växthuset- the name literally means "greenhouse" as in where you grow plants. Especially popular with vegans. They serve many sharing dishes family style. 
  • Rosendals Trädgård- summertime café in the gardens on Djurgården. Lunch. Many of the dishes are vegetarian, biodynamic and use ingredients grown in the gardens. My recent visit.
  • Chutney- vegetarian/vegan restaurant in the trendy SoFo neighborhood. 
  • Doctor Salad- breakfast, salads and smoothies. Prioritizes raw and vegan ingredients and excludes processed sugar, gluten and lactose. Reopens on August 1st after the summer holiday. 
  • Sally Voltaire & Systrar- casual restaurant in the Åhlens department store with many salads and vegetarian dishes. 
The views from Hermans vegetarian restaurant. 
And as many vegetarians know... Asian/Indian restaurants often have several vegetarian dishes on their menus (more than restaurants serving European/American cuisine). If you are staying at the Rival Hotel and want more information about these or the restaurants listed above, contact me directly. 
The biodynamic gardens at Rosendals Trädgård

July 12, 2017

The City Line is Open! New Commuter Train Stations.

Stockholm is one of the fastest growing cities in Europe with its population expected to increase by 11% over the next three years. This means that the city's infrastructure has to be constantly expanded and improved. One such major improvement has been the building of Citybanan (City Line), a six kilometer long tunnel deep under the city which reroutes the commuter train line away from the regular train lines. Construction started in 2006 and the line finally opened this past Monday! Cost for the project is estimated to land at around 20 billion SEK.
Background: The Central Train Station in downtown Stockholm was completed in 1871 and all southbound train traffic goes across a bridge and through the old town (Gamla Stan/Riddarholmen). This all worked fine when it was used solely by regional/international trains, but since then Stockholm has constructed a large system of commuter trains servicing the suburbs and this has become a bottleneck, especially for the southbound traffic. Expanding the tracks was vetoed by the government due to the historically sensitive buildings in the area. The solution? Reroute the commuter trains deep underground!
This new tunnel/line includes two new stations. One in the northern part of the city at Odenplan and the main commuter train station called Stockholm City. This station is located under the main subway station T-Centralen, which in turn is under the Central Train Station. It is over 40 meters under street level and the station includes 44 new escalators and 17 elevators. When transferring from trains/subways to commuter trains, just follow the signs for Pendeltåg or Commuter Rail.
So... as a visitor, when will you be using the commuter trains? Well, these trains can take you to Nynäshamn for the ferry to Gotland, to the new Friends Arena (concerts, sporting events), the new giant shopping center Mall of Scandinavia, to Barkarby for some outlet shopping, the international fairgrounds at Älvsjö (conventions/fairs), a day trip to the city of Uppsala and, more importantly, the Arlanda airport.
Another reason is just to visit these new stations. They are engineering marvels and are decorated together with 14 new works of art. This ties in to the Stockholm subway system being called the world's longest art gallery. I visited the Stockholm City station yesterday and it was fun just to walk around. Though I would avoid doing this during rush hour! For guests of the Rival Hotel, you can easily catch a commuter train at the nearby Stockholm Södra Station (no changes there). This station is located just four blocks from the hotel.

July 8, 2017

Restaurant Shibumi

I recently wrote about what the Esperanto group of restaurants offer for summer dining and last night I dined at Shibumi, one of their restaurants, with a group of friends. Star-chef Sayan Isaksson runs the four restaurants, all located in the same building: Michelin starred Esperanto and Imouto, Råkultur and Shibumi. Sayan takes a lot of his inspiration from the Far East and Shibumi is his take on Izakaya (informal Japanese gastropubs).
Side entrance to Shibumi
The restaurants are located in the downtown area and Shibumi is in the building's cellar with its own side entrance. Shibumi is open all summer and check my earlier post to see how the other restaurants are open this summer. The layout of Shibumi is laid back with a variety of seating options... you have a food counter with views of the kitchen, tables, bar tables and more private booths (which we had). They even have a chef's table. There is also a nice cocktail bar in Shibumi where you can order some creative, delicious cocktails.
Sashimi Moriawase
Izakaya dining is very casual and is reminiscent of the Spanish concept of tapas. The dishes are smaller and are made to be shared by the table... though you can of course order your own if so desired. Certain dishes are a little larger while others are bite sized. They recommended approximately four dishes per person. The dishes come to the table as they are prepared. In other words, not all at the same time. The staff were fantastic at explaining the concept and bringing new dishes to the table at a steady pace.
Fish taco with mackerel, ramsons and apple
Some of the dishes we had/shared were a selection of sashimi, a fantastic Goma salad with kimchi crisp, broccolini "Karage" with miso and yuzu, grilled whole dorado, Okonomiyaki with crispy chicken skin and kewpie mayo, fish tacos, beef sliders and spicy chicken heart Yakitori. They were all delicious! For dessert they had mini ice cream cones with six different flavors to choose from. The flavors were very Japanese and interesting, like soya, pear & sake and ginger & apple.
Whole grilled dorado
An extra tip.. their sister restaurant Råkultur has a very nice outdoor area. We took a glass of bubbly there before dinner which was great.If you are going to be staying at the Rival Hotel, contact me directly for help in booking a table. The easiest way to get to Shibumi from the hotel is by subway (green line to the Rådmansgatan station) or a 10 minute taxi ride.Click here for more restaurant recommendations.
Beef sliders with 48 hour cooked short ribs and kimchi
Sharing dishes
Mini ice cream cones
The view out from our private booth

July 6, 2017

Stockholm Subway Art

T-Centralen metro station
By Arild Vågen (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Stockholm has a pretty fantastic public transportation system with subways, busses, trams, ferries and commuter trains all run by Storstockholms Lokaltrafik (SL). When visiting Stockholm, you will most likely use some form of public transportation, whether the commuter train to the airport, subway to cross town or the ferry to Djurgården. It is good to purchase a Travel Card (24 hour, 72 hour or 7 days) when visiting the city, allowing you unlimited use of the transportation system. At the Rival Hotel, we sell the 24 and 72 hour cards to our hotel guests. Otherwise you can purchase them (or refillable access cards) at Pressbryån kiosks or SL Centers.
Stadion metro station
By Arild Vågen (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
The Stockholm subway system (tunnelbana or T-bana) first opened in 1950 making it relatively young when compared to other metros (London, Paris, NYC, etc.). Today it stretches for 110 kilometers, includes 100 stations and there are plans to extend the system at several points. A majority of the system is actually above ground, running underground mainly in the downtown area. There are three lines: blue, red and green.
Tekniska Högskolan metro station
By Arild Vågen (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Stockholm's subway system has been called the world's longest art gallery as 90% of the stations contain some form of artwork (sculpture, painting, literature, etc.). Some stations are more "arty" than others. These stations are popular to visit and there are several ways to do this. The most comprehensive way is to join one of the free guided art walks provided by SL. They have these art walks year-round in Swedish, but have an English version in the summer months every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. The walk starts at 3pm from the SL Center at the T-Centralen metro station, exit Sergels Torg. The tour is free, but you need to have a valid travel/access card.
Rådhuset metro station
By Arild Vågen (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
You can, of course, do it on your own! As I mentioned, 90% of the stations have some form of art, but stations of special note are... Green line: Thorhildsplan, Skarpnäck and Bagarmossan. Red line: Tekniska Högskolan, Alby and Stadion. Blue line: Kungsträdgården, T-Centralen, Rådhuset, Sundbyberg Centrum and Solna. Expedia has a great interactive page which gives you some information on the art in several of the stations. The pictures in this article showcase some of the more spectacular design and mural work, but many of the stations have smaller, more detailed art work. So keep your eyes open when traveling on the metro.
Kungsträdgården Metro Station
By Arild Vågen (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
If you don't have time to crisscross the city on the subways to look at different stations and just want to visit one station to get a feel, then I recommend visiting the Kungsrträdgården station. This is one of my personal favorites and very centrally located! One of the deepest stations (34 meters below ground), Kungsträdgården has some fun art including relics from some of the palaces near the station (especially the exit to Arsenalgatan). If you have a little more time, visit the next two stations along the blue line (T-Centralen and Rådhuset) for some more good art stations. Click here for further reading about the different stations.
Sundbyberg Centrum metro station
By Arild Vågen (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

July 3, 2017

Child Friendly Activities!

Museum of Natural History
We recently had a family with small children staying at the Rival Hotel and, during their stay, I helped them find suitable activities for the whole family. It wasn't a difficult task... Stockholm is a great city for children of all ages! Besides miles and miles of park lands and fun boat trips, there are plenty of child-friendly attractions and museums that should keep the small ones busy.
Bears at Skansen.

If animals (whether wild, tame or even extinct are of interest) then you have quite a lot to choose from:
  • Skansen- not only an outdoor cultural museum and park, it is a zoo with both Nordic animals (moose, reindeer, wolves, bears, etc;), exotic animals and a petting zoo. A good time to visit is in the early afternoon during feeding time. There are also daily activities for children in their calendar like pony riding for example. Open year-round.
  • Aquaria- The Stockholm Aquarium. On the small side, this aquarium is just a stone's throw from Skansen and here you will find aquatic life from Nordic, tropical and rain forest environments. Open year-round.
  • The Butterfly House & Shark Tank- an indoor tropical rainforest located in the Haga Park. Besides hundreds of butterflies, you will find birds, fish, insects and tropical frogs. And sharks! Open year-round.
  • Kolmården- Scandinavia's largest wildlife park located south of Stockholm with several attractions like Marine World, Safari and Tiger World. It is an hour and a half trip by car or train, so plan for a full day. It is open during the warmer months as well as weekends and during special weeks when children are off from school.
  • Museum of Natural History- if your children are more interested in dinosaurs and prehistoric mammals, then this is the place to visit. The museum has great exhibitions on Nordic animals as well and is also the location of the Imax theater Cosmonova. Open year-round.
Entrance to Junibacken...
Perhaps pure frivolity? Amusements parks, story-telling, outdoor fun and toys...
  • Junibacken- Indoor amusement park based on the writings of Astrid Lindgren (Pippi Longstocking, Karlsson on the Roof, the Brothers Lionheart, etc;). Rides, story-telling, shows and play areas. Open year-round.
  • Gröna Lund- outdoor amusement park with rides, games and shows. Generally open from May through September. 
  • Beaches- swimming in the water around Stockholm is not only possible but also popular with locals. One of the best and most family friendly beaches is located on Långholmen. Not far from the hotel! Some islands in the archipelago are popular with families to go swimming and have picnics. Of special note is the island of Grinda.
  • Parks and playgrounds- statsitically speaking, you are never more than 300 meters from a park when you are in Stockholm. Most parks have playgrounds, including Mariatorget and Ivar Los park near the Rival Hotel. If you really want to let the kids run wild, take them to Djurgården. The world's first national city park, this isn't only the location of many of Stockholm's top attractions it has acres and acres of park and forest to run around in. 
Beach at Långholmen
And for those interested in science, space or history...
  • Medieval History Museum- see how Stockholm grew in the Middle-Ages. Many hands-on exhibitions which makes it a great place to take children. Open year-round.
  • Livrustkammaren- The Royal Armoury. Clothes, armour and weapons of the royal family through history. Perfect for future princesses and knights. They even have an area where kids can play dress up.
  • Museum of Science & Technology- also a great museum for children with many hands-on exhibitions. 
  • Tom Tit's Experiment- located in the town of Södertälje, just south of Stockholm. Rides, experiments and experiences designed to increase knowledge and interest in science and technology.
As you can see... plenty of fun activities for children of all ages and interests!

July 1, 2017

Gardens & Café at Rosendals Trädgård

Rosendals Trädgård... one of those wonderful Stockholm gems that many visitors miss just because it is a little off the beaten path. These gardens, greenhouses and orchards have both a café, farm shop as well as plant store. This is a wonderful place to visit to just enjoy the gardens, buy some homemade preserves or other products, or enjoy a lunch under the trees in the orchard.
The name refers to the nearby Rosendal Palace, a small summer palace from the early 1800's (this can also be visited during the summer months). The gardens are located just adjacent to the palace and were started back in the 1860's as a greenhouse and gardening school. Since the 1980's the gardens are run as a foundation and their main purpose is to spread information about biodynamic gardening and the farm-to-fork concept.
Their organically certified café serves great lunches and use, whenever possible, fruits and vegetables from their gardens. Their breads and pasteries all come from their on-site artisanal bakery. You cannot reserve a table at the café. You order your meal at the counter and then take it out to the tables in the garden and orchard to enjoy. This can be very popular with Stockholmers on warm, sunny days! They have seeds, clippings, plants and garden supplies for sale in the greenhouse shop.

And speaking of shopping... one of my favorite parts of Rosendals Trädgård is their farmshop. Here you can buy fresh breads and vegetables from the bakery and garden as well as homemade preserves, products, books, ceramics and trinkets. Lots of fun stuff! The gardens and café are open for much of the year, but really come alive during the summer. Another great lunch option nearby is the wonderful, idyllic Rosendals Wärdshus which is located just on the grassy hill above the gardens. Swedish cuisine with great picnic options as well. My visit there.
Rosendals Trädgård is located on the island of Djurgården, near many of the main attractions like the Vasa Museum, ABBA the Museum and Skansen. This makes it sound like it is easy to stumble upon, but it is located a bit inland from the attractions and requires a 15 minute walk or so from these attractions. But it is a beautiful walk through the park & forest. If you are taking public transportation, you can take the Djurgård tram to the stop Bellmansro which is about a 10 minute walk from the gardens. The easiest way to get to Djurgården from the Rival Hotel is the Djurgård ferry from nearby Gamla Stan, after which you can either walk to the gardens or take the aforementioned tram.